I first grew peas in my back garden in Galway in some small raised beds, with a complete lack of preparation for their extensive growth and sprawling nature, or the eagerness of birds for their sweet produce. I watched them grow with an element of childlike anticipation. I had gotten a packet of Prean Peas, an old Irish heritage variety from Seed Savers and was full of enthusiasm for their end result. They produced the most beautiful sweet scenting flower in an unusual maroon colour. The pea itself is quite large and bean-like hence the name Prean Pea. Ever since then I’ve been hooked on the pea growing process. These beautiful peas can still be ordered at Irish Seed Savers (www.irishseedsavers.ie), just keep in mind their tall growing nature.
Peas and beans are part of the legume family. They are nitrogen fixers, with the ability to fix nitrogen in the soil via their root nodules through a process called nitrification. Their roots nodules support a symbiotic relationship between the Rhizobia bacteria and the plant, leading to the ability to convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia, an available nitrogen source for plants to uptake. Nitrogen is a vital requirement for plant growth as it is the building blocks of cells including chlorophyll, which is essential for photosynthesis. Hence a plant lacking in nitrogen will result in yellowish leaves and slow growth due to the inability to photosynthesise efficiently. The bacteria is really quite cool in the way it has developed a relationship with its host, entering the plant through its root hairs and taking advantage of the cell development to form nodules. You have to love the science of it all.
This process of nitrification is an important part of the crop rotation system, specifically within an organic system with the plants suppling a natural resource of nitrogen to the soil. This can also be seen in the application of green manures in particular those of a nitrogen fixing variety such as alfala, winter field beans or clover species. Green manures are cover crops which can be sown in bare soil. They are not necessarily nitrogen fixing species with other common covers including mustard (Brassicaceae family) or buckwheat (Plygonaceae Family, basically the rhurbarb family).Sowing green manures allows the soil to rest and helps with soil fertility and structure, while increasing organic matter content. This is achieved once the green manures are dug back into the soil. Once again it always comes back to quality and importance of soil health and fertility. What more could you want from crop cover. I have never personally used green manures in my own growing space but they have definitely been added to the ever growing list of goals and objectives for my gardening trials.
Back to the peas. Since then I’ve tried a few varieties of peas and beans, waiting on each one’s harvest with equal anticipation as the first time. This season I’m growing some dwarf broad beans, nothing fancy. I find them easy to manage due to their height as they require less space and staking. I grow them in the ploytunnel but they would be equally successfully in the outdoor elements. This particular variety produces a white and black flower, which draws the eye in with its striking pattern. The pods are long and strong, and when split open have the most symmetrical display of smooth beans. The inner pod wall is lined with a dense soft fibre, protecting the seeds. They are just the business. I tend to cook them by very quickly blanching, adding some butter and salt. I often freeze them by blanching providing a good supply later in the year. To be honest, a lot disappear by eating them raw when being shelled.
As for legume growing advice, space and staking to get the most from the plant is the best thing I’ve learnt so far…and keep an eye on those pea-loving birds.