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Surprising yucky discovery in stored seeds

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Last summer I purposely let some pea pods mature to brown on the vines so I could harvest the seeds to plant this spring. This weekend I pulled the seeds out to put them in the garden. I was surprised that so many of them had holes. What in the world? I smashed one with a knife to see if I could figure out what caused this. I don’t know what I expected — mold, fungus, maybe? — but I was utterly surprised to find that a bug was inside. Apparently it was playing dead, because I got another surprise a few minutes later when it slowly started moving.  

I learned these are cowpea weevils. Adults lay eggs in developing legume pods or stored seeds. The larvae and pupae grow inside the seed and emerge as grown weevils. These can produce a new generation of adults in three to six weeks.

Don’t be complacent if you find a hole in only one seed. One hole signals that an adult has emerged. You likely have an infestation with the insect in other stages inside the other seeds. Best to throw all of them out. And not to the compost heap, I might add, where they still can flourish.

If you recently purchased seeds and discover holes in them, I recommend taking them back to the store and asking for a replacement or refund.

My seeds were in a plastic sandwich bag which wasn’t entirely sealed … my mistake. I further erred by leaving them in a kitchen drawer (I forgot!) instead of in a cooler place. Weevils love the warmth.

I will try to save pea seeds again this year, with this added step: FREEZING. Make sure the peas are completely dry before storage; to test this, pound a few with a hammer on the driveway. They should make a brittle cracking sound and not have any gummy interiors. If frozen before completely dry the extra moisture can expand in the seed and make it crack. Freeze in a moisture/air tight container. If the mature peas were exposed to insects while on the vine, the life cycle will be in the egg stage. Freezing will kill the eggs before larva make a dent.

As cozy as a pea in a pod? No thanks.


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