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, September 13, 2021

Asters and Goldenrod: Late Season Native Perennials

Monarch-Butterfly-on-New-England-Aster-2-–-Rick-L-Hansen-US-Fish-and-Wildlife-Service.

As autumn approaches, the days grow shorter, evenings grow cooler, acorns fall from the oaks, and the maples, in anticipation of the coming change of season, start to reveal hints of the glorious spectacle of color that lies ahead.

It’s also the time of year when the goldenrod and the asters (also called starworts or frost flowers) present their showy blooms along roadsides and forest edges, in woodland openings, meadows, and old fields, and along stream banks. At a time when most other perennials have finished blooming, their eye-catching flowers are an abundant source of nectar for bees and butterflies, including adult monarchs, setting out on their remarkable flight to overwintering sites in the high-mountain forests of central Mexico. The seeds of both (and the insect larvae that feed on the plants themselves) are a valuable food source for birds, including migratory birds making their way south, and for many small mammals, as well.

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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Farmers Markets are in Full Swing Across Northern New York

keene valley farmers market adirondack harvest

During my years at Extension, one of my (self-proclaimed) missions was to support local farms and producers and to promote consumer-access to, education about, and appreciation for local, fresh, sustainably produced foods and products, while also working to develop farmers’ markets as vibrant gathering places within local communities. That mission continues.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2021

High Tunnels can Extend the Growing Season and Enhance High-Value Crop Viability

Putting the finishing touches on a high tunnel Photo Credit: Susan Alman; University of Arkansas

High tunnels, sometimes called hoop houses, offer northern New York market growers an easy way to extend our limited growing season by two or three months. Sometimes more. Farmers can grow early and/or late crops of cool weather and salad vegetables even while there’s snow on the ground. And depending upon the weather, warm season crops, like tomatoes, can mature several weeks earlier and be harvested and sold many weeks after similar field grown crops have been killed by frost.

In addition, high tunnels offer protection from wind, driving rain, disease, insects, and deer. And more than a decade of Cornell University-conducted research has shown that the yields and quality of produce grown in high tunnels can be far superior to that of comparable field-grown crops.

This is great news for consumers too, who gain access to an ever-increasing variety and supply of top-quality, locally-grown fruits and vegetables, both earlier and later in the year.

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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Emerald Ash Borer and Ash Trees – A New Approach

The emerald ash borer adult is a green buprestid or jewel beetle about 1/2 inch long.

The emerald ash borer (EAB) is a half-inch long, green buprestid or jewel beetle. It’s an invasive insect native to Asia, believed to have made its way to the United States on solid wood packing material carried in cargo ships or on airplanes.

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Saturday, July 17, 2021

Plan Next Year’s Perennial Wildflower Garden Now

rudbecka hirta black eyed susan

Look at the wild flowers. See how they grow. – Luke 12:27; International Children’s Bible

You belong among the wildflowers. – Tom Petty

Love is like wildflowers; it’s often found in the most unlikely places. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I walk along the fields, meadows, and roads or hike through the forests of northern New York, I often come across wildflowers and think, “those would look great in my yard.” Native wildflowers are hardy, low maintenance, and attractive to pollinators, which makes them very desirable for cultivated landscapes. And, because they’re adapted to the climate and soils of the region, when grown under similar conditions they’re generally well-suited for use in home gardens and landscapes.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Foraging for Wild Food: Workshop series at Paul Smith’s VIC

pigweedI’ve always found the idea of foraging for wild edible plants appealing, but daunting. I know a little about wild plants and foraging, but I lack confidence. And with good reason. I didn’t grow up foraging and, although it’s possible to acquire knowledge about foraging from books and websites, it’s a lot easier (and safer) to learn from someone who has first-hand foraging knowledge and experience; someone who has been gathering, preparing, and eating wild foods throughout his or her entire life.

Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Franklin County is offering a series of Wild Edibles Workshops during July and August.

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Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Bald Eagle – A National and a New York State Conservation Success Story

adult bald eagle

According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the bald eagle population in the lower 48 states has grown, since 2009, from just over 72,000, including roughly 30,000 breeding pairs, to an estimated 316,700 birds, something Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, recently called, “truly a historic conservation success story.” 

At the start of the 20th century, New York was home to more than 70 nesting pairs of bald eagles and was the wintering ground for several hundred. But by 1960, only one nesting pair remained and a scant few dozen overwintered here. Today however, as a result of protection and active management, New York State is home to more than 426 occupied bald eagle nest sites. (Source: New York Natural Heritage Program; a partnership between the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). 

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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

4-H Camp Overlook – A Memorable Outdoor Experience

 girl on a zip line  
Would you like to give your child a truly remarkable gift this summer? How about a memorable outdoor experience in an informal and truly unique educational setting; an experience that enhances life-skills, stimulates interest, and challenges his or her abilities through training, education, and play?  

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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Smell of Rain 

fog and humidity in the forest
It’s going to rain. Can you smell it?  

Being able to smell rain as it approaches isn’t something imagined. There really can be a distinctly heady aroma in the air before it rains. And it’s a smell that I’ve always found calming. In fact, there are several clean, earthy, strikingly pleasing, yet distinctly different smells that many of us associate with rainfall. They occur before, during, and after showers and storms. And all of them are scientifically identifiable.  

Ozone 

Before it rains; as the wind begins to pick up and the clouds thicken or roll in, you may become aware of a noticeably fresh scent in the air. That sharp, clear aroma is ozone; a molecule made up of three oxygen atoms bonded together (O3) whose name comes from the Greek verb for smell; ozein. It’s the same gas we associate with the layer of our atmosphere that protects us from too much sunlight.

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Saturday, May 1, 2021

Northern New York: Don’t Trash It 

picking up litterNorthern New York is often recognized as a great place to live, work, and raise a family. We’re fortunate enough to call the Adirondack Park, Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and the farms and forests of the northern tier home. World-class downhill and cross-country skiing, golf courses, camping, boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hunting, and rock climbing; trails for hiking, jogging, bicycling, and horseback riding; tennis courts, and opportunities for outdoor and wildlife photography all contribute to the extremely appealing quality of life that many of us have come to take for granted.

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Sunday, April 25, 2021

Brood X – The Emergence Has Begun 

molting cicadaBrood X is coming. In fact, by many accounts the invasion has already begun. The emergence of Magicicada septendecim; a species of 17-year periodical cicadas; the largest periodical emergence of insects on Earth.

    Periodical cicadas are large, fat, dark brown, flying insects averaging about 1 1/2 inches in length, with a 3 inch wingspan. Pigmented veins form a noticeable ‘W’ on the outer end of their front wings. Their eyes are bright red.

    Different broods of periodical cicadas emerge at different intervals. Some appear annually, some at 2 and 4 year cycles, others every 13 or every 17 years. According to Jody L. Gangloff-Kaufmann, a Cornell Entomologist working in community (non-agricultural) integrated pest management (IPM), Brood X (broods are labeled with Roman numerals), sometimes referred to as the Great Eastern Brood, “is one of 15 broods of periodical cicadas that appear regularly throughout the eastern United States.” Each one is distinctly different.

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Saturday, April 3, 2021

Ticks: They’re baaaaaaack

attached tick
It’s spring. And, after months of being locked down, people are getting outside again. Just a reminder, though. The longer, warmer days of April are also the start of tick season; the peak of which lasts through August.

    Ticks commonly overwinter by ‘nesting’ in groups; taking refuge under the soil, ground litter, and snow cover which acts as an insulating blanket, sheltering them from the frigid winter temperatures. When warmer weather arrives, they position themselves on vegetation and wait patiently, front legs outstretched, for any warm-blooded ‘host’ to pass by; a behavior known as ‘questing’. When one does, the tick latches on and soon begins taking its next blood meal.

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Saturday, March 20, 2021

It’s Just Coffee. Right?

It’s Just Coffee. Right? 

Coffee may very well be the world’s most widely traded tropical agricultural commodity. It’s certainly one of them. Twenty to twenty-five million families around the world make their living growing coffee. And, by most estimates, more than 2.25-billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every day.

If you’re like me, you start your day; every day; with a couple of cups of coffee. (I’m addicted.) I often enjoy my early morning joe seated at the table reading emails and online news, while observing the birds at my feeder station as they come and go. When the weather permits, I like to enjoy my coffee sitting outside, where I often just close my eyes and listen.

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Saturday, March 6, 2021

Support Your Local Maple Syrup Producer as Sugaring Season Begins 

Maple Weekend Canceled Again This Year

Across the North Country, the traditional sugar-making season is underway. Most northern New York maple syrup producers get busy tapping their trees in late February or early March, in preparation for the greatly-anticipated four to six weeks of sap flow generally expected to begin in mid- to late March and continue on into April.

The sugar-making season and the weeks that follow are an extremely important selling period for maple syrup-producing farm-families. Many of them participate 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, as an opportunity for individuals and families to visit one or more of our family-run maple sugaring operations and see, first-hand, how sugar maple trees are tapped and sap is collected and boiled into pure, delicious maple syrup.

For many producers, Maple Weekend marks the start of their annual retail sales. Unfortunately, it appears that, once again, the COVID-19 pandemic will be seriously impacting those sales. Maple Weekend has been canceled again this year.

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Monday, February 22, 2021

Helping deer get the food they need

Including Deer Habitat Management as Part of a Forest Management Plan 

In early fall, deer’s bodies begin converting large amounts of the food that they consume into stored fat and the deer start to put on weight. This occurs regardless of the quality of the nutrition that’s available, but in years when mast trees, such as oaks or beech, have produced an abundance of acorns or nuts, deer will seek out those high-energy foods, often remaining in areas where they can be found and pawing through the snow to get to them.

As the extreme cold sets in and snow accumulates, they’re forced to seek cover, and they become reliant upon that limited supply of stored fat to help carry them through the winter. If the season isn’t too brutally cold and the snow isn’t too deep, and if March brings welcome warmth and milder conditions overall, even deer that have been struggling will, most likely, survive. But, should winter refuse to let up, deer that have already burned through much of their winter fat reserves and can’t find enough food to sustain their weight will probably die.

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