Almanack Contributor Paul Hetzler

Paul Hetzler

Paul Hetzler is the Horticulture and Natural Resources Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County.

You can reach Paul at the Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Canton at (315) 379-9192.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Fagus Grandifolia: Beech Gone Wild

american beech treeThe sturdy, long-lived and stately American beech, Fagus grandifolia, has been slowly dying out since 1920, when a tiny European insect pest was accidentally released on our shores. Because of this lethal but unhurried tragedy, many forest tracts across the Northeast are being choked out by too many beech trees.

That’s right, beech decline has led to a proliferation of beech so extreme that in some places it is a threat to the health of future forests. With apologies to all the bovine readers out there, this qualifies as an oxymoron, I’m pretty sure. The ultimate cause of this weird situation is the aforementioned pest, but the proximate cause is a bad case of hormones being out of whack. » Continue Reading.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Isolation and the Lonely Ants Club

carpenter antExcessive tinder is a major contributor to forest fires, but a shortage of Tinder can lead to an early death. For social animals like canines, deer, dolphins, elephants, primates such as bonobos and humans, and even bees and ants, contact with others is as essential to well-being as food and water.

A 2015 study done at Brigham Young University which garnered much news coverage in 2017 and early this year found that loneliness may be a greater health risk than smoking and obesity combined. » Continue Reading.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Invasive Species Awareness Week Begins Feb 26th

On the lookout for hungry bugsIn Grade 3, a brilliant joke made the rounds. We’d hold up a sheet of blank white paper and announce it was a polar bear in a snowstorm. Genius is relative for kids. But the first time I drove into a whiteout made me realize how accurate that “art” project was. Anything can hide behind a veneer of snow.

This leads me to ask why February 26-March 3 was chosen as “National Invasive Species Awareness Week.” By this time of year, our awareness has been blunted by a critical shortage of landscape: down is white, up is gray. Right now we’re aware it’s cold, and that the ground has been white for a long while. Seems like Microsoft or Elon Musk or whoever runs the “Special of the Week” calendar could find a better time for drawing folks’ attention to harmful invaders. » Continue Reading.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Pound, Kilo, and Kelvin: Measuring Science

Sign of the former Weights and Measures office, Seven Sisters Road, London, EnglandThe good news is that Imperial Forces are losing the battle for planetary dominance. The bad news is that we still play for their team.

The British Imperial System of measurement, born in 1824 to help streamline a host of odd units inherited from various cultures, was at the time an improvement. In 1965, the UK adopted the decimal-based metric system, despite the fact it was invented by the French. Today, metric is universal in science and medicine, and of the 195 nations on the planet, only 2 have yet to abandon the former British system for general commerce. » Continue Reading.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Adirondack Forest-Tent Caterpillars

Forest Tent CaterpillarWinter is not a season when many people think about tents, except maybe to be glad they do not live in one. I do have some friends who love winter camping, and the fact they have never extended an invitation is evidence of how much they value our friendship.

Oddly enough, winter is a crucial time to look for signs of forest-tent caterpillars (FTC). In spite of their name, FTC do not weave a silken tent-like nest like the eastern-tent caterpillar and other species of tent caterpillars. The tent-less lifestyle of forest-tent caterpillars makes it harder to spot outbreaks in spring. » Continue Reading.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Name Calling: Gagroot, Vomitwort or Pukeweed?

LobeliaEncouraging people to make friends with wild plants can be a challenge. Sometimes there are genuine concerns. Nettles, as an example, make an early-spring cooked green par excellence, even though its fresh leaves and stems have stinging hairs that can cause an uncomfortable, if temporary, rash if care is not taken when harvesting it.

Other times, it is a matter of perception. Critical to the survival of monarch butterflies, milkweed is delicious when prepared correctly. Jewelweed, native to wetlands, contains a sap which counteracts poison ivy, and its orange or yellow orchid-like flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Yet both plants suffer from having names which define them as undesirable. » Continue Reading.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Fish Friday Fasting With Eggs And Lamb

Illustration from "Bestiary, with extracts from Giraldus Cambrensis on Irish birds," published in England during the 2nd quarter of the 13th century and held at the British Library. Due to recent events, I’m now the only non-vegan member of a household. Granted it is a household of two where my omnivore status is respected, but the adjustment has taken longer than expected. It was some time before I stopped worrying about the welfare of tofu animals and was able to buy tofu turkey, ham, and sausage without suffering pangs of guilt.

Although we may not think of eating as able to change anything except our waistline, choices around diet do have serious and far-reaching consequences across the world. Volumes have been written on the human rights, energy policy, health, and environmental implications of food choices. But distilling even one of these points to a digestible portion-size requires more than just an essay. » Continue Reading.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Magic Mushrooms and Red Noses: Holiday Bioluminescence

rudolphAs a kid I was enthralled by TV nonfiction shows. Nova and Frontline had great stuff, but my favorites were Christmas documentaries like Frosty the Snowman. Over the years I’ve been disappointed that no further work seems to have been done on the many questions left hanging by the original researchers.

Take the whole glowing-nose thing. First documented back in 1939 by Robert L. May in his book Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the story surrounding the phenomenon is well-known. Since no one has come up with a scientific explanation, I have decided to tackle the issue. Bioluminescence is a natural process wherein fungi, microbes, insects or marine animals emit light as a result of chemical reactions which they control, and there are a number of ways a reindeer may have naturally developed a lighted nose. » Continue Reading.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanks For Giving

If the Pilgrims had only known what a big deal Thanksgiving was going to become in America they would undoubtedly have taken some pictures. Even the menu has been lost to us, although Wampanoag oral history, plus a few Pilgrim grocery receipts found at archeological sites, suggest there was corn, beans and squash as well as fowl and venison. Beyond that there may have been chestnuts, sun chokes (“Jerusalem” artichokes), cranberries and a variety of seafood.

Many historians believe the Pilgrims would have all perished during the winter of 1620 if not for food provided by the Wampanoags, whose land they appropriated. In the spring of 1621, Wampanoags gave the Pilgrims crop seeds, as well as a tutorial (possibly an App; we can’t be sure) on the production, storage and preservation of food crops such as corn, beans, and squash. » Continue Reading.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Gray Squirrels, Nut Trees, and Forest Fragmentation

eastern gray squirrel“Squirrels have been criticized for hiding nuts in various places for future use and then forgetting the places. Well, squirrels do not bother with minor details like that. They have other things on their mind, such as hiding more nuts where they can’t find them.”

Unfortunately, that succulent passage was penned in 1949 by W. Cuppy in his book How To Attract A Wombat. I say unfortunately because I wanted to write it first, but was unable to get born in time. The trade-off, which is that I got to be a lot younger than him, probably worked out for the best anyway. » Continue Reading.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Paul Hetzler: If An Ash Tree Falls

Call it an infection or an epidemic, but even the most docile and pleasant woods will soon be transformed into Fangorn Forest. As far as anyone knows, local trees will probably not become animate like the ones in the fictional woodland of J.R.R. Tolkein’s trilogy. However, they may be just as dangerous, only for a different reason.

In The Lord of the Rings, trees were inherently good, and if provoked sufficiently could take up arms and kill lots of bad guys. Presumably our trees are also of good will, or at least do not have anything against humans in particular. But changes are coming within the next decade that will render them dangerous through no fault or intent of their own. » Continue Reading.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Paul Hetzler: In Praise Of A Messy Yard

western honeybeeOn my twice-monthly drive on Highway 416 between Prescott and Ottawa, I pass the sign for Kemptville, a town of about 3,500 which lies roughly 40 km north of the St. Lawrence. It has a rich history, and no doubt is a fine place to live, but one of these days I need to stop there to verify that Kemptville is in fact a village of surpassing tidiness. (It’s Exit 34 in case anyone wants to take some field notes and get back to me.)

Most of us would prefer not to live in totally unkempt surroundings, but Western culture may have taken sanitation a bit too far. Claims that cleanliness is next to godliness have yet to be proven by science, but research does indicate a neat, well-coiffed landscape is bad for bees and other pollinators. » Continue Reading.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Wild Foods: Oyster Mushrooms

oyster mushrooms Carnivorous oysters are lurking about in the North Country, and residents who venture into the woods are advised to carry butter and a skillet at all times. Oyster mushrooms, Pleurotus ostreatus, native wood-decaying fungi often found on dead and dying hardwoods, are delectable when sautéed in butter. Maybe hikers should carry a few cloves of garlic and a press as well. It’s good to be prepared.

It may be stretching a point to call oyster mushrooms carnivorous, as the only “meat” they consume are nematodes, which are a type of small roundworm that live in the soil. But they are one of the very few mushrooms in the world known to do this, so why not play it up. The nematodes provide the oysters with nitrogen, a scarce nutrient. » Continue Reading.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Seeing Red: Adirondack Foliage Season

We need to figure out how to put Amazon in charge of delivering the weather in the future. Whatever service Ma Nature is using seems to be falling down on the job lately. I don’t believe she intended to give us a record-setting wet summer; I just think all the good weather probably got misplaced on a loading dock in Topeka, or something like that. The spate of mild sunny weather in mid-September, while very enjoyable, was clearly meant to be dispersed over the course of June and July to break up the nonstop rain, some of which was no doubt tagged for 2016. I’d be willing to pay a premium for timely delivery next year.

In addition to widespread euphoria, dusty cars, and dry laundry, another effect of all this sunshine is red leaves. This requires a bit of explanation, given that sunlight typically makes leaves green by activating chlorophyll. This verdant molecule at the center of the photosynthesis miracle is what makes the world go ’round. Some claim it is money, but they need a reality check (so to speak). Without chlorophyll the sole life on Earth would be bacteria, whereas without money we’d merely have to adopt a barter system. Given that chlorophyll and currency are both green, it’s easy to forgive the mistake. » Continue Reading.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Devil’s Shoelace: Doddering Assailants

Devil's Shoelace, Considering the climate where the personification of evil is alleged to make his home, you’d think the devil would wear flip-flops or something, but it seems he prefers lace-up footwear (Prada, I’m told). “Devil’s shoelaces” is one name applied to dodder (Cuscuta spp.), a parasitic plant that looks more like creepy yellow-orange spaghetti than a plant. Dodder is known by a whole slew of unflattering titles including wizard’s net, strangleweed, witch’s hair, and hellbine. As these names suggest, dodder has earned itself quite a sinister reputation, which is no big surprise, since parasites generally inspire collywobbles, not cuddles.

But the leafless, ghostly pale, tentacle-like dodder really ramps up the squirm factor. Research has shown it is able to recognize which plants are around it by sniffing them out. Every plant gives off a unique blend of compounds such as terpenes and esters, making it easy to tell cilantro from tomatoes with just one whiff. Not only can dodder distinguish one plant from another, it can sense which is more nutritious, and will move toward that one with great precision, and attack it. » Continue Reading.

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