Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A bit pea'd off

A family of tasty peas.
But it's not always peas and harmony inside the pods.
I always um and er over whether or not to grow peas.

Bulk standard peas are lovely raw, straight from the pod, and I like the idea of making pea pod soup. But they take up quite a bit of space and need frequent sowings as the harvest is quite short lived. They always seem to make the messiest bed too.
I would never bother to grow them for cooked peas. Birdseye do a great job of picking, podding and freezing within the hour. (Although goodness knows what chemicals are sprayed on them while they grow)

But therein lies the current problem, for my peas are afflicted by pea moth. They were last year too, but it seems worse this year.
Between June and August, peak time late June to mid-July, a small nondescript moth emerges from the soil, where it has spent the winter as a larva before pupating. The pesky thing then searches for the nearest pea plants (sweet peas included, though these grow terribly on my exposed land) and lays its eggs on the leaves. These hatch into tiny caterpillars which head straight for the young pea pods and drill their way in to gain access to your lovely peas.

A tiny caterpillar, maybe a millimetre long,
begins its youth of destruction
So, you enter your veg garden with the idea of  picking some gorgeous, fresh peas and it's a lottery. If you pick the wrong ticket you open up the pod to find peas surrounded with a strange brown substance. This is caterpillar poo! The posh word is frass.

Oh frass!
Look a little harder and you'll find the caterpillars crawling around inside the pod or more likely burrowing into a pea.
Extra protein crawling around inside the pod.
Now, this is not great. It means you have to inspect each pea as you shell them, unless you relish the idea of a mouthful of caterpillar s**t and caterpillar! But it gets worse.
For my favourite peas are the Sugar Snaps. You know, the peas which grow fat and sweet and juicy, the ones you pick straight from the plant and pop in your mouth, pod and all, and crunch. For these get pea moth caterpillars in them too, the prospect of which rather destroys the whole experience.

The one saving grace for the pea family is that mangetout does not seem to be affected, though I'm not convinced that if you let them swell up there wouldn't be a little critter burrowing away inside.

Is this tiny hole where the caterpillar
went in or came out?
Or is it something else?

To finish the story of the Pea Moth, when it's finished spoiling your crop, the caterpillar drills back out of the pod and drops to the ground to spend the winter in the soil, ready to repeat the whole process next year.

Without the use of chemicals, an understanding of this life cycle is important to trying to control the pest. Crop rotation is said to help, but I do that. I'm sure the emerging flying moths are capable of flying to the next veg bed without too much difficulty.
Another strategy is to cover the peas with fleece as soon as the flowers start to form. Peas are self-fertile so it won't matter that insects can't reach the flowers. You'll still get peas.
But I really don't like veg beds covered in fleece. Besides, the winds here usually make short work of my attempts at protecting crops.

I think that for me the best line of attack will be to rotavate the soil in winter and let the chickens and ducks at it. That's if it's not too waterlogged, too dry or too frozen.

Of course, the other way to manage this problem is not to grow peas for a couple of years and so completely break the life cycle. That's a strong possibility.

Or maybe I could get away with just growing mangetout.

The last possibility, if you're reading this thinking that you really can't do without growing peas, is to sow quick growing cultivars either early in the season (March time) or late (August) to avoid the flight period of the moths.

So, come next spring I'll have decisions to make. I suspect I'll decide to just grow mangetout for a couple of years. I'll turn the soil a few times in the winter so the chickens can get at the grubs too.

And in three years time I'll be looking forward to my next crop of Sugar Snap peas.

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