Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hard Choices: Heat, Drought, Grasshoppers and Blister Beetles

Last summer was difficult here.  53 days above 100.  No rain for weeks on end.  Hordes of grasshoppers devouring asparagus, blueberries, perennials and more.  No tomatoes because the temperatures were too high for them to set fruit.  Many plants dying because they couldn't handle the combined stress of the heat, drought, and grasshoppers.  No matter how much water we soaked plants with, it never seemed to be enough.

The photo to the right shows one of our althea shrubs last July, complete with its decoration of hungry 'hoppers.

We were hoping for better this year.  In one way, it will be better - the spring was so warm, so early, that we have a wonderful crop of tomatoes ripening, beating the normal July 4th deadline by weeks.

However, the temperatures this last week of June have been 103-105-107-106....  Today is scheduled to be 106, and the next 10 days are all forecast to be above 100, with no rain in sight.  The grasshoppers are even worse this year than last, too.  The asparagus is brown, the stems eaten by grasshoppers and then dessicated by heat and lack of rain.  Perennials are beginning to wilt. In this heat, there will be no new tomatoes being set on. 

Speaking of tomatoes, the blister beetles have begun ganging up on the tomato plants, eating the foliage steadily and inexorably.  Normally I would handpick them off each morning, drowning them in soapy water, to keep the tomatoes as healthy as possible, but it's been 2 years since we had significant numbers of blister beetles.  Two years in which the grasshopper populations have built up to ridiculous numbers, thanks in great part to the drought.

So here's the summary of our current situation:

1.  Blister beetles lay their eggs on grasshopper egg masses.  For every adult blister beetle you see, you aren't seeing about 25 grasshoppers that were eaten by that beetle as a larva.


2.  On the other hand, adult blister beetles eat plants.  Right now, they are beginning to enjoy our tomatoes, seemingly munching away with great gusto.

3.  The heat and the drought mean that the grasshoppers will continue to do amazingly well this year, while the tomatoes will not be setting fruit until the heat eases significantly.  The blister beetles represent one of the only natural checks on the grasshopper populations during these weather conditions.

4.  Conclusion:  If we want to have a chance of decreasing grasshopper populations around here (and since we won't have new tomatoes setting on in this heat anyway), I need to leave the blister beetles alone and let them munch away at the tomatoes.

But, oh, that is such a hard decision to make!  Our tomatoes are looking so wonderful this year - full and lush and green and loaded with fruit....

Sometimes letting nature take its course is truly painful.

26 comments:

Claudia said...

Hard choices, indeed. When all we can do is hope.... hang in there.

ProfessorRoush said...

Ouch, that does hurt...+100 temps here also, if I hadn't gotten 4 inches of rain (finally) in the last two weeks, I'd really be hurting. Good luck Gaia as we enter into the inferno.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Prof, good luck to you, too. Judging from the weather reports I've been seeing on the news, you guys are even toastier than we are. Thank goodness you got the rain before this all hit.

~Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

It has been rough. Struggling here as well. I talked to a man the other day who remembers '66 starting like this. They had to sell off cattle because there was no grass by the end of June. Then, mid July, rains came and he said it was one of the lushes summers he remembers.
Dreaming?
Seems each evening, I find something new dead. Sigh.
Hang in there!

Gaia Gardener: said...

I'm trying, GonSS! You, too!

greggo said...

Well at least your not on fire. It seems the heat has followed me to the Rockies! Hopefully my water boy is doing good.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Greg, Keep safe! The extent of the fires is truly sad and frightening. Here at home, I'm hoping your water boy does a good job, too!

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

Your weather is really brutal, not to mention the insects that are trying to survive in your garden as well. Stay cool, hope your weather breaks soon.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Janet, I am SO thankful for air conditioning! I can't even imagine trying to handle this weather without it.

Looking ahead this morning, we're predicted to get to 115 next Wednesday. 102 is our "cool" weather, due in the next couple days.

tina said...

I think that is a good decision and I like your reasoning as to how you arrived at leaving the beetles alone. You know you'd probably never get them all anyhow and you are so right with no tomatoes setting. I sometimes totally hate summers in the south. You have the exact same weather as us. I keep hoping each summer will be different-ah the optimism we gardeners share!

Kalantikan said...

At the beginning, i thought you are describing our conditions, because we have the heat, drought and insects, just that we dont have much grasshoppers but we have aphids and mealy bugs. Even if it is already raining in the city where i am working, our property in the province hasn't received any watering yet. So we can't plant any crop yet, and out trees are very thirsty already.

Melanie said...

It is truly hard to stay upbeat with these conditions. The blister beetles have dessimated my potato vines. .we'll have to guess where they are to dig. .they have started in on the carrots. .but the tomato plants are still good..a few maters. .but nothing to write home about. I don't think I will struggle with them either this summer. .I'll water them for a few more weeks. .and then they will be on their own. I wonder if the climate changes will leave us with this as the new norm. .and we'll start landscaping like Vegas!! I had missed the 115 reading slated for this week. .I hope that changes!!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Melanie, Thankfully they have taken the 115 out of the forecast; now the worst is 109 next Monday, which compared to 115 sounds positively balmy!

Greg and I have both been concerned about this being the "new normal" too, but I've decided that it's pointless to worry about that. I'll just try to deal with each day (and each season) as it comes.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Andrea (Kalantikan), I'm hoping the rains come your way very, very soon. A lack of normal moisture just upsets the balance of everything. It's amazing how many places are experiencing extreme weather these days - either too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. The extremes are all across the globe and it's frightening and disheartening.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Tina, It's normally rough during the summer here and in the south. These days are making "rough" look like way too wimpy a descriptive word.

Good luck. I'm hoping that the weather breaks soon for both of us.

Les said...

It sounds like you are living a chapter in the Book of Exodus. Please watch out for the frogs and I hope your weather pattern changes soon.

Randy said...

It is hard letting nature take its course… I understand about the heat the past couple of years. My garden looked completely different three years ago than it does now. Sometimes it’s so frustrating I think about giving up. Each spring I have less and less plants returning. My daylilies looks so bad, I think I would rather not have them at all verses they way they look now.

Indie said...

Oh, that is a tough choice! The weather has certainly not been kind lately, and in combination with all the pests.. yikes!

Dee/reddirtramblings said...

That is terribly tough. I usually spread a bit of Nolo bait for the grasshoppers as a biological control. I forgot this year, and I have thousands of the little ________ munching everywhere.

I don't have a single blister beetle. I wonder. I finally saw squash bugs this morning. So, the irritation begins. Hoping for better weather for you. I'm going to share this on Facebook. It's an important lesson in how things are related.~~Dee

Gail said...

So very sorry...

Jason said...

I feel for you, but everything considered I think you're right to leave the blister beetles, difficult as that is. We have had drought and a heat wave as well (up to 105), but it is supposed to break tomorrow. Best wishes as you struggle on!

Casa Mariposa said...

It's been brutally hot here, too, but we've a few bits of rain that have helped with the watering. It's frustrating to have to leave a plant devouring bug alone but when what it contributes outweighs what it diminishes, the choice is always worth it. Hang in there!

Prairiewolf said...

So, I went out last night. Some of the poor blueberries had been making a come back. Three or 4 of the plants had shoots up about 6 inches. No more. The grass hoppers have struck.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Well, several weeks after this post, I can report that the tomatoes that were on the vines have almost all ripened and are overflowing my kitchen counter. I've only lost 2 tomato vines so far, the Green Zebras, and that looks like heat and lack of water, not blister beetles or grasshoppers. There are gobs of blister beetles on the remaining tomato plants, but maybe they are even helping the vines survive by reducing the amount of leaf surface available to transpire in these dry times....

Gaia Gardener: said...

Losing the blueberries is a cruel blow. And the blister beetles haven't touched them.

Gaia Gardener: said...

By the way, Les, I'd welcome frogs - as they can't exist without water!