Peas have been cultivated for over 8000 years from the late Stone Age, and were selected from the wild form still found growing in Turkey. Apparently the Romans introduced Peas to the UK.
In olden times, the peas were frequently dried and stored for Winter use in dishes such as Pease Pudding, and were a valuable source of protein. Indeed, an ancestor of mine who worked on a farm in East Lothian in Scotland in the early 1800’s, was partly paid with a “boll” of dried peas (about the size of a small barrel).
Not only are Peas extremely nutritious, but they can be used raw or cooked, frozen or dried for use in the Winter.
Health Benefits. Recent research shows that 1 helping of pulses(peas, beans, lentils etc.,) a day, cuts bad cholesterol by about 5%, thus reducing the risk of heart disease. Pulses contain “sticky” or soluble fibre which attracts the LDL (bad) cholesterol and helps the system to get rid of it.
Pulses can cause flatulence at first, but this problem reduces over time. If soaking dried pulses, throw away the first and second soaking waters and do not use for cooking.
I have to confess that frozen peas, such as “petit pois” are so good and easy to use that it is hardly worth growing your own shelling peas! Commercially, they are picked and frozen within 2.5 hours, before the sugars start to change to starch. However, mange-tout and sugar snap peas are easy and well worth growing, and also easy to prepare for cooking. Whichever type of Peas you are growing, you should pick them and process them as soon as possible for the sweetest taste.
There are various types of Peas available to grow, some of which have pretty flowers and some even have coloured yellow or purple pods. They also come in different heights from short Pea plants to plants up to 2 m in height. Pea plants need support to keep them off the ground and keep the Pea pods away from the soil, where they would become dirty and be eaten by slugs and snails.
First Early shelling Peas.
Those Pea seeds with smooth skins can be hardy enough to be sown in the Autumn, and then over winter, and should be ready to harvest in the early Summer. They will require cloche protection against the worst of the frost and rain in the North of the UK. For an early crop in the Glasgow Area, I find it simpler and more reliable to sow the seeds in containers or guttering in a cool greenhouse in late Winter or early Spring and transplant them to their final position in April with cloche protection.
Feltham first. Early and short variety.
Meteor. Early and short variety.
Early and Main crops shelling Peas.
There are a many varieties with winkled skins which can be sown in the Spring for early crops, and the Maincrop varieties for sowing in early Summer. Both early and main crop varieties can be either short or tall in height.
Early Onward. An early tall variety.
Alderman. A tall maincrop variety.
“Petit Pois” or naturally small, sweet and tender Peas.
Minnow. A short main crop variety.
“Mange Tout” or flat, thin walled Pea Pods.
These are the flat Pea Pods with thin walls where the whole pod is cooked and eaten, while they are still young and tender. Very little preparation of the pods is required, apart from some topping and tailing, depending on the age. These are well worth growing as the ones you see in the shops are not fresh, even though they have been flown half-way round the world at great expense. If you leave the pods to mature, you can use as a shelling pea, but the flavour is not as good.
Carouby de Moussan. Tall 2 m high variety with 7 cm flat thin walled pods.
Oregon Sugar Pod. Short variety 90 cm tall, with 5 cm thin walled pods.
Shiraz. British bred purple pod variety up to 1 m tall, with pink and purple flowers. Very productive. The purple pods do lose some of their colour when steamed.
Snap Peas or rounded, thick walled Pea Pods.
These are thick walled pea pods where the whole pod is cooked and eaten while the pod is young and tender and will snap across easily. If you leave the pods to mature, you can use as a shelling pea, but the flavour is not as good. Some seed catalogues list Snap Peas under “Mange Tout”.
Sugar Lord. Grows up to 2 m in height, so best grown up pea netting. A heavy cropping variety with large, sweet, succulent crunchy thick-walled pods. Sadly, it does not seem to be readily available, possibly because tall varieties do not seem to be in fashion.
Sugar Ann. Grows up to 1 m tall.
Sugar Flash. Short variety, 70 cm tall, about 10 weeks to harvest.
Sugar Bon. Short variety to about 45 cm.
General cultivation instructions.
Make several sowings in Spring, Summer or Autumn for continuity of cropping. Protect from mice immediately after sowing with netting, or clear plastic sheet. Also protect the young shoots from slugs, snails and birds.
The ground should be fertile with moisture retentive matter previously dug into the trench. Peas can “fix” atmospheric nitrogen on their roots thus adding fertility to the soil.
Sow the seeds which have been previously dipped in paraffin to put off mice, in double rows about 5 cm deep in April. The peas should be sown at either side of a shallow trench formed with a spade or hoe. The peas should be spaced about 7 cm apart and the trench filled in and well watered.
For early season peas, cover with cloches. Once the Peas have grown to about 7 cm high, supports will be required. For small Pea varieties, short pea sticks should suffice. For tall varieties of Peas, erect Pea netting attached to strong supporting posts about 2 m apart
Pests and diseases.
Follow the suggestions given previously to thwart mice and birds in the Spring. If you leave the pods on the plants too long in the Autumn, they will be attacked again by mice and squirrels. Take precautions in the Spring against slugs and snails.
Pea moth maggots cause damage to the peas by burrowing into the pods and seeds. It is possible to spray the embryo pods about 10 days after flowering, but I prefer not to bother and just put up with some damage.
Mildew can affect crops late in the season, but I prefer to ignore it.
Storage. All types of Peas are best picked and eaten as soon as possible. They will keep for a couple of days in a fridge crispator.
Freezing is only really suitable for shelled peas. Other types of peas tend to loose that crispness after freezing. It will work but it is not as good as eating fresh.
Asparagus Pea or winged pea. (This is not a pea but is a variety of vetch). Most commentators report that the winged small pods, which are cooked whole, are stringy and tasteless and not worth growing. Growing it once was quite enough for me!! It forms a low growing bush with small red flowers.