Friday, July 8, 2011

How do I grow Peas?


Sometimes the enquiry is fairly simple and to the point.  What's this?

The plant is Snow Pea Bikini... No, I was told that much. Peas of all kinds: podded, snow and snap are terrific vegies to grow in the Melbourne winter. In fact they can should thrive pretty much year round except for the real heat of January and February. Planting one punnet every three weeks should keep a family of 4 happily fed on Peas as often as they want. For what it's worth my personal favourite are Snap Peas, the pod is fat, juicy, sweet and very edible. Gardeners apparently think differently, we sell 3 punnets of Snow Pea Bikini (sorry, I promise I didn't create that name) for every 2 of Snap Pea Honey Pod and only one punnet of the podded Green Pea, Massey Gem. Snow Peas along with Carrots are always popular with kids when we do potting demonstrations.

There is a valid argument that frozen shelled peas are sweeter and fresher than fresh ones from the grocer. Valid yes because I'm sure the best, smallest and sweetest ones are sent off for freezing and because Peas are frozen promptly unlike peas that travel to your fridge via the cool store and the market. Nothing is fresher or sweeter than peas you have just picked yourself. Green Peas, Snap Peas or Snow Peas, please pick them very young and you will never go back to a bought Pea. It's also worth noting that as the plant gets older and loses vigour even the young Peas start to lose that vitality and can become 'mealy'. 

Back to the picture. The ugly spots look like Botrytis (Grey mold). It is essentially the mold that grows on vegies and bread when they get old. In this instance it is a sure sign of plant stress, the issue is I have no idea what is causing the stress but here are some common causes:

All vegies need plenty of sunshine and air flow. Peas climbing Tee Pees or trellis need protection from howling gales but a gentle breeze fluttering their leaves really puts fungal diseases off.

Vegies also like their roots to be kept moist but not constantly wet. That's why drainage is so important at this time of year.  The other thing that will stress plants is a lack of food.  This can be as simple as digging manure into soil before planting, of course there is a whole science dedicated to soil nutrition so let's just work on the basics: Apply organic fertiliser and check that the pH is in the 5.5-7 range to ensure that the food you have supplied is actually available to the plants. As a rule of thumb avoid fertiliser with very high Nitrogen content, eg. Chicken Manure, Citrus and Lawn fertilisers they are Junk Food for plants.

What to do with the Botrytis infected plants? Here's a good site with Natural disease control practices. I have done a quick web search for chemical controls for Botrytis and can't find anything which prompts a reminder to ensure that the problem you are trying to solve is listed on the label of any pesticide you purchase. This is particularly true for Botrytis and Powdery Mildew which both need quite specific controls not provided by the general purpose consumer fungicides generally on offer in nurseries.

Having said all that I still think Peas are easy to grow and very satisfying. However I think the ones in the photo need to be dug into the soil (good source of Nitrogen). It is recommended that Peas are grown on rotation in different beds or containers and they don't like growing alongside Onions, Garlic and their family.

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