The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/21/2012)
“In the spring of the year when kings go forth to battle (II Sam. 11:1),” King David stayed back in Jerusalem. Seeing a beautiful woman toweling herself after a bath, he summoned her for a dalliance. The woman, Bathsheba, was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of the soldiers he sent into battle.
There’s something fishy about a beautiful woman toweling herself off in the middle of the day in plain sight of the king while her husband is off to war. She became pregnant, and the king solved his dilemma by having Uriah placed in a salient where he was sure to be killed. Thus, begins a tale of woe for King David. One of his sons, Absalom, eventually tried to overthrow King David but was killed in the attempt. The king was saved by his son’s death.
In the spring of the year gardeners go forth to battle grasshoppers. While not as comely as Bathsheba, with them there is no dallying. They’re the gardener’s mortal enemy. There is no staying inside the house or puttering around with idle chores, such as raking up pine needles or pulling nascent, springtime weeds. If ignored, disaster will likely result.
All warfare requires an understanding of the enemy. While it’s hard to underestimate the ferocity of grasshoppers, they suffer from an Aristotelian “fatal flaw,” a moral defect. They’re cannibals. Thus, if one is poisoned, and its compadres eat him, they’ll consume the poison as well. However, the poison has to be specific to grasshoppers because no sensible gardener wants to poison other beneficial and beautiful insects, such as lady bugs and praying mantises.
Happily, such a poison exists. It’s called NoLo which is short for Nosema locustae, a micro spore that infects grasshoppers and eats away at their guts. A subtle disease, it kills slowly. Happily, it infects nothing else, plants, insects, animals, or human beings. It's a single-minded killer. NoLo is baited with wheat bran, a sticking agent, and distilled water, the grasshoppers being attracted to the wheat bran. It’s best applied where grasshoppers naturally congregate amongst foliage or grasses.
Grasshopper warfare is unlike King David’s type of warfare or even the warfare of World War’s I and II where armies are lined up against each other. It is more asymmetrical or what was once called guerilla war, the kind of war in Afghanistan, counter-insurgency. A defensive barrier at the property line to bar the grasshoppers won’t work, like the old French Maginot Line of WWII. They’re migratory and, as their names suggests, they hop. They can’t be kept out. They have to be killed after they’re invaded the garden but before they can wreak havoc.
The really creepy thing is that grasshopper eggs are already buried in the garden from last year’s grasshoppers, like terrorist cells. The enemy within, they’re already in the garden before they appear. An early spring application is necessary to poison the small grasshoppers as they emerge. However, more mature grasshoppers will invade so frequent applications of NoLo are need throughout the season.
Since the killing is slow, a sign that the NoLo is working are lethargic grasshoppers upon which it is easy to step. As a long-term remedy it’s best applied throughout the season, year after year. If a grasshopper is infected as it lays its eggs, the eggs will be infected as they emerge.
In addition to NoLo, the grasshopper wars use an aerial component, the drone-like praying mantis. A particularly voracious flesh eater, it's an ally in the fight against grasshoppers. Happily, they can be purchased for local nurseries or over the Internet and released in the garden.
In addition to the praying mantis, birds and fowl are also allies. They love grasshoppers and are quick enough to catch them. Making a garden bird friendly is one sure way to fight grasshoppers. Chickens, ducks, and geese are great, but they have to be fenced in and tend to trample the garden. My father paid me a penny a grasshopper. It may be gender bias, but small children, especially boys, are quick enough to catch them and aren’t burdened with the icky, crushed green factor.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2012
Dana Prom Smith edits Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun in which this article appeared on March 24, 2012. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.