For best results this vegetable demands careful attention, especially as regards soil preparation. Deeply dug, really fertile soil which has been enriched with manure or compost some weeks prior to sowing is desirable. The roots go down 2 ft. deep, hence the need for deep digging. Peat, hop manure and similar humus-forming materials will help to conserve moisture. Peas detest dryness at the roots. Bonemeal is a great help towards forming an extensive root system. Early round-seeded varieties such as British Lion, Early Bird, Kelvedon Viscount and Meteor can be sown in late October or November in sheltered positions and on warm soils. The main sowings of early varieties are made in March, followed by the later varieties which can be sown up to late June (in the north the last sowing should be made before mid-June and a first early, dwarf pea like Little Marvel or Meteor chosen — this type should also be selected for the last sowing in the south, as tall varieties which take a long while to mature may not be ready until early autumn when mildew is always in the offing). Early varieties usually take 11 to 12 weeks to mature, second earlies about 13 weeks, maincrops at least 14 weeks and the really late kinds like Autocrat and Gladstone as long as 17 weeks. The taller varieties are best avoided on very light soils, especially in the north as they require very liberal treatment, particularly during a really hot summer. Successional sowings at 10 or 14 day intervals are often recommended but this assumes even growing weather and will probably result in two or more crops being ready to pick simultaneously. A better plan is to make each sowing when the previous batch is 1 in. or so tall. Sow 2 in. deep in wide, shallow drills 9 in. wide, spacing singly and in 2 or 3 lines. Distance between drills is governed by the ultimate height of the variety, which is easily ascertained from the catalogue or seed packet. For example, the dwarf growing Little Marvel would go about 18 in. apart, Early Onward 2 ft. and Gladstone 3/2 ft. If the heights vary, e.g. one variety is 4 ft. and another 2 ft. high, split the difference, allowing about 3 ft. Lettuce or spinach can be sown between the drills. Half a pint of pea seed should sow a row 35 ft. long. If the soil is dry, take out the drills 24 hours before sowing and fill with water. In dry districts, amateurs often take out the drills so that the surface is below the level of the surrounding soil after the seeds have been sown and covered with soil. This enables rain to penetrate more readily and makes mulching easier. Never sow peas deeper than 2 ½ in-even on very light soils, as the seeds may rot in the ground. Mice sometimes attack seeds before germination. To prevent this moisten with water and roll in red lead prior to sowing. Bird damage to young seedlings can be checked by setting up proprietary bird-scarers or by the old-fashioned method of stretching strands of black cotton over short sticks. A dressing of sulphate of ammonia is beneficial when the seedlings are about 2 in. tall. Mulching with damp peat, hop manure etc. in dry weather is always helpful and should be preceded by watering. All peas must be supported. There is no variety which will stand up without some support, as in wet, windy weather even the short growers like Little Marvel and Meteor will sprawl so that the lower shoots are damaged by slugs and other pests. Small twiggy sticks should be inserted firmly in the soil when the seedlings are about 3 in. high. Special pea sticks are excellent when the plants are a little taller, provided they incline outwards at the top. Cord netting is also suitable.

Undoubtedly there are too many varieties in commerce and it is often difficult for the beginner to select the best for his particular needs. Local experience is always a safe guide, as certain varieties do especially well in particular areas or on certain soils. Here is a selection, covering earlies, maincrops, and late varieties and varying in height.

First Early Peas (mainly Dwarf):

British Lion: useful for autumn or early spring sowings. Height 3/2 ft.Carter’s Model Daffodil: a quick maturing variety, cropping heavily. Height 18 in.

Cloche Wonder: stocks of this variety are scarce but it is well worth some effort to procure as the flavour is exceptionally good. It grows to about 20 in. in the open and as the name indicates is excellent for cloche work. Resistant to mildew.

Early Bird: a good variety for autumn sowing. Height 3 ft. Early Onward: an outstanding newcomer which is drought-resistant and does well on really heavy land. Grows to about 2 ft. carrying a heavy crop of blunt-nosed pods. Very similar to Onward but a little shorter in growth and about 10 days earlier.

Feltham First: another useful variety for cloches. It is extra early, being usually ready 10 weeks from sowing (sometimes less). Height 18 in. Kelvedon Viscount: useful for autumn sowing. Height 2 ft. Little Marvel: strongly recommended for small gardens, as it is a tremendous cropper, the dark green, stumpy pods coming in pairs. Does well on very light soils and is drought-resistant. Excellent flavour. Height 18 in.

Meteor: very popular for cloches. Can be dried and stored for winter use. Height 15 in.

Second Earlies and Maincrops:

Advance Guard: slightly curved, very full pods, hanging in pairs on a plant 2 ½ ft. tall. Ideal for amateurs with very little space. Dobie’s Greensleeves: extra long, slim pods (6 in. when well grown) with about 10 peas to the pod. Ideal for the exhibitor and equally good for cooking. Grows to about 4 ½ ft.

Kelvedon Monarch: highly resistant to drought. Pods come in pairs with 8 to 9 large peas. Height 2 ½ ft.

Miracle: recommended for dry soils as the long, dark green pods hold their colour for some time after they are ready to pick. Height 4 ft. Onward: dark green, blunt-nosed pods, hanging in pairs. Excellent flavour, starts to crop near soil level, stands up well to dry weather and is resistant to mildew. Height 2 ½ 2 ft.

Note: there are other varieties bearing the prefix Kelvedon, e.g. K. Perfection, K. Spitfire, K. Triumph, K. Wonder. All are first-rate for garden cultivation.

Late Varieties:

Autocrat, Gladstone and Sutton’s Continuity grow to about 4 ft. As already emphasised, late varieties should not be attempted unless the gardener is prepared to go to extra trouble as regards soil preparation, mulching etc.

Edible-podded, Sugar or Mangetout Peas:

These are gathered young with the peas in the pods and cooked just like dwarf French beans, I.e. topped and tailed but not shelled. There are dwarf and medium to tall varieties.

Growing Peas under Cloches:

In the north it is best to defer sowing until about mid-February, unless the garden is in a sheltered area. Meteor is shorter in growth than almost any other variety and can therefore be kept longer under cloches. Remember to pre-warm the soil by covering with cloches about 10 days before sowing. A mid-February sowing should be ready to pick at the beginning of June, a little earlier in a forward season.

In the south a late January sowing will give you peas to gather about mid-May. It is a good plan to sow carrots or radishes on either side of the rows of peas. Transplanted lettuces can also be used.

Insect Pests and Fungus Diseases:

The Pea and Bean Weevil appears on sunny days from March onwards. It operates chiefly at night among very young seedlings, which show small notches or round holes, especially along the edges of the leaves. When disturbed these pests often drop off the plants and feign death! Dust the foliage with insecticide, derris or gamma-BHC (lindane) insecticides. Pea Moth injury is only too familiar to gardeners as maggots in the pods. This pest lays its eggs from mid-June to the end of July. Spray with insecticide 7—10 days after flowering begins, thoroughly soaking all parts of the plants.

Pea Mildew is occasionally very troublesome in late summer although attacks are usually sporadic. Dusting with sulphur is a useful preventive.

Seed Decay and Damping-Ojf sometimes destroy a large number of pea seedlings before they appear above ground, especially on heavy, wet soils (poor germination of seed is often blamed for a thin crop when the real answer is disease). Market gardeners and farmers buy seed in bulk which has been previously dressed with a thiram fungicide by special machinery, so that it is ready for sowing. This protects the seeds from the moment they are sown. Gardeners can buy a specially designed plastic puffer pack containing the same fungicide — thiram. The powder is puffed into a tin containing the pea seeds. Close and shake so that the seeds are covered evenly with the fungicide.

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