Friday, July 1, 2011

Saving Green Lives

I have given up trying to grow fruit trees at Tilmon, or anything else other than mesquite, juniper, prickly ash, and bull nettles. The grasshoppers have beat me, at least for now.

I tried everything I could think of, short of toxins that would kill birds, amphibians, and mammals along with the hoppers: NoLo Bait  horticultural kaolin, low-dose Sevin bait (Eco-Bran), putting black plastic on the ground around the trees, putting screen cages around the trees, coating the leaves, branches and trunks with pepper spray. Nothing seemed even to put a dent in the number of grasshoppers knawing at my trees. I had one particularly healthy peach tree that survived last year's grasshopper defolitation. I even hoped it might be large enough and strong enough to survive this year and maybe produce fruit next summer. When I left one Sunday, it had a fine big canopy, higher than the top of my head. The following Friday when I returned, it had been completely defoliated and the branches eaten down to nubs.

The fuckers are even eating the needles off my 2-year-old pine trees. (please forgive my rude choice of words, but I can't think of anything more appropriate).

I couldn't bear to just let everything die. I started digging up the trees and shrubs and moving them to San Antonio. There was no point in trying to move the pines -- they crave acidic soil, and the soil and water in San Antonio are toward the alkaline end of the pH scale. So I left them. I also left two rose bushes that, for reasons I cannot yet grasp, the grasshoppers are not molesting, and one rose bush that is being eaten but is too large to comfortably move. If they completely defoliate it, I will cut it back and dig it up. The turk's caps seem to be holding their own, and one pear tree that's planted among some prickly ash trees. This is my most promising clue: the plants that have not been destroyed by the hoppers are the ones planted in close proxmity to prickly ash trees.  Two of the pines are next to prickly ash trees, and so far these pines are OK. I will certainly follow up on this clue, especially if the plants close to prickly ash trees continue to survive mostly intact.

I have brought to SA in containers fig, apple, pear, and peach trees, rose bushes, day lillies, cassava, blue berry. The blueberry is risky, since blueberries like acidic soil -- I'll add some sulfur to the container and hope for the best. This fall after the weather cools, I'll take the blueberry back to Tilmon and plant it next to a prickly ash tree.

Here's the way the trees looked after the'y been worked over by the hoppers. This is a Le Conte pear. the trunk and baby limbs are white from the kaolin coating I put on the to try to keep the hoppers from girdling them and killing them. That much, at least, did work.

Here's the way they look after being in their containers in San Antonio for a couple of weeks, with much TLC from me in the form of fish emulsion fertilizer and solutions of micronutrients:

There is one peach tree, the one that was especially beautiful and healthy just a month ago, that may not make it. It's a very sad sight, indeed. Yet I did notice a tiny green tip emerging a couple of days ago, and there are now two small leaves. It's too early to tell for sure, but I think it may survive. The rose bushes are leafing out as though to shout, "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger!"

My husband commented that he can now see why people resort to using strong poisons on insects. The problem is that the poisons are only short-term fixes. Better, in my opinion, and certainly more elegant, to figure out how to discourage the hoppers without wiping out a large % of the other animals in the region as well.

In addition to having an Idea (prickly ash as nurse trees), I am also raising some guinea keets.  Now that I've saved many of the trees and shrubs, I'm no longer as sad about the situation. I'm able to take an interest in it as an interesting experiment. I'm glad I wasn't depending on those fruit trees as a major source of food. I guess if I had been, there would have only one thing for it: I would have had to master the art of grasshopper cookery.

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