In August, the temptation to curl up under a warm blanket with a hot cup of tea and a good book or the remote in-hand is strong (add a roaring open fire and resistance seems futile). As alluring as this lovely indoor winter setting may appear, now is actually the perfect time to throw on a woolly jumper, get out in the garden and plant some lovely peas.
Wild peas are thought to be native to the Mediterranean Basin and the Near East and although the actual location of its domestication is somewhat disputed, its claim as one of the oldest cultivated crops is not. Peas have been around for a long time, in fact, some archaeological finds in Asia date the crop back to 11,000 years ago.
A reference to the humble pea in the history books is most probably the only thing Thomas Jefferson, Catherine de Medici of Florence, King Louis XIV, Charlemagne, King of the Franks, Eric XIV, a 16th Century Swedish King and Calpurnia, Julius Caesar’s wife have in common. One died from an arsenic-laced pea soup, one had it as a last name, one introduced it to France and the others enjoyed them to the point of commanding their people to grow them. Connecting the historical character to its pea reference makes for an interesting game of mix and match.
Returning to the present, the planting season varies depending on climate zones but as a general rule, they love the cooler months of the year when soil temperature ranges from 8 to 20 degrees. Interestingly, peas share an amazing property with the rest of its legume family members, they can absorb nitrogen from the air and send it to nodules on their roots where it can be converted to a form the plant can use. To do so, they need a little help from their symbiotic friend, the Rhizobia bacteria. Keep this in mind when creating that perfect balance of soil nutrients for your pea plants and make sure that the soil drains easily and is compost-rich.
Once seeds have been planted, water them immediately (or sow in damp soil) then put the GARDENA Sensitive Plant Sprayer away until after germination. Watering can then be resumed and continued on a regular basis. Your pea plants will eventually need some support. Our GIVING THE GARDEN THE SUPPORT IT NEEDS article is full of great tips on creating structures that are perfect for the delicate tendrils of pea plants.
The list of nutrients present in peas is long and healthy; Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, Folic Acid, Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium and Zinc. They may be small but they pack a huge nutritional punch. The time to harvest will depend on the type of pea that you have planted. For example, snow peas need to be picked as soon as the peas start to form and are barely visible through the pod; this will maximize taste and nutrients. They are best eaten quickly since their precious sweetness diminishes soon after picking.
There are countless ways to enjoy peas and in the case of snow peas, the obvious choices are in salads and stir-fries. If you are looking for a new appetiser at your next cocktail party, why not blanch some snow peas and fill or cover them with cream cheese mixed with your favourite herb. A light and fresh alternative to the usual cracker, it will please your health-conscious guests.