Minding our peas

Peas are a standard garden crop in temperate growing areas. They prefer cooler growing conditions, and can often be planted as soon as the soil is able to be worked. Peas also hold up well canned or frozen. Pea flowerSo why aren’t they more prominent in our garden?

One reason is the whole “plant as soon as soil can be worked” thing. In our microclimate, garden-friendly temperatures come and go without much reliability. Cool & dry, cold & wet, warm & humid, Warm & wet, windy & cold…can all occur in any combination, any time during the growing season. Planting peas when conditions are perfect doesn’t help if the vulnerable little sprouts are wiped out by triple-digit temps or a random windstorm.

Another reason is the dreaded pea weevil. There are two main species of this legume-feeding pest – one that chews decorative little notches in leaf margins, and our nemesis, one that lays eggs in blossoms that hatch into larvae which take up residence in the developing pea pods and munch their way to adulthood, undetected until we humans shell the mature peas. Pea weevilWe’ve managed to work around the fluctuating weather by growing soup peas. These can be planted later, then pretty much ignored until they are dried and ready to shell for storage. They aren’t so good for satisfying the jones for pea-bacon salad, but if hearty winter soups are your thing, they are perfect. Shelling peasBut increasingly we’ve discovered pea weevil damage in the dried pods, necessitating extra vigilance when shelling to make sure no damaged peas or dead bugs make it into the pantry.

This year we trialled a new-to-us variety of green pea, the Green Arrow, having had a few years to ‘forget’ just how fussy germinating peas can be. After weathering the weather and surviving repeated replantings after ring-neck dove raids, the plants took off and produced an abundance of pods. And the persistent pea weevils were right there the whole time.

We harvested 6lbs of pods, pulled up a standard pea-bacon salad recipe, and started shelling. It isn’t hard to spot the weevils inside, but having to work around them really slows things down. My first thought was to wonder how many weevils make it into commercial products, given the pace mechanized harvest methods. Then I recalled that monocropping agribusinesses skip that concern by flooding pea plants with insecticides just as the plants start to bloom. Pea-bacon saladThere are pea weevil poisons rated for home garden use, but they kill every bug, beneficial and pestiferous. No thanks! Next year we will try the only non-toxic tactic likely to dodge the threat – planting an earlier maturing variety of green pea. The idea is that it flowers and sets pods before the weevil beetles lay their eggs.

We’ve been able to avoid carrot worm damage by changing our planting times, so there is hope for any pea plants hardy and adaptable enough to get growing early in our changeable spring weather. August sunset

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