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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

So why peas?

So why have I chosen to focus my attentions on peas, when I could be working on any other vegetable or fruit? What's so special about them? Why on earth am I planning to spend time cross-breeding them and collecting different varieties?

Well to understand that, you need to know The Plan (which I talked about briefly in my last post). I want pretty vegetables so that people (especially those with small gardens) can grow them in the flower garden where they can look nice but still provide useful and healthy food. Really I had to choose one species because I have neither the time nor the space to work with more. Peas win for the following reasons:

* Peas are already pretty. The flowers are beautiful, just like sweet peas (except they don't smell).
* Peas already have a lot of variety in flower, pod and foliage colour genes, much more than you'd usually see in the standard garden pea which has white (or sometimes purple) flowers, green pods, and green foliage.
* They climb, and come in different heights from maybe 60cm up to 3m, so you can basically pick the height you want. I prefer tall ones, but many people prefer the short ones because supporting the plants is easier.
* They are easy to grow, and well adapted to the coolish environment of my suburban English garden.
* Growing legumes increases the amount of plant-available nitrogen in the soil, improving it for my nitrogen-hungry brassicas which will grow in that space next year.
* Peas and their genes have been studied by geneticists for hundreds of years, which is very helpful when you're trying to work out what genes you're dealing with and how they're going to interact with each other.
* Peas are convenient to breed because they naturally self-pollinate - you don't have to worry about different varieties getting "mixed up" with each other. This is a helpful shortcut for some of the work I'm planning to do.
* It's also relatively easy to make crosses between plants. I'll talk about that when I get to the stage of actually doing it.
* They can be grown very close together, saving me precious space for more varieties. I can squeeze 36 pea plants into a 1' square, the same space needed for one tomato plant or about 1/4 of a squash plant!
* Peas also taste great, and come in 3 basic types - ordinary shelling peas, fat snap peas where you eat the pods too, and flat snow peas where the crunchy pod is the main event. The shoots are also delicious, but I'd rather let the plants grow up into proper plants.

Basically, I love peas. Peas are perfect for my experiments.

The ultimate aim? To create a rainbow mixture of beautiful ornamental peas with varied flower, pod and foliage colours. Peas that are pretty enough for the flower garden, and tasty enough for the vegetable plot. And I'm going to share these with whoever is interested in growing them, because if they make someone else happy, that's payment enough for me.

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