Winter’s over when my peas start growing!

Last year I was late getting our pea crops in the ground because the winter continued cold & wet through January. On 17th January last year, I noted that we’d had over 1 month of snow, with freezing temperatures. We had also lost our fruit cages due to the weight & volume of snow accumulated. The brassicas that had stood over winter, particularly the Red sprouting Broccoli, had suffered from the freezing temperatures & I had to strip most of the leaves because they’d actually frozen, probably due to the brassica beds being in a frost pocket at the bottom of our allotment. I also noted: ‘Been v. wet-tomorrow promises to be a wet, windy stormy day. We both have storming colds!’ Jan 27th 2010.

For those of you living in colder, more northerly areas, this is probably nothing new, but for the South Downs it is; we have usually very mild winters, but 2010 & 2011 seem to herald a change that is prompting us to re-think our sowing & planting strategies.

I didn’t get our early peas into the ground until mid-April last year, from chitting them in late February, pods at the end of June. I’ve been determined to get a crop earlier this year, so chitted some early peas at the beginning of January,planted out in root trainers, in the ground mid February. To protect the plants from both the cold & the pigeons I enclosed them with blue builders netting (picture below). These were planted out in February; yesterday I took the netting off, put hoops of blue water conduit over & netted with fruitcage netting. I also planted spinach seedlings along each frame (have still to download picture to illustrate this – will post later). I never sow peas in the ground due to marauding mice/rats/squirrels digging them up – I’m not sure even soaking them in urine (recommended by some!) would help. Instead, I soak, chit & plant out in root trainers as explained earlier.

I usually have 2 rows of peas lengthways along each bed; I use chicken wire threaded on posts (old bamboo or stout sticks) with thinner bamboo/sticks threaded along the top to prevent the wire collapsing once the peas have grown. Once I’ve a frame made, since all the beds I’ll grow peas in are approximately the same size, it’s just folded away each autumn/winter & stored until the following spring. I leave enough space between the frames to allow picking comfortably.

early peas-Piccolo Provenzale, in kitchen extension before planting out

Piccolo Provenzale peas planted in bed either side of chickenwire frame

I’ve produced a chart so you can see what I’ve done & the time frames involved; I’ll up-date it as the crops develop. I’m also planting up whole beds, or at least am keeping 1 variety of pea to each frame: this helps when seed-saving so you don’t get confused about what variety you’ve saved & don’t end up with tubs of saved “misc peas’!

You might be interested to note when the full moons were in relation to chitting & planting out:19th Jan, 18th Feb, 19th March.The new moon in January was on the 4th, hence chitting the 1st set of peas on 5-6th. The 19th March full moon was particularly strong & it’s influence seemed to lag particularly over 2 days afterwards (more in a later post).

Pea Variety Soaked/ chitted In root trainers In ground
Piccolo Provencale1 – 1st E round seed 5-6th Jan 16th Jan 21st Feb
Piccolo Provencale2 16-18th Jan 27th Jan 21st Feb
Douce Provence – 1stE round seed 13-14th Feb 23rd Feb 19th March
Early Onward1 – 1stE wrinkled seed 13-14th Feb 23rd Feb 12th March
Robinson HSL (CP) 13-14th Feb 23rd Feb 19th March
Clarke’s Beltony Blue (CP) 13-14th Feb 23rd Feb 19th March
Hugh’s Huge (CP) 13-14th Feb 23rd Feb 19th March
Bijou Giant Sugar Pea (CP) 16-17th March 24th March
Early Onward2 16-17th March 24th March

Peas threaten to ‘walk’ & the leek seedlings get ahead of themselves.

I’ve done it again! I’ve got enthusiastic about getting an early start with my spring plantings by chitting early peas, broad beans & leeks, but…. I then had to get on with the rest of my life, like work & boring things like attempts at housework (hate it!). So, what’s happened? Remember those chitted peas I mentioned in an earlier post that didn’t get planted? Well, I’ve JUST got them into root trainers now-I feel like a neglectful parent who has been found forcing their child to eat cold porridge. Honestly, though,  how many of you (oh, there IS just you?) start a gardening task & don’t finish it quite how it ‘ought’ to be done?

Whatever the drawbacks of allowing your seeds to chit & then grow roots before you plant them out, they’re in their pots now all snuggled up in the kitchen extension & I will monitor how well or otherwise they do over the next few months. The Broad Beans have all emerged & are ready to go into the cold frame on the allotment before planting out, probably under fleece to help them maintain a head start.

'escaped' Piccolo Provenzale early peas

the leek seeds I sowed on 9th January are now over 1″ tall & just need popping in the cold frame for a couple of weeks before planting out into the seed bed to grow on before transplanting into the leek bed – I had them wrapped in bubble wrap by a cold French window (North facing) – it took them 10 days before the 1st seeds germinated. I’ve checked  the time/temperature guidelines for germination of  leek seeds: It can take up to 21 days to germinate leek & onion seeds, within the temperature range of 7-24ºC (45-75ºF); I don’t reckon the seedtray was warmer than @ 10ºC, but there was a full moon on 19th Jan & I have noted that sowing before a full moon does seem to affect germination rates (comments on your own experience of this, or scepticism equally welcome). What I welcome is a full seed tray of leek seedlings, in contrast to last year when they failed to germinate at all, probably too cold (I didn’t wrap them).

Pandora & Carentan Leek seedlings 27.1.11

Feeling happy at seed productivity & early start – just have to ensure nothing eats them once in the coldframe then the vegetable beds on the allotment – a dangerous time for seedlings!

Early peas ‘in waiting’!

The early peas, Piccolo Provencale, that I soaked & chitted along with the Aquadulce Broad Beans mentioned in my last post, have ‘escaped’ & are looking more like young Triffids! I ran out of root trainers, but couldn’t get to the garden centre until yesterday. Consequently I’ve only just managed to sow most of them this evening. I know, I shouldnt have allowed the seeds to develop such long root systems, but how often do you do something you’re not *really* supposed to in your garden/allotment? Sometimes, no matter how organised you are, your seeds just don’t get sown/ seedlings don’t get planted out when they ‘ought to’ – live with the consequences, learn from the experience.  I often find my chitted bean/pea seeds don’t get sown when the  should but they still produce strong plants once I get them into modules. Just go with it & don’t worry  too much about what you ‘ought’ to do. Just get a ‘feel’ for what might work for you & your situation.

Here’s a picture of the ‘escaped’ chitted seeds liberated from their kitchen towel – i’ll let you know how they progress, but I hope to be able to plant out by late February. Last year I didn’t get started with my pea crops until late February. I soaked & chitted the 1st seeds on 25/26th February (same cv), into guttering in our cold frame on the allotment by mid March, into the ground mid April, flowered mid May, pods by mid June. By starting over a month earlier I hope to bring everything forward by at least 2 wks. I’ll keep a note & let you know if I’ve succeeded.

The seeds are our own, saved from last year’s early pea crop, seeds originally from Seeds of Italy, who I would recommend because of both the quality & amount of seed you are sent. There are approximately 100 chitted seeds in this picture. New moon on 4th January, seeds soaked overnight of the 5th, drained into a pot lined with kitchen towel to chit on 6th, root radicles emerging on 7th. Sown in root trainers this evening, 16th January.

early peas-chitted seed-Piccolo Provencale 16.1.11