This time of year is the opportunity to replenish your soil. One of the most important ways to nourish your garden beds prior to spring planting is to sow nitrogen-fixing plants over winter.
Which crops will fix nitrogen in my soil?
Peas and broad beans are wonderful plants – they are not only delicious crops to eat, but they have the magical ability to fix nitrogen to your soil.
I love to plant an early spring crop of peas and a late crop of broad beans that will be ready in time for my first spring salads. I find these crops such fun to plant, as they really don’t need much care and they give me immense joy at the end when I open the crunchy pods or eat young peas in their shells. For this reason, they’re great to plant with kids – such reward.
Peas and broad beans can tolerate the cold and produce the first flowers of the season for the bees. Depending on your area, it might be time to plant them this week or next!
With the unpredictability of the weather all over the world, the way that we grow food and the seasonal window within which we can have success will no doubt continue to change markedly with each and every season ahead of us. I am certain that we will need to learn the art of patience for continual trial and error until we hit that magic window of time for success in our region.
When should I sow peas and sweet peas?
I tend to sow my peas in the months of July, August, September and October. However, if you are in an area that gets snow or hard frost, I recommend pushing these sowing times out by one month.
When I am nearing my first planting in late winter / early spring, I tend to cover my areas with thick cardboard weighed down with a rock to enable the soil to warm up slightly. This is a nifty little trick for raised beds especially! Be sure that this cardboard then goes in the compost after planting.
Five tips for success with growing peas
- Peas like to have something to climb up, like chicken wire or netting, as the tendrils that come out of the peas hook around the netting and hold the pea firm, enabling it to grow much quicker. It is always best to do this prior to planting – otherwise if you decide to do it when the peas are growing, you can too easily damage and snap the plants. They are delicate, especially in the early stages of growth.
- Peas like to be direct sown into the soil, about 5cm apart. I recommend pushing the seeds into the ground about 2cm deep. You can sow seeds when your soil temperatures are above 6 degrees and they should take approximately 21 days to germinate.
- If you want to speed up the process, I advise soaking them and sprouting them indoors first, before you plant them. However, be very mindful not to damage the sprouted part when you plant them.
- You can soak the seeds for 24 hours in water or soak them in water and a few drops of EM (Effective Microbes) before planting, which will aid even faster germination.
- Peas like to be continually picked so – I encourage you – please don’t be shy in picking them! You can even eat them when they have hardly formed any peas, and they are sweet and delicious – devour the entire thing, shell included! The more regularly you pick them, the more peas they will continue producing for you. This is exactly the same for sweet peas, which will produce more fragrant, sweet-scented flowers the more you pick them.
Top tip: Remember, peas are of great value in your garden, as they fix nitrogen to the soil. So when your peas are spent, cut them off and use the top parts as a pea straw to mulch around your plants and dig the roots up and turn them under the soil.
Peas contain copious amounts of vitamin K, vitamin C, fibre, manganese, vitamin A and folate. Go on, plant some peas today…!
Growing broad beans
I like to plant a late winter crop of broad beans as well. Don’t you?
I do this for the young pods with the tiny sweet beans inside, as I just love to eat these raw.
Or you could let them grow big and fat and make delicious falafels out of them. If you’ve never tried them yourself, check out this online recipe for inspiration!
I also use the above ground part of the plants as a summer mulch for my tomatoes and cucumbers.