Garden peas

Garden peas are an easy-to-grow, reliable addition to any vegetable plot. In addition to the traditional shelling variety, you can also grow edible podded varieties such as Sugar Snap. Since they vary so much in size, colour, and flavour, there’s a pea variety out there for everybody. If you want to give peas a chance, here is most of what you need to know.

Growing your own garden peas will convert you to this ultimate in snack foods, as you will be hooked from the first time you munch on a snow pea pod picked straight from your own garden. Gardeners have been enjoying the delights of fresh peas for thousands of years, as they are one of the oldest of all vegetable crops, having been grown at least as far back as ancient Egypt. And it is easy to see why when the versatility of this remarkable member of the legume family is realised. Peas are easy to grow, can be eaten straight from the bush, are a mainstay of many traditional English recipes and last but by no means least, newer varieties such as sugar snap peas lend themselves perfectly to healthy stir-fry cookery.

Garden peas (Pisum sativum L.) are cool-season crops that include the common green English pea and the edible-podded pea. English peas are shelled and only the seed eaten, whereas edible-podded peas are eaten whole. Edible-podded peas take two forms, the full-podded snap pea with large seeds and the flat-podded snow or sugar pea with undeveloped seeds. Wrinkled-seeded varieties of peas generally are sweeter than smooth-seeded varieties and are preferred for home use. Peas are also often referred to as legumes as they belong to a large group of plants that bear their seed in pods that split down both sides when they are ripe. This family has an important advantage in that the roots are able to absorb nitrogen gas from the air and use it as a source of nutrient, meaning that they are able to grow in nutrient-poor soils that would severely limit plants from most other families.

Garden peas are one of the easiest of all vegetables to propagate and grow, giving rather rapid gratification. While they will grow satisfactorily in most garden soils, if drainage is poor then mounding the soil will give better results. If you are a particularly time-poor gardener, ready to plant pea seedlings are available in punnets from your local garden centre. However, it must be said that planting from seed will usually give a better result, as they are large, easy to handle and usually germinate within a week of planting. Sow the seeds 2-3 cm deep and 5cm apart within the row. Dwarf varieties can be grown in rows about 50cm apart while climbing types need a metre between rows and a trellis at least a metre and a half tall. Peas are a cool season plant that can be grown through winter in the warmer parts of Australia such as coastal NSW and Queensland. In colder areas such as Canberra it is best to delay sowing them to either late winter or early spring so that you can avoid the danger of frost damage to the flowers and developing pods.

Garden peas will thank you if you prepare their bed about five weeks before planting. Do this by adding loads of well-rotted chook poo and compost and maintaining a pH of 6.5 – 7.5. A touch of dolomite lime in the patch at planting time is a good idea, one small handful around the area to be planted.  Pea plants, even dwarf varieties, benefit from some type of support, so provide netting, trellis, wires, or pea brush for the tendrils to cling to. Pea brush consists of branched shrub pruning’s inserted into the row for support of the climbing pea plants. Erect the support system before or immediately after planting seeds to avoid disturbing the roots of germinating and established plants. Snow peas are one of the most satisfying vegetables to grow even in small spaces and are ideal as a plant for balconies and courtyards as they could and should be harvested every couple of days. As well as the pods you can also harvest the tender young shoots for salads and stir-fried meals. They can be grown just as well in a pot as they can in the ground just as long as they have a support to climb on to. A tripod made of tomato stakes will happily suffice in a large container planting. The seeds are sown straight into their final position and will find their own way onto the support. A handful of a complete slow-release fertilizer will see them through to the end of their fruiting period in spring. The most likely problem to be encountered is a white fungus that attacks the leaves and pods called powdery mildew. It can usually be controlled by spraying the plants with one part milk that has been diluted with nine parts of water. Snow peas are best harvested before the seed starts to swell in the pod and should be picked every few days to keep the plants at their maximum productivity.

Garden pea varieties:

Massey Gem (shelling)

Dwarf (bush) growing to 50cm producing pods to 9cm. Great flavour; very sweet. Very popular market variety. Disease resistant. Cold tolerant. Freezes well. Is also known as 'Melbourne Market'. Very popular for professional farmers or home gardeners. Massey Gem is the most widely used commercial shelling pea variety for the fresh market in Australia. Dwarf plants that grow to 50 cm tall and produce large pods containing 8 peas. This variety is considered the sweetest of the shelling pea varieties and is suitable for professional farmers and home gardeners.

Sugar Snap Cascadia

These popular peas are perfect for junior gardeners. Easy to grow with stringless, succulent, sweet pods that can be gobbled straight from the plant. A high yielding plant with pods that grow to 7-8 cm long. This variety grows to 1.5 m high when trellised. Peas need well-drained, limed soil. Grows well in cool climates and improves the soil.

Snow Pea: Mammoth Melting

Climbing snow pea seed variety, must be grown on a trellis as bush can grow up to 2.0m tall. Produces small-midsized, sweet pods approximately 10cm long. Another use for Mammoth Melting is to pick the leaves and shoots to eat as a steamed vegetable which is popular in Asian dishes. Climbing Snow Pea growing to 200cm. Flat, green, edible pods growing to 10cm by 2cm. Sweet and tender. Heavy cropping. Can be eaten raw or cooked, excellent in salads and stir-fries. Snow-peas are part of the legume family (beans and peas). They prefer any average well drained soil. They are a cool season annual that can tolerate heavy frost but can be killed at temperatures below -17 C. These plants also have nitrogen fixing abilities when the ground starts to warm up. Plant 2-3cm deep in rows 500mm apart in a well-prepared garden bed. These are very hardy.

Blue Pea: (Shelling)

Dwarf (bush) growing to 90cm, green pods to 6.5cm. Sweet and tasty, heavy bearer and a very popular variety.  Blue peas  are part of the legume family (beans and peas). They prefer any average well drained soil;  they are a cool season annual that can tolerate heavy frost but can be killed at temperatures below -17 C. These plants also have nitrogen fixing abilities when the ground starts to warm up.