Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Permaculture Workshop: Sustainable Backyard Farming

On Saturday January 9 the Wild Center in Tupper Lake will host a talk and workshop on permaculture, aka, how people can produce food while enhancing the natural environment on the land around them.

At 11:30 Keith Morris, a Vermont-based instructor on the faculties of Sterling College and Yestermorrow Design/Build school, will discuss the concept of permaculture and ways people can design homes and communities that are productive, ecologically restorative and less fuel-reliant.

At 1 p.m. Morris will lead a workshop on how yards and other human-centered spaces can produce food and support pollinators (and look beautiful). He will discuss challenges, such as small spaces and contaminated soils, as well as animals and plants suitable for the Adirondack region, including nuts, fruits, berries and vines.

“One of the key issues for us in the Adirondacks is our soil,” says Gail Brill, a Saranac lake resident who received permaculture certification last summer through a course Morris taught at Paul Smith’s College. “If we are going to have to feed ourselves in the near future and become a nation of farmers (thank you Sharon Astyk) in order to survive, we need healthy soil to do it. Our sandy soil makes growing difficult, so one of the key issues for us is making compost as a soil amendment. This is something every household can do and we need to do it on a grand scale. (On March 20th, the Wild Center will be having a Home Composting Workshop.)

“We need to extend our growing season with high tunnels and cold frames,” Brill says. “We need to understand what edible wild plants are readily available and plant perennial Zone 3 vegetables like Chinese artichoke and creeping onion and much more. There is much to be done.”

The event is part of the Wild Center’s 2010 Winter Wildays series and is free to members or with paid admission.

Photo: A backyard apple tree in Saranac Lake.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

New Adirondack Cookbook for Fall & Winter

There’s a new cookbook tailored for the season, Northern Comfort: Fall & Winter Recipes from Adirondack Life. Edited by food writer Annette Nielsen, it includes more than 100 traditional and contemporary dishes gleaned from the magazine’s 40-year history. It focuses on regional flavors, including wild game, maple, apples, hearty vegetables and hearth breads. Paperback, 142 pages, $15.95.

Click here to hear an interview with editor Annette Nielsen by Todd Moe, of North Country Public Radio.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

One Adirondack Turkey Gives Thanks

This is George, a turkey who lives down the hill. She’s so cute and sociable she’s been granted a Thanksgiving reprieve. She was hatched this summer in Standish and brought to Saranac Lake by a family who intended to fatten her up for a November feast. George endeared herself so much that she’s the one who’ll be feasting.

She lives with eight peacocks and probably thinks she is one. Have a happy Thanksgiving, George.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Saranac Lake Community Store Closer to Funding Goal

Last week we received word from the people behind the Saranac Lake Community Store project that a recent fundraising surge has brought investment capital to $395,000. They need to sell $500,000 worth of shares to launch the store.

If organizers don’t reach half a million by the initial offering deadline of December 17, board vice-president Gail Brill said they will apply for an extension on the offering. “We are so close,” she said in an e-mail, “and light years ahead of Greenfield, MA, which started well before we did.”

Shares cost $100 each and may be purchased by residents of New York State only. Individuals may buy up to $10,000 worth of shares. Organizers had hoped to have the store open by this summer but the economy appears to have rescheduled those expectations. When $500,000 is reached, backers will choose a location, hire staff and purchase inventory.

The business is expected to be about 5,000-square-feet, located downtown and carry department-store-type retail items not currently available in Saranac Lake. Organizers say they will ask local people what they want the store to sell. The village has been without a department store since Ames closed in 2002 but citizen groups have thwarted efforts by Wal-Mart to open a big box. Hardware and drug stores have been filling some of the retail gap.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Have Dinner With Samuel de Champlain Oct. 24th

Rogers Island Visitors Center in Fort Edward is hosting dinner with Samuel de Champlain on October 24th at the Tee Bird North Golf Club (30 Reservoir Road, Fort Edward). Local Chefs, Neal Orsini owner of the Anvil Restaurant in Fort Edward and Steve Collyer, researched the stores list aboard Champlain’s ship, the Saint-Julien, to develop a dinner menu using European, 17th century ship and New World ingredients. Some menu items were standard fare aboard 17th century ships, but the Saint-Julien was 500 tons, carried more than 100 crew and had a galley which meant that even livestock was brought on board aboard, if only for the captain and officers.

Don Thompson, who has spent this Quadricentennial year traveling throughout New York, Vermont and Canada portraying Samuel de Champlain, will serve as a special guest presenter bringing the story of de Champlain’s North American explorations to life.

There will be a cash bar at 5 pm; and dinner served at 6 pm. The price is $22 for Rogers Island VC members, $25 for non-members and $8 for children under 12. Special prize baskets have been donated for a raffle.

For reservations call Rogers Island Visitor Center at 518-747-3693 or e-mail rogersisland@gmail.com. Proceeds benefit the Rogers Island Visitor Center.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Food, Agriculture And The North Country Economy

It’s often overlooked as a part of our Adirondack economy and history, but believe it or not farming has been a part of Adirondack culture since the 18th century. At one time, farming was what most Adirondackers did either for subsistence, as part of a commercial operation, or as an employee of a local farm or auxiliary industry. While in general across America the small family farm have been in decline, according to the 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture farms that sell directly to the consumer in the six Northern New York counties grew from 506 to 619, while all other agriculture sectors declined 6.6%. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

What to Do With All Those Carrots

Since we’ve already had our first snow, I figured it was about time to dig up the carrots. So yesterday I braved the wind and rain when I got home from work, grabbed my grandfather’s spading fork and a bushel basket, and headed for the carrot patches. At first I tried pulling the carrots right out of the ground; after all, we’d had plenty of rain lately, so I figured the ground was probably wet enough to let the roots go easily. It’s a good thing I brought the fork.

I planted several varieties of carrots this year, ever hopeful that some would grow well. I’ve not had much luck with carrots, you see, which is surprising, considering how sandy our soil is. Loose sandy soils are usually great for growing carrots, for their roots can push down easily, growing to great lengths before harvest-time. I suspect, however, that soil isn’t so much my problem as crowding is.

In early June I scatter the tiny carrot seeds and cover them with a thin layer of soil. Keeping them watered is a challenge, especially since I’m trying at the same time not to wash them away. Once they germinate and get growing, I feel so grateful that any survived this long that I feel guilty if I thin them out. Thinning is really important with carrots, though. If left crowded, few, if any, of them will grow to any size worth keeping. So, bite the bullet and thin them out.

Thinning can be accomplished multiple ways. Traditionally, you pulled out the superfluous sprouts. This, however, can disturb the remaining ones, so the modern backyard gardener goes out with little gardening shears and snips the tops off the extras. I still couldn’t quite bring myself to cut their little carrot lives short, so I tried relocating the extras this year. I found out yesterday that this did work, sort of. Some of my transplants grew in very odd shapes – all bent and curled.
Some, however, did just fine, while others still remained pretty runty.

So, I forked my way through the carrot patches yesterday, tossing the dirt-covered roots into my bushel basket. Surprisingly, it filled up quickly. In the past I’ve been lucky to fill up a single bag with my carrot harvest. This year, however, I already have two bags of carrots in the fridge, and now I have a bushel more to put up for the winter. Even more impressive, however, is the fact that more than half of these carrots are more than two inches long. I’d even be willing to claim that more than half are over four inches long!

Some sources say to wait to dig your carrots until late in the fall, and then only after several sunny days. It seems our sunny days ended about mid-September, so I dug mine in spite of rain. Then these sources tell you to leave your freshly dug carrots out in the sun to dry for a few hours. This will make removing any clinging soil easier, and it will kill off the root hairs. If you plan to store your carrots whole, say in a root cellar, then you want these root hairs killed of, for this will make the whole carrot go dormant. If the carrot doesn’t go dormant (or if dormancy is broken during storage – more on this in a bit), it will rot.

Now, if you are going to cut up your carrots and freeze them, as my family always did, this next bit won’t apply. You can just go ahead and wash them, cut them up, blanch and freeze. If you want to store your carrots raw, read on.

Clean the soil from the roots. You want to do this gently, with as little handling as possible. Some authorities say to use well-chlorinated water when you clean so as to kill off all unwanted pathogens. Use your own judgement. Take your clean carrots and trim off the tops to about two inches. Now you have a choice to make. Do you want to store the carrots in your fridge, or in a root cellar type of system?

If going the fridge route, take your carrots and place them in plastic bags that have holes in them. You want to be sure the carrots get some air circulation. Then stick them into the coldest part of your fridge. Carrots want to be stored between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and they want to be kept moist. Below 32 they will freeze, and over 40 they will break dormancy and either start to sprout or start to rot.

If you opt to store in the cellar, garage, non-heated attic, or on the porch, you can go with the traditional storage system. Take a crate, box or barrel. Fill the bottom two to three inches deep with damp peat moss, sand or sawdust. Place a layer of carrots on top, staying two to three inches from the sides. Cover with another two to three inches of damp peat/sand/sawdust. Add another layer of carrots, etc., until you reach the top. The last layer should be your insulating material. Place the container in a cold, moist area. Again, you want the temperature to be steady, somewhere between 32 and 40 degrees. If your carrots are stored in an area where the temperature fluctuates, even if it is only by about five degrees, your carrots will break dormancy and either sprout or rot.

My last two carrot harvests, which, as previously mentioned, only filled a single bag each year, did very well in my fridge all winter long. I chopped them up for color in my omelets, diced them into the dog’s food, and added them to stews. This year, however, because I have so many carrots, I will probably be blanching and freezing most of them. Some will stay in the fridge, though – a garden fresh carrot is a welcome taste at any time of year.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

North Country-Grown Wines Win Awards

This week Richard Lamoy will help begin the harvest of 25 varieties of cold-hardy grapes at an experimental farm in Willsboro. “The grapes are running about two weeks late this year,” says Lamoy, who lives in Morrisonville and cultivates a three-acre vineyard of his own. With a cold winter, wet spring and summer, windy pollination and now a cold rainy harvest, he says, “pretty much anything that can go wrong this season has gone wrong. Still we’re hoping to get some good wines out of it.”

Wine grapes are new to the Champlain Valley so LaMoy was eager to find out how locally grown wines compare to more established vintages. This year he entered eight wines he made in a contest sponsored by WineMaker magazine. He came home with six medals, including a gold for French hybrid white grapes (LaCrescent). “Obviously they did pretty well,” he says. “I’m encouraged by that. The whites are doing especially well in this region.”

LaMoy is one eight grape and wine producers participating in a Northern New York Agricultural Development Program-funded cold-hardy grape research trial based at the Cornell University Agricultural Research Station at the E.V. Baker Farm in Willsboro. The project was established in 2005.

The WineMaker contest is reputed to be the largest amateur winemaker event in the world and had 4,474 entries in 2009, judged in Manchester, Vermont.
 
Lamoy earned three silver medals for varietal wines (St. Pepin, Adalmiina, Petite Amie) made with locally grown French hybrid white grapes, and one bronze medal for a wine made with Champlain Valley French hybrid red grapes (Leon Millot). He earned another gold for a non-local grape.
  
Lamoy plans to apply for a winery license so he can sell wines next year. For now he’s gaining experience working in the vineyard at the Willsboro Research Farm and conducting Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education-funded trials in his own vineyard, Hid-In Pines.

The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program awards grants for practical on-farm research, outreach and technical assistance and is supported by funds from the New York State Legislature through the backing of the North Country’s state senators and assembly members.
 
The program receives support (funds, time, land, expertise, etc.) from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, NYS Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, six Northern New York Cornell Cooperative Extension Associations, W. H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute, U.S. Department of Agriculture, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, cooperating farms, agribusinesses across the region, and others.

To learn more about the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program, go online to www.nnyagdev.org, contact Program Co-chairs Jon Greenwood: 315-386-3231 or Joe Giroux: 518-563-7523, or call your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office.

Photograph of grapes from the Willsboro Research Farm


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Potato News: Late Blight Spares Some Crops

Tucker Farms in Gabriels is in the midst of what’s being described as a good potato harvest. According to co-proprietors Steve and Tom Tucker, the 300-acre farm’s crop seems to have escaped late blight.

Less important but surprising: the tomatoes in a shared Saranac Lake garden plot were turned to brown mush by the blight, but untreated potatoes in a mound surrounded by those plants produced lots of apparently healthy tubers.

Steve Tucker has heard similar reports from other gardeners. “Tomatoes are a little more tender to the blight apparently,” the farmer says. The airborne fungal pathogen has destroyed fields of tomatoes and potatoes around the Northeast this year, introduced on shipments of tomato plants to big box stores. Cornell Cooperative Extension reported in July that an unidentified commercial field of potatoes in Franklin County “was completely lost and has been mowed down.”

The Tucker brothers took precautions, spraying the foliage as often as once a week with fungicide. If invisible late blight spores ever reached the Gabriels farm, the fungicide probably killed them. Once the blight enters the plant, however, fungicide won’t help, Steve says.

Because this region is remote, high and relatively pest free, the Adirondacks is a source of seed potatoes for the rest of the state. Tucker Farms sells seed potatoes as well as table stock. Tom Tucker explained that Tuckers’ eating potatoes can also be planted because, unlike most supermarket potatoes, they’re not treated with sprout nip, a chemical that inhibits eye growth. The potatoes in the Saranac Lake garden, by the way, were Tucker Farms’ Adirondack Blue variety, and they were delicious.

Photograph courtesy of Richard Tucker


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Adirondack Family Activities: The Corn Maze

This year we will be hunting space aliens in Gabriels. Yes, crop circles have been found in the Adirondacks, though this time they can be proven the direct result of human effort, not the paranormal. For the fourth year in a row the design for the maze at Tucker Farms is from the artistic work of Scott Rohe. He didn’t even have to perpetuate any crop circle myth by going out in the dead of night to complete the large-scale land art. He just came up with the design so the Tuckers could plant the corn in a grid-like pattern. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

When is it Apple-picking Time?

For the first time, I have apples that are perfect! Admittedly, I only have a few (okay, four), but that’s more than I’ve had in the past. I’ve been on the fence, however, about picking them. Last year I finally picked my Northern Spies out of desperation—we were expecting snow. I made tarts and took them to our Book Club meeting, but they really weren’t ripe. Unlike most people I know, I do not like green fruit (green as in “unripe”, not green as in color, although the two can be synonymous).

This year there was enough rain that the apples grew well. The sunny days of late August and September made the fruit grow. No scab appeared, and only a few were attacked by insects. But each day the fruits remain on the tree is one more day for something to happen. When should I pick the apples?

It all depends on what type of apples you have. Some varieties ripen early in the season (some, I’ve read, as early as July), while others linger until almost Thanksgiving. Up here in the North Country, that can be a problem; by Thanksgiving the tree could be buried in snow!

Your best bet is to find a local orchard and find out what apples are being picked and when. Sure, you could go on-line and find picking dates, but unless the orchard you select is in the same climate as you, you cannot count on the accuracy of those dates.

But suppose you don’t have any local orchards. There are certainly plenty of orchards along the Champlain Valley, but that’s the banana belt compared to the central Adirondacks. No one in his right mind has an orchard in our neck of the woods. Sure, there are lots of “wild” apple trees, but you can’t necessarily go by them. These were likely planted by early settlers as a source of fruit for making apple jack, a fermented tangy cider (not the sweet cider that you get with your donuts when you go pumpkin picking). They didn’t care what the apples tasted like or what condition they were in. No, you can’t go by these wild apples. The bears may like them, and the deer, but most of them are not for the likes of you and me.

So you stand there staring at the fruit on your tree. Do you go by color? If it’s red, is it ripe? Well, suppose your tree doesn’t bear red apples – what if they are yellow, or green? Can you trust color?

The answer is yes, sort of. First, you need to know what color your apples are supposed to be. Unless they are green apples, you can use color as a guideline. You want to look at the color of the skin near the base of the stem. If this area is green, the apple isn’t ripe yet. Once it turns red, or yellowish, then it is probably safe to pick.

You can also go by firmness. If your apple is hard as a rock, it isn’t ripe. If, however, it has a little bit of give to it when you give it a gentle squeeze, go ahead and pick.

You can test readiness by the ease of of the apple’s release from the tree. When you pick an apple, it should pluck easily, almost falling into your hand. If you have to tug and wrench it off, it’s not ripe.

Now, suppose a heavy killer frost is coming, and your apples are still on the tree. What do you do? You have to make a decision. Are they ripe enough that if you pick them and place them in a cool, dark place they will continue to ripen? If so, pick away. If not, then you might want to cover your tree, just like you would your pumpkins and squash.

Up here in the mountains growing perfect apples can be frustrating. Some years you might succeed, and other years your crop may be a complete failure. The best thing you can do it relax; after all, there isn’t much you can do about the weather. Get to know your trees, learn what varieties you have, and check the picking dates at the nearest orchard(s). From there you can only use common sense. With a little luck, you will have apples to enjoy throughout the cold and grey days of winter – a little taste of fall.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Adirondack Harvest Benefit Dinner Announced

The Lake Placid Lodge’s Chef Kevin McCarthy and DaCy Meadow Farm will be hosting an Adirondack Harvest Dinner on Tuesday, September 29th at 6:00pm at the St. Agnes School Auditorium in Lake Placid. This unique dining experience will feature ingredients supplied by local Essex County farmers. According to the official event announcement, “dinner will feature beverages, an appetizer, Dogwood Bread Company bread, soup, garden salad with maple balsamic vinaigrette, an entree featuring a selection of local, pasture-raised meats and fresh vegetables, and a dessert created with pure maple sugar.”

A keynote speaker, noted food and restaurant consultant Clark Wolf, will discuss developments in the local and healthy food movements and how the Adirondack region can move towards a more sustainable agricultural-based economy.

Ticket prices are $30 for adults and $15 for students and all proceeds will benefit Adirondack Harvest and Heifer International. Seating is limited to 150 people and reservations are required (call Dave Johnston at (518) 962-2350 or email djohnston [AT] dacymeadowfarm [DOT] com. Checks should be made payable and mailed to: DaCy Meadow Farm, Box 323, Westport, NY 12993


Monday, September 21, 2009

Harvest Festival at The Adirondack Museum

The Adirondack Museum will hold its annual Harvest Festival next Saturday and Sunday, October 3rd and 4th, from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. The Museum offers free admission to year-round residents of the Adirondack Park in the month of October including the Harvest Festival.

As a part of festival the Museum is sponsoring a food drive in support of Warren-Hamilton Community Action. Donations of non-perishable food items will be collected in the lobby of Visitor Center from September 29 through October 6.

Circle B Ranch in Chestertown will be providing rustic wagon hay rides through around the museum grounds as wel as pony rides.

Traditional folk music eill be provided by Roy Hurd and Frank Orsini both days at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

Other Harvest Festival highlights include cider pressing, a blacksmithing demonstration, barn raising (for young and old), as well as pumpkin painting
and crafts inspired by nature. Regional artists and crafters will offer unique handmade items for sale. Kids can enjoy a variety of harvest-themed games and activities.

For more information call (518) 352-7311, or visit
www.adirondackmuseum.org.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dealing with Frost in the Adirondacks

Last night the Weather Gurus predicted a low of 25 degrees Fahrenheit for Newcomb. Brrr. In anyone’s book, that is chilly. Thanks to a wet growing season, followed by a very dry September, I find that my garden has needed very little in the way of frost protection. With the exception of a couple pumpkins, this year’s garden is unconcerned with crisp weather.

But perhaps your garden is a different story. Are you one of the lucky few who have tomatoes? Perhaps you have squash and corn still ripening. Or maybe you put in some late season veg, like kale or other greens. If you fit into this category, then you’ll want to be alert for freezing forecasts and ready to ward off Jack Frost.

Some veg are hardy and can take the cold. In fact, there are veg that improve with cooler temps, like carrots. Many a gardener has claimed that carrots only get sweeter with the cold. I’m testing this theory this year by leaving most of my carrots in the ground as late as possible. But other veg are more tender and in need of some TLC if they are to survive.

Over the last couple of years I’ve invested in floating row covers. These fibrous white sheets come in varying thicknesses depending on the amount of protection you desire. The thicker the cloth (heavier the weight), the more protection. This is beneficial for frost protection. Row covers also reduce light transmission, so in the springtime lighter weight material might be preferable so that the plants can get enough light to sprout and grow.

A cheaper alternative to agricultural row covers is bed sheets. Sheets, towels and blankets sprout in many a garden with fall rolls around. Like row covers, they are draped over plants and pots, keeping the frost from killing tender leaves and fruits. A key to remember here is that you don’t want your cover to touch the plants. The cover is acting like a roof and walls, keeping the warmer air of the day trapped around your plants, and keeping the cold air of night away. If the cold air can get under your blankets, or if your sheet is touching the plant beneath it, the cold can still cause damage.

Usually, though, I find that by the time killing frosts arrive, the thrill of the garden has faded somewhat. The novelty of picking beans and making tomatoe sauce has worn thin. I go out and drape tender plants with sheets, row covers, blankets, using clothespins to hold them all together, but if the frost sneaks in and kills the beans and tomatoes, I find I can get over it pretty quickly. Usually it’s the still unripe winter squash and pumpkins that that merit the most attention.

You could go the route of The Fan. The idea here is that the fan draws the warm air up from the ground and sends it out over your plants, displacing the colder night air. Or you could try misting your plants before night settles. There’s a claim that misted plants will develop an outer layer of ice crystals that will protect the rest of the plant from damage. Hm. Then there are smudge pots. These essentially create localized smog, which traps heat and keeps the plants from freezing.

If you have only a few plants that need protection, there are some nifty options out there that you can try. One is called a water wall. This plastic device is essentially a plastic cylinder that you place around your plant. The cylinder is made of pockets/tubes that you fill with water. During the day the water absorbs heat, which at night is released slowly, keeping the plant within its embrace nice and warm. At about $12 a pop, this can be expensive if you’ve got, oh, say 90 tomato plants to protect.

We used a similar but much cheaper option in the greenhouse where I used to work in New Jersey. We brought in our empty milk jugs and filled them with water. During the day the heat of the greenhouse warmed them up, and at night they released that heat, keeping the inside temps relatively steady as the outside temps fell. I’m sure it would work just as well in a garden, especially if you covered the plants and sun-warmed jugs with a sheet.

Straw bales can also provide your garden with some protection. Stacking up bales around your sensitive plants will block the outside air. Toss a blanket, or old window, or a frame covered with plastic, across the top and you have a temporary greenhouse (or cold frame) that will serve you well.

Gardening in the Adirondacks can be tricky even in a good year. With frost possible in June and August, we are left with only a few short weeks to breathe easily in the belief that our plants are safe. But with some careful planning (the selection of seeds and plants, the layout of the garden, the construction of cold frames, a collection of plant protectors), we can extend our season and eke a few more days or weeks out of our harvest. And if you really want to get into it, you can build a greenhouse, or a high tunnel system, that will permit you to have harvests all year ’round…but that’s another story.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Another Invasive in the Adirondack Garden

“What have you got that the deer won’t like?” I asked the dude at the garden place. This was my favorite nursery, and over the years I spent hundreds of dollars there. I liked the people, I loved their display gardens, and their plant selection was terrific. Unfortunately, they included several invasive species in their stock and promoted them for garden plantings.

“The Japanese Barberry would be great – we have two colors, green and rose. The rose-colored one will look great next to your pale yellow house.” » Continue Reading.


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