Hartley Bean Feast Feb 2014
I’m working on a pea feast for early spring. Well peas and broad beans, the hardy stalwarts for GYO enthusiasts and actually a delicious choice that is so easy to grow it should be compulsory. Despite the fiddly depodding process, the taste of freshly picked peas completely makes up for it and there is much more to the pea family than those hard, woody tasteless peas you can buy fresh in the pod at the supermarket.
The pea family really is a fascinating group of plants. Let’s skip over the perennial sweet peas but check them out for yourself if you’ve time, as they are great, floriferous, and garden worthy plants.
For the grow-your-own enthusiast there are the edible peas and the mange touts and a huge range of both are available as seed; with Delicious variations that provide sweet tender seeds and pods for raw or steamed delights. There are purple-podded strains to add colour and interest to your recipes or to enthrall the kids. Even the shoots, tendrils, flowers and leaves of real peas and mangetout are edible and delicious (NOT sweet peas) and can be harvested for delicate garnishes, micro leaf creations or for just munching within the greenhouse as they sprout into life. The pretty edible pea and mangetout flowers make a beautiful garnish or can be added to salads for colour and flavour, just make sure you don’t use sweet pea flowers as they are toxic.
One of the many great things about peas is that they are hardy, which puts them among the few things that can be sown and grown early in the season. And considering the wet start we have had this year so far, finding ways of growing things without conditions rotting, drowning or washing them out of the soil is becoming a bit art form. The greenhouse scores again. They are so reliable and easy to grow, it’s a guaranteed crop of something whatever your skills and experience
Those blessed with a greenhouse have a powerful weapon in the armoury. Unless it’s been flooded or blown away in the gales, the glasshouse creates a wind and rain proof sanctuary where the greenhouse grower can sow, plant and pot for hours on end protected from the weather. It’s a great escape, not just from the weather, but also from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Somehow you tune in with the plants and the garden and reconnect with nature, which is probably why it is so calming and satisfying. There’s something very pleasing about growing things to eat and looking forward to the growing season ahead to the warmer, drier brighter weather that we hope will follow these biblical floods.
But just as importantly the greenhouse creates a protected environment for precious seeds, seedlings, cuttings and plants to grow on.
Time and Space
So this weekend, armed with a sweet pea growing pack from Unwins, complete with unheated propagator, compost and seeds, and under the light and power of the new moon, I’ve been planting peas. Mostly sweet peas, but also some heritage edible peas from a biodynamic grower. They’ve been sown two to a module and will be reduced to one plant per module once they get growing. Alongside I’ve sown some broad beans and some organic spinach too, it’s a slow start but as the garden is waterlogged and will be for sometime now, everything needs to be timed and staged so that it has somewhere to grow when it needs growing space. It’s too easy to fill the greenhouse with plants, seedlings and cuttings now, but if they have nowhere to grow on, there’s little room to plant or sow anything more. It’s a lesson in space management and one I need to master. With the sowing season upon us the promise of flowers, herbs and vegetables it sometimes too much to resist. I just can’t help myself.
Labeling is essential when you plant a mix of things of the same family and species, as the seedlings can look identical. My sweet pea seedlings will be a mirror image of the heritage peas for quite a while and even though I always think I will remember what I’ve sown, I always get muddled when the greenhouse has so many pots, trays and modules of different varieties of the same plant. Fortunately there were some trendy black plant labels in the pack too, complete with a white pen. The result was clear, easy to read and write labels for my seeds and seedlings. Is this, at last, the perfect solution to the complex label problem? Well watch this space, but to be honest they do look promising. The ink wont fade (hopefully), they are easy to read, the black labels aren’t as unsightly as the white ones and won’t become those prolific weathered, iconic tombstones in the garden marking failed plants or places where the dog (or cat, or fox) has dug a hole. I’ve tried wooden labels, homemade labels, seed packet labels, aluminium labels, recycled labels and even handmade terracotta labels and in the end I’ve resorted to writing on the plastic flower pots, which is fine until you pot them up or plant them out.