It may sound a tad absurd, but when you’re choosing which fruit and veg to grow, it’s worth bearing in mind the plant’s personality. OK, so that makes me sound like a purple-wearing, incense-waving hippy (one out of three ain’t bad) but just like people, certain plants are easier to get on with. Even more strangely, some people get on with certain plants better than others. OK, that’s probably got more to do with the type of soil you have to deal with and your own personality traits than any inbuilt plant affinity but it’s still worth considering which plants you’ll have the best chance of getting on with to increase your chances of success.
My favourite vegetable is peas, for numerous reasons.
- They’re incredibly cheap to grow thanks to a tip I saw on The Edible Garden TV show, suggesting that you use dried peas from the supermarket rather than more expensive pea seeds to start your crop. I did just that last year and had peas in abundance, and windowboxes full of peashoots galore.
- They grow really quickly. Within about three days of planting out my peas on the windowsill this year, they were already peeking through the soil and now, three weeks on, they’re nearly five inches tall.
- They produce pretty flowers and trailing tendrils that are pretty enough to put in a bouquet (though they’re too yummy to waste in this way). All peas ask in return is a bit of support as they get taller – use the inside of toilet rolls when they first start out and move onto canes once they’re poking out the top.
- They’re not terribly demanding. They’re almost as happy in partial shade as in a sunny spot (so save the sunniest position you’ve got for more sun-worshipping tomatoes or strawberries instead), positively dislike having nitrogen-rich soil because they produce it themselves which saves you a fortune in fertiliser, and only take 12-15 weeks to go from seed to crop. The only things that make them sulk are lack of drink and excessive wind – two things that upset a great deal of humans too.
- They’re friendly. Even though their height means they create shade, they’re perfectly content if you plant radishes next to them – and the radishes are tolerant to shade so they’re equally happy with their pea neighbours.
- They’re tasty at almost every stage. Peashoots are great in salads and stir fries (though I’ve yet to be convinced by the Peatini - but maybe I’ll give it a go this year. Nothing ventured and all that…), burgeoning peas can be boiled mange tout style, baby peas onwards are gorgeous eaten straight from the pod in the garden and great in salads or side dishes (if they get that far) and even the pods can be used to make peapod soup. If you have any peas that get a bit old and floury-tasting (which is unlikely) you can dry them for planting next year. And if you dig the pea roots into your soil once they’ve finished fruiting (or indeed, vegetabling), they’ll decompose to create a nitrogen-rich soil-enhancer. How could anyone dislike such a helpful and generally useful plant?
Think that peas sound like your sort of vegetable? It’s not too late to plant them now, but get on with it asap as March planting is ideal. Speed them along by starting them off on a sunny windowsill or greenhouse, but remember to harden them off* before you plant them out in the garden. Alternatively, just sow them straight into the soil an inch deep, at roughly two inch intervals – they’ll grow just fine from March onwards. For peashoots, just sprinkle them liberally into a windowbox of compost then cut and re-sow them as required. Whether you start your peas indoors or outside, water thoroughly once you’ve sown them – they really do like their drink.
* Hardening plants off refers to getting them used to the cold. To do this, you need to gradually introduce them to the garden over the course of a week or so. Make sure the slugs can’t get to your seedlings by placing them on a table or otherwise raising them off the ground. On day one, leave them outside for a couple of hours then bring them back into the warmth of the windowsill or greenhouse. Gradually extend their time outside with every passing day, trying to avoid cold weather until a few days in (and waiting until all risk of frost has passed). Overcast or rainy days are ideal for hardening off as they’re less likely to have extreme temperatures for your plants to deal with (too hot can be as bad as too cold in the early days, even for a happy little pea). By hardening your seedlings off, you’ll toughen them up enough to cope with outdoor living.