Almanack Contributor Richard Gast

Richard Gast

Richard Gast is a retired Extension Program Educator and has been contracted by Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County to continue his informative and thought provoking articles.


Monday, February 12, 2018

Maple Confections: A Sweet And Local Valentine’s Gift

Maple Syrup and Confections Valentine’s Day. The day when, more than at any other time of the year, people declare feelings of romantic interest, love, and adoration for one another. This is most-often done with a card. Approximately 150 million Valentine’s Day cards will be exchanged in the US, this year; 2.6 billion worldwide (according to the Greeting Card Association).

The oldest known Valentine’s Day card, if you will, is still in existence. It’s a poem from Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife; written while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415, and preserved in the British Library in London. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

CSAs: Taking Control, Ownership of Our Food System

CSA veggiesIn this age of global markets and marketing, more often than not, the food we eat is grown on large industrial farms; then shipped across the country, or from central or South America, or overseas, to huge distribution centers, where it’s sorted, packaged, processed, and then trucked to chain supermarkets, convenient stores, and fast food outlets.

We seldom think about the environmental impacts resulting from expanded mechanization and transportation of foodstuffs over great distances; of the ecological consequences of large-scale mono-cropping of food with intensive use of pesticides; or the impacts that food globalization has on our health (e.g. 2/3 of Americans are now considered overweight or obese). » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Will Our Extreme Winter Cold Wipe Out Ticks?

Deer TickI’ve been asked on four different occasions, recently, how tick populations will be impacted by the December/January below-zero cold. Some of those asking had heard reports, apparently claiming that tick populations would be decimated, if not eradicated, by the prolonged period of extremely cold weather.

We’d all certainly welcome that. It’s probable that you or someone you know has been affected by ticks and/or by Lyme disease. And any downward pressure on tick populations is welcome. But, the answer isn’t that simple. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Local Breweries Have Big Potential; Local Hops Challenges

beer hopsThere’s an old Irish toast: ‘To long life and a merry one. A quick death and an easy one. A pretty girl and an honest one. A cold beer and another one!’ I can think of no better way to bring in the New Year than raising a glass of frothy-delicious craft beer from a homebrewer friend or relative, or small, independent craft brewery.

According to the 46,000-plus-member American Homebrewers Association, a division of the Brewers Association (an American trade group of brewers, breweries-in-planning, suppliers, distributors, craft beer retailers, and individuals concerned with the promotion of craft beer and home-brewing), more than 1.2-million Americans brew their own beer at home. And, as an industry, beer is massive.

The Brewers Association says U.S. retail sales of beer exceeded $107.6 billion in 2016, with craft beer accounting for $23.5 billion of that total. Directly and indirectly, the beer industry employs nearly 2.23 million Americans, providing more than $103 billion in wages and benefits. In NY, 269 breweries produced 1,000,785 barrels of craft beer in 2016 (2.1 gallons for every American over the age of 21), with a retail value of $3,439,000,000.   » Continue Reading.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

(Flying) Reindeer and Climate

reindeerI recall years ago; two young boys having a conversation. “There’s no such thing as Santa Clause,” the older boy insisted. But the younger boy wasn’t buying it. Come Christmas Eve, he was going to stay up all night, just to catch a glimpse of old Santa and his legendary sleigh full of presents. What excited the little guy the most though, was the thought of seeing those remarkable flying “reindeer on the roof!”

“Santa’s reindeer really can fly, can’t they?” he asked me, catching me completely off guard. I hesitated; then told him that reindeer were deer; very much like the whitetails we see around here, but with thicker bodies, shorter legs, and broader hooves. I added that whitetails and reindeer are cousins. And that moose and elk are reindeer cousins, too. Fortunately, he let it go at that. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

Buy Local Christmas Trees, Support Local Growers

Christmas Tree PlantationChristmas trees can be seen everywhere during the holiday season. And, because of this, we often think of Christmas tree farming as a seasonal business, which it certainly isn’t.

To be successful, year-round management and maintenance are needed. And the work is often labor-intensive, and/or needing to be completed under adverse weather conditions. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Marcescence: An Ecological Mystery

Young beech trees retain their leaves throughout the winter monthsWe’re blessed to live in an area that offers some of the most beautiful fall foliage found anywhere in the world. And this fall proved to be one of the most remarkably enduring that I’ve ever experienced; the maples, birches, poplars, oaks, and beeches creating a landscape literally exploding in shades of gold, crimson, and orange, which lasted for several weeks.

As cold weather approaches, many species of trees shed their leaves as a strategy to reduce water loss and frost damage. Triggered by hormone change (the balance of auxin levels between leaves and branches), it’s all part of an important and complicated process known as abscission; in which trees seal off the point where the leaf petiole connects to the twig (the abscission layer). » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Chance To Learn More About Honeybees

queen bee

The honeybee, Apis mellifera, is the most widely used managed bee in the world. According to the American Beekeeping Federation, there are an estimated 2.7 million managed honeybee colonies in the U.S. today, two-thirds of which travel the country each year pollinating crops and producing honey and beeswax.

Honeybees and other pollinators are essential for maintaining floral diversity and for producing many important agricultural crops that feed residents of New York and other areas of the world. Among them are almonds, oranges, apples, cherries, pears, cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, alfalfa, soy beans, sugar beets, asparagus, broccoli, squash, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, and onions; some of which depend entirely on insects for pollination. The others don’t require pollination to reproduce, but benefit from increased quality and yields when pollinators are involved. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

A Great Pumpkin Prank; Pumpkin Production In NYS

McGraw hallMcGraw Hall, Cornell University’s first building, is certainly the most recognizable symbol of the University and, arguably, one of the state’s most iconic buildings. Built in 1891 and named for Jennie McGraw, a close family friend of University co-founder, Ezra Cornell. McGraw Hall’s clock tower, which houses the 21-bell Cornell Chimes; played three times a day and heard all over campus, stands 173-feet-tall, with an extremely steep 20-foot-high tiled roof-spire. It holds a commanding presence from vantage points all around the city of Ithaca.

So, on the morning of October 8, 1997, Cornell students, faculty, and staff were baffled when they awoke to find a rather large pumpkin, estimated to have weighed 60-pounds, impaled upon the spire atop the tower. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Cultivating Mushrooms in the Adirondacks

I absolutely love mushrooms. They add real zest and excitement to all sorts of recipes. I’ve been cooking with them all of my adult life. They’re the perfect choice for hearty, intensely satisfying, really-good-for-you, low-calorie meals. Great if you’re watching your waistline!

It’s easy and fun to cultivate edible mushrooms using logs, stumps, or other mediums (i.e. straw, corn cobs), and the moist shade of your wooded property. Each mushroom variety offers its own unique, often nutty flavor. And they’re packed full of nutrients; things like B-vitamins, including riboflavin (an essential dietary nutrient which plays a major role in red blood cell formation and energy production, and strengthens the immune system), niacin (a digestive aid that can help maintain good blood circulation, healthy skin condition, and brain function), and pantothenic acid (one of the most versatile and flexible vitamins). » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Report From The Adirondack Harvest Festival

A customer makes her selections at a local vegetable grower’s farm stand at the Adirondack Harvest Festival in WestportLast weekend, I attended the Adirondack Harvest Festival, which was held at the at the Essex County Fairgrounds and adjoining Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) office in Westport. The family-oriented event had something for everyone and proved to be a marvelous opportunity to see the diversity of small agriculture in northern New York, and to meet and speak with area small-agribusiness owners and Extension agriculture researchers and educators. And with free admission, free music, and free educational demonstrations, including gourmet mushroom cultivation, soap making, beginner beekeeping, cider pressing, and much more, CCE, along with participating farmer-presenters, and numerous sponsors (Thank you so much!) made it as inexpensive as possible for the hundreds who were there, to attend, learn, and generally make the most of the afternoon. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Cornell’s History of Protecting Adirondack Fisheries

2016 Cornell Adirondack Fisheries Research Program Boat CrewI recently wrote about the impacts of acid rain, which results from burning fossil fuels, on Adirondack lakes and streams. But, did you know that Cornell University has been a leader in efforts to safeguard natural fisheries within the Adirondacks and to protect them from the damaging effects of acid rain, invasive species, and climate change for well-over half-a-century?

In fact, Cornell’s cold-water fishery research has historically focused on the Adirondack region. And just last year, the New York State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University (CALS) established a new faculty fellowship in fisheries and aquatic sciences, named for the late (and extremely-well-respected) Professor of Fishery Biology, Dr. Dwight A. Webster; the educator who laid the groundwork for what is now the Adirondack Fishery Research Program (AFRP). » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Acid Rain Still Impacting Adirondack Lakes and Forests

In a recent newsletter from Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, she mentioned visiting the facilities of the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation to discuss strategies for measuring and combating acid rain in the Adirondacks. Although acid rain remains an important topic of study and discussion, the once commonplace phrase has become somewhat obscure in recent years and the problems associated with acid rain have taken a back seat to other, more widely discussed environment-impacting issues.

Like global warming, acid rain results from burning fossil fuels, either to generate electricity at large power plants or to run vehicles and heavy equipment. As the resulting ‘acid gasses’ are released into the air, they combine with water vapor, producing sulfuric and nitric acids, which fall to earth in acidified rain, snow, sleet, fog, mist, or hail. » Continue Reading.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Forest Landowners Take Note Of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid

hemlock woolly adelgidEastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) are one of the most beautiful conifers found in northern New York forests. It can take up to 300 years for them to reach mature heights of up to 70 feet and diameters of up to 3-feet. They commonly live for 500 years and can live for 800 years or longer. Many are among the oldest trees in the state.

In their northern range, they’re found at a variety of elevations (sea level to near 5000 ft.) and on a multiplicity of sites (hillsides, valleys, shorelines, glacial ridges). Hemlocks are commonly found growing in mixed stands, with yellow birch, sugar maple, northern red oak, white ash, American beech, and white pine and can be distinguished from pine and by their short, flat needles. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Eating Seasonally, Locally in the Adirondacks

Adirondack Farm Produce - Photo by Shannon HoulihanWe’re living in an age of global markets, with almost all of us buying our food from chain supermarkets, convenient stores, and fast food outlets; rarely thinking about where our food comes from or how it was grown or processed.

More often than not, the food we eat is grown on large industrial farms, before being shipped across the country, or from central or South America or overseas, to huge distribution centers, where it’s sorted, packaged, and processed before it’s trucked to retailers. This means that a remarkable diversity of food is available all year round, for consumers who can to afford to buy it. » Continue Reading.


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