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.


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.


Saturday, January 25, 2020

An Unusual Encounter With A Ruffed Grouse

ruffed grouse by richard gastClose encounters with wildlife have always fascinated me. But the behavior of wild animals can be, at best, difficult to understand and, at times, totally unpredictable. I once grappled with a robin who returned year after year, only to spend the entire summer flying into my office window in a seemingly endless war with its reflection.

Just last month, I was outside beside the woodpile, getting ready to bring in some firewood, when a male ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) stepped out from under a small spruce tree, fearlessly strutted right up to me, and steadfastly stood there on the ground, literally underfoot. I was actually afraid that I’d accidentally step on him. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Get Into Winter On Snowshoes

Snowshoeing at 4H Camp Overlook in Mountain ViewWinter’s here. It’s the season of snowmen, snowballs, snow forts, snow sculptures, sledding, tobogganing, tubing, ice skating, ice fishing, ice climbing, downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing.

I’ve heard it said, “If you can walk, you can snowshoe.” It’s fun, easy to learn, inexpensive when compared to most other winter sports, and poses little risk of injury. It’s a great group-activity, too; one that can open up a whole new world of winter recreation for your entire family. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 14, 2019

Origins and History of Christmas Trees

by Viggo Johansen 1891As far as I’m concerned, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a beautifully decorated, real Christmas tree. Real trees have a stately presence and rich, fragrant aroma that awakens the senses, bringing the forest into the home and warmly welcoming everyone that enters.

The Christmas tree tradition can be traced back to the Roman celebration of the winter solstice; the festival of Saturnalia, the pagan feast of Saturn, god of the harvest; when evergreens were used to decorate homes and temples. Saturnalia was also a time for decorating trees, exchanging presents and going door to door singing (caroling) in exchange for food, drink, and gifts. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 7, 2019

Tisquantum And Plymouth Colony’s Survival

Depiction of the Thanksgiving storyPawtuxet Wampanoag Tisquantum‘s story begins during the summer of 1605, when British sailors, under the command of Captain George Weymouth, commissioned by a colonial entrepreneur Sir Ferdinando Gorges, kidnapped him, along with four other Native American boys, and brought them to England.

In his diary, Capt. Weymouth wrote, “we used little delay, but suddenly laid hands upon them … For they were strong and so naked as our best hold was by their long hair on their heads.” » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Tisquantum: The Native Man Who Rescued the Pilgrims

Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Walter Weir“We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.” These are the words of H.A. (Henry Allen) Ironside; a Canadian-American Bible teacher, preacher, theologian, pastor, member of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, and one of the most inspired Christian writers of the 20th Century.

For most Americans, Thanksgiving is exactly that; a time of giving thanks. But it’s also a time when we commemorate the success of the Pilgrims; the Separatists who came here from England to establish the Plymouth colony. And, next year, Americans will commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower, and the Pilgrims, to the shores of Massachusetts. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 3, 2019

Growing Berries in the North Country

a new strawberry variety created by Cornell courtesy Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life SciencesThere are several types of cultivated berries grown in Northern New York. Among the most popular are strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, although several other minor fruits (e.g. currants, gooseberries) are grown, as well.

Starter plants are relatively inexpensive and, once established, the plantings are reasonably easy to maintain. They last for years and the fruit is incredibly flavorful when picked fresh. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Seriously Supersized Prize-Winning Pumpkins

Leonardo Urenas prize winning pumpkinGrowing giant pumpkins may be a lot like baseball. After all, both are traditional, competitive sports that require hard work, determination, discipline, attentiveness, patience, and the ability to anticipate. Both continue to grow in appreciation; not just in this country, but internationally. The season starts in the spring. And fall is the time of final defeat for most; victory for a lucky few.

During the final weeks of September and throughout the month of October, millions of people around the world take in fall festivals featuring giant pumpkin weigh-offs. Many also showcase pumpkin parades, pumpkin carving contests, pumpkin sculpture, pumpkin pie-eating contests, and pumpkin beer, as well. » Continue Reading.


Monday, September 23, 2019

It’s Apple Season!

SnapDragon Apples courtesy Kevin Maloney Dept of HorticultureThere’s little in life more pleasing than biting into a crisp, juicy, slightly sweet, slightly tart, fresh-off-the-tree apple. And what could be healthier? Apples contain vitamins A and C, antioxidants, potassium, pectin, fiber, and no cholesterol. They can be eaten fresh, baked, or stewed; turned into juice or cider; made into sauce, butter, jelly, vinegar, wine, and delightful confections when coated with candy (sugar syrup), caramel, or toffee and nuts; or cooked into pies, crisps, crumbles, cakes, doughnuts; even meat dishes.

New York’s apple harvest is underway. And it’s shaping up to be a good one. Early season varieties are now available at area orchards, farm stands, pick your own locations, and farmers’ markets. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 8, 2019

A Good Year For Monarch Butterflies

monarch pupates in the relative safety of a firewood pile by Richard Gast If you’ve noticed a lot of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) lately, you’re not alone. From my own observations and from what people have been telling me, this summer appears to have been a very successful one for them; at least in this part of the northeast.

Monarchs have four life stages; egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa, and adult (butterfly). The caterpillars feed only on milkweed leaves and seed pods. And, for this reason, adult Monarch females lay their eggs only on milkweed. In fact, the search for milkweed is the sole reason for monarch migration; perhaps the most remarkable migration in nature. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, August 8, 2019

A Renewed Fight to Protect Migratory Birds

bird covered in oil courtesy USFWSDuring the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the use of feathers in women’s hats was all the rage.

To meet fashion industry demand for their elegant plumage, several North American bird species (e.g. egrets, herons) were hunted to near-extinction. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 15, 2019

Adirondack Harvest: Farmers Markets Support Local Growers

Saranac Lake Village Farmers Market courtesy Regional Office of Sustainable TourismFarmers Markets (marketplaces where people gather to buy and trade goods and services, exchange news, and share stories with one another) can be traced back 5000-years, to Egyptian villages and towns along the Nile.

They have deep roots in American history too; enduring as a part of our society, business, and trade since 1634, when the first Farmers’ Market in the ‘New World’ opened for business in Boston, Massachusetts. Throughout much of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, outdoor marketplaces remained vital centers of commerce in both American cities and rural communities. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, June 16, 2019

No Evidence of Native Cougars in the Adirondacks

Mountain lion paw print taken in Lake George on Dec 10 2010 courtesy NYSDECBefore the 19th century, cougars were abundant across the American continent. In fact, the cougar was the most widely distributed land mammal in the Western Hemisphere. They were found in forests from tropical to boreal; from Chile to the Canadian Yukon.

A lion living in the Arizona desert may appear different than one living in the coniferous forests of British Columbia or the freshwater marshes of Florida, but genetically, they’re the same animal, Puma concolor. Taxonomists classify cougars from different regions by subspecies, however. Examples are the North American cougar, Eastern cougar, Western mountain lion, and Florida panther. They’re also called pumas and catamounts. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

It’s Hummingbird Season

Adult Male Hummingbird courtesy Ian DaviesI’ve always been fascinated by ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris), the only hummingbird species to regularly breed in eastern North America.

They’re small hummingbirds with slender, slightly curved, black bills, fairly short wings that don’t reach all the way to their tails when sitting, and strikingly radiant iridescent feathers that change in intensity and hue, depending upon the light and your angle of view. All ruby-throated hummingbirds; males, females, and immature birds; flaunt bright emerald- or golden-green on their backs and crowns, with a dull white or pale gray breast. Only the male brandishes the intensely lustrous ruby-red throat for which they’re named. » Continue Reading.


Monday, May 20, 2019

Invasive Lanternfly May Be Vulnerable To Native Fungi

spotted lanternfly nymphs adultsThe season of daylight and blooming flowers has finally arrived. But, along with the emergence of all things green, comes the emergence of all sorts of flies, bugs, mites, worms, and mollusks. Many of these are unwelcome home, garden, and agricultural pests which, as the weather continues to warm, will only become more active.

Early season leaf- and plant-feeding insects are on every grower’s mind. And this year, grape growers, orchardists, nursery operators, home-gardeners, and others are advised to be aware of the potential for the appearance of yet another invasive pest from Asia. » Continue Reading.