If peas were valueless as food they would still be grown for the immense gastronomic pleasure of eating them. Fortunately their food value is very high. The plant’s chief requirements are moisture, a good depth of soil, and plenty of well-buried material for the deep-probing roots to get hold of.
Varieties are numerous ‘in the seedsmen’s catalogues. Those named here (with approximate height) are among the most useful.
For earliest picking – late May and early June: English Wonder (1 ½ ft.), Peter Pan (1 ½ ft.), Kelve-don Wonder (1ft.). Pioneer (2 ft.), Hundredfold (2 ft.), Little Marvel (2 ft.). Market Gem (2 ft.), Thomas Laxton (3 ft.), Gradus (3 ft. to 4 ft.), Early Giant (3 ft. to 4 ft.).
Second early – first pickings ready a week or fortnight after the preceding: Rentpayer (21 ft.), Admiral Beatty (3 ½ ft.), Evergreen (4 ft.), Duke of Albany (5 ft.).
Alain crop – available a week or fortnight later than the second earlies: Fillbasket (3 ft.), Senator (3 ft.), Lord Chancellor (3 ft.), Alderman (5 ft.).
For the latest crop – -a week or fortnight after the first main crop pickings: Veitch’s Perfection (3 ft.), Veitch’s Autocrat (3 ft. to 4 ft.), Latest of All (3 ft. to 4 ft.), Continuity (4 ft.).
Sown 2 in. apart, ½ pint of seed is sufficient for two 30-ft. double rows. Average germination time is about twelve days.
Ready for Use.
First pods are plump enough for gathering from eleven to sixteen weeks after date of sowing, according to variety. Those listed for earliest picking come into bearing eleven to twelve weeks after the seed is sown; second earliest, about twelve to thirteen weeks; main crop thirteen to fourteen weeks; latest crop, fourteen to sixteen weeks. Those periods are only approximate, much depending on soil, situation, and weather conditions.
A regular supply is maintained by successive sowings. Shelled peas can also be dried and stored for winter use.
If the ground has not been deeply dug and enriched and there is not time so to deal with it before sowing time arrives, each row should be provided for separately by taking out an 18-in. deep trench at least 1 ft. wide and treading into the bottom of it rotted leaves or other decayed greenstuff, this to be about 4 in. thick when firmed. If animal or hop manure can be mixed with it the yield of plump pods will be greater.
Enough of the excavated soil is then returned to the trench, and stamped down, to bring the surface to within 6 in. of the general level. When the sown peas are covered in 3 in. to 4 in. of space will remain at the top which will serve to receive water later on.
In the case of dwarf varieties that will leave only a few inches of ground between rows untouched; for the little extra labour involved the whole breadth would be better deeply dug and enriched. It is worth bearing in mind that this generous preparation is not only for the benefit of the peas; the crop that will follow when the peas have yielded the last picking and been cleared away will also benefit considerably by the extra depth of good soil.
Where taller varieties are concerned greater space must be left between rows, and here the trench system is more justified. The method of preparing the trenches is explained in the next paragraphs.
Trenches for Peas.
Operations begin by pegging down the garden line to secure a straight row. The top 9 in. of soil is then dug out, from one end of the row to the other, to the width of 1 ft. or 18 in., and placed all on one side. The lower 9 in. comes out next and is all placed on the opposite side of the row.
Spade or fork is next used to break up the trench bottom, this to be left where it is. The rotted greenstuff goes in and is trodden down on top of the broken up bottom. The soil that was taken out last is spaded back into the trench, and then some of the soil that was taken out first goes back on top of it. This top soil is to be returned last because it is naturally more fertile than lower soil.
The contents of the trench are then consolidated by moderate treading, and so that there shall be something to sustain the roots before they get down to the buried greenstuff or manure the trench surface should be dressed with superphosphate of lime, 2 ounces per 6 ft. of row; if possible 1 ounce of sulphate of ammonia should be added to the same length. This top food should be mixed with the trench surface a week or so previous to sowing. A similar application to ground prepared in die ordinary way is advisable.
Spacing the Rows.
Distance separating the rows depends upon the height to which the variety of pea normally grows, and this height is influenced to a certain extent by growing conditions – the goodness of the soil and the weather. Growth is stronger and taller in a wet season than in a dry one.
Peas that normally reach a height of about 1 ½ ft. should have the rows separated by 1 ½ ft. The 3-footers should be 3 ft. apart, and so on.
If a 4-ft. or 5-ft. variety is grown, space between the rows is put to use by sowing down the centre such quick-growing crops as lettuce, spinach, radish; in very bright weather these grow all the better for the slight shade that the pea tops cast.
Where it can possibly be arranged the pea rows should run north and south. The sun then gets between and shines on both sides of each row, with great benefit to the crop.
When and How to Sow.
All the varieties previously named can be sown (where they are to finish) during March and April. To maintain an unbroken succession of pickings of any one variety rows should not be sown all on one date but at intervals up to May or early June – a second row when seedlings of the first show through, a third row when the second-sown show through, and so on. The last sowing, in May or early June, should be of the early varieties, as these mature more quickly than other kinds.
Rather than make the first sowing of the year in wet and cold soil in March, keep the seed packet unopened until the soil is drier and warmer in April; seed simply remains dormant in sticky, chilly ground.
Unless the trench system is adopted, drills will need to be made, with the draw hoe or with the spade held nearly flat; the drills to be flat bottomed and 5 in. or 6 in. deep.
The seeds are spaced out singly, 2 in. apart, down both sides of a drill, thus securing a double row. Broadcasting in the drill wastes seed, and crowded pea plants are sorely handicapped. If the soil is heavy, cover the seed 2 in. deep; if light, 3 in. deep.
The soil may be so dry at the time of a late sowing that it will be necessary to fill the drill with water overnight before the seed goes in; germination will be aided still further if the seed is soaked in water for four or five hours before it is sown.
Earliest cropping peas are sometimes sown outdoors in late October or November, though little is gained over a March sowing and a good deal of risk is taken – from sparrows, mice and slugs. It should only be attempted if the soil is light or sandy and if die position faces south and is sheltered from north and east, conditions which are not very frequendy found outside a fortunately placed home garden.For this sowing the ground need not be so generously prepared, and the drills – running north and south, to secure all possible sun – need be only 2 in. deep, the seed being covered to that depth.
Sowing in Boxes. Seed can be sown in boxes in February or early March and the seedlings planted out in April. Boxes between 2 in. and 3 in. deep are filled with good soil and the seed sown 1 in. apart and 1 in. deep. The boxes are placed in a sunny frame kept closed until the seedlings break through the soil, air then being given in increasing amount.
If enough boxes are available this is a plan worth adopting in a cold or wet district and where the soil is very heavy.
Box-raised seedlings must be kept close to the light or they become drawn and weak; no later treatment can make them profitable. Always sodden soil may cause them to perish. When things go right, strong and short-joined plants are ready to be set out in rows in April. Planting is to be done with a trowel and at such a depth that the roots go down straight and the bare leg of stem is buried. Lacking rain, they need to be watered in at once.
It is essential that the plants be removed from the boxes complete; that is, with all their roots intact. Previous watering of the soil in the box assists this.
Staking the Peas.
An advantage of dwarf varieties is that there is less trouble about stakes. All they need is short twiggy supports just long enough to hold them upright. These should be pushed well into the ground about I ft. apart and a few inches out from the row, on both sides, soon after the seedlings appear.
Taller varieties need the short, twiggy pieces and, in addition, stakes a few inches longer than the average height of the variety being dealt with. The short pieces go in first, and then as soon as possible the main, tall stakes, at intervals of I ft. and 6 in. out from both sides of the row. These will have a rather heavy burden to carry when the plants, full grown, are wet with rain. They should therefore be life of the plants. Alternatively, superphosphate of lime may be given, 1 ounce to each yard of row, once a week, and watered in – unless rain saves that trouble. Feeding should not start until flowering is over and the tiny pods can be seen.
A good deal of watering can be saved by applying a surface mulch – that is, putting down a layer of lawn mowings, dead weeds, etc.., so that the soil in the drill or trench, and on both sides for a few inches outwards, is covered. This prevents the rise and evaporation ofpushed several inches into the ground and the soil firmed around each, if necessary, with the boot heel; and they should be upright, not sloping inwards.
The plants need no tying. They do their own climbing, with the aid of numerous clinging tendrils.
Watering, Feeding, Mulching.
It may not perhaps be possible to fill the depression at the top of each drill or trench with water, when water is needed, but every drop that can be spared will be used profitably by the plants in dry weather. Pods cannot plump up without it.
Poultry manure scattered along a row, every fortnight, before watering, will not only assist production but will prolong the useful moisture already in the ground. Subsequent waterings are given through the mulch, as also are applications of poultry manure or superphosphate, these being washed into the soil during watering.
In hot, dry weather it is helpful to growth if water can be swished over the tops of the plants from a watering can fitted with a rose. This is specially appreciated on warm evenings.
Mildew and Other Troubles.
When mildew attacks pea plants the pods cease to develop. The best should be made of a bad job by gathering whatever usable pods there may be and then removing the attacked plants and burning them. This will at least prevent the disease spreading. Generally it is the result of drought, but sometimes follows a succession of hot days and chilly, rainy nights.
Birds should be scared away from the newly sown seeds, and the seedlings, of which they are extremely fond, by suspending loosely on string stretched above the rows pieces of tin or glass so that these rattle together in the wind and reflect dancing beams of light in the sun.
Slugs lie in wait for the appearance of young plants. Mice may do their best to see that few plants come up. Weevils may eat pieces out of leaf edges, and green fly suck sap from shoot ends.
Picking the Pods.
These should be gathered whilst young – when the seed is bulging in the pods but before the latter begin to lose then-fresh green appearance and the bloom that covers them. They must not be torn from the haulm (tops) or this will be damaged. The stem of the plant should be steadied with one hand at the point where a pod is to be gathered and the pod nipped off between thumb and forefinger. Or pods can be very quickly snipped off with scissors. If pods are left too long before picking, plants are weakened and production soon ceases.
Storing for Winter.
Peas shelled and dried are a valuable winter standby.
Preparing for Table.
Shelled green peas should be washed in cold water before cooking. Nutritive value is considerable. Protein, fat and carbohydrate values are even higher in dried peas.
SUGAR (EDIBLE-PODDED) PEA
The sugar or edible-podded pea is well named, for the pods – soft and fleshy – as well as the seeds inside are eaten. Pods are gathered while the seeds are small, before they begin to bulge. Cooked like French beans – whole, without cutting – they can be served hot or used cold in a mixed salad. Flavour is sweet and delicious. Culture is the same as for the ordinary green pea. Sown during March or April, they are ready for use about twelve weeks later.
Varieties: Paramount, Melting Marrow, Giant Sugar (each 5 ft. high), Purple-podded (6 ft.).