Thursday, March 31, 2011

Who is eating my Peas?

Last year, we had to replant our peas a few times due to mice and pill bugs.  This year we tried a different strategy and started our peas in cups full of fresh potting soil set high in our metal trough planter instead of directly in the garden bed.  We, initially had covered the trough in clear plastic for warmth, but we neglected to ventilate and some of the peas started to mold.  So, we snipped off the moldy bits and secured the plastic in such a way that the ends were open.

The peas were missing some leaves, but I assumed that was from the mold.  Then, we just happened to check them after dark one evening.  We turned on the patio lights and there they were... cutworms!  The buggers were happily munching away.

Cutworm on sugar snap pea

Cutworms feed at night.  During the day they curl up under the soil.  They are an inch or so long and brownish.  They emerge late winter and feast on tender foliage before they turn into brown moths.  Those pesky moths that get into your house during the summer when you leave the windows open in the evening start off as these cutworms.  The moth must have laid eggs in the soil in our metal trough planter.

To get rid of these pests, my heroic husband, plucked them off, threw them on the concrete, and stomped them while I kept my distance and gagged.  The squished remains were full of half-digested pea greens.  For several evenings after our initial discovery of the cutworms, we went out to check for more.  We found and killed a few and the peas seem to be recovering.  

Cutworm damage

More Cutworm damage

This is what all the peas should look like... a few inches tall with full leaves

So the lesson for this year is that if you notice that your seedlings are being devoured, look for cutworms after dark and kill them.  Last year, the lesson was if your peas don't come up at all, look to see if they're still under the soil, if not put out mouse traps.  If it's not mice, put up some kind of barrier to keep the birds at bay.

A general tip for dealing with pests is that every pest has a season where it's a problem.  A lot of insects are going to come out when the weather starts to warm up ready to hatch, feed and mate.  Many pests are also particular to what types of plants they go after.  This is the time to really observe your plantings and figure out how to deal the pests in a sustainable way.  

When we started vegetable gardening, we did not have many pests the first year because they hadn't discovered our garden yet.  By the third year, we found that pretty much every vegetable has some kind of pest associated with it.  The key is to use the power of observation and then do some research in books, on the internet, or ask other gardeners to identify the pest.  Once you know what you are dealing with you can try different methods for handling the situation.  Now that we've dealt with different pests, I have found that before I plant something, I like to read up in my gardening books about what kind of pests and diseases to look for, so that I am prepared with a little information before I encounter a problem in the garden.  

What pests have you encountered and how did you deal with them?

1 comment:

  1. Those cutworms are disgusting!! I'm pretty sure I've seen them before and just not known what they are.

    Our biggest nemesis seem to be aphids, and slugs are becoming a problem as well. (I never saw a slug in the yard before we started planting vegetables.) We get ladybugs and mantis to eat the aphids and husband snips the slugs with scissors. Yuck! We've always had tons of snails but I for some reason have an affinity for critters with shells so we usually carefully pluck them and move them somewhere else :)