A rustling noise alerted me to a visitor in the squash patch, one that gives gardeners the chills each season. Thinking it was a squirrel, my concern was simply for the swelling pumpkins whose rind is irresistible to the pilferers. Stalking up to the patch to catch the robber red-pawed, the rustling fell silent and no squirrel was found.
Mouse, rabbit and neighborhood cat all went through my mind but it wasn’t until the thief sprang from the foliage that I knew I had a problem. I stared into its eyes as it clung to the front of my shirt, gently masticating the last of its snatched meal. A grasshopper had invaded my vegetables, and where there’s one, there’s bound to be many.
More than 100 species of grasshoppers live in Colorado. Some feed on grasses, others weeds, but the Differential (Melanoplus differentialis), Twostriped (Melanoplus bivittatus), and Redlegged (Melanoplus femurrubrum) are frequent pests in home gardens. All types lay their eggs in the soil, favoring dry, undisturbed locations for their nurseries. Upon hatching in spring the young dine on nearby plants until they reach adulthood and fly off in search of food.
Controls for grasshoppers are aimed at the nymph stages, when the insects are vulnerable and don’t move over long distances. Baits, sprays, or the parasitic nematode, Nosema locustae, that worms its way throughout the body of the bug are all best on younger grasshoppers in early summer.
Now that it’s August such controls are no longer effective, since the hoppers in my yard arrived as adults. The sprays of insecticides that can be used are only slightly effective; they might kill the munching marauder today but have a limited time span. Another hopper will take its place in the next few days.
My usual method for ridding my garden of pests — throwing them in the neighbor’s yard — doesn’t work with grasshoppers; they just bounce right back. Literally. And floating row covers would do more harm than good, since I’d be trapping the hoppers under the tent with a complete buffet at their claw tips.
Poultry are a great choice if you live in an area that allows them. I know this first-hand, since my son used to raise ducks. They were comical, and thanks to a drake who took guard-duck duty seriously, were effective at keeping all manner of annoying creatures out of the yard, including grasshoppers and door-to-door salesmen.
Chickens, turkeys and guinea fowl are also touted by Colorado State University Extension as excellent non-chemical grasshopper control. The first two birds I’m familiar with, but guinea fowl are a mystery. Evidently they look like small vultures wandering your yard, shrilly cackling as they swoop down on insects, particularly grasshoppers, June beetles or Japanese beetles. Guinea hens are noisy, belting out a warning whenever intruders arrive, which in suburbia, means a cacophony arises whenever the postman, meter reader, garbage truck or my mother stops by. The entertainment potential alone makes them worth considering.
Ultimately there is little to be done to rid my garden of grasshoppers. Hopefully the plants