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.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Fifty Shades of Nightshade: From Delicious to Deadly

Deadly Nightshade courtesy Köhler's Medicinal Plants 1887Many nightshades are safe and delicious, and go well in sandwiches and sauces. A few are deadly, dished up mainly by criminals, but most occupy a gray area between these two extremes. Worldwide, there are around 2,700 shades of nightshade, a family known to Latin geeks as Solanaceae. The family comprises tasty crops like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and tomatillos. It is also composed in part by jimsonweed and other shady characters which have wrought mayhem and death, both accidental and intentional, throughout history.

Nightshades are present on every continent except Antarctica, though Australia and South America have the greatest diversity, and overall numbers, of species. Tobacco is one of the most economically important nightshades, while other family members, for example petunias and Chinese lanterns, spice up our yards. The majority of nightshades are wild species, some of which have been used as sources of medicine for millennia. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Invasives: A New Tick Species Is Spreading

longhorned tick courtesy wikimedia user CommonsourceYears ago I read an author interview, and although I don’t recall her name, one of the images she raised has stayed with me. It’s not an exact quote, but she said something to the effect that writing ought to feel to an author as if they were water skiing behind their work, not towing it like a barge. In general, I find this to be the case. The hours or days of research which go into an article are hardly exhilarating, but the wave-jumping that comes after shrinking those pages of facts into 800 words makes it worth the effort.

However, when I tried to water-ski behind a brand-new invasive tick that can reproduce without mating, drain the blood out of livestock, and potentially carry ten or more human diseases, including one similar to Ebola, something changed. A few topics whip across the water at high speed. Most at least pull me at a leisurely pace. This one made me drop the whole water skiing idea and swim for my life. Turns out there is a limit to how many miles you can get out of happy imagery. And to how long a writer should be allowed to spend alone in a room with the same metaphor. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Early Fall Leaf Color: The Science

Seems like competitiveness may be part of human DNA. But it does not always pay to be first.

No prize awaits the fastest car that passes a radar patrol, or the first person to come down with the flu at the office. And for trees, the first ones to turn color in autumn are not envied by their peers. If trees experience envy, which no one knows. The first trees to show orange and red and drop their leaves are telling us to get quotes from a tree-removal company, because they are not going to last.

The reason that some trees turn color ahead of their compatriots has to do with their balance sheets. Trees are meticulous accountants, and tend to be good savers that never live beyond their means. When it’s no longer profitable to operate, they start closing down for the season. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Deer Flies—Away!

adult deer fly Toothaches, difficult break-ups, and traffic accidents. With some things in life, if you have one, you have one too many. This applies to deer flies, those hard-biting pests with a knack for moving in at the instant your hands are full. And the same goes for their beefier cousin the horse fly.

Deer and horse flies are in the family Tabanidae, a group of aquatic insects comprising over 4,000 species worldwide. Fortunately, we “only” have around 100 species of deer flies and 200 of horse flies in our region. It is the female deer and horse flies which slash you with their scissors-like mouthparts and sop up your life-blood to mature their ovaries. After a nice bloody Mary, or Tom or whoever, they will lay 100 to 800 eggs at the edge of a pond, marsh, or temporary mud hole. The larvae are easily found (should you want to) in ponds and marshes in the near-shore ooze. Mind the leeches. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Paul Hetzler: More Blissful Ignorance, Please

It’s a rare blessing to have a job I absolutely love, but it’s not all roses. Although some of it is, literally, roses. All too often it is my dubious honor to bring to public awareness a new invasive pest or disease, and history has not always been kind to the bearers of bad news.

There is an old saying that knowledge is power, but there is another one that ignorance is bliss, and some days I’d be happy to trade some alleged power for a little bliss. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Native Foods: Chugging Chaga at Tea-Time

Chaga Mushroom Ingredients for healthy beverages are free for the taking outdoors if you can get past the introduction stage.

Hemlock tea, one of my favorites, is a good example. This is not the recipe poor Socrates used, which was made with the toxic perennial herb, poison-hemlock. The kind I serve is a vitamin-C-rich infusion of needles and young shoots from the stately eastern hemlock tree, Tsuga canadensis. This hemlock tea is great with a touch of honey, and the good part is that you can drink it more than once. Plus it’s fun to see the reaction when I offer it to guests. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Tent Worms: Eastern Tent or Forest Tent?

Forest Tent CaterpillarLike a B-grade horror film, they’re back. Writhing en masse, draping cobwebs, and raining tiny “peppercorn” poop onto us, tent caterpillars have returned. Known variously as tent worms, army worms, and a host of other names not suitable to print, there are actually two species of tent caterpillars. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, May 26, 2018

What’s Good for Your Lawn

Japanese Beetle (adult and grub)The Memorial Day long weekend is often a time to put in the garden, spruce up the yard, and of course, mow the lawn. After the snow from our prolonged winter melted away, many homeowners were disappointed at the condition of their lawn. Areas of dead grass are sometimes, but by no means always, due to heavy feeding by last fall’s grub crop. Grubs, of course, are beetle babies. Not like Ringo Junior, but the larval stage of European and rose chafers, and Japanese, Asiatic-garden, and Oriental beetles.

Unfortunately, you will have to wait until late summer to exact revenge, because short of becoming a skunk-herder and letting your flock dig up all the grubs, absolutely nothing you do to right now will kill the grubs responsible for vandalizing your lawn. Or kill any grubs for that matter. They are done feeding and are in the pupal stage, essentially impervious to poisons. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Wild Foods: Take Fewer Leeks

Deep fried ramps sign at Mason Dixon Ramp Fest in Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania Friends and family understand that some of my dinners can be pretty wild. For example, right now they may include mashed sunchoke or “Jerusalem artichoke” tubers that escaped the voles and mice over the winter, as well as a steaming plate of tender, sweet nettles. (When cooked, the latter lose their sting, becoming tame as kittens. Better even, because they don’t shed.)

But the tastiest wild food around in very early spring is our native wild leek, Allium tricoccum, a.k.a. wild garlic, spring onion, or ramp (from “ramson,” a name for a similar European species). It pushes its light green leaves up through the leaf litter in hardwood forests along eastern North America, from Québec and Ontario south to South Carolina, in very early spring. They grow in clumps, occasionally forming large colonies which in some places carpet the forest floor. They last for only a few weeks, fading away by late June. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Arbor Day: What Is An Arbor Anyway?

Muskrat Day. Velcro Appreciation Month. Hair Follicle Hygiene Week. Arbor Day. You know it’s an obscure event when the greeting-card trade hasn’t bothered to capitalize on it. I like to think the industry knows Arbor Day is worthy of a Hallmark line, but that they’ve decided to honor its spirit by conserving paper. (C’mon, it’s possible.) While not the best-known observance, Arbor Day has a respectable history, as well as a local connection.

Rooted in Jefferson County in New York’s northern tier, Arbor Day, which is observed on the last Friday in April, has become recognized around the world. Mr. J. Sterling Morton of Adams, NY germinated the concept of Arbor Day in 1872 to highlight the need to conserve topsoil and increase timber availability in his adopted state of Nebraska. Mr. Morton went on to a sterling career in business, founding the Morton Salt Company, still in existence today. Arbor Day went on to become a somewhat obscure, if virtuous, tradition. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Forest Pests: Velvet Longhorn Beetles

velvet longhorned beetleSome invasive insects appear to be trying to win us over through sly public-relations moves. Emerald ash borer (EAB), the Asian beetle killing our ash trees, arrived looking like it just came from a Mary Kay convention, all bright, glitzy and glitter-coated. And it could have been simply called the green ash borer, but instead managed to get itself branded “emerald,” something everyone likes.

A new forest pest on the horizon seems to have taken a page from EAB. Trichoferus campestris, better known as the velvet longhorned beetle, has cleverly brought the cuddliness of the Velveteen Rabbit and the romantic image of Texas Longhorns together in its name. Don’t be fooled by this brilliant strategy, though. Let’s pull back the curtain and expose the velvet longhorned beetle (VLB) for what it really is. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Bell Pepper: A Vegetable History

bell peppers April 1st marked the 90th anniversary of the development of the modern sweet pepper, also known as the bell pepper. In Central America, Mexico, and northern South America there is evidence that numerous types of peppers (Capsicum annuum) have been cultivated by native peoples for at least 6,500 years.

Hot peppers were the first New World crop grown in Europe, with seeds arriving in Spain in 1493. Since that time, plant breeders around the world have selected peppers for various traits, giving rise to such names for this Native American vegetable as “Hungarian” and “Thai” hot peppers. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 2, 2018

Let Them Eat Wood: Woodland Mushrooms

Nearly all historians agree Marie Antoinette probably never coined the phrase “Let them eat cake,” a saying already in popular culture before her time. The phrase was ascribed to her by opponents to bolster her reputation as callous and arrogant.

She would have seemed far more benevolent if she had said “Let them eat wood.” » Continue Reading.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Emerald Ash Borer Trap Trees

emerald ash borer photo courtesy DECWhen I hear the phrase “trap tree,” an image of Charlie Brown’s kite-eating tree in the Peanuts comic strip comes immediately to mind. But trap trees, or sentinel trees, are meant to nab a much smaller flying object, the emerald ash borer (EAB).

The idea is to make certain ash trees more attractive to EAB, to serve both as a monitoring tool and as a means of slowing the rate of ash death. Early in the growing season, a chosen ash tree is girdled, which stresses it and induces it to create certain phenols and alcohols not present in healthy trees. It is on this chemical signature that the adult emerald ash borers home in. » Continue Reading.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Water Wellness: Understanding Our Groundwater

national groundwater awareness week

Everyone knows that acing an algebra exam won’t help your grade in anthropology, history or theatre class. The same logic applies to water.

A coliform test can tell if your well is impacted by septic leakage or manure runoff, but it won’t tell you if residues from agricultural chemicals or spilled gas or oil are getting in your water. Those are very different kinds of tests. » Continue Reading.