A gardener tells me he planted peas and not one sprouted. Where did his peas go?

They could have gone to the birds, maggots, fungi, wireworms, cutworms or earthworms. It’s a big pea-cycle out there, especially in a cool, wet soil or a warm, wet soil.

We often read that we should plant peas as soon as the soil can be worked, but if that soil is cold and wet (and if it’s poorly drained as well), pea seeds can rot — especially if the seed is not fresh and has low viability to begin with. Fungi such as Fusarium are more prone to attack pea seeds in cool, wet soils, while Pythium prefers warm, wet soil.

Peas germinate fastest — in seven to 14 days — when the soil temperature is 65 to 70 F – but pea plants grow best in the cooler days of spring and decline with the heat of summer, so we often plant them early and cross our fingers. The soil temperature should be at least 45 F before peas are planted. With the long, cool, wet spells we’ve been having the last few springs, do we have enough fingers to cross?

You could pre-germinate peas in a moistened paper towel kept near 70 F until the seeds sprout, then sow them gently outdoors, being careful not to harm the emerging root. Or try starting peas in peat pots or newspaper pots and transplanting them, pots and all, into the garden — a painful thought if you plant very long rows of peas, but maybe something to try on a limited scale.

New York vegetable growers Paul and Sandy Arnold actually transplant peas on a commercial scale because of earthworms. As the Arnolds increased the organic matter content of their soil — generally a desirable thing to do — they noticed their pea germination declining. Paul went out with a flashlight one night, dug around the pea rows, and found that earthworms that were thriving in their rich soil were taking pea seeds down into their burrows.

Now, say the Arnolds (at http://www.newenglandvfc.org/2011_conference/pdf/pea-arnold.pdf), “We seed 2 seeds per cell in a 200 cell seedling tray, making sure they are pushed down in well under the soil mix. We grow them in the greenhouse for about 2 weeks until they have just enough roots to hold together when pulled out. Leaving them too long in the trays can be a real problem as they grow fast and can get stressed.” They transplant their peas through Biotelo mulch, a biodegradable plastic mulch (not yet approved for organic production).

If the cold and wet don’t get your peas, the seedcorn maggots might. The larva of a fly that lays eggs in rich soil, in compost or near seeds or seedlings, this yellow-white, quarter-inch-long maggot is pointed at the head end. Dig around in the soil and you may see these little lovelies, especially in cool, wet soil. To avoid this pest, wait until the soil is warmer to plant, and plant shallowly when soils are cool and wet.

Cutworms are another potential culprit. Go out in the early evening and scout for these C-shaped larvae of moths before they wrap themselves around pea stems and start chewing.

Wireworms also like to feast on peas. These thin orange buggers, the segmented larvae of click beetles, are most common in soils where sod recently grew. If you are just starting a garden where lawn previously grew, consider transplanting squash to that area and waiting until the following year to grow wireworm-sensitive crops there.

Some people have trouble with birds eating their pea seeds or seedlings. Netting can cover this problem.

If you lost your pea crop this spring to one or another critter, consider trying for a fall crop. Plant peas two months before the first fall frost. Heat can make summer-sown peas difficult to grow, but by keeping the soil moist and mulched, your crop may do well.