February 25, 2011

Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers=blood on my shoes

The first signs of spring are generally regarded as a good thing, except when that first sign points to lubber grasshoppers. These are the biggest nuisance I've come across so far with building a micro farm at my house. Normally I approach farming problems by careful observation, lots of thinking even dreaming, reading books and blogs, chatting with the more experienced, and eventually working through the situation. This is not the case with these guys.

When I started Park Street Micro- Farm a little under a year ago the property was unmaintained and the grasshoppers ruled the neighborhood with their large armored orange bodies. One would have a hard time focusing on the ground because of the rippling sea of grasshopper. I've been researching, consulting the County Extension agents, and finding out the hard way some of their behaviors. 

Lubbers have one generation a year, hatching in the spring from eggs deposited 2 inches below the surface of the ground. They wiggle up and out of the ground most often in sandy areas, ditches, fence rows, weedy abandoned lots, even pinelands since they are actually native. I spent an afternoon observing this process from start to finish taking everything in me not to kill while they are vulnerable. Young grasshoppers are called nymphs, are red-orange, and have limited mobility at first. After a few hours they stretch they legs, move slowly in a pack, and quickly grow through successive stages. Within the first week they turned black and had a firmer exoskeleton.  

By early summer they are adults and the females start laying eggs for the next generation. The ladies poke their butts into the sand and squirt out egg cases, the nests are resistant to moisture and cold winters. So long as the ground isn't disturbed we can count on these pests poking up like a fresh spring bud each February in south Florida. 

  Nymphs crawling out of their nest.

Within the first week.

The outbreak continues.

Grasshopper sex from last season, just as an idea of what we're dealing with here.

So what's a girl to do? Did I mention they are immune to even the harshest insecticides, have adapted to habitats that their natural predators have left, are poisonous to birds, and feed on a variety of plants like amaryllis and the veggie garden type?

For now I'm patrolling the yard every few hours, stomping each group as they hatch, and thinking up ways to reduce the threat for the next year. Maybe barrier plants surrounding the garden that they detest? Horehound, cilantro, and calendula are supposedly beneficial against pests, but I don't know about these resiliant pests. How to eliminate potential egg laying sites for this summers lay? I've been dreaming of compost heaps of seaweeds such that deter the female away with the salts and will get too hot for the eggs that are deposited through the winter, but that would be a quarter acre compost pile. Yikes! Maybe ripping out the lily ornaments that are their biggest food sources along the boarder of the whole property? Eventually these would go anyway because I would like every plant on the property to be edible or native to the area. All in all its going to be a huge project with lots of blood on my shoes.

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