Home-grown peas

Growing peas at home is simple, but the results are sensational. Photograph: Chris Price/Getty Images

If you’ve never grown veg, you may wonder if it’s worth the trouble. Cabbages, carrots, potatoes etc are widely available in shops, when you need them and in the quantities you require. A, nd if you wanted to pore over seed catalogues and get dirt under your nails, you’d have gone to agricultural college.

Peas, however, might convert you. Growing them couldn’t be much simpler, and the fresh, sweet rewards make the minimal effort worthwhile. Sow your first seeds now, plant some more every few weeks until early summer, and you could have crops from early July well into autumn.

You’ll need a sunny bit of soil that is not too dry, not too wet, not too stony, not too windy and as free of weeds as you can get it. In an ideal world this will be part of a nice big vegetable garden, next to your listed Edwardian greenhouse, but if all you have is a few containers on a patio or balcony the principles below still apply. You’ll just need to plant more densely, and in an arrangement that suits the shape of your containers.

Start by scraping out a couple of “drills” (shallow grooves) across your piece of ground – about 2.5cm deep and 15cm apart. Between these, place something to support your plants as they grow (they’ll attach themselves with curly, fast-growing tendrils). The traditional choice is a row of “pea sticks” – twiggy prunings from elsewhere in the garden – but some people swear by stakes and twine, trellis, or bamboo and netting. Anything will do so long as it doesn’t blot out the sun or collapse in high winds. The seed packet should tell you how high you’ll need to go.

Along the bottom of the drills, place a seed (which is just a dried pea from a previous year) every 2.5cm or so, cover and water. The seedlings should poke through the soil within a couple of weeks; once they are all well up, thin them to one plant every 5-10cm to reduce competition. Barring drought (and unless you’re growing in containers), you shouldn’t need to water them until they start flowering – and don’t get carried away, as too much water will encourage disease. Once the pods are full and rounded (or starting to swell in the case of mangetout), the peas are ready for harvest; pick promptly and often to encourage longer cropping.

Phil Daoust is a food writer based in England and France. Twitter: @philxdaoust