Two vegetables in one
This ornamental plant produces an interesting vegetable which looks like a square pea pod, but has the delicate flavour of fresh asparagus.
The asparagus pea (Lotus tetragonolobus), also called winged pea or Goa pea, is one of the prettiest and most unusual members of the Leguminosae family. A native of Sicily, it is quite different from the ordinary garden pea; in fact, technically it is not a pea at all. These tender annual plants are spreading and low-growing, reaching a final height of about 45 cm (18”), with attractive reddish-brown flowers which are as pretty as any in the ornamental garden. You could try putting a few plants in your flower garden, or use them as a border plant for the vegetable plot. You will probably never taste an asparagus pea, which are eaten as pods like mangetout, if you rely on the greengrocer for your vegetables, as this is a crop which must be picked when young and tender and then eaten immediately for fullest flavour. Obviously not an economical commercial crop, they are quite easy to grow at home, and well worth a try.
Whether planting in flower garden or vegetable plot, choose an open site which receives plenty of sun. The idealis light and sandy. If possible, in the winter before planting give the ground a dressing of well-rotted farmyard or stable manure, or of garden . If this is unavailable, about ten days before sowing, rake into the surface a well balanced, complete fertilizer at the rate of 90 g per sq m (3 oz per sq yd).
Sowing should take place any time in mid-spring, if you live in a fairly warm area, or in late spring if your locality is cool.
To sow, make a V-shaped drill about 5 cm (2”) deep, and space the seeds about 15-30 cm (6-12”) apart in the drill. A row about 3 m (10’) long should yield approximately 8.5-14 kg (20-30 lb) of asparagus, which is more than sufficient for the average family. If you want to plant more than one row, space them 37-45 cm (15-18”) apart. If you want to ensure a longer cropping season, you could make a second sowing three or four weeks after the first one. These plants are good for a catch crop, particularly if you want something to fill the spaces between celery trenches.
Asparagus peas are very easy to grow, as they require the minimal amount of care. If the soil was well prepared before planting, no further feeding will be needed. Water during hot, dry weather, and keep the rows free of all. As soon as the young break the surface of the soil, hoe thoroughly as close to the plants as possible to remove any weeds and promote healthy growth. Repeat this as necessary during the life of the plants.
Unlike garden peas, asparagus peas do not produce tendrils, so support is not required. However, you could give some support with twiggy sticks if you want to prevent the plants from trailing and makeeasier. If you want to do this, wait until they are about 20 cm (8”) high, then put sticks at intervals along the rows and run a string between them. This will help keep the plants growing upright.
Your asparagus peas will be ready for picking in mid- to late summer, depending on the time of sowing, and you can go on picking until the autumn. It is essential to gather the pods when they are young and tender, well before the peas have formed in the pods. If you let the pods grow any longer than 3 cm (1-1/4”), the result will be a culinary disaster, as they will be tough, stringy, and virtually inedible. Remove the pods from the plants by snipping them off with scissors. Take them straight into the kitchen, as they are at their best when eaten fresh. The delicate asparagus-like flavour will be most appreciated if you steam the pods for a short time, and then serve them tossed lightly in butter.
After harvesting, pull up any plants and put everything on the compost heap. There is little need to check if the plants are free of disease, as the asparagus pea is one of the most disease-free and pest-free plants in the garden.