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, 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.


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Take Precautions Against Hypothermia and Frostbite

Every winter, I receive questions about hypothermia and about the dangers and symptoms of both hypothermia and frostbite. Most are from concerned parents of younger children.

We’re certainly not strangers to cold weather. After all, this is the North Country. And winter is the season of snowmobiling, snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, ice fishing, ice climbing, winter hiking, winter camping, sledding, tobogganing, tubing, ice skating, snowballs, snowmen, snow forts, snow sculptures, and winter carnival parades. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

This Holiday Season, Buy Local

Entering Adirondack ParkBuy local. It’s much more than a feel-good slogan or here-today-gone-tomorrow topic currently trending on Facebook or Twitter. Let’s face it, the choice we have as consumers – this holiday season and throughout the year – is to either support small, family-run businesses, local artisans and craftspeople or help some fat-cat one-percenter.

We can help our friends and neighbors make ends meet or send a child to college, soccer camp, piano or dance lessons, or we can help a CEO buy another yacht, sports car, or vacation home. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Divesting from Fossil Fuels

Global_Carbon_Emissions.svgIt’s official – 2014 was the hottest year on record. And most everyone I talk to is concerned about the threat that global warming and climate change, with their potentially devastating and possibly permanent consequences, pose to the lives and livelihoods of our children and grandchildren.

Scientists tell us that sea levels and water temperatures are rising, imperiling coastal populations, as well as regional environments and economies; that sea ice is being lost and glaciers receding at unprecedented rates or disappearing altogether; that seasons and plant and animal ranges are shifting and habitat vanishing, threatening to drive entire species of animals to extinction; that weather patterns are becoming more erratic and less predictable; and that worldwide, the number, intensity, and resilience of violent tropical storms is increasing. They warn that other potential future effects of global climate change include more frequent wildfires, more severe heat waves, sustained periods of drought in certain regions, and unprecedented winter weather conditions in others; all of which jeopardize fresh water supplies, wildlife, and in some instances, indigenous people and their ways of life. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Cornell Seeks Birch Syrup Research Collaborators

TappingbigbirchMaking pure, rich, delicious maple syrup is a North Country tradition, an important cottage industry, and an increasingly important part of the region’s economy. There’s pride and care in every gallon of maple syrup made.

In our region, maple sap typically flows best from mid-March through mid-April, during periods when days are warm, but nighttime temperatures fall below freezing. That cycle of warming and cooling is essential. Should temperatures linger above or below freezing, sap flow will stop. If overall conditions are too warm or too cool, the season will be a poor sap-production season. And once it warms up to where the buds on the trees begin to swell and break dormancy, the chemical makeup of the sap changes, causing off-flavors to develop, at which time the sap is no longer satisfactory for maple syrup. » Continue Reading.