Since I last wrote here my seed sowing has switched from smugly-ahead-of-time to oh-my-what-have-I-been-doing-with-my-time. Outdoors was so cold and slow back then, all of four weeks ago, and sowing time seemed endless. What happened? Now it’s all green shoots, pink blossom and blue skies and I have moved from leisured to frenzied. I am getting behind already. Time to head for the greenhouse.
The list of seeds that I want to put under compost right now feels slightly overwhelming, so today I decided to stick to one small sub-genre of the ‘seed to sow’ list: mange tout and peas. I am thinking this might be a good way to overcome this seed panic, one little logical grouping at a time, but I must remember to keep at it: a few seed trays worth every few days and I can be confident I will have all the plants I want come planting out time.
Peas in particular are pretty tough and happy to go out early – I could even have sown some in autumn to be ready to plant out now – so this seemed like a good place to start. ‘Telephone’ is actually a maincrop pea, best for slightly later sowings if you are sowing direct into the ground, as they sit and sulk in the cold earth, but as I’m doing it in the greenhouse they will be fine, pampered with soft, fluffy compost. Peas like a long root run, and I had a short phase of using ‘rootrainers’ (are they root rainers or roo trainers? I quite like the latter) long thin sowing tubes that you fill with compost and train your roots to head downwards, rather than sideways. This is apparently a thing that makes peas happy. However I come to not like them. They have no proper base, and no obvious way of keeping themselves upright. You actually have to buy a whole other piece of equipment – a kind of a grid or frame – to stop them toppling and spilling their load, or otherwise you can improvise with stuffing newspaper around them. All a bit hard work when there is a skips-worth of plastic pots behind the greenhouse. I’ve taken to sowing them lots to a big pot, so that they have the long root run, even though it does mean that I have to carefully tease apart their roots come planting time.
In addition to the peas I have ideas of sowing a whole range of mange touts this year. I like them, and the kids eat them straight off of the plant, not a thing they do with many other crops and very much the sort of thing that makes me feel all the trouble is worthwhile. It warms my middle-class cockles. I grew a couple of cultivars last year and liked the way their different colours looked in salads (I am easily pleased) and so this year I am sowing three different kinds ‘Golden Sweet’ actually pale yellow pods, ‘Dwarf Grey Sugar’ green pods with a blueish grey tinge, and ‘Shiraz’ an entirely new one on me with deep purple pods. I am thinking of planting them on their own tripods of canes. I made the mistake last year of mixing up peas and mange touts and sweet peas and it turns them into a nightmare to pick. How do you know whether this flower is going to turn into a pickable pod, or should be picked as a flower or should be left to turn into peas? You don’t. Don’t do it. Little individual tripods of pea things, followed by very beautiful salads.