Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (1/10/08)

An attractive, bright-eyed, well-dressed woman stood beside her car’s trunk handing out plastic baggies filled with an unidentified substance. A stream of customers forked over greenbacks. In the cushy environs of University Heights, the scene had the furtive quality of customers buying illegal herbal substances from a shady entrepreneur on the mean streets of Phoenix. The woman was actually passing out baggies full of wheat bran laced with NoLo, a grasshopper bait. As I approached her, I asked her if she were “the grasshopper lady.” She stiffened and politely replied, “Yes, I’ve got the NoLo you asked about.”

When I told meine Überfrau about it, she said, “Well, just what would you expect? How would you like ‘the manure man’?” “No big deal,” I replied. "D.P., you're really clueless."

Jean Hockman, the woman in question, is head honcho of Flagstaff’s Garden Club, a loosely organized group of Flagstaff gardeners. They meet occasionally to share seedlings and seeds, to listen to an expert, to visit one another’s gardens, and just to hang out with like-minded people. Jean has taken it upon herself to distribute NoLo to her fellow club members in the spring of the year. My curb-side purchase was at one of the irregular meetings. The stuff’s not free. She orders it and divvies it up for Club members.

By the way, if anyone wants to belong to a low demand, no dues club with friendly, intelligent members who love to garden, the Garden Club is a sure bet. Just email Jean at djhockman@npgcable.com to get on the club’s emailing roster.

Back to grasshoppers. They’re a formidable enemy, bringing to mind accounts of mass suicide attacks, coming in wave after wave, unstoppable fanatics, impervious to fear. One theory about grasshopper fanaticism is their cannibalism. The front lines fear being eaten by the rear lines if they stop their forward march.

During advanced training in the army, a retired brigadier of the Irish Guards told me, “Sergeant, never underestimate the enemy. Know him like the back of your hand. Find his weakness, and when he’s on the cusp of an attack, strike at his weakness, not his strength.” So it is with grasshoppers. Gardeners have to know them and never underestimate them, and when they begin to attack, strike at their weakness.

The first thing to know is that they are already in the garden buried in pods of eggs in the soil, laid by grasshoppers last fall. Terrorist subversives, they can’t be seen, but be assured if there were grasshoppers last fall, they’re lying low now during the winter, underground and unseen cells, waiting to attack in the spring.

Grasshoppers have two weaknesses: they’re gluttons and they’re cannibals.

NoLo, short for Nosema locustae, is bait made of flaky wheat bran, sprayed with a suspension of distilled water, a sticking agent, and Nosema locustae spores. Non-toxic to human beings and other forms of life other than grasshoppers, the spores carry a disease fatal to grasshoppers. The death isn’t sudden. Once ingested, the spores pierce the mid-gut and slowly destroy their digestive systems.

In the spring before the grasshopper nymphs have hatched, the tactic of choice is to spread NoLo around the yard’s perimeter in the bare spots where the eggs have been laid. The reason is that NoLo works best on grasshopper nymphs and doesn’t work as well on mature grasshoppers. As Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate cavalryman, said, “I git thar fustest with the mostest.”

As the gluttonous grasshopper nymphs hatch and emerge, they’re ravenously hungry and eat their favored wheat bran laced with Nosema locustae and slowly die. Since grasshoppers are cannibals, NoLo is a gift that keeps on giving as their comrades in arms eat their diseased, dead, and fallen comrades, thus ingesting the disease once again.

Since no one tactic destroys grasshoppers, one shot of NoLo won’t do the job and should be repeated every few weeks throughout the year. It’s a conflict with many skirmishes. Consequently, there’s more to come on the tactics of grasshopper counter-terrorism, so stay tuned. Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey, Jr., said it best, “Hit hard, hit fast, hit often.”

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2008

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