By the end of March the plot was empty. There are a few leeks temporarily heeled-in out of the way. But that doesn't mean that nothing has been happening. All four sections have been prepared for the new season. The two strips for the triple rows of carrots, in addition to earlier winter digging, have been turned over as has the strip for the parsnips. These two crops, along with the leeks, are the only ones to have seed sown directly into the ground. Carrots and parsnips have long tap roots that are very easily damaged if they are transplanted. Later in April the brassica section will be hoed after it gets its second application of lime.
Already growing in thimble sized modules in the greenhouse are peas (Hurst Green Shaft), sprouts (Maximus), calabrese (Chevalier), summer cabbage (Minicole), and cauliflower (Candid Charm). They will soon be potted-on into Rootrainers and later planted out. As soon as they are in the open ground they will be protected from pigeon damage by wire mesh tunnels. Overnight pigeons can easily reduce young cabbages to a single useless stalk.
In the greenhouse in April I'll sow more peas (Onward), courgettes (Defender) and sweet corn (Early Extra Sweet). It's still not too late to sow these crops outside. Many people sow seeds outside too early. Later sowings usually catch up and sometimes overtake earlier sowings. But starting crops in the greenhouse does mean slightly earlier harvesting.
Gardening books describe growing peas successfully as "not easy". But sweet fresh peas are one of our favourites, either eaten straight from the pod or lightly boiled. The method that I use does take some effort but produces long, well filled pods that are easy to harvest. Also, it's much easier in the kitchen to shell a few pods of ten peas each rather than a lot with only three or four.
As with many of my crops, the plants are raised in modules. I grow two double rows; each double row has 28 plants. The modules used have 40 cells, so two trays give plenty plants and allow only the strongest growing to be used.
After filling the modules with seed compost, thin 2 foot canes are inserted right down to the bottom of the cells, and then three peas per cell are sown. Only the strongest growing seedlings are used, the others are cut off at soil level. As the plants grow they are tied loosely to the canes with soft acrylic knitting wool. Tendrils and side shoots are cut off. When the plants reach to top of the canes they are hardened off. Having 40 plants in one tray makes the daily moving in and out of the greenhouse easy.
An advantage of raising peas in the greenhouse is that damaging attacks of Pea Weevil on vulnerable seedlings are avoided. The weevils seem to lose interest in plants once they are two feet high. For planting out I use pairs of 8 foot canes pushed into the ground 18 inches apart to form an inverted V, tied together at the top and also to a ridge cane that runs the length of the row. The pairs of canes are 1 foot apart.
A bulb planter is used to make holes deep enough for the whole of the root ball formed in the module cell. The holes are made on the inside of the canes so that the canes protect them from being stood on. The tops of the short canes are tied to the main canes as is further growth using 9 inch lengths of old plastic covered copper telephone wire. The wires are wound tightly round the canes. At the end of the season the wires are left in place ready for the next season. All the tendrils and side shoots are removed.
Hurst Greenshaft is a reliable variety. The book says that they will grow to between 2 and 3 feet, but grown as a single stem they can reach to tops of the canes. The fruiting spurs each bear two pods and stick out from the canes. Picking is easy and none are missed. I harvest twice a week and take home about 100 pods each with about 10 peas. This is all grown from an area of just under 7 square yards.
B. A. Plotter.