So as usual, I could not resist adding some new varieties of peas to the garden this year, even though I have so many old favourites. This one came from Heritage Harvest, although I note that Prairie Garden Seeds also carry it. Heritage Harvest describes it as a great pea "that originated in Manitoba many years ago" and that seems to be about as much about its history as anyone has. As you can see by the photo, while the peas are certainly a good substantial size, it is the pods that are really eye-popping. Eight to 10 peas per pod makes it one of the most productive per-pod peas I have grown (only Dual beats it, and not by much).
The peas are not the sweetest, but they have a rich, fairly strong and well-balanced flavour. I thought they were really quite delicious. These are described as very short plants, with the figure 9" being mentioned, but mine grew much taller, up to 3' ultimately. Mine were shaded on the west side, but even so 9" strikes me as unrealistic, unless there is another strain out there. These were, unfortunately, very determinate and not outstandingly productive, although again, their poor placement may have prevented them from optimum production. The leaves are very dense and rather large for peas, and Mandy recommends growing it out in the open for good air circulation. The implication is that mildew may be a problem, and given the denseness and succulence of the leaves, I can believe it. However, as noted, they were quite determinate so I don't see this being a big problem. These were early, but not the earliest of my peas. I would say about 60 days to maturity, although I admit to not keeping good records.
I like these, and will give them another try. Their relatively low productivity does give me a little pause. They may go onto the list of potential parents for my sporadic and thus-far not very successful attempts at breeding peas. I'd like to see what they do crossed with Dual, or 1st and Best #2, or Spanish Skyscraper.
Champion of England - Woodbridge Strain
I also got this one from Heritage Harvest, and it's important to note that it's the Woodbridge strain - there is at least one other version of Champion of England out there. I haven't grown it, but it sounds quite different. This version is tall, although mine have grown to about 5' or 6', which makes them one of the shorter of my tall peas. Of course, they are also growing closest to the grass, and I have realized that that has a definite stunting effect on plants. Descriptions put them at 5' to 10' tall.
The peas themselves have been sweet and rich tasting, and produced in reasonable abundance. I have not selected the seeds for optimum production yet, since this is the first year I have grown them, but I see enough peas being produced at 2 to a node to think that they can be improved by selection. I suspect as I select the seed the plants will also grow taller for me (and I will give them a better position too, if I can).
The original Champion of England pea dates back to the 1843, bred by William Fairbeard. There is a description of it in Fearing Burr's wonderful book on (now) heirloom vegetables, Garden Vegetables and How to Cultivate Them. Here's what he had to say:
"Plant of strong and luxurious habit of growth, with a stem from five to six feet in height. The pods are generally single, but sometimes in pairs, about three inches and a half long, and contain six or seven quite large peas, which are closely packed together and compressed. The ripe seed is wrinkled, and of a pale olive green.
Sown the 1st of May, the plants were in flower June 25th, and pods were gathered for use the 12th of July.
This is, without doubt, one of the most valuable acquisitions which have been obtained for many years, being remarkably tender and sugary, and, in all respects, of first-rate excellence. The rapid progress of its popularity, and its universal cultivation, are, however, the best indications of its superiority."
In spite of the popularity this pea once had, it was very nearly lost. The Real Seed Catalogue, in England, looked for it for many years, and finally received some seed from Robert Woodbridge, who's family had been saving the seeds since the 1940's. This strain does indeed match the original as described by Fearing Burr, and I like it enough that I will be growing again in the future as a regular. By the way, the peas in the photo are stragglers - I did not think to take a picture when they were in full flush, and so the pod showing the peas is a bit scanty. Most of them do better than that.
Rebsie Fairholm has also reviewed this pea, and you can read her review here. She had problems with both mould and virus; something to keep in mind although I suspect that those are both more likely to be a problem in a damper climate than mine.
This is another one that was planted in small quantities and in a crowded and slightly shaded position. Actually, I'm afraid that's pretty much life in the pea bed around here. Still, it stood out as a tasty and productive pea. Like the others, I got it from Heritage Harvest.
Daisy was bred by Carter and Co, a very well-known British firm of seed suppliers, around 1890 and introduced in 1892. Its parents were Stratagem and Giant Marrow. Stratagem was one of 4 varieties selected out of Telegraph, a variety bred by William Culverwell in 1872. Apparently Telegraph was quite variable. The other 3 varieties selected out were Telephone, Pride of the Market, and Duke of Albany. Only (Tall) Telephone is still widely available, and it is the one that most resembled the original Telegraph. Without wading through scads of old documents, I get the impression that there was a lot of controversy related to these peas. Giant Marrow was obscure even by 1900, but it too was a variety bred by Culverwell. Carter's Daisy is also sometimes known as Dwarf Telephone.
At one point, this was another very popular pea, but by 1934 the U.S.D.A. publication, Descriptions of Types of Principal American Varieties of Garden Peas, was quite dismissive of it. It is not in the fashionable dark green shade that has since prevailed in peas, but instead the pale celery green that was preferred in Victorian times. The pods are also not hard enough for shipping. I can't say I care about either of those things, and my impression - hard to be sure from such a small planting - is that it is quite productive, with most plants bearing 2 pods at each node, and definitely very good tasting; not just sweet but quite a distinctive flavour. Peas are pretty consistently about 6 per pod, though as usual it does vary a bit.
Daisy is a short plant, finishing up at about 2' high, and as usual with short peas I had quite a lot of problems with some animal, probably raccoons, eating or at least chewing many of the peas. I like Daisy a lot, but I may not be able to continue to grow it because of this problem.