After fruit trees, peas must be just about the best-value plants you can have in a garden. They are cheap to grow from seed, incredibly easy to grow, and they provide sweet, delicious food day in, day out for months at a time.
How to grow peas
Autumn to early spring is the best time to plant in temperate, frost-free regions of Australia. Peas can be grown in the ground, in raised beds or in containers provided the soil is moderately fertile (go easy on the manure though, they don’t need too much nitrogen) and free draining. They don’t like acid soil so add some mushroom compost or dolomite lime if necessary to raise the pH where you are growing.
Tall varieties of peas (e.g. telephone, snow peas) need support such as a fence or trellis and can sometimes grow to over 2 metres tall. While small, tie them loosely to the support. As they grow taller their own tendrils will usually hold on sufficiently. For dwarf varieties (e.g. greenfeast), short twiggy prunings from fruit trees make perfect supports.
Plant peas in 2cm-deep holes about 10cm apart. Water well when planting, and then wait till their little heads pop up before watering again… they can rot in the ground if they stay too wet while germinating.
When they start flowering, keep a close eye on the plants as the pea pods will form very quickly. Snow peas can be picked as soon as the pod is big enough to be appetising, while shelling varieties such as Greenfeast need a while to fatten up (not too big though or they won’t be as sweet). Pick them daily once they get going, in order to keep the flowers and peas coming. Snowpeas are very good at hiding amongst the foliage, so walk up and down the row inspecting carefully from both directions. I find this easiest when the light is behind them, as the translucent pods show up a brighter green than the plants.
The main enemies of peas are mice, slugs, snails and birds – and powdery mildew in cool, damp conditions. Foliar spraying or watering with liquid seaweed extract can help to prevent this.
Peas are so delicious fresh from the vine, and shelling varieties are dead easy to freeze as well. Some choose to blanch them first and then freeze in a ziplock bag. others just shell them straight into the bag. Snow peas are best eaten fresh, and when you compare the cost, quality and packaging of the bought product with those that you have grown at home there is no turning back! Peas of all kinds are also one of the best vegetables for introducing children to gardening, because they grow quickly and are so much fun to find, pick, pop and crunch in the garden. Here’s to the humble pea!