Lack of rainfall has been the vegetable gardener's main challenge this summer, followed closely by insects. Whether it's true or not, drought seems to invigorate certain kinds of bugs particularly the grasshopper, who appears to develop more spring in its jump the hotter and drier it gets.
While grasshoppers have not afflicted northeastern Kansas as they have other parts of the Midwest, where the infestation has been likened to a Biblical plague, their numbers, particularly in rural areas, certainly have been extraordinary. So has their damage.
In my garden, grasshoppers have eaten the leaves clean off plants that bugs normally don't bother, such as cilantro and spearmint. They've also stripped the kernels off a couple of ears of sweet corn. As I was picking beans on Sunday, I noticed that they had recently turned their attention to that crop. I found a number of bean pods with freshly chewed holes and a smug grasshopper standing nearby.
Insect infestations come and go, but the fact that we have had so many grasshoppers this year has me thinking about their progeny. People who have been bothered by them this year should make a point to mow down any tall grass where this year's grasshoppers might lay their eggs. In my case, this is difficult, because my garden is not far from a hedgerow.
Six or seven years ago I successfully eradicated a grasshopper problem by treating my garden and the area around it with a microbial insecticide called nosema locustae, which gives grasshoppers some disease or other. Nosema locustae is sold as a granular bait that can be sprinkled on areas where grasshoppers hang out, such as the hedgerow near my garden. Some die immediately and others infect the next generation.
Nosema locustae is not harmful to humans or pets.
The bait must be applied in the spring when grasshoppers first emerge, and it must be purchased shortly before application. I'm not aware of a local source for nosema locustae but Planet Natural, www.planetnatural.com, sells it by mail and over the Internet under the brand name Semaspore.
I've had a bumper crop of cucumbers this year and like this quick salad as a way to use them up. It's a variation of a recipe from "More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden" by Renee Shepherd and Fran Raboff. Use a red onion to make a more colorful dish.
2 large, long cucumbers, peeled
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1 mild green chile, seeded and finely chopped
1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded, cubed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup fresh yogurt
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley or cilantro for garnish
Cut cucumbers into halves lengthwise and scoop out and discard seeds. Cut into 1/4-inch slices. Toss them with salt and marinate for 10 minutes. Rinse cucumber slices in cold water to wash off salt, then drain in a strainer, squeezing them to remove excess liquid. Put in a large bowl. Combine rest of ingredients, except salt and pepper, and combine with cucumber. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with either parsley or cilantro.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Reader Jane Vangemeren joined our canning vs. freezing debate this week. Reflecting upon the large vegetable gardens she used to grow, Jane wrote, "I used to just quarter tomatoes and put them in the blender and freeze for soup or spaghetti sauce. It works. And I cut bite-size pieces of zucchini and freeze to saute later or put in spaghetti sauce or soup. Chopped onions and green peppers freeze well in the right amounts for your favorite recipes. My lazy secrets are out!"
Jane also asks whether anyone has a recipe that will approximate Shooting Star cherry salsa. If you do, send it along to me.
When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.