Mr VegHead says...

Vegetable musings from Sea Spring Seeds
6
May

Growing Pea Shoots

In 2013 we added pea shoots to our Sea Spring Seeds catalogue. Because seed are inexpensive, and the crop is both bountiful and easy to grow, we feel that every gardener should give them a try.

We’ve been growing pea shoots on and off for about a year and have devised some growing instructions that are pretty good. To some extent, the instructions are still a work in progress, but they are good enough to make them public now. They will shortly be uploaded to our main website, but until then, here they are as part of our blog:

Shoots of Recovery

Pea shoots are the young stems of leafy pea varieties grown close together and harvested when they are tender. They are hardy cool season plants flexible in their cultural requirements, and managed correctly, a single sowing can yield three or more harvests with little effort or input.

Where and when to grow

 Pea shoots not only tolerate the cold, but they also withstand summer heat. This adaptability to different temperatures extends to seed germination, which has an optimum range that starts at a cold 5º C and goes to a relatively warm 24º C. And because they are so adaptable, pea shoots can be grown virtually all year round, either outdoors or undercover.

  •  Outdoor: Sow March to September. Later sowings can be put undercover if the weather turns too cold for growth to continue.
  • Undercover: Sow October to February under cloches or cold frames, or inside tunnels, greenhouses, or conservatories. Autumn sowings are particularly valuable since they provide much-appreciated greenery throughout the winter months. If you have no other option, a south-facing window sill inside the house will do for crops grown in small pots or troughs.

 

Pea shoots grown in a container

Pea shoots are easy to grow in containers

Locale for growing

Pea shoots are relatively undemanding and can be grown both in the ground and containers.

  •  In the ground: Grow in fertile, well-drained soil of good tilth, either in the garden outdoors or inside a greenhouse or tunnel.
  •  In containers: Pea shoots are the perfect crop for cultivating in containers – they produce a crop quickly, are harvested when they are quite short (and so won’t fall over), and regrow after being harvested. The containers needn’t be huge or especially deep, and some examples of what can be used include grow bags, large trays and long troughs for harvesting larger quantities; shorter troughs and smaller trays for more modest amounts; and pots about 13cm across the top for tasters.

Use only good quality composts to fill the containers: the best ones are light, free-draining and weed-free, with enough fertility to last for weeks. There are now peat-free versions that produce excellent results, and since peat-free is also guilt-free, they are worth a try.

Establishing a crop

Forget about transplanting  – pea shoots are grown so close together that direct seeding is the only reasonable way to start a crop. Seed is quite large and should be sown quite deeply: 2 to 3cm deep will do.

  • Sow in rows, either in containers or the ground: Gardeners who like order can sow in rows 15 to 20cm apart, leaving 2 to 3cm between seeds in a row. If containers are used, they shouldn’t be too small – grow bags and larger trays are preferable. Troughs will also do, but because they are so narrow, they can accomodate only 2 rows sown lengthwise – better to broadcast the seed over the whole surface (see below).
  • Broadcast in the ground: Sow seeds 2 to 3cm apart in bands about 10cm wide, leaving  20 to 30cm between bands.
  • Broadcast in containers:This method of sowing brilliantly suits troughs and small pots. (see Easy Peasy Gardening). Simply broadcast over the entire surface of the compost, and cover over with more compost to the correct depth.

Care and harvesting

Harvesting: Though pea shoots can be cut at ground level to make a one-time harvest, it makes more sense to manage the crop so that multi-harvests can be made from each sowing. To do so, use scissors or garden shears to cut the shoots en masse when they are about 15cm tall, leaving a 5cm stubble to regrow. If done right, you should be able to make at least three harvests.

Pea shoots in their second regrowth

Pea shoots that have been harvested twice and on their third regrowth.

Fertilising: During ground preparation outdoors, add some pelleted chicken manure to the soil – it is a slow release fertiliser that keeps on giving during the life of the crop.  Crops overwintered in the ground of a tunnel or greenhouse won’t need extra fertiliser ­­if they follow tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers – these are summer vegetables that are usually heavily fertilised, and the soil should have enough residual fertility to sustain a follow-on crop of peas shoots until spring.

For container-grown plants, the compost will probably have enough fertility to last for two or three weeks. When the nutrients eventually run out, give periodic feeds of liquid fertiliser to boost growth. Be sure to go easy during the winter, though – plants grow slower and need less feeding, and there is also a danger of nitrate build-up in over-wintered plants that are given too much nitrogen.

Watering: To prevent a check in growth, keep the crop moist at all times. Container-grown plants are particularly susceptible to drying out, especially during the hottest, driest part of summer. They will need to be frequently watered with a hosepipe or watering can, but you can also place the containers in low-sided trays topped up with water – this provides a reservoir of moisture that is a godsend during dry spells.

Weeds: Weeds will always pop-up in the middle of pea shoots grown in the ground. Perennials are particularly pernicious, and to reduce their effects, use only the least weedy parts of your garden.

Pests and diseases: There are a few animals that will attack pea shoots:

  • Slugs and snails make a meal of the shoots; their numbers can be reduced by nightly hunting trips to collect them up.
  • Mice eat the just-sown seed, and trapping is an effective means of control.
  • Pigeons pick away at the seedlings and leaves of outside crops, which can be protected with netting draped over the area just after sowing.

Diseases are less of a problem, though depending on the weather, different types of mildew may infect the plants.