This family of vegetables are useful, practical, culinary and ornamental – so well worth a spot on your vegetable plot.
They belong to the ‘legume’ family that are a group of plants which include peas, beans, sweet peas, wisteria and broom. They have specialised roots (nodules) that fix nitrogen from the air and convert to a nitrogen-form in the soil that plants can take up through their roots as a nutrient.
They often display attractive and colourful flowers before they fruit, so serve an ornamental purpose as well as a culinary one.
What’s more – you’ll get a sweeter crop from home-grown peas and beans. The longer the pods are off the plant, the more the sugar turns to starch and the pods lose their sweetness. Picking from your garden and using in dishes soon after, will ensure keeping a naturally high sugar-content.
Sowing and planting
Different varieties of peas and bean require different sowing times; consult the seed packet or growing instructions for the individual variety. There are some facts and tips though that apply to all pea and bean crops.
With peas, try not to grow in the same location for more than one year. Planting the same crop in the same soil year after year may build up diseases and harm the crop.
Seeds are a delicacy for mice so you may need to be aware, and put up protective netting. As seedlings grow, you may need to be vigilant and watch out for other pests – particularly birds. Germination time 1-2 weeks. Keep area well-weeded with a hoe, being careful to avoid delicate seedlings.
Before planting, prepare the soil in autumn or winter. You’ll want your soil to be fertile without being too rich – some legumes, particularly peas, are quite fussy in their soil requirements. Aim to add two buckets of bulky compost or manure for every square metre and apply a light dressing of general purpose fertiliser shortly before sowing. This will suffice for the whole growing season.
Water thoroughly at sowing or planting time, and this will suffice until flowering except during particularly dry periods.
Once flowers appear, keep the soil well-watered. A mulch applied at seedling / young plant stage will help to conserve soil-moisture and lessen the need for watering.
Peas and beans appreciate a sunny and sheltered spot for optimum growth.
Harvesting and storing
You’ll find beans and peas are very prolific and you’ll need to be vigilant to keep on top of harvests. For continual harvest through the season, ensure you’re picking at least every couple of days. A break in harvesting, will halt production of further beans quite rapidly.
You may find you’ll have a glut of pods so either give away to friends and family or consider freezing. Refridgerated beans and peas should keep in a plastic bag for up to a week or a few days if kept in a cool kitchen or garage.
Pests and diseases of peas and beans - Grey mould, Downy mildew, Chocolate spot (Broad Beans), Pea aphid, Bean aphid