Saving pea seed

peabed

Garden peas that we sowed in early May have performed very well again this year and we have been able to freeze quite a lot. We have to net our peas to protect them from birds. We use arches of polypipe supported by garden stakes to hold the netting well clear of the plants, as King Parrots are clever at hooking the pods and pulling them through the netting. Pea flowers are self-pollinating, so netting won’t affect the size of your crop.

We grow our peas in soil with a pH of around 6.5, and we prepare the bed with compost and poultry–based complete fertiliser because peas won’t fix nitrogen unless the suitable rhizobium bacterium has been introduced to the soil. Once the seedlings had poked their heads above ground, we watered regularly.

peasseed However, cropping is almost over. We have left some well-filled pods about half way up the plants to set seed. They produce better seed than those saved at the end of harvest when the plants have exhausted most of their fertiliser supply. We have been saving seed from our peas since 2006, and get good germination without treating our seeds with any fungicide. Pea seeds are easy to save. Select only full sized pods that are full of seeds and allow them to mature on netted plants until the pods are brown and dry as in the photo. Ideally, they should be left of the plants until the seeds rattle in the pods but, sometimes, we have to harvest after pods brown, if rain is forecast. Don’t harvest pods for seed when they are wet, or the seed is likely to go mouldy.

The pods are spread on a fly screen frame, indoors, until completely dry and a fingernail will not make an indentation on the seed. The peas are then shelled and any blemished ones discarded. Seed is hung in an open paper bag for another week before storing in envelopes in an airtight container in a cool place. The benefit of saving your own seed is that it comes from plants that have grown well in your local microclimate.

Broad beans and peas

If you live in a frost area, make a note of when you sow peas, sweet peas or broad beans and when they start to flower. The foliage of these legumes is frost hardy, but the flowers are not. Yet, they do not crop well when temperatures are too warm. Peas can take from 7 to 10 weeks to produce flowers, and broad beans can take from 7 to 13 weeks to produce flowers, depending on local temperatures. Sowing too early or too late for local conditions can result in a disappointing crop. As a general rule where frosts occur, do not sow seed until 10 weeks before the usual last frosts in your area. If you have unusually late frosts, you can protect your plants with a temporary plastic canopy, if a frost is predicted.
It is too late to grow broad beans as a crop in warmer areas, but they can be sown in all areas as a green manure crop where you intend to sow tomatoes next spring. Broad beans inhibit the growth of fusarium wilt – a fungal soil disease that can affect a wide range of plants, including tomatoes. If grown as a green manure, the plants are slashed when knee high. Broad bean seed sold for green manures may be called fava, or faba, bean.
Peas, broad beans (and sweet peas) like a humus-rich soil with a pH of around 6.5. They will need an application of complete organic fertiliser (see post on Fixing nitrogen). Legumes also need the presence of molybdenum and cobalt in soil for good growth, and an application of seaweed extract tea to the bed before sowing, will ensure these trace elements are available.
Try to avoid periods of heavy rain when sowing legumes because they can rot before germinating in cold conditions. Having said that, we had a 98% germination rate for our peas that endured a week of heavy rain after sowing in a raised bed. The seed had been saved from last year’s crop and had not been treated with anything. I am at a loss to understand why major seed manufacturers feel the need to coat their legume seeds with toxic fungicides.