Friday, July 12, 2013

Behold the Great Herbivore of the Prairie!

Behold the great herbivore of the prairie!

No, not the bison.  Not any more.  We killed most of those off.  Remember?

No, this guy.  The lowly grasshopper.  Grasshoppers, as a group, are now considered to be the primary herbivore on the prairie.  What each individual lacks in terms of gravitas and majesty is more than compensated for by the sheer number of individuals and their collective appetite.

In our yard this summer, the grasshoppers have been flexing their herbivorous muscles.  They started with the potato plants.  Seemingly overnight these went from healthy and green to decimated central veins on a stem.  Nothing else in the garden appeared to be touched.

It only took the grasshoppers a day or two, though, to eat those potato vines.  Their appetite was whetted.  Surprisingly, the onion and garlic plants were next.  Down to nubs the onions went.  The bunching onions were hammered.  The garlic plants became 6" brown stubs sticking out of the soil.

Soon I noticed grasshoppers on the asparagus plants.  The iris leaves around the yard were getting shortened daily, too, and every time I walked across the remaining fescue, clouds of little nymphs erupted.  Before long, the fescue looked like it had been mowed short, the asparagus was abandoned after being nibbled down to brown, drying stems, and the iris leaves that had ranged from 12" to 24" tall just a week before were now topping out between 2" and 8".

The strawberries were next.  They'd given us a wonderful crop just a few weeks before and we were discussing cutting them back, but I was afraid that the grasshoppers would love fresh, new leaves.  Not to worry.  The grasshoppers decided that the old leaves were just fine... though the new leaves were even better.

Somewhere along in this process, the grasshoppers also ate almost every leaf on my newly planted Agastache.  Drought tolerant?  Perhaps.  I didn't really get a chance to check that out, because Agastache certainly isn't grasshopper tolerant!

The six-legged varmints have also stripped the old cole and kale plants to "sticks".  I pulled most of them out and fed their poor, remaining carcasses to the compost pile, but I left these 6 kale plants in the ground, just to see what would happen.  There was, after all, just a tiny bit of green in their "hearts".

Even the bullet-proof Jerusalem artichoke is not immune to grasshopper depredations this summer, although this hungry, leaf-eating beauty had better beware of the wheelbug lurking behind the next leaf.

Now the grasshoppers have descended on to my Rose-of-Sharon shrubs along the driveway.  (I showed you what was left of them 2 summers ago, after the grasshoppers got done.)  Any bets on how long it will be until these, too, are again down to woody twigs?

My biggest question is, "Why aren't the grasshoppers interested in my crabgrass?"  It's green, it's healthy-looking, and, well, it's growing like a weed!  I'd gladly donate it to the grasshopper cause.  But the jawed marauders don't seem interested. 

It's 102 today.  Last week it got to 107.  I'm starting to dream of a killing frost.  If one doesn't come soon, I may not have any plants left BUT crabgrass around here!


Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

Oh my gosh. You have hoppers bad! Have you considered chickens or ducks. My friend swears by them. He made a movable pen (including wire over the top) for his ducks which he moves each day around the garden and enjoys "scaring" grasshoppers from plants into the cage where they are devoured. Hot here too.

ProfessorRoush said...

Wow, Gaia, you've got an honest to goodness Old Testament plague going on down there! I'm sorry about the losses and about the Rose of Sharon next on the dining table. Wish I knew an answer to help.

Jason said...

My sympathies. At least the grasshopper droppings are much smaller than buffalos'.

Karin / Southern Meadows said...

I have never seen so much damage from grasshoppers in a garden. I do see them in my garden but I don't know that I could identify their damage. Have you ever used Nolo Bait? I just read about using that this morning on another blog. Good luck with your ferocious hoppers!

Marilyn Kircus said...

So sorry for your grasshopper devastation. Wish I could send you some ringbilled gulls.

Gaia Gardener: said...

GonSS, I've thought about getting chickens, but I don't want yet another animal that we have to make arrangements for when we go away for a week. Chickens or guineas seem like a good idea, if not for that little issue.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Karin, I've heard about Nolo Bait, but I'm just not a fan of introducing something toxic, even if it IS organic and supposedly grasshopper specific, into my yard. I have seen too many unintended consequences over my lifetime. So I'm just hoping that the weather will change, the natural predators will ramp up their numbers, and the normal cycle of life will even out my grasshopper populations one of these years.

Believe it or not, there are still plenty of green things around my garden that the grasshoppers haven't decimated yet! Rain (or the lack thereof) is truly my most pressing issue at the moment.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Prof and Marilyn - Believe me, I appreciate your condolences! Marilyn, I, too, wish you could send some ringbilled gulls our way!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Jason, I've got to say that I hadn't thought of that! It puts a new, positive spin on the grasshopper horde!

Linda said...

Nice series of photos. I haven't seen a grasshopper yet this summer, which is surprising, because temperatures today in Montreal are upwards of 40 celsius.

Melanie said...

How frustrating!! I am feeling a little disillusioned with gardening at this point too!! Those new grow boxes that were supposed to be THE thing for me. .haven't produced a tomato yet. .the blooms are drying up and falling off. .something (not hoppers, but insect I suspect) is getting the cucumber vines one at a time! Lots of basil. .but no maters to eat it with. .melon vines look great. .but again. .no fruit anywhere!! Go figure!! The flowers are hot and dried up too. .and the wind is destroying all kinds of stuff too. .mostly my humor!! I'm ready for fall ;-) and a farmer's market that sells great colored heirloom tomatos! Hugs!!