The other day, I got an email from a gardener friend. The subject line was, “Coming to your garden soon …”
Bill usually sends me photos of beautiful new plants he’s discovered, so I opened his mail with happy anticipation.
I was NOT happy when I saw not flowers, but this:
Although this grasshopper doesn’t look exactly like the Eastern lubber grasshoppers we get here in the Tampa Bay area, it was close enough to make me recoil in horror.
For years, my garden was infested with lubbers — thousands of them every summer! The grasshoppers we get are even bigger than the one in Bill’s photo, and lots uglier. They serve no useful purpose that I’ve been able to find and trust me, I’ve tried!
Here’s what our Eastern lubbers look like:
I usually start seeing the babies in March (hence Bill’s nudge-nudge). If you don’t know what they are, you may think the nymphs are cute. A friend of mine once posted a photo on Facebook with the comment, “Look at all the sweet crickets!”
I don’t care how innocent they look, these babies need to die! They grow up to be armored monsters that spit, hiss and eat your garden, starting with your favorite plants. Once they’re adults, the only way to slay them is man-to-mandible warfare: Smash them with a rock, snip them in half, stomp them.
They’re so hard to kill, normally gentle gardeners come up with creative ways to send them hopping into the next world.
Andy Carr of Spring Hill uses a Dust Buster for the nymphs.
“I can collect a hundred or so in it, maybe more, until the battery is dead,” he says. “Once we have them in the Buster, my wife holds the small garbage bags, doubled, and I dump ’em in, tie ’em off and sooo long you ugly little plant-eating varmints.”
Norm Smith, a “Mad Men”-style retired advertising guy, turns them into dioramas.
“I try to come up with outrageous themes, something a grasshopper – particularly a lubber – would never be caught doing, like scuba-diving,” he told me back in 2011.
He drops them in a jar of alcohol and leaves them there for weeks so they’re preserved. Here’s the lubber diorama he made for me. (My doppelgänger has lost her legs while swinging on my bookshelf these past three years.)
When I first started writing about my lubber problem a few years ago, a couple readers suggested I try Nolo Bait. It’s not an insecticide in the traditional sense. Rather, it’s an organic bait you sprinkle around your garden, and it doesn’t affect other bugs. If the nymphs eat it, they die. If adults eat it, they’re rendered impotent.
The results aren’t immediate, but I love the stuff. I’ve used Nolo Bait for three years and my lubber population is down from thousands in a season to a few dozen.
When I first started buying Nolo Bait, I had to order it online. Now, I think a few local shops carry it, but the only one I’m sure of is Shell’s Feed Store, 9513 N. Nebraska Ave.. Tampa
Owner Greg Shell is taking orders early (and no – I don’t get a cut of the sales for recommending Shell’s). Since Nolo Bait relies on live organisms, it has a short shelf life, just 13 weeks. Greg’s offering customers who order before March 15 a 10 percent discount because the short shelf life and whopping customer demand once the lubbers appear make it hard to keep it in stock. He doesn’t like having frustrated customers when he’s sold out. (I’ve been one of those!)
Greg has some helpful tips for making your Nolo Bait last longer, including creating feeding stations to place around your garden. That’s what I do, because rain will ruin the bait.
I assure you, it’s lots easier using Nolo Bait than chasing giant grasshoppers with rocks and snippers all summer. Although, if you’re into art, you may prefer the Norm Smith method. His dioramas are loads of fun!