Like peas in a pod.jpg

Like peas in a pod

By: PAUL McKAY

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LAST WEEKEND I visited a friend’s house near Salir and was inspired by his greenhouse (sad, I know).

For many years we have been intending to construct a greenhouse, but you know how it is, more important things come along – floods, forest fires and forays to the beach.

There is also the not inconsequential matter of cost. Okay, the materials are cheap (cheap is a term relative to income of course), but all those little cheap items can add up to a hefty bill in the end.

The beauty of my friend’s greenhouse is that it was built using waste wood, covered in plastic and weighed down with stones. Basically, he had built a simple frame, hammered the support posts into the ground, arranged a reasonable slope on the roof and ensured there were no drafts. The only cost was the plastic and if good quality, thick plastic is purchased, it will not need replacing for a couple of years.

The most inspirational aspect of the greenhouse however was its contents. Inside growing happily were a banana tree, papaya and liche. On some shelving were a number of seed trays containing seedlings for a range of spring cabbages as well as some flowers.

Along another side were 10 tomato bushes, each reaching two metres in height and covered in flowers. A comfortable 25 degrees inside the greenhouse should ensure pollination and fruit by the middle of January, when shop bought tomatoes are expensive and tasteless.

Sowing for January

January is a good month for sowing peas – garden peas, mange tout or sugar snaps. Almost any variety can be planted in early January and with care, love and a little work will reward you with bucket loads of peas in May.

Garden peas for me are more tiresome than the others because of the need to shell them. Mange tout and sugar snaps can be left on the bush a little longer without the risk of the plant packing up for good and once they are picked, they can be thrown in the pan (boiled or stir-fry) and eaten straightaway.

Sow the peas in broad drills spacing one from the other about 10cm. The soil needs to be fairly fertile, well drained and in a sunny position. Wet, cold soil at the time of planting can lead to the peas rotting, so plant at the start of a warm sunny day when no rain is forecast.

Don’t allow the soil to become dry (don’t waterlog it either) and the peas should show healthy growth within 10 days. Small twiggy sticks can provide support for all peas except climbers, which will need stakes. If the seed packet says they are self-supporting, don’t believe it – they will fall over and the peas will rot.

Sometime in April or May you will be rewarded with plenty of fresh peas. Pick mange tout when the pea is just visible in flattened pods. Garden peas should be picked when the pods are swelling but still fresh, not hardened.

Sugar snaps, my favourites, can be picked as young as mange tout, or allowed to swell a little and still cooked in the pod, or allowed to swell even more and podded like garden peas. They are the lazy gardener’s choice because if overlooked at one stage all is not lost. Remember, if a pea is allowed to mature on the bush, the bush stops production.

When all the peas are harvested, dig the bushes back into the ground. They contain valuable nutrients and nitrogen that will benefit the soil.