Louise Curley

02 Feb 2024 10:58

Sowing Beans and Peas

If you’re anything like me you’re probably itching to get growing, but for northern hemisphere gardeners February is a tricky month and it pays to be patient, otherwise you can end up with seed trays full of spindly seedlings straining for the light or succumbing to the cold. The good news, however, is that there are some plants that are sufficiently hardy to be able to take February in their stride. If you want to get growing, hardy peas and beans are the best plants to try as they require none of the pampering that tomatoes and chillies need. 

Broad beans

Broad beans are really hardy, so much so they can be sown in autumn to overwinter. However, I prefer to sow them in February – I still get an earlier crop that’s less likely to suffer from black fly, which spring sown beans are prone to, but I don’t have to worry about looking after them over winter.

It’s a good idea to start them off by sowing them into 9cm pots or module trays as they can rot if sown directly when the soil is still cold and wet; they’re also less likely to be eaten by mice.

Position them in a bright spot in a greenhouse, cold frame or on a windowsill, but they don’t need extra warmth. Keep the compost moist and when they’ve developed a couple of leaves acclimatise them to the outdoors before planting them out in March or early April.

Good varieties include: ‘Super Aguadulce’ and ‘Masterpiece Green Longpod’.

Hardy peas

Frozen peas are cheap and easy to come by at the supermarket, but nothing beats sun-warmed peas eaten straight from the pod. You can get a head start by sowing an early variety of pea under cover. Although hardy, peas sown into cold, wet soil are unlikely to germinate, and if they do mice will probably eat them, so by sowing them in a greenhouse or on a windowsill you can control the conditions and improve the chances of germination. Sow into modules or small pots – 1 seed per module or 3 seeds per pot.

Best early pea varieties include: ‘Kelvedon Wonder’, ‘Early Onward’, ‘Feltham First’ and ‘Oskar’.

Sweet peas

These classic cottage garden flowers will provide you with scented cut flowers throughout the summer months. Sow a batch now and you should be picking them in June. They produce long roots, so to give them the best start sow them into deep pots. You can use root trainers but I don’t find these give them enough room to grow. Lots of people recommend using the cardboard inner tube of a toilet roll, but the cardboard can become quite flimsy once moist, and mould has a tendency to grow on the cardboard. The slender, deep pots that clematis plants come in are ideal, so I always keep hold of these, but if you don’t have any it’s possible to buy this style of pot online or from garden centres.

Because the outer casing of a sweet pea seed is very hard it’s often suggested to soak the seeds in water overnight before sowing or to put a nick in the seed coating with a sharp knife. In my experience neither are necessary as long as you thoroughly water the compost after sowing so that the seeds absorb the moisture. Sow them so that they’re just below the surface of the compost, and place them on a sunny windowsill or in a cool greenhouse.

My favourite sweet peas include: ‘Cupani’, ‘Fire and Ice’, Mrs Collier’, ‘Black Knight’ and ‘Wiltshire Ripple’.