Hunting the Hungry Hopper

Roberts RanchGardening

Grasshopper Pic

The bane of my gardening world is the ravenous leaf-eating grasshopper!  I am already under attack with thousands of miniature hoppers that will become big hoppers in no time as they methodically strip my plants of their leaves.

Typically, they hatch in the spring from eggs just under the surface of the soil.  Then they hide underneath the leaves of plants where it is hard to see them.  Even if you do see them, you can be sure with their large compound eyes, they will see you first. Hand picking grasshoppers is a job for someone a whole lot faster than me.  They are quick little things and are amazingly good at dodging your sprays or attempts at catching them by rotating around a stem or to the underside of a leaf.

Truly, grasshoppers are the only insects that sorely tempt me to disband my ideal of “natural” gardening and go for the toxic stuff that I KNOW will kill them.  Grasshoppers seem to be absolutely immune to Pyola, Exicute, Pyrethrins, and all the other “natural” sprays that work on most other bugs.  They also travel so much that you cannot be sure they won’t leave your garden just in time to die and your neighbor’s grasshoppers will come flying in.

So,  here are some ideas for natural control.  Most of them are not practical for me, but some have worked very well and others I intend to try.

Let chickens and cats take care of the problem.  I do admit that the chickens are very quick and able when it comes to catching a grasshopper, however they can eat 20 feet of lettuce in no time, so I can’t let the chickens loose in the garden.  Cats on the other hand, do catch their share of grasshoppers and they leave the lettuce alone.  Perhaps I should invite the cats into the hoophouse.

Plant flowers such as marigolds, calendula, alyssum or dill, which attract beneficial insects that harm grasshoppers.  Yes, amazingly, there is some good use for the fly.  Robber flies actually attack grasshoppers.

Create a bird perch.  Birds can be a big help.

Pray for a cool wet spring.  Grasshoppers actually starve to death in cool wet weather.  Perhaps watering more than is needful in the early spring can have an impact on the hopper population.

Wage biological war!  This is the one that has worked best for me.  I use a product called Nolo Bait or Semispore.  They are an excellent reproductive control of grasshoppers.  If you apply the bait in the spring, you have a good chance of knocking the population down for a few years to come.  However, these baits also take out the mantis and the cricket that provide  beneficial controls of their own.  So there is a trade off.

Another interesting thing my son discovered while trimming hedges one day, the grasshopper has a weakness!  It cannot see the clippers coming.  Nor can it see the scissors.  So we wander the rows hunting the hungry hoppers and cutting them in half with ease because they are completely unaware of the danger.  It is a wonderful discovery, but a bit gruesome and time consuming.  You definitely have to rid yourself of any friendly feelings for the creatures or its kind of hard to do.   Perhaps inviting all the neighborhood kids over, handing them scissors, and having a mildly competitive  grasshopper hunt would provide good control and a bit of fun.

If you are having the same frustrations with hungry hoppers that  I have had, hopefully one of these ideas will work for you.