peas lost to pests: recipes for dinner + disaster

peas in a pod
APPARENTLY THE WOODCHUCK HAD READ EMILY DICKINSON (“How luscious lies the pea within the pod“) and, feeling moved, lumbered down from the hill to have his way with them. So had the chipmunks, though they didn’t wait as long—they’ll devour seed straight out of the soil in March, before it sprouts. They’ll even dig for it, as the befuddled gardener stands looking at a row with no signs of life, wondering why: outdated seed; foul weather; kidnapping; or is there still hope? With all this competition, when do I get some peas around here this year? How I tried to avoid a recipe for disaster, and better yet: recipes from my foodie friends for peas, the crop sweetly straddling the cusp of spring-into-summer.

Pea Recipes from My Friends

This is the final installment of Spring Fling, a cross-blog recipe and tips swap about seasonal vegetables. Here are this week’s delicious entries:
Food2: Peas ‘ n Pasta: A Match Made in Heaven
What’s Gaby Cooking: Fresh Pea Risotto
White on Rice: Potato and Pea Salad
FN Dish: Spring Fling: Peas

I did what you are supposed to do, following the basics of how to grow peas:

I started early (“as soon as the soil can be worked,” the saying goes) around St. Patrick’s Day here in the north, but certainly by the end of the first week in April. Timing my sowing that early helps me avoid bumping into the increasing heat of an oncoming summer at harvest time, which begin 50ish to 60-something days later, depending on the variety.

I’d sprinkled the proper legume inoculant—a helpful bacteria that comes in powder form and helps peas and beans get going and produce well—onto the moistened seeds in a bowl before planting them, a powdered insurance policy, you might say. (All about legume inoculant.)

I didn’t use Nitrogen fertilizer, since peas, like other legumes, can “fix” all the N they need from the soil); fertilizing peas could have produced too much foliage at the expense of flowers and pods.

I’d made a wide, trench-like furrow as Jim Crockett’s Victory Garden books had taught me years ago—about 6 across and a few inches deep—and planted thickly, with the seeds about an inch apart in every direction throughout the trench. I’d covered them with an inch of soil that I then tamped down. Many people plant in bands just 3 inches wide, which is fine, too. The point: don’t plant just a single line of seeds when sowing peas. Order the biggest seed packet, and overdo it.

I had covered most of the bases on types of peas: Some for shelling (to pop out of their pods and into the freezer and later fold into risotto or pasta in the offseason); some snap types for eating fresh or cooked, pods and all; some snow peas (slimmer edible pods most often seen in Asian-style cooking). I’d even planted some ‘Dwarf Grey Sugar,’ with its beautiful purple flowers and luxuriant tendrils, for “garnish” use. The only class of pea I’d skipped: the ones you dry and make split-pea soup from. I had spaced my thick rows of dwarf varieties about 18 inches apart, and taller, trellised ones about 4 feet or slightly more between.

I’d planted both short and tall snap varieties, pairings like 2-foot-high ‘Sugar Ann’ and 6-foot ‘Sugar Snap,’ planning for a staggered harvest (the short produce about 10 days sooner, the tall keep on longer).

I’d erected a pea trellis for the latter of mesh hooked onto metal stakes; I’d mulched to keep the roots cool once the plants were well up.

I kept them watered.

Having followed these instructions, I did finally start to get pods—at least on the plants the woodchuck hadn’t shorn to near the ground before they even flowered, thwarting more than half the possible crop. Apparently, besides Dickinson, he has read the food blogs, too, and learned that pea shoots and tendrils and blossoms are all the rage in spring.

About two months before frost, in July, I will try it all again, though frankly I never do as well with a fall pea crop. Shading the row before and after sowing helps a bit to get the seeds going, but heat can last here well into fall–or frost can come early. Tricky.

This year, though, I’m counting on an advantage I didn’t have in spring: one fewer woodchuck. Yes, he and I are in not-so-polite discussions about the possibility of his moving on.

How to Participate in Spring Fling

HAVE A TIP OR RECIPE to share about peas, or one of the other spring farm- or garden-to-table crops on our Spring Fling lineup? Put it in the comments on my blog, and copy it onto the comments on all the participating blogs (listed above) so that the maximum number of people enjoy your idea. Links back to your own blog, or sites you love, are fine; they can be to older posts from your archives, if you’re not posting something new. The more the better! The schedule of weekly themes:

  • Wednesday, April 20: Asparagus
  • Wednesday, May 4: Rhubarb
  • Wednesday, May 18: Artichokes
  • Wednesday, June 1: Strawberries
  • Wednesday, June 15: Peas

We will be back with a twice-monthly Summer Fest; schedule to come shortly!

  1. Liz says:

    I lost all Swiss chard, kale, beans, parsley, dill, cucumbers, and squash to the woodchuck. Has anyone tried an electric fence? I have a wooden fence which looks really beautiful but does not keep out this critter so i was thinking of putting up an inner electric fence.
    Am discouraged!

  2. Jayne says:

    Away for a week and I came home to stubs…peas completly eaten, new bush beans just 1 inch stems, cilantro to a nub, EVEN marigolds (vanilla, they heard!) I am so disheartened. Saw a very large beast this afternoon and I wasnt sure if it was a muskrat or a ground hog. Either way, I might have to invest in a have a heart trap, but what if it is a mother and I take it away from babies? Yes, my heart is too big to do that; even if it means no vegetables. Maybe I should stick to flowers, vines and shrubs…..

  3. chris herzeca says:

    usually my green beans come up like gang busters. this year, lots of empty space on the rows. thinking chippies are getting fat at my expense. put plenty of garlic spray around the garden perimeter, but that didn’t stop them, i guess…maybe they are italian chipmunks…(still plenty left for us two legged types tho’)

  4. Barb says:

    I am sorry to hear of your loss, gardens are a lot of hard work, creativity and hope
    We have trapped babies the next day after getting the mom, guess her smell is still in the trap.The babies are usually born in early spring and will now be youngsters looking for homes of their own.

  5. Rita Mortenson says:

    Sorry everyone. I love my garden, but I always plant enough for the bunnies, deer, whatever happens to come along to entertain me. I’d much rather have a whistlepig than peas, although I love them both and the photo is beautiful.

    The first year I gardened seriously, I planted broccoli in the garden for me and several plants out by the alley for the cabbage whites. I’d pick the caterpillars off my broccoli and move them to their own plants. Guess where my blue-ribbon plate of broccoli came from. Maybe it was the fertilizing effect of the caterpillar frass.

    Love your books and your blog, Margaret. Oh, and the cartoons!

    Thanks, Rita outside Kansas City.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Rita. Well, Mr. or Mrs. Whistlepig just moved on down the road, finally, this morning, thanks to the certified wildlife handler who finally corralled him/her. I love the idea of a “lure” planting, though, as with your broccoli. I do that with Japanese beetles — I have a small stand of ostrich fern, Matteucia struthiopteris (which they love) and I’d rather they brutalize that than something else.

  6. ellen rocco says:

    So, about woodchucks… we have had one for a number of years. She (we see babies every spring) lives under our shed, has been here since before we moved in 3 years ago. We were able to keep her out of the fenced garden last year (didn’t plant peas) but this year, she and her one offspring are climbing OVER the 5 ft fence – I saw them!!! – even bent one of the metal stakes. I think the peas caught her attention. Please – some details from Shauna about how to do the electric wire??? We don’t have electricity easy to hand. Any way we can make this work?

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Ellen. Yes, woodchucks can climb very well (and they also swim). No kidding. I believe there are easy-to-erect, moveable forms of “sheep fencing” or “electric netting” that are electric but using solar power. Try this catalog online, Premier 1 Supplies, to get the idea — there are different kinds of electrified netting and fencing supplies, some already sold as “kits” and then you get an energizer of some kind and so on. I haven’t done the total homework here yet, but have seen it in action. I am sure there are other sources, qualities, prices, but to give you the idea…

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