1. Growing, protecting and support
Much easier to grow than peas but related to them (all are Pisum savitum), mangetout (meaning ‘eat all’) peas come with many other names (e.g snow peas, sugar peas, sugar snap, snap pod). Some pods are flattened (mangetout or mange tout) until the peas inside develop; others are rounded (snap pod) and take longer to mature. Some (including those flattened types on sale in supermarkets) are better eaten without any pea development at all, but others can be eaten at a later stage.
Because you don’t have to wait for the peas to develop inside the pods, you can harvest earlier than peas, but if you can’t keep up with the crop, and don’t want to pick and stage, you can wait and pick them later.
As with most veg, all these pea types do best in well-drained fertile soils in open, not shaded, sites. In dry spells, remember to water, especially at flowering time. Being insect pollinated, make sure they can get to the flowers too.
Harvest around 10 weeks after sowing – sow from February onwards at 10-20 day intervals to ensure a succession over the summer. Also pick young pods regularly to extend the cropping period.
Perfect for steaming, stir frying, warm or raw in salads. Can be frozen.
Spacing and bird protection
We like to soak our peas first for 12-24 hours in some water so we can discard any that don’t germinate.
Then sow in a flat bottomed trench 15cm (6in) wide and about 5cm (2in) deep. Space rows about 60cm (24in) apart. Water the drills well, then sow seeds about 5cm apart, spacing them evenly and in a zigzag pattern across the drill width. Cover with about 2cm (3/4 in) of soil, and firm this with the flat edge of a rake.
Pigeons will enjoy hoovering up the peas as soon as you sow them, so cover the ground with garden fleece to foil them. This also keeps birds off the young plants, and provides some protection from cold winds and low night temperatures early in the year (but frost is only a problem at the flowering stage).
The shorter types hold each other up in a tangle, but to keep the pods off the ground and away from slugs, it’s better to push in ‘pea sticks’ which are any forked twiggy bits and pieces that have been blown from trees, or you have pruned off plants. Alternatively you could put some canes around the edge of the pea patch, and tie string around to fence them in, or use pea netting. Wait until the plants are growing well before you do this, so you can weed easily at the seedling stage.
2. Which variety to grow?
Starting with the shortest:
The asparagus pea (Lotus tetragobolonus) is a very old garden plant (from Thompson and Morgan), often listed in seed catalogues alongside mangetout – it’s very decorative plant so fits into a flower border (actually you can grow most veg in your flower border if short of space). Needs no support, but you must pick the frilly pods before the peas develop for the best flavour (a cross between asparagus and peas).
Mange tout ‘Norli‘ (from Thompson and Morgan) has flat pods, best picked whilst small and stringless. Resistant to Fusarium wilt disease.
Sugar snap ‘Delikett‘ from Suttons
Mange tout ‘Sugar Snow Green‘ from Thompson and Morgan .
‘Sugar Ann‘ peas. From Dobies.
Mangetout ‘Shiraz‘ has purple pods. Seeds from Thompson and Morgan
A dual-purpose mangetout is ‘Delikata‘ (from Unwins) that produces a crop of conventional peas if you don’t pick the pods early enough.
Snow pea ‘Swiss Giant‘ or ‘Gigante Svizzero‘ (from Crocus truly is a giant, so you will definitely need some strong support for this one.
Mange tout ‘Golden Sweet‘ from Dobies. A tall golden podded type that needs support.