(Genus: Pisum - Species: Sativum - Family: Fabaceae)
Peas and their origins
The wild pea is a plant that grows around the Mediterranean and the Middle East. There is evidence that peas were growing in eastern Europe and western Asia as much as 7,000 years ago and they were present in ancient times in what is today Syria and Jordan. They were also growing in ancient Egypt 6,000 years ago and in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India 4,000 years ago.
Peas are thought to be one of the first crops cultivated by man. The Greeks and the Romans valued them as an important part of their diet. Apicius, author of a Roman cookbook from the first century BC, included many pea recipes.
Cultivated pea plants are available in many types and sizes, but they are all fundamentally climbing plants that support themselves by producing tendrils, although some modern dwarf varieties are self-supporting.
The cultivars are divided into earlies, second earlies and maincrops. They are also split into those that have wrinkled seeds and those that have smooth, round seeds. The plants produce pods of seeds, which are the peas. Almost all pods are green, but there are also varieties of purple pods with green peas inside.
When the pods are opened, the peas can be removed for eating, although with some varieties the whole unopened pod is edible. These latter types are mangetouts (French for 'eat everything'), eaten when the pods are still flat and the peas inside undeveloped, and sugarsnaps, which have fuller, tasty pods.
Thanks to the different types and varieties of pea, it is possible to harvest them from early summer through to late summer and early autumn.
How to Plant: Peas
Peas thrive in a temperate climate that is cool and fresh; the optimum temperature is around 20oC, they do not tolerate extremes of hot or cold weather. They should be planted in a bright and sunny area of the garden.
The soil should be rich and deep but most importantly, it should be well draining, peas struggle to grow in water-logged soil. The soil should have a medium texture and a slightly acidic PH. Fertilise the soil before sowing with xxg/m² of Xxxxx xxxxxx; then when the plants are 20cm tall, add another dose of 20g/m² of the same product. Alternatively, when the foliage appears, use xx-xxg/m² of Xxxxx xxxxx, immediate-release fertiliser.
Peas can be planted directly outdoors, the timing dependent on the climate of the region. In warmer regions, sow the seeds from September to November and in milder regions, from February to May. Sowing the seeds in seedbeds is not advisable, mainly because they germinate and mature at such a fast rate. There are a number of pea varieties available and the method of planting will be influenced by the variety chosen and its development rate. Plant each variety in rows or trenches. For dwarf varieties allow 5-10cm between each seed hole and a further 25-30cm between the rows. For vine varieties allow 30-50cm between each seed hole and a further 60-100cm between the rows. Pea seed should be planted at a depth of 3-5cm.
Although peas cannot cope with water logged soil which can make the seeds rot, they do need regular watering, particularly when they begin flowering. Both dwarf and climbing varieties will need support to aid growth.
Hoe between the rows regularly to prevent weeds from developing and mulching between the rows helps conserve moisture in the soil.
When to harvest Peas
Peas grow at a very fast pace, they can reach maturity within a couple of months. Harvest the pea pods as soon as they have reached the desired size. It is important to harvest peas at exactly the right time, too soon and the seeds will not have developed, too late and the peas will have lost their sweetness.
Harvest as soon as possible, this will allow more to develop and give you a better yield. From the point of harvest, peas should be consumed or preserved immediately in order to retain their sweet flavour. If storing, peas should be preserved by drying them or placing them in the freezer after blanching.
Animals, diseases and pests affecting the growth of peas
Birds can be a major threat to young pea plants, so netting is advised to keep them at bay. When the seedlings are 7-8cms tall, they are likely to need support. This can be provided by inserting rows of canes on either side of the rows of pea plants, and binding them together with twine above the plants to create an elongated 'wigwam' effect. Alternatively, for a more natural appearance that is very effective, push large twigs or small branches from garden pruning, in and around the plants to create a network of support for the growing tendrils.
The small caterpillars of the pea moth can appear inside the pods and nibble at the peas without detection, until harvest time. Usually they do little damage, but sometimes they can ruin every pea in the pod. Early and late sowings of peas tend to escape the pea moth, but for those caught in between, the risk drops if the peas are covered with a thin mesh. Use XXXX to prevent.
Other diseases and pests affecting the growth of peas
- Leaf and terricolous black cutworm
- Green bug
- Red spider mite
- Gray mould
- Powdery mildew
- Downy mildew
Did you know?
Peas have a very high nutritional value and are rich in proteins, minerals (iron, sodium, potassium and calcium) and vitamins (B1, C and PP). They are used widely in cooking as both an accompaniment to a meal but also in risottos, stews, pastas, soups and salads.
Crushed peas can be used in facemasks to help with skin firming thanks to the presence of phytoestrogens. These also help to minimise the symptoms of menopause in women. A poor source of lipids and starch, they are more digestible than other legumes.
The name pea derives from the Latin word 'pisum', which in turn came from the Greek 'pison'.
Originally, the English word for this vegetable was pease, but perhaps because it sounded like a plural, it was shortened to pea over time.
In the second half of the 19th century, Gregor Mendel, the scientist widely regarded as the pioneer of modern genetics, conducted studies on pea plants for 7 years, observing in the regions of 28, 000 plants. His observations, although widely misunderstood at the time, led to the development of “Mendel’s laws of inheritance.” By observing the inheritance traits in pea plants, he had stumbled upon three laws which form some of the basics of modern genetics.