It’s pretty much impossible to grow enough home-grown peas – they’re just too good! You know summer’s finally arrived when you can pick those first glorious pods, each one packed with tiny parcels of sweet deliciousness. Starting your plants off in lengths of guttering is a great way to gain a head start and enjoy an extra-early crop. Here’s how to do it…
How to Give Peas an Early Start
The secret to an early crop of peas starts with selecting the right variety. Choose a variety of pea described as being ‘early’ or ‘very early’. These types tend to be the hardiest and quickest growing of all varieties, giving you an immediate advantage. Of course, sowing any type of pea this way can help while your soil is still too cold or wet from winter for sowing directly outdoors. It’s also a great way to outwit mice, which can sometimes dig up and eat the freshly-sown seeds while you're waiting for them to germinate.
To make your pea gutters, you’ll need standard house rain guttering. Cut longer sections into more manageable lengths to make them easier to handle when full of compost and seedlings. Use a hacksaw to cut them down to size. For your sowing medium, use a standard, multi-purpose compost or your own seed-sowing mix if you prefer. You’ll also need some sort of protected environment to start your seeds in, such as a cold frame or greenhouse. Short lengths can even be placed on a bright windowsill.
Sowing Peas in Guttering
Now for the fun part! Fill the guttering halfway with potting soil then sow your seeds. There’s no need to be too precise with this, but aim to space seeds about 1-2 inches (3-5cm) apart. Top up the guttering with more compost then gently pat down to firm. Place the guttering on a bench in a greenhouse or tunnel, or into a cold frame if it gets warm enough. Water thoroughly using a watering can fitted with a rose. Depending on the weather you may find that you don’t need to water again until it’s time to plant them out, but it's always worth checking by pressing your finger into the soil to make sure it's moist but not sodden.
Planting Out Gutter-Sown Peas
It won’t take long for the seedlings to appear. When they reach about 2-4 inches, (5-10cm) tall, it’s time to plant them outside into soil that’s rich and well-drained, and in a sunny position.
When you’re ready to plant, simply use a spare piece of guttering to make a furrow just the right size for your seedlings. Now transfer your plants. You can do this by carefully sliding out one section at a time – either from a complete length of guttering, or by dividing the compost up into 6-inch (15cm) sections, then sliding the section out with your fingers. Once the plants are in, firm down the edges and water to settle them in.
Most varieties will need some sort of support. You can use branched, twiggy sticks for the shortest varieties, but for taller types you’ll need to install some netting or pea mesh between stakes.
In some areas birds such as pigeons will treat young pea seedlings as a tasty snack; they can demolish a whole row in a day! Protect seedlings by suspending netting on stakes above the plants, or place bottle cloches over each seedling with the top open for ventilation.
Growing Your Peas On
Peas should find their own way onto their supports. Keep the ground free of weeds and water plants in dry weather. You can add a layer of mulch around the base of plants to help lock in soil moisture.
The pods are ready to pick when they are swollen to the size you prefer – smaller ones are usually sweeter and, fresh from the pods, they make perfect healthy snacks to share.
And that’s it – easy isn’t it! Have you grown peas this way? If so, tell us how you got on and which types you grew by dropping us a comment below.