Phil Grooby is a farm worker with a passion for peas and author of the internet’s best pea related blog, pea-licious.com. Here he kindly shares his pea expertise…
Now that we’re coming up to prime pea harvest time, describe a typical day in the field
For the last 22 years I have spent around 40 days each summer harvesting peas. Operating a PMC 979 CT pea harvester I help to harvest what is known as a ‘Speedy Pea’. This means that from the point of harvest to freezing take 150 minutes. To ensure this target is achieved, six tonnes of young, sweet peas have to leave the field every 40 minutes. In a good crop this requirement is easily achieved, with around 1.5 tonnes being harvested by one machine, in just under 20 minutes. But, as you can imagine, in a poorer crop this target can take some getting. Each machine not only harvests the peas but pods them as well.
After around 10 hours in the seat the loads are usually complete and part two of the job begins. The next couple of hours are spent on hygiene – blowing the machines down with compressed air before they are washed, fueled up and checked over ready for the next day.
This leaves time to grab something to eat and get a little sleep before it all starts again in the morning.
What pea variety have you found to be the most successful?
There are no real stand out varieties. The sowing period is spread over around three months using varieties that are suited to early, mid and late harvests and soil types. New varieties are tried and if they perform are added to the sowing program.
What’s the best thing about working with peas?
Most of the work I do during the year has some impact on the following seasons crop of peas. In September I begin ploughing land for peas. The winter months are spent in the workshop maintaining two pea harvesters, ensuring the machines are in tip top condition for the forthcoming pea season. Spring sees me share my time between the workshop and preparing land in front of the pea drill before returning to the workshop to finish off the machines ready for the pea harvest. The best bit for me is seeing all the hard work that’s been put in over the year culminate in a field of peas being harvested by a 26 tonne machine that produces a hopper full of peas ready for the freezer.
A few years ago posh TV chefs started adding pea shoots to all their dishes. Have you had any demand for pea shoots? Do you harvest them?
The only contact with pea shoots I’ve had came when I bought a ‘grow your own’ pea shoot kit from a local garden center.
What’s your favourite meal involving peas?
Peas lend themselves to many meals. Whether they are part of a roast or added to a curry or stir fry, they are a fine accompaniment to any dish. I like them with pasta, ham and creamy cheese.
What method do you use to load a fork with peas?
(a) Squash the peas first then shovel them on
(b) Carefully scoop them up and balance them
(c) Impale them on the prongs
Because I spend all the pea season trying not to squash the peas, and having recently read that peas feel stress, A and C are both ruled out. I’m definitely a B man. There’s a reel art to scooping the peas up and balancing them on ones fork.
Is it fair to say that peas have become something of an obsession for you? What do your friends and family think of your love of peas?
Ha ha! It wouldn’t be the first time that my love of peas has been described as an obsession. I like to think of myself as an enthusiast. Social media has given those in the food producing sector a great opportunity to show the consumer what it takes to get food from the field to the plate. Hopefully I can show what part a farm worker has in the growing and harvesting of peas. Friends and family are supportive – well, to my face at least, ha ha!
Do you have any tips for the amateur pea grower in the allotment or garden?
Because legumes are full of nitrogen fixing bacteria I like to chop the vines off just above ground level. This leaves the roots to rot down releasing lots of nitrogen back into the soil. In my garden I like to set potatoes where the previous year’s peas were grown.
Discover more about Phil’s work with peas at http://pea-licious.com/ or follow him on twitter @pea-licious