In praise of peas
Gardens can be colourful and full of flowers OR highly productive vegetable gardens but not particularly colourful or flowery. Right? Actually they can be both and the humble pea is a good example of how this can be achieved.
Some peas as well as being tasty (one vegetable the grandchildren will eat, raw of course but that’s fine) and highly nutritious can also be a very pretty addition to the garden. So we can grow peas because they have different coloured flowers as well as producing something edible. By the way flowers of culinary peas are also edible – but not sweet peas which we grow for the scented flowers. The shoots and vine tendrils of culinary peas are edible and have the same delicate, pea-like flavour. But only vegetable pea flowers can be eaten. The petals can be added to salads, or cooked slightly and sweetened for a treat. But not sweet peas flowers – they are poisonous.
I digress. Here, at 1200 feet in the Black Mountains, we have some challenges in what we can grow due to the shorter growing season and cooler temperatures. Butternut squash, for example, struggles. So it’s interesting to look around at what grows in similar conditions elsewhere in the world and also what has been grown traditionally when we were much more dependent for survival on what could actually be grown in our gardens to feed our families. It’s also satisfying and usually successful to grow crops from seeds which a neighbour has given you.
So, coming back to peas, generally they do very well here and this year we are growing a good number which fall into all the above categories.
Let me start with donated seed. A neighbour, who is a keen veg grower, sowed some pots with Rosakrone Heritage pea but as they had all germinated had far too many so gave us a large pot full.
Checking them out, as we do these days, on the good old inter web I found this description listed with Real Seeds:
A very unusual heirloom from Sweden, withs beautiful red/pink flowers borne in ‘crowns’ above the foliage.
It grows to around 4 – 5 foot tall, and looks stunning on a wigwam or peasticks for a decorative feature that also produces lots of tasty peas. Given to us by Vivi Logan, we are delighted to add this to our collection.
Here’s a photo of them this morning. They are indeed 5 feet tall, very vigorous and the flowers are stunning. We are looking forward to an excellent crop. The fact that they originated from Sweden and were donated to Real Seeds by a donor in Pembrokeshire is encouraging. They should do well here.
Other peas also looking good are Ezethas Krombek Blau – a pea we have grown for many years originally acquired from Chase Organic Seeds (now run by Dobies). This also has lovely flowers followed by purple pods which can be eaten as mangetout but also are fine (although not particularly sweet) if you can’t keep up with picking them and they all turn into peas. I usually have other sweeter peas maturing at the same time so just mix the EKB in with them when cooking and they are fine.
We also grow Norli mangetout which are really prolific and we have been picking for weeks. These have been grown from seed which we have saved from year to year. Just need to remember to harvest them before the birds do! Pea and bean seeds if stored in dry conditions will remain viable and will germinate 100% for at least 3 years. If you store them for any longer than that some will still germinate but the percentage viability tends to reduce.
This year our maincrop peas are Early Onward and Greenshaft, both old varieties that my Dad used to grow. Greenshaft produces longer pods packed with sweet peas – the kind that win first prize for the longest peas in the village show! Garden writer, Sally Nex says of Early Onward Pea ‘You can eat from the same pea plant all season: tender peashoots in spring, flattened pods as mangetouts shortly after, big fat peas to finish with a few to dry for winter.’
Just a few words about how we grow peas here with our short growing season and pesky mice which would like to eat them as soon as they are sown!
We grow pea shoots in pots for ease of picking and then once they are at the stage when the shoots are getting a bit tough (after 6 or 7 pickings) we plant them out with hazel sticks to grow them on so that we can save the seeds for the following year.
We sow all other peas early in the year in guttering and then place them in the Garden room which has a little background heat. As soon as they germinate, they are moved outside still in guttering. This year EKB and Norli were planted out in the second week in February and the rest the last week. We use our own coppiced hazel sticks for support.
That all seems a long time ago now. We have been eating pea shoots for months and mangetout for weeks. Eagerly anticipating the beginning of the pea season. In the meantime we will be enjoying mangtout tossed in butter and mint for supper…yum.