Home-grown peas, eaten fresh from the pod, taste like nothing else. This is due to the fact that as soon as they are picked, the sugars in the pea turn to starch. It is well worth trying to grow your own, to experience that “fresh from the pod” flavour for yourself.
Growing peas outside restricts the gardener to two fairly limited time periods: autumn-sown peas crop in May, while spring-sown varieties are ready between July and October. Using a greenhouse extends the sowing and cropping periods significantly. Pea lovers prepared to heat their greenhouse throughout the winter can even enjoy this sweet legume all year round.
Greenhouses can be used in two ways to grow peas. The first method, between late winter and early spring means sowing pea seeds in troughs inside the greenhouse, ready for planting outside when the risk of frost passes. Some varieties can also be sown in autumn, and over-wintered in a greenhouse. The second method involves completing the plant’s entire growing cycle within the greenhouse.
Peas plants grown best in soil that is loose and drains easily. The soil pH should be neutral, or very slightly acidic. pH testing kits are readily available, and very useful. Adding a fertiliser, such as dried manure, to the soil ensures optimal growing conditions. Thought must be given to the temperature of the greenhouse. Although generally tolerant of colder conditions, pea plants require a minimum temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, pea plants growing in a greenhouse during the winter months (approximately November to March) require artificial lighting. Without this, the vines will be overly leggy and weak, even with an appropriate support structure.
This support structure is important, and is required by anything other than a dwarf variety. Pea netting, supported by sturdy canes, is popular, but it can be tricky to untangle the harvest. Chicken wire, or even thin branches, are sensible alternatives. If the aesthetics of the greenhouse are important, ornamental trellises or willow panels look good and do the job.
Pea seeds should be sown between one and two inches apart, and pressed lightly into the soil. They need plenty of water. Around an inch per week is usually sufficient but, once sprouted, care must be taken to water the soil around each plant, rather than the plant’s foliage. Insufficient watering may result in mildew.
Even in a greenhouse, pests can be a problem. The warm environment may attract mice and rats, which will eat the seeds. Later on, the pea moth may ravage crops. As the damage is usually noticed only when the peas are shelled for eating, pre-emptive action is advised. This means covering crops most at risk with fine-gauge insect mesh, as soon as the flowers fade.
The peas are ready for harvesting when the pods have filled out, but are still fresh, green and unwrinkled. Regular picking encourages further cropping.