Mail Call: November/December 2013

Readers share accounts of mountain lions seen in their areas, Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans, urban gardening, delivering Grit magazine, and more.

Potato Fruits

Potato fruits that were pollinated and made it to fruit.

Photo By Susan F. White

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Minnesota Sighting  

I can relate with your big cat encounter (“Predators on the Prowl,” May/June). We live in a rural setting in southwest Minnesota, a few miles from South Dakota. Two years ago, in June, my wife and I were enjoying the evening on our patio at about 9 o’clock. A soybean field was between us and the township road running by our driveway. The beans were about 10 inches tall, and the corn on the other side of the road was above the waist. We saw what we thought was a whitetail deer cross the road from the corn to the bean field. Then it dropped down in the beans. Very strange, we thought. After a few minutes, we agreed it was strange for a deer to do that.

My wife suggested we walk down there, she in her pajamas. I offered to drive down with the car. Before I could leave the yard with the car, the creature vanished back to the corn field. After parking the car, we looked at each other with amazement and agreed it was indeed a large brown cat.

The ground was dry and hard, so I could not find tracks. The animal was more the 2 feet tall and of the proper color. That year we heard of other sightings in our area, but nothing since. There are several beef cow-calf operations in our area. We have not heard of anyone reporting any lost calves, but then I’m sure they would not expect a large predator. Our deer population is half what it was eight years ago, and the coyote numbers are way down. We are not sure if the cats are expanding their territory east from the Black Hills or if the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is releasing them here for who knows what reason.

Dave Meiners
Pipestone County, Minnesota


Missouri Cougars

Excellent article on cougars; nice to see some print on them. I, and several friends here in Pike County, Missouri, have yet to photograph one ... but we have seen them and signs of them on several occasions.

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDOC) has only recently admitted that the cats are here in residence — formerly claiming that they were wandering young males as noted in your article. The National Geographic Society has numerous sightings here in Missouri and lists Pike County as a location of multiple cat sightings.

My friends and I all worked for the MDOC for several years and are avid outdoorsmen. We are well versed in North American species, and besides, if you ever see one in the wild or hear one scream, you will not mistake it for anything else.

One note, the jaguar is the largest cat in North America and is now being seen more and more in southern Arizona (Malapai Wilderness) as well as northern Mexico. Not to take anything away from the cougar, but the jaguar is the third largest cat on the planet and has survived from Pima County, Arizona, to Tierra del Fuego.

Charles Barron
Clarksville, Missouri


Big Cat Accounts

In the May/June issue of GRITand CAPPER’s, we published two articles on the American Mountain Lion. The influx of letters with stories of sightings and population hypotheses was truly fascinating. At left are a couple such accounts. If you or anyone you know has a cat tale to tell, we’d love to hear from you (editor@grit.com), and we might run a large selection of these stories as an article in a future issue.

The Editors


Tomato Mystery

This spring, my husband and I planted our red potatoes and ran out before we got to the end of the row. We had a few white potatoes, and finished the row with those. We noticed that the white potato plants bloomed but thought this was normal.

The red potatoes were dug, but the white ones were not large enough, so we left them for later.

When we finally dug them up, we found a small white fruit hanging from the potato plant. There were two plants that had these on them. We cut one open and it has seeds inside that looks like tomato seeds. Is this something new? It was new to us. We enjoy your magazine; keep up the good work.

Susan F. White
Cordele, Georgia

Don’t eat it, Susan. Sometimes cool-season potato flowers — which usually fall off — pollinate and develop a mature fruit called a seed ball. This is likely what happened in your case. In every seed ball there are usually 100 to 400 potato seeds that look like tomato seeds but are smaller. Remember, tomatoes and potatoes are both members of the nightshade family, and true potato “fruits” are likely to make you sick thanks to solanine and other toxic alkaloids they usually contain. Have any other readers ever experienced this? — Editors


Farming in the Suburbs

I just wanted to tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed your story about raising a pair of rabbits in a 350-pound hutch (“Of Rabbits and Daughters,” in GRIT’s Guide to Backyard Rabbits).

I never raised or ate rabbits when I grew up on a self-sufficient (by necessity — it was World War II) dairy and hay farm in northwest Washington, but I learned how to do both later, while living in Hawaii and raising eight children on a small lot on windward Oahu. Our youngsters could play with our New Zealand Whites, but they weren’t encouraged to give them names, because I didn’t like the idea of telling them we were eating Flossie.

Here on the outer fringes of a small town’s suburbs in northern Utah, I am trying in retirement to return to the self-sufficient lifestyle of my late parents, and because of our covenants with the area’s developers, a cow, goats and/or roosters are forbidden. However, I learned that rabbits are under the radar. In addition to being an excellent dining resource, the rabbits in our backyard, when my plan gets under way, will include at least one rare, threatened or endangered rabbit breed, just to help that breed stay viable for future generations of rabbit enthusiasts (i.e., our 23 grandchildren).

Ron Safsten
via email

Glad to hear you’re getting back to your roots, Ron, and that’s one of the great things about rabbits: They require very little space yet provide excellent meat as well as fertilizer for the garden. — Editors


High on the Hog

Wow! I did not know that GRIT was still going. I was the GRIT boy in Baskin, Iowa, in the mid-1950s. I always ordered 25 papers at 6 cents each and sold them at 10 cents each. Hey, that was a 40-percent profit — and a dollar a week earnings! I could spend 5 cents and get an R.C. Cola, and another 5 cents got me 10 large Jack’s Cookies. Man, I was picking in tall cotton, I have to tell you. Even after that, I still had 90 cents left. But, you know, I had three sisters, so you can imagine what happened to the rest.

Lee Adams
Bossier City, Louisiana


Wonder Bean

I always wondered how high a Kentucky Wonder Pole Bean would grow. I built a trellis and planted three beans. I never did find out because they went over the top and down the other side. I’ve got a lot of beans.

John Frey
Berryville, Arkansas


Where There’s a Will …

This is a city dwelling that is on a mere city lot. As you can see, the land is taken up by my husband’s building, but that does not deter my garden. I have the “Pollinator Alley” with grapevines that lead back to the garden, which is a new addition. I have done this for 18 years, and grow maybe 10 to 15 percent of our food. I know this is more of a victory garden, but I wanted to add some variety to your other samples that have large plots of land. This gives hope to anyone who thinks they do not have enough land to garden. The improvements I have made are an ongoing process. Since the building was built on sand, I have to work to amend the soil. I also plan to work on a rain barrel system.

Jill Koos
Terre Haute, Indiana

Inspiring, Jill, and your resilient and upbeat approach could not more accurately reflect the Grit spirit. We are lucky to have readers like you. — Editors


Tapping In

The article about making maple syrup in the March/April issue gave my husband the idea of tapping a couple of maple trees in our backyard and boiling the sap for around seven hours in my large canner right in our backyard. He enjoyed doing it, as it was a nice sunny day. He ended up with about a pint of syrup and enjoyed it on pancakes. He says next spring, he’ll buy some from our Amish friends.

Wilma Myers
Canal Fulton, Ohio