Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Pea shoot salads at midwinter

There is not a great deal going on in the greenhouse at the moment. It is doing its job, protecting those plants that need to be kept out of winter rains, or that need just a little bit of protection from the cold, and those plants are in a bit of a holding pattern – with luck they will stay alive, but I’m not expecting too much from them. For a little bit of greenhouse action, I need to sow some easy and very hardy crops, and it’s a good time to get some pea shoots and other hardy salads on the go.

Growing pea shoots is such a lovely way of getting a fresh crop at any time of year, even now. Light levels are low, and so are temperatures, and growth will be much slower than it would be if you sowed them at a warmer moment, but they will still produce a fresh salad crop relatively quickly – certainly faster than almost anything else you can sow at the moment. The idea with pea shoots that you sow peas but then harvest them when they are tiny. Unlike when growing for actual peas, you don’t need to wait until they clamber up a fence, flower and fruit, because all you are eating is the first flush of growth. The brilliant thing about peas is that every part of the plan tastes of…peas – the tendrils, the pods, the flowers, and yes, the shoots, even when they have just emerged from the ground.

Sow pea seeds thickly now for a winter salad from the greenhouse.

Because we are not needing our pea seedlings to mature into full grown plants and to go through all of those stages, we can be a lot less fussy when planting for pea shoots than we would be when growing them as a vegetable. Breeders put a lot of time and expertise into creating peas that will withstand pests and diseases, that will flower early and will produce the most delicious pods of peas, but there is no need for any of that in this case. In fact it would be a waste to use peas bought as vegetable seed for this use, and expensive too. What you need for pea shoots is a lot of seed of any old pea. This could be pea seeds that you have dried and saved yourself from a previous crop, but equally you can get great results from a box of dried marrowfat peas, sold for cooking and turning into mushy peas.

Choose a shallow container – even a seed tray will work well for this as pea shoots are such a temporary crop and as such do not need a huge amount of compost to draw on, again, don’t waste it. Fill the tray or shallow pot to just over half full and gently firm the compost down, then scatter the dried peas all over the surface. Forget everything you know about seed sowing: these need to be thickly spread, with barely a gap between them. You want to create a forest of leaves.

Cover with a sprinkling of compost, water and leave in the greenhouse. If you want them to germinate and grow faster you can bring them indoors onto a windowsill but they will slowly do so even outside. Why not do two trays, one for indoors and one for out? And then you will stagger your harvest.

They are ready to harvest when they have reached just a few inches in height. Take a pair of scissors or a sharp knife and just slice them off just above the compost. Wash thoroughly and throw into a salad or in a sandwich. Beautiful, fresh, delicious growth from your greenhouse in the middle of winter.