Hartley Magazine

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Growing Sweet Peas – Part 25

When it comes to making the most of your garden and greenhouse you need to grab sowing and growing opportunities as soon as they arise.
With autumn approaching the greenhouse changes its role and moves from being a light and solar enhancer to support the growth of crops from hotter climes, to a plant protection zone. But it‘s not all about frost protection, the greenhouse can still continue its role as a propagation house and there are a few things you can sow and grow now. One of the easiest flowers to grow from seed that bears masses of beautiful scented flowers and can be sown now for bigger and better flowers next year is the sweet pea. The plant is not edible, but has large pea like flowers in a huge range of colours and is often but not always scented.

There are hundreds of different varieties and species of this beautiful plant that can be bought as seed from specialist seed suppliers. One of the great things about sweet peas is that they are fully hardy and can be sown in the autumn to create strong and healthy plants ready to plant out in the spring. They produce long and strong root balls and need plenty of space to develop so it is better to sow individual seeds into separate modules. I like to use Root Trainers as they encourage the roots to grow downwards and there is much less disturbance of the roots when it is time to plant them out.
Don‘t forget that you can sow other hardy members of the pea family now, things like peas and broad beans, which can be nurtured into growth using the same methods as below. Be sure to label them clearly and correctly. The great thing about edible peas (NOT sweet peas) and also broad beans is that you can eat the shoots and leaves. They taste lovely picked fresh and added to salads or garnishes or you can stir fry them too. They taste just like peas or broad beans depending on which you have grown, with a lovely fresh nutty flavour. Vegetable experts swear that autumn sown peas and broad beans are less susceptible to black fly attack in spring. I can‘t vouch for that as I don‘t get blackfly problems in my garden anyway, but anything that reduces or avoids the need for chemical use is good as far as I am concerned.

How to sow sweet peas.

– Fill your modules with fresh, top quality seed compost and gently firm it in.
– Using a seed dibber or a pencil, make a single hole per module about 2cm deep.
– Drop one seed into each hole and cover over with more compost.
– Water gently with tepid water.
– Place in a bright airy place for the seeds to germinate, this may take 7-14 days.
– When the seedlings have formed two sets of true leaves, pinch out the growing tip to encourage stronger bushier plants.
– Keep slightly moist, do not over water and keep a careful watch for greenfly, which can feast on young seedlings, especially during a warm spell.

How to cheat

You can soak your sweet pea seeds overnight in tepid water and then lay them on some wet kitchen towel until they start to show signs of germination. Then plant them about 1cm deep into pots of fresh, clean seed compost. This avoids inert seeds rotting underground and allows you to see how many seeds are viable. Don‘t be hasty to discard the rest, especially if you are sowing a mixture, because some varieties may germinate quicker than others.

How to cheat some more

If you don‘t get around to sowing your sweet peas this autumn you can also sow them early next year, or you will be able to buy pots of ready grown sweet peas at the garden centre or nursery in spring, but remember the choice of varieties will be limited, so for the best choice buy your seeds now and get growing.