A few weeks ago I blogged about sowing peas undercover. Now that it’s April, and brown is giving way to green as the dominant colour on Plot 35a, it is time to plant out the seedlings. Our site had its annual delivery of composted manure last week – I ordered 20 bags for my 115 square metre plot, although I am worried, as always, that it will not be enough. The peas will grow in a new raised bed next-door to the broad beans, and I used five 80 litre bags of composted manure to fill up the bed. Peas will thrive on this rich, warm soil.
They have done well in the root-trainers, which encourage growth of long, strong root systems and are good for peas, leaks and beans. The variety in this picture above is a yellow mange tout called ‘Golden Sweet’. Just before planting out, I drenched the root-trainers in water to make sure they don’t suffer the transition to open ground.
This is the bed that was soon to become the peas’ home. It housed potatoes last season, so the ground will have a good, open structure. I then added the five bags of rotted manure. I have used different structures to grow peas: wigwams, which are good if you’re short of space but if you are growing many different varieties they can all muddle together, or a wall of pea netting, which I find gets itself impossibly tangled. This year I am going for string along an A-frame structure, which I am calling a Pea Harp because, well, as you will see…
First, make the basic A-frame structure, using nine canes of equal length – two uprights at either end (pushed very firmly into the soil), plus two in the middle to make it robust, one horizontally along the top to hold the structure in place, then two more horizontally along the soil.
I have seen string used for these soil-level lengths but if the vertical string is pulled too taut, the horizontal lengths bow upwards, which will put pressure on the plants. Using canes will make the vertical string and the whole structure rigid (better to withstand another gale).
Next, take a ball of string and tie, as tightly as you can, the end to the top horizontal cane at one end. Feed the string around one of the bottom horizontal canes, wrapping it round twice to keep it in place, then run it to the top again, in a gradual zig-zag action, keeping the string fairly tight (but not so taut that it will snap under pressure of growing plants). Continue until you have reached the other end, then repeat on the other side. You will need a decent ball of string, but if you run out halfway along, don’t worry as you can tie it to a new length.
Then it is time to plant out. After watering the soil, I planted one root-trainer pack’s worth of peas – about 32 plants – along each side, so 64 plants in total. Peas can grow close together, so don’t feel guilty about cramming a lot in. These peas are early and maincrop varieties that produce standard podding peas, apart from the aforementioned mange tout ‘Golden Sweet’. This week I am going to sow a second batch of peas, mainly sugar snaps and mange touts, which will grow up a second pea harp on the other half of the bed.
Peas, like most veg, are attractive to slugs, but I hope I have seen them off by applying Nemaslug a couple of weeks ago. Birds can be a nuisance, but hopefully will be put off by the string. Pea and bean weevil can be a problem, but only really aesthetically – this pest nibbles at the leaf margins, leaving a semi-circle notch, but it doesn’t affect the crop. Pea moth can be a major problem, with tiny caterpillars getting inside the pods and destroying the precious crop, and you don’t know your peas have been attacked until harvest-time, which is very dispiriting. Mange tout varieties, which by their nature do not grow into pods before they are harvested, are less susceptible. I will try to keep my plants healthy with plenty of water and some organic fertiliser once the flowers develop to help the pods swell. Apart from that, there is little else to do except stand back and admire your pea harp.