How to grow peas from seed

Peas are one of the western world's most popular vegetables, although strictly speaking peas are in fact seeds. Originating from the Mediterranean basin and the Near East, peas have been a part of our staple diet as far back as 4800–4400 BC.

Pea illustration
The earliest archaeological finds of peas have been discovered in the Nile delta area of Egypt when they were grown mostly for their dry seeds.

Today growing peas from their seeds couldn't be easier and you can now produce a viable crop in northern Europe despite their near sub-tropical origins.

Modern pea cultivars are now considered to be a cool season crop, and are perfect for growing in temperatures of between 13 -18 Celsius. This makes them ideal for northern European climates.

Peas can be sown directly outside from March to June but only once the soil has warmed to about 10 degrees Celsius.

However you can start your crop earlier by sowing under cloches.

In the more warmer, European  warmer a mild areas, some of the hardier, early maturing cultivars can be sown in late autumn for overwintering and producing particularly early crops.

For a continuous crop of homegrown peas sow a new batch every 10-14 days.

Pea seedlings
Peas will grow best in an open, weed-free site that receives as much sunlight as possible. They also require a moist, fertile, well drained soil.

Dig plenty of well rotted compost into the soil several weeks before sowing to help improve soil fertility and to retain moisture.

Avoid cold, wet ground as the seedlings will rot off. However if all you have is cold wet ground then plant your pea seeds into a raised bed containing a sandy loam.

Traditionally, peas are sown in a wide flat bottomed trench. A pea trench is usually 1½ inches deep, 6 inches wide and as long as you like. Water the entire length of the trench before sowing as this will help with germination, particularly in drier soils. Sow pea seed into the trench 2 inches apart, then cover with soil and firm the ground gently. You can sow pea seeds in two parallel rows into a 6 inch wide trench. If you want to sow more peas then you can create a second trench 30 inches along.

Hints and Tips

Pea seedlings
1. Birds love to take pea seed so cover trenches with chicken wire or netting after sowing. This can removed once the seeds have germinated.

2. Peas produce tendrils to help them climb upwards so you will need to provide suitable support otherwise they will end up scrambling along the floor which can leave them prone to pest damage. Erect wire netting, or push upright twiggy sticks into the ground along the length of each trench to provide your peas with supports to cling to.

3. Once pea plants start to flower they will need watering thoroughly once a week to encourage good pod development. You can reduce water loss by applying a thick mulch of well rotted manure or compost to lock moisture into the soil.

4. Peas have specialist nitrogen fixing bacteria within their roots and so avoid the temptation to feed peas with nitrogen rich fertilisers as rather than producing more pea pods it will create a lot more leafy growth. In most cases peas won't require any extra feed, especially if you added plenty of organic matter to the soil before sowing.

Pea pods
5. Regular picking is essential as this will encourage the formation of new pods, and new pods means truly fresh peas. Harvest pods from the bottom of the plant and working upwards.

6. Don't lift the spent plant after harvest, as the roots are full of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Cut off the stems at ground level, and allowing the roots to rot down naturally. This will release nitrogen back into the soil for the next crop to use.

7. Different pea cultivars will crop at different times. Early varieties will take around 12 weeks, second earlies take 14 weeks and main crops take 16 weeks.

Bill Ebbesen file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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