ANN BAILEY: Embracing the cold weather

One of the common sayings of people who live in the Northern Plains is that 40 below keeps the riffraff out. I'm not sure about that, but I do know it keeps some other pests at bay.

Ann Bailey

One of the common sayings of people who live in the Northern Plains is that 40 below keeps the riffraff out. I'm not sure about that, but I do know it keeps some other pests at bay.

That's been apparent to me on my visits to warmer climates when I've come across a variety of insects, including cockroaches that thrive there year-round, but perish during our northern winters. One of my first experiences with cockroaches was when I visited my brother, Terry, in New Orleans and saw one crawling out of my purse that was laying on the floor. Upon hearing my startled scream, Terry came to my rescue and beat the offending roach with a broom. After that, I made sure my purse was latched and sitting on the bed stand.

This spring, I haven't seen any cockroaches, but I have seen first-hand and also have read about other insects that survived our moderate winter. Moths are one of them. Our cats had a heyday this spring chasing moths around. I didn't know they were a common irritation among homeowners until I went to a friend's house and she was complaining about them, too.

Blame it on warm weather

I was going to do some research on why there was an influx of moths the next day, but then, when I was editing copy for Agweek magazine, I came across an article from the Jamestown (N.D.) Sun about moths. The story quoted Jerry Fauske, a North Dakota State University entomology research specialist.


Faust told the reporter that judging by the number of phone calls he had gotten about moths, they were a problem not only in Jamestown, where hundreds could be seen flitting around light sources, but across the entire upper Great Plains.

The moths likely are army cutworm moths, Faust said. There typically are some around in the spring, but there are more this year because of the mild winter, he told the Jamestown Sun.

One of the things that concerned me about moths was whether they were munching on the winter clothes I had stored in our attic. I was glad to read in the Sun article that the army cutworm moths don't eat clothes. However, I felt for the farmers whose crops they had damaged. Some farmers had to replant early seeded crops, the article said.

Faust predicted that the moths would be a short-lived problem because they soon would migrate to the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains. He was right because the number of moths here has significantly diminished.

Another insect problem some farmers dealt with this spring was the aster leafhopper, which also survived in greater numbers because of the warm winter. Earlier this spring, the leafhoppers were eating North Dakota farmers' wheat crops, and crop experts encouraged farmers to scout their fields to access the damage.

Most years, severe winters take care of the insect problems, so unless we see another unusually warm one like this year, the insects won't be bugging us in 2013.

Skunked again

Unfortunately, the pest problem we've been dealing with lately at our farm won't be solved by a cold winter. Skunks seem to survive frigid temperatures just fine and come out from their winter solitude each spring to tease our dogs and douse them when they get too.


Earlier this week, my husband, Brian, let Maggie and Minnie outside at 5:30 a.m. as he usually does. Instead of coming in a few minutes later to eat, the two refused to leave our woods. I could hear them barking when I went out to feed the horses about an hour later and called them. I knew that they were barking at a skunk because the farmyard air was so thick with the scent I had to pull the collar of my coveralls over my face so I wouldn't gag.

I called for a few minutes, but the dogs kept barking and didn't appear. I gave up on having them come to me and decided to follow the sounds to an old fort our sons had built at the edge of our farmstead. When I got there, I gingerly moved the branches that were blocking my view and, much to my relief, didn't see a skunk. Maggie, however, apparently did because she was digging frantically at something under the fort. Minnie, meanwhile, was running around the outside.

The two dogs must have suddenly realized how hungry they were because when they saw me they finally decided to listen and ran up to the house for breakfast. I got their dishes and took them out to the outdoor kennel. Between the mud and the smell they weren't fit for the house until they had a bath.

I don't mind wild critters, even skunks, if they stay away from our family and pets. However, the skunks are a little too close for comfort. The dogs seem undeterred by getting sprayed, so we'll have to figure out a plan to get rid of the skunks. If only they would perish when it turned 40 below. The skunks, I mean, not the dogs. Though I can't deny that the morning I had to chase them around the farmyard I briefly thought about it the other way around.

Reach Bailey at (701) 787-6753; (800) 477-6572, ext. 753; or send e-mail to .

What To Read Next
Get Local