This section is from the book "The Gardener V2", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Of all the different kinds of vegetables grown none are greater and more general favourites than Peas. The chief object which every one aims at in their culture is to have them as early as possible, and they can never be had too late in the autumn. In some exceptional instances they are produced in pots early in spring, and by this means they may be had some weeks or months earlier than in the open air. But few have the accommodation to treat them in this way; and as it is a practice never likely to become very general, details of it need not be given here. A few notes, however, on their outdoor culture throughout the season will no doubt be more acceptable.
Many sow their early Peas in November, others not until January, February, or March. Having sown them at all these times, we are not greatly disappointed if vermin or severe weather prevents the November sown ones from doing so well as could be wished, as we find that those sown in January and February come in about as early; and as a rule they are more satisfactory both in growth and crop. From this your readers will understand that if they have not sown their early Peas in November they will not be far behind yet, but the first chance should now be taken of sowing the first crop. For mid-season and late crops the rows are better when far apart; but with early ones it is different, as it is an advantage when one row affords shelter to the other. This is best secured by sowing the rows about the same distance apart as the Peas grow in height. Supposing the variety to grow 6 feet high, sow the rows 6 feet apart. Dwarf ones may be sown in under the same rule.
A south border or sheltered but sunny strip of ground is best for the early crops. Where manure is plentiful the whole ground may have a coating dug into it; but when this useful commodity is scarce, as it is in many gardens, a quantity should only be dug in under the rows. Good manure of any description is necessary for Peas, as the produce is always inferior and flavourless without it. In selecting a day to sow let it be dry over head, and the soil not wet and spongy. The drills should be taken out with a spade to the full width of that tool, and the seed should not be sown too thickly; but this is not so liable to happen in a wide drill as in a very narrow old-fashioned one, when the Peas were generally sown on the top of each other, and the young growths came up in thickets. The drill should never be more than 3 inches deep, and the soil should be made firm and smooth over the seed.
Where vermin are troublesome, care must be taken to trap them from the time the seed is sown. Snails can generally be kept from doing harm by sprinkling the surface of the row with soot or lime; and if this is followed up after the young plants are above ground, birds will hardly ever touch them. As soon as the growths can be seen above ground, the Dutch hoe should be run deeply along each side, and the stakes may be put to them afterwards. These, especially if a few small bushy twigs are put in along the bottom, afford much shelter during cold winds in spring. When the first crop is in, others should follow sufficiently close to each other to give a continuous supply of Peas throughout the whole season. To make two sowings every month from January until July, will give fresh green Peas from the end of May until the end of October. As the season advances, the most open parts of the garden may be selected for the rows; and the same mode of putting in the seed as we advise for the early sowings should be followed out all through. In heavy soil and damp situations the seed should never be put far below the surface; but in light dry soils the crops which will come into use throughout July and August, when hot dry weather is generally experienced, had better be sown in shallow trenches.
The soil is thrown out as if for Celery, the manure dug in the bottom, and the seed sown and covered over, leaving the surface of the row from 4 to 6 inches below the surrounding ground.
Mildew often proves troublesome on Peas in summer and autumn. Extreme drought as well as excessive wet seems to propagate and nourish this, but good liberal cultivation will overcome all such maladies better than any other prescription. In very dry weather, liberal waterings with liquid-manure does much good; and a mulching of half-rotten manure, put along the sides of the rows before they come into bloom, improves quality and lengthens supply in hot weather.
As a show vegetable, Peas have received a good deal of attention lately, and deservedly so, as their merits and popularity entitle them to this. And it may interest some to know that they may be grown to win in the very best competitions, without any special treatment apart from that which we have just recommended, and that, too, without in any way sacrificing the ordinary crop. Of varieties we have said nothing, but these must not be omitted, as they are now so very numerous that few can grow them all, and a trustworthy selection may be the means of preventing many disappointments in scant produce and inferior quantity. William the First is now a well-known early Pea, and is amongst the best of the kind which can be named. It comes sooner to maturity than any other tall-growing Pea, and the pods are plentiful and flavour good. The first and second sowings may be made of this; then we come to something better for the main crops in Carter's Stratagem, Telephone, and Culverwell's Telegraph. These three Peas have been selected by us from amongst over three dozen kinds grown here, as the best in every way which have yet been introduced.
They all bear enormous crops of long handsome pods, well filled with sweet high-flavoured Peas. Champion of England, Veitch's Perfection, and Ne Plus Ultra, although not very new, also possess much merit; the last named is an excellent late variety, but to grow it properly, it should be stopped when the growths are 5 feet high. Laxton's Omega is another grand late sort, and that gentleman's new "John Bull" eclipses everything for size of pod. J. Muir.
Margam, Taibach, S. Wales.