Picking fresh pea pods is one of the delights of Summer vegetable gardening here in the UK. My new allotment garden share means this year I can once again indulge in this delight.
I’ve grown peas in the past, but this time, I’m growing tall peas. Very tall peas they are actually – growing up to 10 feet tall! Now that is tall! (10 feet is about 3 metres if you’re metric 🙂 )
I chose my tall climbing peas from The Real Seed Catalogue. They’re a heritage seed variety called “Champion of England” and, like a lot of heritage seeds, they have a lovely little story behind them.
The Champion of England tall climbing pea is a traditional UK pea, dating back to the mid-19th century. In years gone by, all peas were tall peas, but with the advent of mechanised harvesting, shorter varieties became the norm as the harvesting machines were unable to harvest from taller plants. Once tall peas were no longer grown as commercial crops, apart from a few seeds in seedbanks, the Champion of England pea became unavailable … until one day in 2007.
In 2007, the people at Real Seeds received a letter from a Mr Robert Woodbridge in Lincolnshire. His grandmother had grown Champion of England tall climbing peas in her garden in Pickworth, Lincolnshire and saved their own family strain of these peas since the 1940s.
Mr Woodbridge’s grandfather had worked at a large country house during World War II, mending greenhouses, and his grandmother had originally been given some of the Champion of England peas by the head gardener there. Mr Woodbridge had kept his promise to his grandmother to keep growing and saving the Champion of England tall pea and had a batch of seeds that he offered to Real Seeds.
The people at Real Seeds were, of course, delighted and called the peas “an amazing find”. They have then been able to gradually produce more of the Champion of England tall peas until they had enough to offer them through their online Real Seeds Catalogue.
I began sowing my Champion of England peas on 3rd April, though with my earliest pea sowings, I don’t sow them straight into the ground. It would be too cold for them in April – especially this Spring, which was very chilly here in Northern England.
Instead, I put 12 dry peas in a jar and amply cover them with cold water. I leave the peas to soak for around 24-48 hours, then I drain out the soaking water and also give the soaked peas another rinse or two with fresh water.
The drained, but still wet, peas stay in their jar (covered loosely with the lid) on my kitchen counter until they sprout. I just rinse them with fresh cold water a couple of times a day.
After about 4-5 days the radicle (root) of the peas begins to grow. When most of the peas have grown a radicle, I then plant the sprouted peas into cardboard toilet roll tubes filled with multi-purpose compost. I find 12 tubes just fit nicely into an upcycled plastic carton saved from supermarket-bought mushrooms.
I repeated this whole process with another batch of 12 peas when the previous batch had been planted into their cardboard tubes and had produced small pea shoots (approximately 8-10 day intervals).
My Champion of England peas had an excellent germination record using my sprouting method. When the pea shoots had grown to about 4-6 inches tall (10-15 cms), I planted them out in the allotment.
The first batch of 10 successful plants were planted out on 21st April. With the pea plants being in cardboard tubes, planting out is simply a case of digging a deep enough hole and planting in the whole thing, tube and all. I added a generous trowel-ful or two of my deliciously earthy-smelling home-made garden compost to the planting hole before putting in the pea plant, to give the plant a good feed as it grows.
While I was waiting for my peas to grow, I built a huge pea frame from hazel rods and netting and set it firmly in the ground. The upper cross piece that supports the netting is 8 feet (approximately 2.5 metres) above the ground.
Although the Champion of England peas were reputed to grow to 10 feet, I must say I was a little skeptical as to whether they would manage this on our cold and windy northern hillside. (Our local climate is a bit different to the peas’ original home in Lincolnshire!) But, I thought I’d build the pea frame tall enough, just in case my tall pea plants did reach their maximum height.
My Champion of England pea plants grew relatively slowly at first – probably due to the cool conditions we experienced through much of the Spring. However, as soon as the weather began to warm up a little bit and we saw a bit more of the sun, the transplanted pea plants began to shoot away.
At the end of May, after about a month in the ground, the plants were around a foot to 18 inches high (30-45cm).
By 18th June the tallest pea plant measured almost 5 feet high (1.5 metres).
Now, on 2nd July, the tallest plant has reached 7 feet high (2 metres).
Even more exciting than the fact that my peas plants were rapidly turning into tall peas, on the Summer Solstice (21st June) I spotted one of my tall pea plants had produced its first beautiful natural white flowers.
About a week later, a good few more flowers had appeared and then, even more exciting, I saw the first pea pod forming. Now, about a further week on, I can see the tiny peas beginning to show in a couple of the pods.
It’s just so exciting growing tall peas! I can hardly wait to taste these sweet, fresh garden peas … I just hope the jackdaws don’t get there first 😀
J Peggy Taylor