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.