Simple Solutions

– Posted in: Garden Design, Garden Photography

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.

garden scarecrow

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:

wood pile

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.

framing the garden scarecrow

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.

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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Cameron (Defining Your Home) April 22, 2010, 8:29 am

Delightful story (and a great scarecrow, too)!

Don’t know about a great scarecrow, they can be works of art. It does work – thanks for the comment – Saxon

Heather's Garden April 22, 2010, 9:38 am

What a great story, Saxon. You brought tears to my eyes. My mother and I can always discuss gardening and I’ve found that she mentions her parents much more often now, like, “You probably don’t remember, but Grandpa always brought me onion sets,” when I told her I was trying to grow onion sets this year. Or, “Your grandmother always had lily of the valley in her garden,” which I actually remember.

Gardening is such a great way to connect the generations. My oldest daughter, now living in Brooklyn, is talking to me about the bulbs she planted in containers. My daughter in Washington DC marvels at the cherry blossom festival. – Saxon

John April 22, 2010, 11:06 am

Thanks for the inspiration. It’s about time I had a scarecrow — maybe I’ll get my wife to contribute some clothes… and I should do it before the strawberries get ripe.

Your wife’s clothes ?! Won’t be scary enough….. Saxon

Nancy Bond April 22, 2010, 11:54 am

What a great story. 🙂 And I’m glad the scarecrow worked so well.

Thanks Nancy. Your comments are always appreciated – Saxon

Daffodil Planter April 22, 2010, 1:43 pm

What a wonderful way to bring your father and TJ into the garden with you.

Anyone who can refer to Mr. Jefferson as TJ has gotta be a gardener. – Saxon

Benjamin April 22, 2010, 3:45 pm

I just put my wife outside. Or, mor truthfully, she puts me outside after suggesting the former.

I think I better not comment – Saxon

David Perry April 22, 2010, 5:43 pm

I love this story.

… and I love yours. Thanks for stopping by … Saxon

Jan (ThanksFor2Day) April 22, 2010, 10:34 pm

I really enjoyed your post!

Thanks Jan. Family stories can warm the heart – Saxon

healingmagichands April 22, 2010, 10:57 pm

I have had the same trouble with birds eating my peas, corn and beans. I have found that if I deploy floating row cover over the new seed beds and leave it there until the seedlings are about 2 inches tall the birds don’t get them. Once they are that big they are no longer the tasty sprouts that the birds want.

It’s not as cool as the scarecrow though.

The scarecrow is cool and makes a good story … but it is only part of the real story. I also hung some metallic flash tape from the trellis poles. The camera always lies. – Saxon

Amy April 23, 2010, 1:30 am

Delightful story (and a great scarecrow, too)!

Don’t know about a great scarecrow, they can be works of art. It does work – thanks for the comment – Saxon

Laurrie April 23, 2010, 7:15 am

Oh, for the wisdom of our stodgy old parents (and national founding fathers). I liked the image of the birds having a nice seating area on your mesh cages for their dining comfort. I wonder if the scarecrow will continue to work.. do birds figure things out like deer do, and conclude that the scarecrow can’t actually get them and the metallic tape is just harmless flash?

I loved your telling of this little adventure.

Hey ! Who said parents are stodgy ?? – Saxon

healingmagichands April 23, 2010, 2:09 pm

Ah, my camera lies too. I used metallic flash tape to keep the birds off my plums but it only worked for a while. They figured it out. The interesting thing about the floating row cover is that it transforms the seed bed from dirt with plants to a boring white expanse, and they pay no attention to it. Birds are extremely visually oriented, and if they can’t see it, they don’t try to get it.

When I did row covers once before, the birds crept under it. I know I should have anchored it well but once they get down to the ground and start hopping around they explore every thing.

And with the birds figuring out the plums, it is a sure bet they figured it out once the plums were ripe and sweet. They were probably scared near to death as they defied the flashing tape but the sweet tempatation is a drug they couldn’t resist- Saxon

Gail April 24, 2010, 4:01 pm

A great story and a scarecrow even I can make! gail

Too simple to put off. The old shirt is vital… Saxon

Meg April 24, 2010, 6:21 pm

I haven’t grown peas in years but I am trying this year. Would love a scarecrow and i am sure the grand-girls would just love to play dress up and help make one. Just found this sight, love it, and I will be back. Thanks Meg

Thanks Meg – Be a regular – Saxon

Lynn April 25, 2010, 11:14 am

I’m at the same time a little teary about the family connections (garden talk is what keeps my mom on the phone the longest, and tales of grandpa’s garden regularly appear), and psyched to make our own little scarecrow. Something bit off all our sunflower seedlings last year, and we had none at all for summer. You can still mail your dad some peas 🙂

Do look for cutworms if things are bit clean off. And I am not sure my Dad even likes peas enough for me to waste on him. When they are fresh off the vine, they go to my kitchen pretty quick. – Saxon

healingmagichands April 25, 2010, 10:06 pm

The instructions that come with row cover tell you to use soil to anchor it, but that was a bust. Birds in my garden have to figure out how to lift sections of rebar 8 feet long to get under the row cover. I used to use rocks or planks to anchor it, but rebar is small and heavy and cheap. Works a treat, too. I think I may have to make a post about this.

I have visions of the determined birds getting a workout and doing the weight lifter’s “jerk” to get under the rebar. – Saxon

Pomona Belvedere April 26, 2010, 4:01 pm

I enjoyed this story of gardener pride bowing to old traditions. And even if the flash tape is added, I’m still happy to hear about easy ways to keep birds from chomping my pea and sweet pea starts.

Healingmagichands, I’m very interested to hear of your methods as well. Now if you could recommend one that would work for chickens…

By the way, I plant my peas and sweet peas in the fall if I can (I’m in Northern California, zone 8). That way, they have a chance to get big and healthy before the heat, and they last a lot longer. Since all peas are able to take snow and cold, this might also work well in colder zones than mine.

I know I should start peas in the fall (here in Northern CA) and never get around to it, feeling sure the winter snails are just waiting. But this is a great tip. Thanks – Saxon

the inadvertent farmer April 26, 2010, 6:18 pm

Great story…I have field mice that get mine and I have to keep traps in the garden at all time, grrrr.

What a wonderful story about your dad…I’m sure he’s chuckling! Kim

He IS chuckling but has no intentionof giving up any of his old shirts. My mom has promised me otherwise; and since there is no chance in h*ll he will read, this I am letting the secret out. – Saxon

Sarah April 29, 2010, 12:31 pm

A floating row cover works great for us! It has to be laid right on the soil or critters get the idea that there is somewhere to crawl under and into. I like the scarecrow though.

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