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I last walked the environs of Alder Creek (Alder Fork of the Potato River) nearly fifty years ago but memories of it are still vivid in my mind, including those of some harebrained pressure to turn it into "Alder Creek Flowage" in the early '60s.
Like Mr. Peterson, I am a fly-fisherman and a follower of Aldo Leopold, and like Aldo Leopold, I dreamt of the "sheep meadows" of Mt. McKinley (Denali) and all of Alaska. Nearly 40 years ago I left northern Wisconsin and came here to Alaska. My cabin here in Cantwell sits less than a mile outside the boundary of Denali National Park and I can see both Denali and Dall sheep from here. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to call this home, but still do have many ties to and fond memories of northern Wisconsin.
My family and I enjoyed A spud in the spotlight, in the August 2004 issue. It is refreshing to read about farmers in our area taking a new approach to crop management that ultimately reduces the use of pesticides.
In our little corner of Shawano County we take great pride in growing our own produce and maintaining our yard without the use of chemicals. Many years ago we stopped using chemical pesticides to control the Colorado potato beetle (and other insect pests) in our garden. We resorted to picking potato beetles by hand. What we discovered is that the rose-breasted grosbeaks who visit our bird feeders also scavenge for potato beetles in our garden. I'm sure that pesticide-free insects taste better. This year I handpicked bugs one time. The birds took care of the rest! What a beautiful means of pest control!
Hats off to the potato and vegetable farmers participating in the eco-potato project. Thanks to WNR magazine for highlighting their work. Increasing awareness of the positive results these farmers have had is important. As more individuals are informed of the results of "farming practices in harmony with the natural environment" we can expect that the balance of nature the Creator intended will ultimately be restored.
Kay Blum and family
All crops, including potatoes, can produce abundant food without poisons such as pesticides. My father farmed from 1914 to 1930 when all those intelligent ambitious farmers tilled the soil and planted crops using crop rotation, cycles of matter and Nature to produce pure food for the people. Unlike today, those farmers of yesteryear farmed with absolute minimum cost of operation and were thereby able to sell their pure food at a minimum cost.
Manure is the absolute best and most practical fertilizer. It quickly converts into the finest porous topsoil. Earthworms thrived in it and when it rained, those gifts of Nature arose to the surface leaving holes for the rainwater to descend and nourish thirsty roots. Today, without manure, the fertilizers harden the soil causing flooding and runoff and the poisons used in modern agriculture killed all the earthworms, causing even more runoff.
I vividly recall my brother Paul and I removing the manure from the huge two-room chicken house in springtime and, using a spreader pulled by two horses, we spread the manure on the land and tilled it in where the potatoes would be planted. In those days farming was conducted with precision and excellent timing.
Luther Burbank, then of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, developed the Burbank potato that was the greatest ever. It's now grown in Idaho and marketed as the Idaho potato.
Paul and I also used to hand pick the potato bugs from our potato patch and put them in a small tin can. It took us all day to complete the work in our patch that was big enough to feed eight. Our potato crop was always abundant and so large that the spuds had a hollow center, but no dry rot or scabs. It was as pure as food should be.
I think agriculture today violates the Laws of Nature. Your article showed concerns for cranes, but how about people? Farm wells and farm town wells have been poisoned. I know an area of northwest Iowa where deep wells supply farmers with water that is piped to a tank on the farm with a water meter. The farmer has to pay for that water. The poisons used in agriculture have caused chaos.
Sherman Milton Helland
I laughed when I read about people's problems trying to keep squirrels out of their bird feeders. About 15 years ago I bought a house surrounded by woods at the end of a dead end street – no neighbors, no traffic, a half-acre of garden, an acre of grass and a bird feeder only 20 feet out the back porch were already there for me to enjoy. Ten feet east of the feeder was an old 30-foot high fruitless pear tree; 20 feet to the west of the feeder was a 60-foot hardwood with branches that hung about 8-10 feet above the feeder. An innocent-looking Christmas tree grew about 10 feet south of the feeder.
After filling the feeder for the first time, I settled into a lawn chair on the porch and watched three squirrels jump from the pear tree to the feeder to eat. They scattered and trashed $3 worth of seed in about 15 minutes scratching through the food for the few kernels of corn they liked best. I thought I could use the pear wood for smoking fish, so I cut and sawed that tree to pieces.
The next time I filled the feeder to watch birds I got to observe the squirrels jumping from the branches of the oak and crashing into the feeder with some really acrobatic leaps. Over the next two weeks I think I cut 4-5 branches from one side of the oak until it seemed to lean starboard a few degrees. I filled the feeder with another three quarts of bird food and went inside for lunch. Twenty minutes later I chased a squirrel who was making a mess off the feeder and sat down to watch how he got up there. After five minutes, he wrapped his four legs around the pole and shimmied up to the platform, crawling up and flipping himself onto the platform. I thought I would fix him and greased the pole with Vaseline. He came to the pipe three times, sliding back to the base. Then he stood back, surveyed the situation, rolled in the dirt from the flowers planted near the house, and in three or four tries was back on the platform.
After a trip to the hardware store for two lengths of six-inch galvanized stovepipe, he was toast. I poured a cup of coffee and watched the birds for a few hours.
The next day after supper, I watched the birds and the feeder was empty! My furry friend climbed to the very top of the Christmas tree and got it swinging to and fro until he created enough momentum to gain access to the feeder. It took me until two weeks before Christmas until the tree was stiff enough that I was only feeding birds.
Kieran Sawyer, Sr.
This time I have to put my two cents worth in about those "terrible" squirrels. I feed them because I like to watch them chase each other and run up and down the yew tree in front of my window. One time a thirsty squirrel jumped up to the birdbath, missed the edge and slipped into the water.
I have my bird feeders on poles with open baffles. One time one of those acrobats figured out how to overcome the baffle and jumped to the feeder, but the feeder swung around and that poor squirrel slipped off.
There are quite a few remedies to keep the seeds in the feeders for the birds, as you pointed out.
Mix cayenne pepper in with the birdseed. The pepper doesn't seem to bother the birds, but I haven't had a squirrel or raccoon at my feeders since I started using it. I had a red squirrel, the curmudgeon of all squirrels, who was a regular at the feeders. He became so upset at my use of pepper that he finally blew a gasket, started jumping up and down on the feeders and deck railings, tried the seed anyway and ran up the flagpole to wipe his burning mouth on the flag. Now that's entertainment!
One of our naturalists asked if you had observed whether the pepper seemed to irritate the birds' eyes? He didn't know if this treatment was generally accepted and recommends against treating seed, given other options.
We have two squirrel-proof feeders that really work. The barrier stays open for birds but shuts when too much weight is put on it. I bought a new cylindrical feeder with an open base that was emptied of black sunflower seeds in a day. It sat empty for a while then I read a hint to try safflower seeds, as the squirrels don't like them. We now have cardinals, rose-breasted grosbeaks, purple finches, chickadees and nuthatches at the feeders as well as mourning doves and blue jays under the feeder. The squirrels stay away!
Karen S. Jacobi
Anita Carpenter's story, Red in the yellow month (August 2004), intrigued me. I have trout fished in several northern counties from May through September for many years and never observed this flower. What areas of the state produce the cardinal flower?
Betty M. Duebner
Cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) range from southern Canada in Ontario and Quebec, all the way to the East Coast, west at least as far as the Mississippi River and south to Florida. It is clearly found statewide in Wisconsin and should be at peak bloom from August through early September. It's a member of the bluebell family, grows two to four feet high and likes "wet feet" – along streambanks and wetland edges. It has been overpicked in some areas and likes full sun, but will grow in semi-shade.