The Leaning Tower Of Peas


Hairy bittercress*


Sheesh. It’s been a busy old week and I am cream crackered. Still, it’s Friday. Wine night. It could be worse.

We have been trying to get the veggie garden ready for planting. I don’t know how the weeds manage it but some, like the Hairy bittercress* above, are flowering already and getting ready to seed. This is bad news. The lightest touch or gentle breeze is enough to propel their progeny up to a metre from the parent plant. Once you have it you will never be without it. The bloomin’ stuff is everywhere.


Raised beds 001 Wm[1]


But we have made progress.

I’d better admit it’s the royal ‘we’ with respect to the new raised beds. I love to see them looking like this, so full of promise for the season ahead. Only one thing is better and that is to have them groaning with delicious things to eat.


Nematodes 001 Wm[1]


The nematodes are out of the fridge. And not before time. Veggie patch preparation got completed just two days ahead of their use-by date. Whilst Mike may be breathing a big sigh of relief he has clearly forgotten that I actually signed up for a two part programme.. in three weeks’ time a further batch will arrive. Trouble is, as I was late applying the first lot, the second will need temporary storage facilities too.

They look like fine, if slightly damp, wholemeal breadcrumbs. I simply carved up the mixture and sprayed it on to each bed in turn. 30 million nematodes unleashed on a seek and destroy mission for slugs, not that I was counting.


But what of the peas?

Last year I used bamboo canes tied into wigwams as the method of support. And it was a nightmare. The plants grow wider as they get taller, the conical structure operates in reverse. After several weeks of flopping about in the wind the whole thing collapsed. It needs a Plan B.

There are plenty of neat solutions available to buy, with a pretty price tag too. I thought we could construct something and drew out a rough plan. Mike used poles left over from the gabion and some old stock fencing we also had spare.


Pea supports 002 Wm[1]


So should I have drawn attention to the fact that the nearest support was leaning over to one side?

Apparently not. Toys were seen to depart the pram and there was talk of dismantling and rebuilding from scratch. Thankfully Mike is never in a huff for long and over lunch a compromise was found. I would bring to bear my not inconsiderable weight, now enhanced by half a pizza and a banana, and he would hammer in a wedge.


*EDIT: As it turns out, ours is actually the very similar Wavy bittercress. It’s all in the number of stamens apparently. Under a magnifying glass the plants also have hairs on the lower stems whereas Hairy bittercress, ironically, does not.

2018-03-27T18:25:04+00:00April 11th, 2014|Tags: |


  1. Linda April 11, 2014 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    Those beds look beautiful all ready for seedlings…or seeds…
    Great job by Mike….great to have a handyman on site!
    If weather stays good, our veggies can go in by the end of May….
    Have a great weekend Jessica…..have a glass of wine for me….Merlot, pleaseβ™₯️
    Linda :o)

    • Jessica April 11, 2014 at 6:21 pm - Reply

      He enjoys making things. In this house it’s a very useful thing to have!
      After a day’s hard graft it has to be a chilled Chardonnay. It’s sitting there, in the now nematode free fridge, waiting for me. On the dot of 7.00 p.m…

  2. elaine April 11, 2014 at 1:59 pm - Reply

    Goodness your hairy bitter cress is almost like a crop – in fact I think you can eat it! You made me chuckle about the pea supports – hope the half pizza and banana worked.

    • Jessica April 11, 2014 at 6:22 pm - Reply

      It made all the difference!

  3. islandthreads April 11, 2014 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    wow those veg beds are great Jessica, interesting the pea post is, sorry was, leaning before you opened the wine πŸ˜‰ great job from Mike, enjoy your wine night, Frances,

    • islandthreads April 11, 2014 at 2:07 pm - Reply

      sorry forgot to say, I have hairy bittercress too, it’s a real pain, it seems to be the earliest weed to flower and continue until the cold of winter, like you say the seedpods fire the seed some distance, if they don’t ping you in the eye first, good luck with it,
      I hope the nematodes work wonders, Frances

      • Jessica April 11, 2014 at 6:25 pm - Reply

        They always do manage to find an eye don’t they? It’s spread over the bank too. I will never get all of it before it seeds. At least it’s easy to pull out.

  4. Jo April 11, 2014 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    I was admiring your raised beds and then saw your wonderful pea structures. Hmmm, I think I shall leave the laptop tuned to your blog when Mick gets in from work.

    • Jessica April 11, 2014 at 6:29 pm - Reply

      It was actually quite easy to construct in the end. Just get the posts straight at the start! And even better was being able to use materials we already had, apart from the bits of wood to go across the top which couldn’t have cost much.

  5. wherefivevalleysmeet April 11, 2014 at 2:57 pm - Reply

    Wonderful raised beds, and excellent pea fencing which looks as if it should prove very successful. We planted our runner beans today, may be wishful thinking on our part, but we are off soon, and they would go mad indoors. Always try another lot if they fail.
    According to Roger Phillips Wild Food book, Hairy Bittercress is the first worthwhile edible plant of the year – an annual herb – the leaves can be beaten from October to May. In his book he shows it used in a cheese sandwich.

    • Jessica April 11, 2014 at 6:32 pm - Reply

      That’s really interesting, thanks Rosemary. I hadn’t realised until today that it could be eaten. Before I put it in a cheese sandwich though I need to make sure I’ve made the correct ID. The absence of hairs is worrying…

      • wherefivevalleysmeet April 11, 2014 at 7:28 pm - Reply

        Mine doesn’t have any hairs either – I think that it must be a bit of a misnomer. I have just looked it up in my Wildflower Eyewitness – (this plant has hairless stems – the lower leaves from a basal rosette. The alternate, pinnate leaves have up to 5 pairs of leaflets which are hairy on the upper surface); So it is the leaves that are hairy, I think that you have identified it correctly.

        • wherefivevalleysmeet April 11, 2014 at 7:31 pm - Reply

          Sorry should read form a basal……

          • Jessica April 11, 2014 at 7:48 pm

            We have just inspected a piece under Mike’s magnifying glass and have come to the conclusion that ours is Bald Bittercress!

  6. Mark and Gaz April 11, 2014 at 3:19 pm - Reply

    Hairy Bittercress, we have loads of that as well! We admire your beds, on how neat and ordered it is, as well as the new pea supports which looks very sturdy. Superb work guys!

    • Jessica April 11, 2014 at 6:35 pm - Reply

      Thanks! I can understand how that plant has become so ubiquitous, it is supremely well adapted.

  7. countrysidetales April 11, 2014 at 3:41 pm - Reply

    Now, I could come over all ecologist here and say a weed is just a wildflower in the wrong place…but before you throw your trowel at me I think I’ll just say: marvellous pea support- have you thought of mass production and marketing to Waitrose, as they now have a garden bit attached to the shops?

    • Jessica April 11, 2014 at 6:46 pm - Reply

      CT, if you would like more ‘wildflowers’ in your garden you only need to ask. A ton of Hairy Bittercress could be winging its way to you, gratis. Okehampton branch has a garden bit, as Em will know. It seems a bit of a strange concept to me, but we did buy our Christmas tree there last year.

  8. Em April 11, 2014 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    The very mention of Hairy Bittercress had me sneering and snarling. My nemesis….

    • Jessica April 11, 2014 at 6:48 pm - Reply

      Mine too… One year seeding, seven years weeding?

  9. Alison April 11, 2014 at 4:19 pm - Reply

    We have Hairy Bittercress here too in the American PNW. A horrible weed, even the tiniest one will go to seed quickly, and the sight of it strikes fear in my heart. I have one corner of my garden where I still haven’t pulled this year’s and they are enormous. I avert my eyes whenever I am in that area. Your pea trellises are gorgeous. Some husbands are such perfectionists. Mine likes helping me lift and move heavy stuff, but is not much of a builder. Lucky you.

    • Jessica April 11, 2014 at 6:52 pm - Reply

      It was me being the perfectionist in this case. The trouble is, with the garden being on such a slope you see things from unusual angles. It did look a bit odd from below!

  10. Joanne April 11, 2014 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    Hairy bittercress is a complete & utter pain. It’s the tiny plants that you don’t get that grow blinking huge overnight. You’ve reminded me by mentioning nematodes that I haven’t placed my order yet

    • Jessica April 11, 2014 at 6:56 pm - Reply

      I preordered the nematodes this year. I was hoping to get them applied whilst the slugs were still small thinking that would be more effective. But I didn’t make it. There are slugs of horror movie proportions around already.

  11. Freda April 11, 2014 at 4:49 pm - Reply

    I puzzled for a bit over the red ‘leaning tower’ in your first photograph….I’m a bit slow sometimes! It all looks wonderfully ship shape.

    • Jessica April 11, 2014 at 6:59 pm - Reply

      Sorry, I didn’t mean to confuse! It does look ship shape at this time of year and I always have such high hopes… but somewhere around July it all starts to look a bit of a mess.

  12. Christina April 11, 2014 at 5:45 pm - Reply

    Hi Jessica, at least the Hairy Bittercress is a pretty weed :-)! Your raised vegetable beds look fantastic, can’t wait to see what you are planting in them and how your crop comes along. I think that is really cool that you are using nematodes to fight off the slugs. Your cracked me up with the way you explained the use of your body weight to straighten out the pea climbing structure. Everything comes in handy at the right time ;-)! Have a lovely weekend!

    • Jessica April 11, 2014 at 7:05 pm - Reply

      Thanks Christina. The nematodes are not 100% effective but they do reduce the numbers. After our mild wet winter I fear we will be inundated this year.

  13. Sue@GLAllotments April 11, 2014 at 6:35 pm - Reply

    We found hazel sticks really good pea supports last year. Luckily we have two mature hazels and so a plentiful supply.

    • Jessica April 11, 2014 at 7:15 pm - Reply

      They are certainly the best looking solution. I was hoping that by growing the peas near vertically I would need less space and they would be easier to pick. Time will tell!

  14. Cathy April 11, 2014 at 7:29 pm - Reply

    Great pea supports, leaning or not! It’s a good job you haven’t given up wine for Lent, isnt it?

    • Jessica April 11, 2014 at 7:46 pm - Reply

      I have given it up on weekdays (except Friday) for weight loss and the good of my health!

  15. snowbird April 11, 2014 at 7:43 pm - Reply

    Lol….poor Mike, I’d have thrown my rattle out too! They look marvelous, now for the peas. The raised beds look great too! Enjoy the wine….I shall join you about ten pm!xxx

    • Jessica April 11, 2014 at 7:57 pm - Reply

      First lot of peas ready to plant out.. just waiting for the nights to get a bit warmer!

  16. AnnetteM April 11, 2014 at 9:22 pm - Reply

    Hairy Bittercress? So that’s what it is. Mine is even in flower up here – am doing some serious weeding tomorrow. I had heard of nematodes for the greenhouse, but didn’t know you could get it for the flower beds too.

    • Jessica April 12, 2014 at 9:44 am - Reply

      Having read this morning the definitive work ‘Bittercresses for Beginners’ I learn that the best way of identifying it is to establish the number of stamens. So I hot-footed it outside once again with magnifying glass only to find that the flowers are all closed because it is cloudy. Maybe later…

  17. CJ April 11, 2014 at 10:31 pm - Reply

    I love the nice neat beds ready for all of the planting. I took a photo of mine today – mostly empty, almost tidy. Love the pea supports, I could do with some of these. I’ve eaten a pizza in readiness. Last year I had some string construction which worked, but only after a fashion.

    • Jessica April 12, 2014 at 9:46 am - Reply

      Peas seem to have a mind of their own which makes controlling them something of a challenge. Pizza makes all the difference though!

  18. Anna April 11, 2014 at 11:10 pm - Reply

    Hairy bittercress – I know it well Jessica and have been battling against it all week at the allotment. No wine to sustain me until tomorrow. Love those cleared beds and the pea frames. You will probably sleep well tonight but if not you could always count nematodes!

    • Jessica April 12, 2014 at 9:49 am - Reply

      Three million and one, three million and two…. zzzzzz

  19. Amy at love made my home April 12, 2014 at 12:01 am - Reply

    Ah, the curse of the hairy bitter curse, I mean, cress. I hate the stuff, we get it all the time, I pull it up, it comes up again! I think that stuff is following me! The veg beds and pea supports look great though! xx

    • Jessica April 12, 2014 at 9:50 am - Reply

      They go so quickly from nothing through flowering to seed, if you have a large area of it it is almost impossible to keep up.

  20. Suzanne April 12, 2014 at 12:06 am - Reply

    Looking good! The hairy bitter cress is a pain in the patoot! Just brushing them sends those seeds flying! I’ve even had them in my eye! We are far from getting beds ready here. Maybe just for peas and lettuce.
    Too cold for anything else.

    • Jessica April 12, 2014 at 9:53 am - Reply

      I think they must have a homing instinct for eyes.
      Still getting chilly nights here which makes me think I should be holding off for a bit. The peas and some mizuna are all in the cold frame though, ready to go.

  21. casa mariposa April 12, 2014 at 1:23 am - Reply

    I love how honest and real your posts are. πŸ™‚ I actually thought hairy bittercress was an English food, at first, and kept imagining a mouth full of hairy leaves. So glad no one’s eating it! I think those veg teepees are overrated and designed to only hold vines of fake plants used in ads. I’m quite suspicious of them.

    • Jessica April 12, 2014 at 9:58 am - Reply

      I’ve certainly found veg teepees frustrating in the extreme. The plan is to grow beans up the same sort of support as the peas although we’ll make those a bit higher.

  22. Virginia April 12, 2014 at 3:05 am - Reply

    Of course, once you develop a taste for the Hairy Stuff, it will all die back and never be seen again …. well, you can live in hope!!

    • Jessica April 12, 2014 at 10:00 am - Reply

      It’s almost worth trying it!
      Hope all’s well in NZ.

  23. Natalie Scarberry April 12, 2014 at 3:51 am - Reply

    Oh so clever title. I think the new pea structure looks splendid. I’ll be interested to see if it works well. Your raised veggie beds look marvelous and I hope you have lots of summer “yummies” from them. Hugs, Natalie πŸ™‚

    • Jessica April 12, 2014 at 10:02 am - Reply

      It’s a bit of an experiment, we shall see. On my morning tour of inspection I shall poke wayward shoots into the structure and hope to keep them growing as close to the wire as possible. Should make picking a lot easier too.

  24. Laura April 12, 2014 at 3:51 am - Reply

    I had to google it…I’ve never seen hairy bittercress here. We just have the standard thistles, chickweed, etc.

    • Jessica April 12, 2014 at 10:06 am - Reply

      Apparently a common way of getting it in the garden is via plants bought in pots. It then rapidly colonises any patch of bare ground. That’s my problem I think, with all the ground I’ve been clearing over the last couple of years I’ve created the ideal conditions.

  25. Simone April 12, 2014 at 9:59 am - Reply

    I am glad you sorted out your leaning pea support! I haven’t even though about how I am going to support my peas this year. I hope some bamboo canes will suffice!

    • Jessica April 12, 2014 at 10:12 am - Reply

      If you don’t want too much of a structure I’d go for pea sticks. The more ‘branches’ they have the better as that helps to support the plants. A wigwam doesn’t really work, unless maybe you tie the canes in the middle and make more of a X shape, then there is something to support them when they get top heavy.

  26. CathyT April 12, 2014 at 10:09 am - Reply

    I’m filled with envy (I try not to give into it too much) at the sight of those raised beds. Must show the pictures to my husband. I’m plagued with hairy bittercress as well and am glad I stopped by just for the Roger Philips tip. Long may your peas flourish this year.

    • Jessica April 12, 2014 at 10:23 am - Reply

      At least I now know we never need go hungry in this house! I have yet to try it though… the ‘bitter’ must be there for a reason..

  27. Pauline April 12, 2014 at 10:34 am - Reply

    Hairy bittercress is an absolute menace, I think the seeds of it are already in the plant pots when we buy new plants, we will never get rid of it. At least the undergardener knows which it is so I can safely leave him pulling it out!
    Your pea netting looks very professional, congratulations to both of you!

    • Jessica April 12, 2014 at 2:09 pm - Reply

      As soon as new perennial shoots have become a bit easier to spot, and therefore less likely to be trodden on, I shall be deploying the undergardener as well.

  28. Chloris April 12, 2014 at 11:29 am - Reply

    I love your raised beds. We have been doing the same thing here, at least the Pianist has. I might copy your pea climbing structure but on the other hand I may be pushing my luck to expect any more construction work here ever. The moans and groans and curses and general air of martyrdom that were a daily accompaniment to the job makes me suspect that it may not be a good idea to suggest it. He thinks his job was hard work but I am trying to fill the raised beds. You don’t mention that. They are bottomless pits. I’ve taken to raiding neighbours’ brown bins put out for the council and stealing their grass cuttings.

    • Jessica April 12, 2014 at 2:25 pm - Reply

      We had to cut into the hillside to build the raised beds, which gave us a lot of the soil. Although the further we dug in the more it turned to stony clay and not of much use. It’s seriously hard work… getting the next one done is going to take a lot of persuasion.
      I can just see your story in the press come the silly season. Let me know if I need to organise a blog whip round for bail money πŸ™‚

  29. Rosie April 12, 2014 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    You have both been very busy and deserve that glass of wine! Your raised beds look wonderful and the pea supports too. Interesting to see the nematodes, I’ve never seen them before:)

    • Jessica April 12, 2014 at 6:35 pm - Reply

      They are peculiar aren’t they. But whatever substrate they are in dissolves in water so they’re easy to apply with the recommended spray attachment for the hose. The problem now is keeping them watered. Where is rain when you need it!

  30. starproms April 12, 2014 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    All looking good and I think Mike has done a great job with the pea supports.

    • Jessica April 12, 2014 at 6:36 pm - Reply

      Thanks Oma. At least they are solid.. no more floppy peas!

  31. Jayne Hill April 12, 2014 at 7:07 pm - Reply

    Those big beds do look wonderful – but you’re right, they’ll be better when they are full of things to eat :} Mike’s pea frames are terrific; imitation being the sincerest form of flattery (and all that), I may just have to pinch your idea.

    • Jessica April 12, 2014 at 7:42 pm - Reply

      We are planning the same for beans, but a bit higher.
      This will involve Mike standing on a ladder to bash in the poles. Given what happened last time (Β£200 bill after he fell and partially demolished the fruit cage) I am naturally viewing it with some trepidation.

  32. Sarah April 12, 2014 at 7:56 pm - Reply

    Mike’s alternative pea fence looks fantastic,just hope the squirrels aren’t to impressed with their new climbing frame too! Sarah x

    • Jessica April 12, 2014 at 8:16 pm - Reply

      Noooooo!!! Why didn’t I think of that πŸ™

  33. knitsofacto April 13, 2014 at 8:30 am - Reply

    Have you counted the stamens yet? How did it go?

    I’ve eaten young hairy bitter cress leaves, they’re peppery but not bitter, a bit like rocket. I believe you can also cook them as you would spinach but that I never tried. This was all years ago, when I was experimenting with wild foods.

    • Jessica April 13, 2014 at 10:31 am - Reply

      Well, I’ve just done it. Six stamens. If that’s the case and ‘Bittercress for Beginners’ is to be believed, it means I have Wavy bittercress. It would explain the absence of hairs. Although it isn’t especially wavy either. Unless it means waving in the wind..

      EDIT: Actually they do have hairs, on the lower stems. Hairy bittercress, ironically, does not.

  34. woolythymes April 13, 2014 at 2:42 pm - Reply

    what an impressive crop of hairy bittercress you have!!! (I’ve become somewhat enamoured with weeds lately—giving a mini-talk on them at garden club next week!!! They can be so pretty—if they just weren’t quite so invasive and adaptive!!!) love the veggie beds….brilliant solution to the pea problem!

    • Jessica April 13, 2014 at 7:53 pm - Reply

      I shall have an even more impressive crop later in the year because on the bank they’re all going to seed, can’t keep up πŸ™

  35. Wendy April 13, 2014 at 9:16 pm - Reply

    The beds and the pea supports look great! Having spent much of the weekend weeding, I wish you lots of luck with defeating the bittercress and getting ahead of those flying seeds.
    I was interested to see what the nematodes looked like close up. They look strange, but not that off-putting.

    • Jessica April 13, 2014 at 9:34 pm - Reply

      I thought the same about the nematodes. Obviously you can’t see them. But the medium is not unpleasant to work with. Unless of course you manage to splash it in your eye, which I have done in the past..

  36. CherryPie April 14, 2014 at 12:54 am - Reply

    Looking forward to seeing those beds full of bloom.

    • Jessica April 14, 2014 at 9:17 am - Reply

      That’s when all the hard work starts to bear fruit. Or veg!

  37. Sigrun April 14, 2014 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Jessica, 3 potatioes per bag, like direction on the bags. It seems enaugh, I think. The others I put in the raised bed. Sigrun

    • Jessica April 14, 2014 at 6:28 pm - Reply

      Thanks Sigrun. Three sounds about right to me too. Good luck with yours!

  38. frayed at the edge April 14, 2014 at 7:15 pm - Reply

    One year’s seeding is seven years’ weeding …… just saying!!

    • Jessica April 14, 2014 at 11:46 pm - Reply

      Tell me about it… πŸ™

  39. wherethejourneytakesme April 14, 2014 at 10:17 pm - Reply

    Now that is what I call a pea support – built to last – none of those little pea sticks! Brilliant job. We have all year round bittercress in Scotland – just when you think you are on top of it all another generation springs up. I could have borders made up of Bittercress, wild fuschia, hypericum, montbretia, pink campion, that clover like stuff and bramble – oh and nettle – really no need to spend money on plants!!

    • Jessica April 14, 2014 at 11:50 pm - Reply

      Brilliant for wildlife too…

  40. Sue April 15, 2014 at 9:31 am - Reply

    We found this method of support to work the best too and had a bumper crop last year when we tried it out on the French Beans for the first time. A smaller tilted frame works well for Cucumber plants too and makes sure that the cucumbers stay off the soil (and if you’re nifty you can plant a little crop under the slant too, so wasting no space). πŸ™‚

    It’s nice to have a handyman isn’t it, even if we do have to throw our weight behind them occasionally πŸ˜‰

    • Jessica April 15, 2014 at 7:56 pm - Reply

      Oooh, I like your cucumber idea!

  41. Janet/Plantaliscious April 20, 2014 at 6:45 am - Reply

    Love the raised beds, they do indeed look perfect. I have a plague of Hairy Bittercress too, filled 2 trugs with it yesterday, more to get rid of today. All thanks to Project Kitchen which took over my life last year at the crucial time, resulting in the current plague. Gah. Your pea supports look very robust, I too had a disaster with pea supports last year, all collapsed, and I have a Cunning Plan… We’ll see…

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 10:44 am - Reply

      Looking forward to your cunning plan Baldrick… it’s all a bit experimental for me, this veg gardening lark. Eventually I might hit on something that actually works.

      • Janet/Plantaliscious April 20, 2014 at 1:49 pm - Reply

        I love all the experimenting, though I get a bit Heath Robinson at times! Veg gardening certainly teaches you to be chilled, or you go nuts when seedlings get munched, dug up by blackbirds, blown away…

        • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 6:11 pm - Reply

          I am still at the ‘nuts’ stage…

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