They hop, walk and fly

And now, for the latest episode of pest-of-the-week we bring you…grasshoppers!
Bug's Life grasshopper
Wandering through my garden recently I noticed that not only had many of the recent plantings of chard and cabbage been obliterated by insects, but entire leaves of full-sized spinach, beets and kale were heavily chewed. No insects remained on the plants when I examined them, but it became clear that the culprits were the innocuously small but numerous grasshoppers that scattered at my feet as I walked through the field.

Grasshoppers eat almost anything green and they feed throughout their life cycle, which takes the form of several similar-looking stages over the summer months. (The insects I saw in my garden were in one of the nymph stages.) Although not a widespread problem in this area, they are  characterized by population explosions or outbreaks which do major damage to western crops. Early predictions call for this year to be the worst in 30 years in the Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest.

Because these voracious insects are mobile and numerous, backyard controls focus on protecting vulnerable plants.  Here are some recommended methods:

  • Row covers. Fairly effective, although one or two hoppers trapped underneath can still cause damage.
  • Homemade spray of cayenne pepper and water, with a drop of dish soap to help adhere to the leaves. Must reapply after every rain.
  • Garlic Barrier, a commercial product of 100% garlic juice. From the Fedco website: “One warning: this stuff stinks and is best mixed outdoors.”
  • Nosema locustae, Grasshopper pathogen. Sold as NoLo bait, this is a disease that affects only grasshoppers. If spread early in the season, it causes the nymphs to slowly sicken and die. It is a bit tricky to time the application properly, but it is thought that the pathogen can carry over to subsequent years.
  • Bug Juice. Not for the fainthearted, this concoction is made by selecting dead and dying grasshoppers, pureeing them in a blender with water, and letting the mixture sit at room temperature for a day or two before applying it to the plants. I have not been able to bring myself to try this, but if you have had any luck with this method, let me know!

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