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Pea shoots

Pea shoots and leaves

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Autumn is prime pea-growing time, not just for pods but for shoots as well. Justin Russell has the lowdown.

Is there a more magical time of the year than mid-autumn? That combination of softening light, cooling weather yet luxurious plant growth gets me every time. If I could limit myself to one piece of advice for the remainder of the season, it would be to simply get out there and enjoy it, but that belies the fact that it’s the perfect time to sow winter crops.  

Peas should be somewhere near the top of your planting list (unless you get very cold winters, in which case, you should plant peas in spring). All types – shelling, snow and sugarsnap – can go in the ground now. Don’t worry about planting in punnets. Just push the seeds straight into prepared soil, water well and you should see some shoots in a week or two. 

That leads me to the main point of this blog. Did you know that in addition to growing peas for their pods, you can also grow them for shoots? These have a similar sweet flavour to snowpeas, but are a lot easier to grow and have the advantage of taking up hardly any space. In fact, they’re excellent when grown a bit like a microgreen, sown reasonably thickly in a shallow container, and then harvested when the plants are still small. 

Recycled polystyrene produce boxes are ideal for this technique, and they can usually be sourced from a local greengrocer for cheap or free. Fill to about 5cm from the top of the box with a blend of 75 per cent quality potting mix and 25 per cent vermiculite (the latter to help keep the mix light while retaining moisture), then scatter pea seed on the surface and top with a final two centimetre layer of potting mix to bury the seeds. Water well, place the box in a sunny position and wait for shoots to appear.  

Any pea variety is suitable for growing as shoots, but in my view the best are bush varieties such as ‘Oregon Sugar’ and ‘Greenfeast’ – varieties that fit somewhere between dwarf forms and the lustier climbers. Make your first harvest when the shoots are about 20cm long, pinching or cutting the top 10–15cm of the plant while leaving some leaves at the base for a another cutting or two in a few weeks’ time. The shoots wilt quickly, so get them from garden to plate in quick time and enjoy. They’re delicious!