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 They’ll even dig for it, as the befuddled gardener stands looking at a row with no signs of life, wondering why: outdated seed; foul weather; kidnapping; or is there still hope?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. shira says:

    My peas are hanging in there, but something is eating my swiss chard – and really pissing me off. Whoever it is also digs obnoxious holes, I’m thinking chipmunks? Maybe voles – but the leaves are getting eaten too, not just the whole plant. Any ideas? I’m stumped (and cranky without chard)

  2. TomW says:

    Mmmmm, peas. I planted maybe 5 varieties this year. We had such a cold and wet spring out here I am glad I did. The Snow peas and the Sugar Ann are doing the best. The others not so well which is sort of surprising since peas like cold weather. But peas will also rot in the ground if they get too wet during germination. The way I grow them is to plant my wide, think band of peas under tomato cages (taller ones for the taller snow peas and shorter for the others). The cages provide enough support for many of the peas which then provide support for the rest. And early in the season when it is cold and wet, I will simply cover the cages with clear plastic. Its so very close to harvest time, will I be able to wait until the pods are fully plump? It’s a struggle. Maybe I will whet my appetite with a stir fry of tendrils from the Sugar Lace.

  3. Judi Cabanaw says:

    I had a 6 year battle with the woodchuck varity of critter. They were so bold as to take bites out of a tomato,green no less and set it down near the plant as if to say, thanks but no thanks. We moved the compost pile away from the garden and I avoided food scraps for 3 years hoping that wouldn’t attract them to the garden . I couldn’t stand it no longer. We installed cattle fencing( the electric kind) around each raised bed, and turn it on when we are not out doors. It has saved the garden and my sanity. I am happy to say all critters great and small have moved on leaving me to my garden and it’s bounty.

  4. Bridget Melien says:

    Ready to pick today or tomorrow. They are absolutely gorgeous and since I garden in raised beds, high raised beds, for the most part no critters. One tip and one memory. Well, they are both memories. When I was a kid it was part of us kids garden job to collect the pea brush which I still do today. We collected just the right shaped fallen not too big branches to push into the ground to make our no cost pea fence. Always worked perfectly then and still does. The other memory I have is dinner of the first peas. My father would pick the peas on the way in after finishing up milking cows, sit and the table and shuck them all while Mom eyed the fresh rolls in the oven. Out came the rolls, in went the peas for fast roll in the boiling water. On to the table went a big bowl of peas, hot rolls from the oven, butter salt and pepper and it was the pea celebration dinner. What a wonderful memory, glad I can still replicate and share the memory today.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Bridget. You are making me hungry! :) Thanks for the beautiful memories.

      Welcome, Judi. So good that you mention that — I have been considering some kind of electric addition to the protective devices here. Have to investigate…

      See you both soon again, I hope.

  5. De says:

    Please do tell how you plan to get rid of your ground hog. I caught one red-handed the other day eating my swiss chard! He was so big that my golden retriever was intimidated. I’m pretty sure he’s also the eater of the cucumbers, edamame, peanuts, tops of pepper plants, okra, and of course peas.

  6. AB says:

    Margaret, I searched in vain for the words “floating row cover” in your post!

    It’s a pain to drape over the trellis but other than that, the cover did what I put it there to do — forced the critters to munch on something else.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, AB, and thank you. Yes, I did use Reemay or Agribon or something…but we have been besieged by a torrential and very windy spring. You should see 20-foot-long fabric draping blowing all over the place (even with earth staples and clothespins, it got ugly here). My entire vegetable garden otherwise, except the tomatoes, onions and garlic, is all under cover. The peas are so tall…tricky!

  7. AB says:

    No, I understand. That happened to me with a different row — thanks to a local cat. Turns out vegetables aren’t the only ones that enjoy being under a row cover in the spring!

  8. Judy from Kansas says:

    Even more insulting is when they (the critters) get your peas in the house! Got up in the middle of the night for a drink of water and found a mouse eating away at the freshly picked peas I forgot and left draining in a colander in the sink.
    I will get that little guy for that!

  9. Tricia says:

    Chuck has been my undoing this year — already decimated my humble beginnings of a garden – including the peas. I was surprised to find myself stuck inside my fenced in space with him last week — only feet away from each other – and it was a little frightening – he’s such a big bastard. I thought of yelling for my honey to get the gun (well – it’s only a beebee) but couldn’t bring myself to do it — although I have been wanting him gone. In the end, after some existential soul searching (you know what I mean – and garden as metaphor, etc.) have decided he shouldn’t die of unnatural causes – at least not us as cause – and I just have to plant up high. Surrender?

  10. Deborah says:

    Groundhogs have tried to move in on us only a couple of times, the first one trying boldly to build a home in our barn right next to the house. We were dismayed at the first sight of it. My husband tried to eliminate the problem by shooting at it when it came out the barn door, luckily missing both the chuck and the tractor parked just inside the barn. (Oops!) Finally it was discouraged by our dog, who stood watch at the barn door for hours waiting for her to appear. After 4 days of that, the chuck moved on. Three or four years later a young chuck tried to move into our other barn, and only lasted a week before our Ella (dog #2) caught it unwisely having a snack a few steps away from shelter. She snapped its neck before it could react. We haven’t seen any other groundhogs around here. (We’re now up to 4-dog strength.)

  11. joanne says:

    Did you drop that groundhog off in my garden last night? I went out this morning to find my week old bean plants mowed to the ground. Squash plants chomped. A row of young cabbage plants(planted yesterday) gone. 2 heirloom tomato plants left standing leafless. I can hardly think of going to sleep as it’s probably out there right now ready to destroy more.
    I think the electric fence idea is a great one!

    1. Margaret says:

      I promise, Joanne, I still have him here with me. Once again, he is not int he trap this morning, and I am frustrated and foiled. I have the whole garden other than onions, garlic and tomatoes under lightweight row cover at this point, but it’s getting ridiculous to manage it that way, and every storm and wind incident makes havoc. I HATE WOODCHUCKS. (There, I have said it.)

  12. Broken Barn Industries says:

    I love Crockett! His indoor gardening book is what got me started and led to my current obsession. That book walked me step-by-step into successfully growing a zantedeschia aethiopica indoors in upstate NY. I almost woke the house when I got my first bloom! I have his flower and vegetable gardening books now and they are much treasured.

  13. I’ve been eating peas for about a week now. THe vines are at about 7 feet tall and they keep wanting to go higher! Two questions: Should I let them just fold over and grow down, or add onto my stakes and string? I have noticed a little powdery mildew at the bottom. I only water in the morning, but does this mean too much water? And what (if anything) can I do about this.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Meryl. When the vines get that tall and close to “old age” in pea lifespan, they will be more susceptible to stressors like mildew and such, but you should still get your crop before they succumb if the issue’s only at the bottom. A Cornell bulletin I found suggested avoiding wetting foliage if possible, and to water early in the day (preventing wet leaves overnight). Keep the area weeded so there is good air circulation, and remove and destroy any affected parts of the plants (this may not be feasible right now!). This fall, really clean up well in this area to get rid of all affected bits, and be sure in the future you are growing mildew-resistant varieties (the listing in the catalog will specify). You can read up more here.

  14. Shauna says:

    I’ll echo others here and endorse an electric fence as a groundhog deterrent. I ran two strands…one low, one high…around the exterior of my rabbit fencing. I made sure to install the insulated plastic grip-thingies that allow a section of wire to be detatched. That way I can still bring my wheelbarrow into the garden. No marauding groundhogs since, even though they still live under the nearby barns. ZAP! seemed a more humane solution than KA-BLAMMO!, and we’ve coexisted happily for several years.
    (I’m curious as to the regional distribution of “groundhog” versus “woodchuck”, after reading the comments above…I’m in Iowa and “woodchucks” live only in the “How much wood…” verse. Interesting.)

  15. joanne says:

    hi. i checked out in the garden this morning and the old mlk crates I lined up helped. I’m workimg today to get some sort of fence erected. Going to stop and see if anyone has any vabbage plants left to replace the devoured ones. I hope your floating row cover does the trick. Where I live in the county that stuff makes like a sail and just takes off. lol. :)
    You know that groundhog had been on my mudrom porch the other week in the afternoon laying on my rug. And I thought ” how cute”. Today I have thoughts of Elmer Fudd in my head.
    I’m thinking the deer are next. They however are just waiting for the groceries to grow.

  16. Catherine says:

    I have Jim Crockett’s books too; they are a treasure trove of valuable information! I have not had luck with peas this year either… it’s been too hot here. When the children were little, peas were one of their favorite garden snacks… right off the vine, warm and sweet.

  17. Karen says:

    I lost my beets, brussel sprouts, cabbage and sweet potatoes to a rabbit. I had to go get chicken wire and mount it all around the wood fence. Hopefully this will keep some of the ground critters out. I shed a tear to see my loved seedlings taken down to the ground, but i went and bought some replacements to ease the loss!

  18. Barb says:

    Our garden is fenced. We have had groundhogs for years living under the corncrib in the old barn that is close to the garden. Over the years we We have trapped lots of the critters, and our son who is a good shot got one between the eyes last summer. Every year we trap Mom, Big Dad and 3 of the babies. Somehow the 4th child does not get trapped, so every year it is the same thing: (new) Mom & Big Dad and 4 babies. Will it never end? And, voles are ruining my fenced garden. Eaten all the earthworms, much of the seed, and tunnel under the poor plants leaving them striving to hold on w/th nothing but air under their little roots.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Barb. What a challenge. I have all of these pests, too. A note: The voles won’t eat earthworms (they are herbivores, mostly) but moles will, so you might have those (moles are insectivorous, with worms a primary food).

  19. Diane says:

    I am a “spring chicken” when it comes to gardening. My kids absolutely LOVE peas and we happen to live in the desert southwest. Needless to say, just about everything is very difficult to grow here! Between the scorching summer heat and all of the birds that live in my backyard tree (yes, I actually have a tree in the desert), growing peas has been an extreme challenge. Lettuce and okra, too. After several years of trying to grow a garden outdoors, I decided to take a different approach and I tried a type of hydroponics with fish. I started a small 3×3 garden indoors and I have had success this year- YES! I am so proud. My tomatoes are gorgeous and it is so much less work for me, too. Best of all, all food is organic and I never need to use fertilizers or anything. You can search online for information about “aquaponics” for details.

    It is so easy to do and a very awesome project for kids to participate, too. Happy growing!

    1. Margaret says:

      Thanks, Diane, and welcome. I have just been searching around for info on the subject — not something I have ever tried — and it’s fascinating. Love your victorious story.

  20. Debbie Moyes says:

    Peas are difficult! I asked one of the Farmer’s Market vendors last year about peas and he just rolled his eyes. He said that he grows peas for his family but that the deer come from far and wide to eat them! There was a vendor in CO who had peas all summer. She lived at altitude where it’s cool, though I imagine she had a fence for deer and elk. Good luck!

  21. Barb says:

    My peas are doing badly. Starting out with poor germination, then voles/moles.
    I will be lucky to get a quart of peas out of 100 ft long garden space.
    Blanched the small amount I picked yesterday to freeze.

    Kept out 2 servings of the blanched peas, put into a pot, added some Amish butter, heated them.
    They were SO DELICIOUS!!!!

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