Hartley Magazine

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Chillies and pea shoots

‘Once grown, the pea shoots will make sweet, crunchy salad leaves for early in the year

It is about this time of year that I start getting a little twitchy to do some sowing in the greenhouse. This is a bit unfortunate, as it is way too early for the vast majority of things. The exception is chillies and pea shoots, and so I have sown them both. They are sown now for entirely different reasons. Chillies need an epically long growing season, and here in the UK we just don’t have one. If we sowed them at a point in the year that provided anything like the warmth they need, they would have only a few months to grow before the temperature started to drop. Instead we sow them now, almost in the dead of winter, and we cosset them until the weather catches up with their needs. I have sown several varieties (mild ones, I am not a big fan of the hotties) all in small pots in the heated propagator. This provides gentle, even bottom heat that seeds from warm places find irresistible, and I should see some shoots before too long. The idea then would be to move the seedlings under lights. These have become really affordable in recent years and are brilliant for keeping early sowing in good condition while the light outside is low. Sadly I don’t have one yet and don’t really have the space for one, but if you are looking for a fool proof way to get plants such as these through the early and dark months of the year, lights are the way to go. Instead I will be balancing mine on windowsills and trying to prevent them from getting drawn up and leggy, and they will go out into the greenhouse as soon as it is warm enough.

No such messing around with the pea shoots. I was thinking about sowing some winter lettuces, which tolerate cold well, but even they wont germinate when it is very cold, so I may just hold off on that for now. But pea shoots are a very different matter, and are absolutely worth sowing now. For pea shoots you don’t have to worry about variety because you are never going to let them grow to their full potential, and are just going to nip off the sweet and tender shoots to eat as salad leaves. So you can use up any old packets that you have leftover from previous years, or you can even use dried marrowfat peas from the supermarket, the type that you would otherwise cook down for mushy peas. I always sow them straight into the container that I’m going to be harvesting them from – there is no requirement for fussing around with pricking out here. This can be a pretty pot or it can be a seed tray, but whatever it is, it is sensible to use something fairly wide and shallow – you just don’t need a big depth of pot beneath them and will only waste compost. Sow the seeds thickly across the top of the container, and then cover with a thin layer of compost and water well. You can then position this in your greenhouse in a sunny spot, and wait for them to start into life. Growth will be slow at first and will stall completely in warm weather, but soon, sure enough, shoots will come. You need only wait for them to reach a few inches tall before you start harvesting, chopping them off, giving them a rinse and adding them to your plate. They make a particularly good addition to an egg mayo sandwich. My chillies may be many months away from harvesting, but at least I can sow one crop that will get a quick return, even now.