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.


Sunday, September 20, 2020

Webs in the Trees? – They’re Relatively Harmless 

It’s starting to feel very much like fall around here. Days are getting shorter, leaves are changing color, temperatures are cooler (some of us have already seen a frost or two; even a freeze), air conditioners are silent, pumpkin-spiced food and beverages are available at several coffee shops and fast food establishments, schools have reopened (sort of), and fall webworms are here en masse in places all across the North County.

» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, September 9, 2020

In Pursuit of Giant Puffballs, the queen of edible mushrooms: 

Puffball is the generic name for a large group of edible mushrooms with similar characteristics. They come in many sizes and are usually spherical or globular in shape.

Puffballs are distinguished from other mushroom groups by the fact that they lack many of the features or characteristics that other common mushrooms possess. A puffball has no stem. It has no cap. And no external gills. All of the spores are produced inside of the fruiting body.

The most common way in which they release their spores is through impact; the external force of rain or falling debris landing upon them or of animals stepping on or brushing against them, thereby compressing and/or breaking the peridium; the protective layer that encloses the spore mass inside the fungus. When that happens, as the name puffball implies, the spores are ejected in a large puff.

» Continue Reading.


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Plants Make Me Sneeze 

I love the summer. It’s the time of year when animals are most active; when the sun is warm and plants of all kinds are thriving; and when the first harvests start to ripen.

I was talking with a friend of mine recently and asked his young grandson if he liked the flowers in my garden. His response was, “Plants make me sneeze,” to which I lightheartedly replied, “Me too.”

Unfortunately, summer is also the time of year when allergies, including my own, tend to go into overload. It begins with pollens released by trees. Then by grasses. Then by weeds and even some garden flowers.

For periods of time, I endure a continually runny nose, nasal congestion, chapped nostrils, sneezing attacks, itchy, burning eyes, and a scratchy throat. I always have tissues with me; in my pocket or in my hand. Always. And, when I pack for a weekend away, I have to stockpile tissues and meds; at least one full box of tissues and a stash of pretty much every over-the-counter allergy- and asthma-relief medication I can find at Walgreen’s, along with one or two prescription treatments. (Occasionally, when my allergies are really bad, it can trigger my asthma and wheezing.)

» Continue Reading.


Thursday, August 13, 2020

Farmers Markets: An Alternative to a Food System in Flux 

In March, when Governor Cuomo signed the ‘New York State on PAUSE’ executive order, which mandated that all non-essential businesses in New York State had to close, farmer’s markets were exempted as essential retail businesses and, as such, allowed to open or remain open.

But, as concerns about the spread of COVID-19 grew, farmers market growers, gardeners, and managers, like other small business operators, found themselves rushing to come up with innovative contingency plans to modify their operations and employ solutions that would protect their livelihoods, as well as the health and well-being of their customers, market workers, and the community at large.

» Continue Reading.


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Franklin County 4-H brings the fair to the farm 

I’ve heard it said that, ‘You can’t call yourself a local until you’ve been to the Franklin County Fair.’ It’s the area’s longest running tradition and one of the oldest County Fairs in New York State. Unfortunately, there won’t be a Franklin County Fair this year. In fact, there won’t be any county fairs at all this year, in the North Country.

For the kids, that means no midway; no Scrambler, no Tilt-A-Whirl, no Starship 3000, no Crystal Lil’s funhouse, no Ferris wheel. For us older folks, it means no sausage sandwiches, no fried dough, no maple donuts, no French fries, no cotton candy, and no bloomin’ onions. It also means no grandstand stage shows, no demolition derbies, no tractor pulls, no harness racing. And no beer tent.

And for all of the 4-H families and Future Farmers of America (FFA) members, who work especially hard and really look forward to showing their cattle, their skills, and their projects at the Fair, it means no competitions and no ribbons attached to their well-cared-for livestock or their produce, plants, and crafts projects.

Or does it?

» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Monitoring for European Cherry Fruit Fly – You Can Help

I love cherries! Especially sweet cherries. They’re delicious fresh, high in fiber, and loaded with vitamins, minerals, and beneficial antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which may lower your risk of developing certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and/or obesity.

Growing consumer education about the antioxidant health benefits of cherries appears to be creating increased demand for the fruit. Domestic cherry consumption in the United States is now around 2 pounds per person per year.

» Continue Reading.


Monday, July 6, 2020

Protecting Berry Crops from Fruit Fly Infestation

The spotted wing drosophila (SWD), Drosophila suzukii, is a vinegar or fruit fly native to Southeast Asia. It’s been in Hawaii since the 1980s and was first detected in North America in 2008, in California. In 2010, it was discovered in Florida, the Carolinas, Michigan, and Utah; eventually turning up in NY’s Hudson River Valley in 2011.

Its range now includes the entire continental United States, with the exception of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and South Dakota, as well as several Provinces across Canada (British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island). Its many hosts include raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, cherries, peaches, plums, and other late-season, soft-flesh fruits.

» Continue Reading.


Monday, June 15, 2020

Get the dirt on composting

Composting Reduces Trash and Provides Healthy Organic Matter for Your Garden

America’s Municipal Solid Waste – By the Numbers

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the amount of municipal solid waste (MSW) generated in this country in 2017 (the most recent information available) was 267.8-million tons. That’s the equivalent of just over 4.5-pounds of waste per person per day. Paper and paperboard products made up the largest percentage of total MSW-generated materials; 25-percent or 67-million tons. Food waste made up the second-largest percentage; 15.2-percent or 40.7-million tons. At 35.2-million tons, or 13.1-percent of total generation, yard waste (grass, leaves, tree and brush trimmings) was the fourth largest material category (just behind plastic at 13.2-percent). Wood accounted for 6.7-percent or 17.94-million tons.

About 139.6-million tons (roughly 52-percent) of America’s MSW ended up in landfills. The largest component of landfilled waste; just under 22-percent or approximately 30.7-million tons; was food. Paper and paperboard made up just over 13-percent, while wood accounted for 8.7-percent and yard waste; 6.2-percent.

» Continue Reading.


Monday, June 1, 2020

Making the case for local meat

The Food Supply Chain System is Vulnerable

America’s meatpacking plants endure some of the highest rates of workplace injury of any U.S. job sector. COVID 19 has introduced yet another occupational hazard. These crowded facilities have become frighteningly successful vectors for COVID-19 contagion.

On Sunday April 26, a news release entitled, ‘A Delicate Balance: Feeding the Nation and Keeping Our Employees Healthy’ appeared as a full-page ad in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. It was also widely posted on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

» Continue Reading.


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Dandelions: The incredible, edible weed

Dandelions: Landscape Weed or Beneficial Backyard Herb?

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are probably the most recognized of all broadleaf ‘weeds’. Many people consider them a curse; a plant that can establish quickly, by seed, in a well-kept lawn and become extremely difficult to eradicate. Homeowners and groundskeepers spend tremendous amounts of time and enormous amounts of money annually, persistently trying to exterminate the tenacious, opportunistic, perennial wildflowers, which will re-grow vegetatively, if the taproot is not entirely removed, often even after being treated with herbicides.

Others value dandelions as one of the least-recognized of all multi-purpose herbs. They view them as nutritious, free food that can be easily added to most-anyone’s diet. They delight in collecting dandelion greens to add to soups or salads, and/or take pleasure in picking the flower heads (and digging roots) for a pot of tea or a crock of dandelion wine. I have a friend who remembers when, as a boy, he was paid a penny apiece for dandelion heads (blossoms), by an enthusiastic wine-making neighbor.

» Continue Reading.


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Victory Gardens – An Old Idea Becomes New Again

Grow-it-yourself food. During this time of pandemic it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Especially if you’re, like me, extremely apprehensive about the possibility of becoming exposed to Covid-19 while grocery shopping. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to avoid going out in public, while securing nutritious food, than growing your own.

The majority of Americans have become accustomed to having abundant supplies of relatively inexpensive food readily available at neighborhood grocery stores and supermarkets. And we’ve become so, even as a greater and greater number of our neighbors have grown increasingly more reliant on food banks and pantries for some, if not all, of their food. That number now includes many of the nearly 17-million Americans who applied for unemployment insurance in April, and numerous others who have (or had) jobs without unemployment insurance (e.g. freelancers, contractors, gig workers). Poverty, which has already been a reality for many in our communities, could become so for many more.

And, concerns about food supply chains are growing as well, as the pandemic impacts food storage, processing, and transportation. Are farm workers going to be able to work? And if so, how will those crops get to retail markets? Food security has never been more of an issue.

» Continue Reading.


Sunday, April 19, 2020

Earth Day: 50 Years On

I came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was a turbulent time in American history; marked by the rise of the antiwar movement (Vietnam, nuclear weapons) and the expansion of movements promoting equality for groups of marginalized people including woman, African Americans, Native Americans, and the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning) community.

Many also consider the 60s and 70s to be the beginning of the modern American environmental movement; which is often portrayed as having started with the publication of Rachel Carson’s best-selling book, Silent Spring (thirty-one weeks on the New York Times best-seller list), in 1962. The book described how the adverse environmental effects caused by the indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides threatened both animals and human beings. “These sprays, dusts, and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests, and homes,” she wrote. “They should not be called insecticides, but “biocides… It is our alarming misfortune that so primitive a science has armed itself with the most modern and terrible weapons, and that in turning them against the insects it has also turned them against the earth.”

I don’t personally believe that the sixties birthed the modern environmental movement in this country. I believe the modern environmental movement really began with Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, John Muir, and the conservationist / preservationist activism of the early 20th century. The 60s, however, kicked off a resurgence of interest in these issues, starting with passage of the Clean Water Act of 1960; followed by the Clean Air Acts of 1963 and 1967, the Wilderness Act of 1964, and the Water Quality Act of 1965. In fact, between 1963 and 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed nearly 300 conservation and beautification measures into law.

 

» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Coronavirus and this year’s maple season

The sugar-making season and the weeks thereafter are an extremely important selling period for local producers. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has seriously impacted, and may continue to impact, sales into and perhaps beyond the spring and summer seasons.

Many local maple syrup-producing farm-families take part in Maple Weekend, an annual event championed by the New York State Maple Producers Association (NYSMPA) and supported by Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Cornell Maple Program. Maple Weekend provides opportunities for interested individuals and families across the state to visit one or more of the state’s family-run maple sugaring operations to see, first-hand, how sugar maple trees are tapped and sap is collected and boiled into pure, delicious maple syrup.

» Continue Reading.


Sunday, March 29, 2020

An Introduction to Viruses

coronavirus influenzaI’ve heard it said that there are ten million times more viruses on Earth than there are stars in the universe; maybe more. And that scientists estimate that, at any given moment, there are more than a billion viruses present on earth. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, February 13, 2020

Caring for Valentine’s Day Cut Flowers

Cornell University Hortus Forum club members learn about the Flower Bulb Research ProgramFebruary is generally the coldest month of the year; the heart of winter; a time that finds many of us patiently waiting, if not longing, for spring. Perhaps that’s why the preferred gift for a cold, wintry Valentine’s Day is a fresh bouquet of colorful, fragrant, cut flowers.

Valentine’s Day is when, more than at any other time of the year, people declare their undying love; often with cut flowers. What could possibly be more heartwarming? » Continue Reading.



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