Growing the Desert Garden

Welcome to the Desert Garden, with garden coach Tyler Storey, where we talk about everything having to do with gardening and landscaping in the Desert Southwest. From composting to Cercidium and agaves to arugula — we'll cover everything you want to know to grow your own beautiful Desert Garden.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

From the Inbox: Grasshopper Attitudes

From a Correspondent:
I am just beginning a vegetable garden in a newly enclosed 7 ft. tall chain link fence (30' x 30'). It is protected on the ground near the outside of the fence and a foot above the fence with chicken wire, and underneath the gate is a strip of cement. I will later put on bird netting. You would think this would protect the garden from animal predators. But I forgot about the grasshoppers!!!!

The garden is in a remote area about 12 miles southeast of Tombstone, in Sunset Western Gardening Zone 10, and it is near a sacaton meadow that during the summer is filled with grasshoppers 3 or more inches long. The fence will not stop the grasshoppers, will it? Will my garden be decimated as after a horde of locusts descend? Is there anything I can do to protect against these insects?

I also plan to plant artichokes outside the fence along the sacaton meadow. Will grasshoppers get the artichokes, too?

Thanks,
J., near Tombstone, Ariz.

Dear J.,
Grasshoppers are notoriously difficult to control. By dint of form and habit, they are nearly unassailable, so don't bother with chemicals of any sort. Anything you spray or sprinkle will at best annoy the grasshoppers and defeat the healthy reasons for growing vegetables at home, and at worst render your garden toxic. Exclusion also won't work, and anything that did work would exclude your pollinators as well. Birds are among the few natural predators of 'hoppers, so you don't want to permanently net them out of your garden.

Grasshoppers will, if pressed, eat nearly anything green, so the artichokes are in play as well.

Your primary defense against grasshoppers is a proper attitude. There are several that might prove effective, singly or in combination:
1) Humility: Grasshoppers are the things that remind the gardener that no matter how much we think we're in control of our gardens, Nature still has the upper hand.
2) Camaraderie: An infestation of grasshoppers will prevent your exclusion from those friendship-building conversations with other gardeners which are predicated on gardening woes.
3) Vigilance: The possibility of grasshoppers will avert your being lulled into gardening complacency by your wire, concrete, and netting.
4) Pride: You will appreciate the vegetables that made it through the danger ever so much more than any that simply plodded through unchallenged; the Prodigal Vegetable, if you will.

As a secondary defense, I highly recommend the scissors method, which I use with some good effect in my own garden. This involves keeping a good pair of scissors by your side and using them to snip the offending critters in two. Barbaric, yes, but highly effective with only a little practice, and an excellent method for keeping up your eye/hand coordination. It works best in the cool of the morning, when your intended targets are still sluggish. Once you develop an eye for spotting chewed leaves and then tracing back along the stems to find the culprit, you'll find it's a snap.

And lastly, on the off chance that you might consider raising chickens, you can let your hens loose in the garden enclosure to do some of the snipping for you, provided that you keep them away from tender seedlings. Chickens are pros at grasshopper nabbing. This has the added advantage of providing a steady supply of high-protein fresh eggs to go along with all your fresh produce. For added amusement, don't tell your breakfast guests what the hens have been eating until after they bite into their eggs.

I hope this helps,

Tyler

1 comment:

Cathy Cromell said...

Tyler,

You provide practical, non-toxic gardening advice combined with dry wit. I almost wish a few grasshoppers lurked in my garden, just so I could try out your methods!