The Norman Transcript

August 16, 2013

This is the summer of the grasshopper and fruit gnat

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — If you have walked through a patch of grass no larger than the size of a scarf, you probably have disturbed a bevy of grasshoppers ranging in size from nymphs to full-grown 3-inch and longer with majestically sculptured jointed legs that launch them into instant flight with their aero-dynamic wings fully extended. If you look closely at their large compound bulging eyes, sleek bodies, powerful wings, etc., you must respect the process of evolution that has produced such a unique animal.

Robins and other yard birds seem to have put off breeding and laying their eggs later than usual this year. I noticed that the front and backyard robins are just now catching grasshoppers to feed to their young. Brown thrushes taught their fledglings to fly by using the stockade fence as landing and takeoff spots. Cardinals built their nests in several evergreen holly plants in the backyard.

I throw songbird seed on the ground in the backyard so I can watch the antics of the different birds who feed there. Sparrows, of course, outnumber cardinals, thrushes, goldfinches, house wrens, etc., vying for their fair share of grain.

Gnats are another of evolution’s success stories; they’re driving me crazy. Swarms of them slip into any tiny crack in tomatoes, bananas and any other fruit not placed in the refrigerator. Gnats are very difficult to deal with, since they are so small they can enter most any screen designed to keep insects out. These tiny beasties are very hard to kill because they sense air movement and have fled before the flyswatter smashes them. Still, I refuse to use insecticides because they cause more harm to the environmen.; Gnats have a place in the scheme of Mother Nature; they help clean the environment by speeding up the decay of decomposing matter.

Enough complaining about things I have little or no control of. How about this awesome August weather? Last night after 9, I sat on the front porch in the dark feeling the cool breeze and breathing the moist air while being serenaded by a multitude of cicadas sending out their message that they were available and willing for company.

My tomato crop, except for the massive production of a small, round tomato and cigar-shaped variety that have produced more fruit than I can possibly use, naturally I’m sharing with relatives and friends. The Cherokee Purple — my favorite tomato — produced an early crop, then the heat and spider mites took their toll; however, with the cool nights, they are beginning to put on a few more fruit.

Toward the end of August through October, greens such as collards, mustard and turnips may be planted. Wait until October or November to plant lettuce unless you have a semi-sunny space such as dappled shade in which to sow seed. Last year, I was gathering lettuce and mustard throughout the mild winter and spring. The seed were sown in the shade of an outbuilding where I had been burying vegetable scraps from the kitchen.

Most of us have such busy lives that we need some easy-care ornamentals to spice up the yard and garden during the hot days of summer. Most of us are enticed by blooms, but grasses come in so many different forms, colors and heights that can be used as background or specimen plants.

Pennisetum x advena (“Fireworks”) is a perennial fountain grass that, when grown to maturity, is tall and lovely; as the season progresses it shoots up with feathery plums and is great for a hot spot in the garden if watered well.

Annuals with bright colors such as coleus will enliven a boring border or can be placed with Sedum reflexum or other varieties. There are many from which to choose.

Betty Culpepper can be reached at for comments questions or ideas for future columns.