I love green peas. Big fat English shelling peas. Unfortunately the birds love the young sprouts and I have tried all sorts of tricks to keep them off my little crop.
This year I finally listened to my father’s advice and built a scarecrow.
Thomas Jefferson had a contest every year with his gardening buddies to see who could bring in the first peas of the season. With that in mind, I began planting my first peas in mid February, planning a new row as soon as the previous row sprouted. I would see how early I could get my own peas. Secretly storing my results, I would then be able to challenge my own buddies in future years.
I had some great fresh compost, good seeds, and warm weather. As I buried the seeds in the rich soil I could almost taste those fat spring peas, deep green, lightly steamed with a drop of real butter, a wee bit of salt, and a dash of dill. I covered the rows with wire mesh knowing the birds would peck out the young green shoots.
Things began well. The seeds began sprouting in about nine days. The next row went in. Suddenly the little plants began to vanish. I checked every morning for some evidence of slugs or snails. No slime trails anywhere. My earwig traps of rolled up newspaper had nothing. Cutworms maybe ? No signs, no telltale pellets of poop. The second row is now sprouting while the first row disappears.
Meanwhile, my father is following my adventures through our weekly telephone conversation. He is 95 and talking gardening is our number one mutual pleasure. He wants to know about every vegetable I can grow in California, knowing it will never match the flavor of what he could have grown in Virginia “in his day”. And in truth no corn, no melon, and certainly no tomato I have grown in California comes close to those I remember in my father’s garden. But he could never grow peas.
He had heard me lament about the birds pecking out previous crops of lettuces or peas and wondered: “Son, why don’t you try a scarecrow ?” Too much trouble for something that is not likely to work, so I just cover my crops with mesh. And no, Pop, don’t wonder about rabbits. We don’t have rabbits and they couldn’t get through the mesh either.
This year I had the mesh out early so the birds (or rabbits) couldn’t be the problem, yet something was getting to my peas before they could even put up their first tendril. I planted my third crop along the gaps of the first. There were still some living shoots but headless, trying to regenerate new leaves.
Then I noticed. The dag gone birds were sitting on the mesh poking their beaks down to the buffet line. In broad daylight. I had been providing them convenient seating. “Son, why don’t you put up a scarecrow ?” my father asked again the next Sunday. “All you need is a couple of old boards, three nails, and an old shirt”
OK, OK. I will humor him and he will enjoy the birds victory despite the wasted effort. And if he thinks it is so simple – I will make it simple. Two old 2x4s from the woodpile under the deck:
three mis-matched and bent nails from the bottom of my tool chest; and I plant the crossed boards by the shortest bed in my vegetable garden.
It took me all of 15 minutes, and I had to sacrifice my favorite shirt. It is just as old and beat up as the ones my father always wore in his own garden, and I haven’t seen a bird in the garden for two weeks.
The peas are finally climbing up the trellis, now two months from first planting. I won’t have any to bring my father when I visit in May, but Jefferson never had peas in May either.
I’m gonna ask my Dad for one of his old shirts when I see him.