Sarah Raven on How to Sow Peas in a New Way

Most people will tell you that sowing seed direct into the garden is the easiest way. However, on my heavy soil that’s not the case. I get decent germination rates sowing in this way from May until mid-August, but earlier or later than that I always end up with very patchy rows. The seed rots before it germinates.

I started experimenting with different sowing techniques and now use different systems to suit different plants. My germination rates have gone from between 30 and 50 per cent to nearly 100 per cent.

I sow about half my veg into lengths of guttering from the local builder’s yard, filled with a non-peat-based potting compost. I read about this in Geoff Hamilton’s Organic Garden Book and experimented with peas. It was a triumph. They germinated quickly and consistently in the warmth of my polytunnel and were transplanted outside without a hiccup. We were eating sugar snaps six weeks ahead of any previous year.

So why use guttering? You can put the lengths somewhere protected; it doesn’t need lots of soil preparation; sowing like this takes no more time than sowing direct; and, standing at a table, you can sow carefully and space evenly. I sow two seeds to every planting station (look at the final planting distance on the back of the pack) and if both germinate, I take out one before planting. Because I can do the thinning with the plants still in the gutters, it saves kneeling down or bending. And the method is very conservative of seed.

I’ve found that guttering works even without a greenhouse. Line up your pipes somewhere sheltered in the garden at this time of year and stretch a mini extendable polytunnel over them. You’ll still get germination in half the time.

When planting from the gutter you will need two people, one at either end. First, in the garden, make a trench the same depth and length as the pipe, scooping out the soil with a trowel or draw hoe. Water the pipe well to bind the compost, then slide the seedlings from the guttering into the U-shaped trench, pushing lengths about 45cm (18in) long at a time. Slide one section in, then push the next forward to the mouth of the pipe, and so on.

By Sarah Raven