I moved into the cottage eight years ago. I have absolutely no clue where that time has gone. I fell in love with the house, partly because of the beautiful greenhouse and veg garden. Year one I enthusiastically planted stuff and watched it grow - sort of. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing and some veg turned out okay, other plants not so great. But by year two life took over and the garden got neglected.
It was my dads input last year that renewed my love for the veg plots. He downsized from a small farmhouse to an apartment and missing his garden he asked if he could look after mine. By late summer the beds had been cleared of thistles and weeds, missing glass panels in the greenhouse had been replaced and we even had time to plant some peas and beans before the end of summer.
Veg Gardening for Beginners
If you’re completely new to gardening it can easily feel completely daunting, the task at hand. But actually we’re all learning as we go. And ultimately what have you got to lose? A few quid spent on a packet of seeds and a bit of time outdoors. It’s not a bad gamble!
Today I want to share with you my pea frames. I’m rather proud of building these. They’re so inexpensive, the materials are reusable next year and peas have been my best growing seedling so far.
Here’s what you’re going to need to begin. It should only cost you around £15 - £20 in total to get started.
What You Need to Get Started
For the Frames
30 bamboo canes £2.99 B&M
1 packet of garden netting £2 in store B&M or £3 at Wilkos
20 tent pegs £2 in store B&M or these on Amazon
1 ball of string or twine £1.73 on Amazon
To Plant Indoors
80 - 100 fibre cups £3 B&M
1 bag of seedling compost £3 Wilko also B&M / Tesco / Garden Centre
To Plant Outdoors
30 empty 330ml plastic bottles
1 packet of pea seeds
You will need a space in the garden measuring approx 1 metre by 2 metres. This should be a bed of moist, well drained soil, deep enough for the roots to grow down. Peas are a cool season crop, they like temperatures of 13 -18C (55-64F) so they are perfectly suited to the cool UK climate. They can be directly sown outdoors from March to June, with St Patricks day (March 17) traditionally being the date to plant them. Although I’ve started mine indoors this year to give them some strength before subjecting them to nature. Slugs and snails are not too much of a concern, but mice and birds are quite partial to pea seeds, so keep an eye out for hungry creatures.
Once germinated, peas like to climb using shoots called tendrils, which they wrap around just about anything they come into contact with, this is why we choose supports such as bamboo and netting that are thin enough for the tendrils to wind around. They like to climb fences, frames or trellis, anywhere between 2 and 8 feet tall, depending on the variety.
Peas should be harvested regularly as this encourages more pods to be produced. The pods at the bottom of each plant will be ready to pick first, so begin harvesting from lower down and work your way up as the pea pods mature. All peas can be shelled and frozen but they are sweeter and tastiest when eaten freshly picked.
The great thing about peas is that they shouldn’t take too long to grow. Some early varieties are ready within 10 - 12 weeks. If you plant now you should have plenty by June. You might even have time to plant a second crop later in the year, 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost.
Fun Fact: If a girl finds nine peas inside a pod, the next bachelor she meets is destined to become her husband.
Building Your Frames
To build your A-Frames, begin by placing two bamboo canes approximately 50cm apart, leaning in towards one another and crossing over at the top. This should look a bit like a wigwam.
Repeat this along the width of the bed, leaving a space of approx 15 - 25 cm between each cane. By the time you’re done, you should have two rows of seven bamboo canes facing each other and criss-crossing at the top.
Lie a long cane (you might need two) along the v-shaped gap at the top of the cross canes and use garden twine to secure each cross beam together.
Next get your garden netting and drape it over the canes, ensuring it reaches the ground on either side. If one piece of netting isn’t big enough, don’t worry. Use it lengthways and trim it to fit. The top of the netting should sit nicely over the canes, the bottom of the netting can be secured by tent pegs. You might also like to use garden twine to tie it off to the bamboo canes in places, if you live somewhere particularly breezy.
If you’re sewing directly into the soil (March 17 onwards) plant two or three seeds at the bottom of each cane 15cm apart. The seeds need to be planted approximately 3cm beneath the soil. If you’re planning to sew indoors first, I like to use fibre cups which can go straight into the soil when the shoots are strong. This prevents root disturbance. Plant two peas per cup. Cover with 2cm of seedling soil compost and water well. I’ve grown mine on the kitchen windowsill where I can keep an eye on them, but from late February onwards the greenhouse should be fine too. Once the seedlings are a few cms tall they can be transplanted into the soil beneath the canes.
I’ve created a miniature protective greenhouse for each of my seedlings by using empty plastic bottles with the bottom chopped off. This will not only protect my pea shoots from animals, it also keeps them sufficiently warm in case of any last minute harsh frosts. Remove the screw top lids from the bottles, but keep them handy in case of severe cold snaps.
All of this sounds like a lot of effort to go to, but each frame should yield 3-4kg of fresh organic peas in total. These can be stored in the fridge for about a week but also frozen to keep for several months. Plus, if you have never experienced the joy of tasting a freshly shelled sweet garden pea .. you are in for a treat this summer!