In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
December, 2009
Regional Report

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Looking more like a space ship than a pea trellis, the Hot Hats are my last resort before surrender.

Kimmie Wins the Battle for the Peas (Maybe...)

The battle lines are drawn and armaments are in place. Who will win is anybody's guess, but I am determined in my goal to grow peas. I planted sugar snap peas and regular pod peas in the sunny vegetable garden at Henry's. After planting the seed, I put up sturdy Texas Tomato Cages for their future support, expecting a flush of lush and rampant growth within two or three days. When I returned to the garden a few days later, all that remained of my efforts were white pea hulls scattered across the soil and fat, smiling birdies perched along the fence.

The problem is that the birdies are eating the seeds as quickly as they germinate. The little plants don't even have a chance to get out of the ground!

I replanted and reinforced the bird barriers around the tomato cages. Again, after a few days only pea hulls remained on the surface, and this is after I had surrounded the pea cages with flash tape. Netting was next... and what do you think? The little winged devils found a way in under the net and had themselves a feast.

Ricky Lafrentz, the last gardener left standing on the grounds of Sunset Magazine in Menlo Park, explained it to me this way: The birds are attracted to the pea seeds because they taste fabulous. As the seeds begin the process of germination, the starch that supports the plant before the roots form is converted to sugar. This is the little engine that drives the growth process. Unfortunately, it is the sugar that makes the new seedlings irresistible to hungry birds and squirrels. As soon as the cotyledon reaches the surface of the soil, and photosynthesis begins, the sugar will once again revert back into starch as the new roots take over to support the plant. Once that stage of growth begins, the seedlings will not be as enticing and the plants can grow unmolested by their avian friends.

That's great to know, but how do I protect the seedlings between the time I plant the seed and when they are ready to reach for the sun?I've tried using flash tape -- the seeds were all eaten within a few days. Covering the cages with plastic wrap -- again, the seeds were eaten. This is getting to be expensive. I could buy peas at the store for much less than my investment in seeds and equipment. Henry and Mrs. Henry are amused by my endeavors. Every time I go to the garden, I change the strategy and replant, but so far, the birds are still winning.

My next plan of attack will be to enclose the support cages with floating row covers and staple it on securely, enclosing the cages completely. If that doesn't work, I have some plastic covers called Hot Hats that are probably too small, but they will be my last resort. The Hot Hats act as a miniature green house, holding in heat and protecting the seeds from "exterior forces."

I feel bad about depriving the birdies of this luscious treat, but Henry has bird feeders set up on the deck. They don't need to eat MY peas! To add insult to injury, a visit to my friends Joyce and Gary's home revealed rows and rows of peas, coming up unmolested like tidy green soldiers. Nobody has more wild birds in their yard than Joyce and Gary!


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