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, October 2, 2022

Heating With Wood This Winter 

I need to preface this article by assuring readers that, contrary to what many people are saying, New York State is not considering passing legislation that would prohibit burning wood or woody biomass products (pellets, scrap wood, sawmill and forest residues) at this time. There is a draft-plan, however, in which the state Climate Action Council’s advisory panel sets out scenarios for an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with overall wood use decreasing within that time frame.

» Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 18, 2022

Northern New York Produces the Best Milk and Cheese in the State 

The dairy community in New York is comprised of both large dairy operations and small, family run farms, as well as processing facilities that range in type and size from trans-national food processing conglomerates to small, artisanal dairy-product-makers.

The dairy industry is a vital part of the State’s economy and its leading agricultural sector. Our nearly 3,600 dairy producers supply more than 15-billion pounds of milk annually, accounting for about one-half of New York’s total agricultural income and making New York the nation’s fourth largest dairy state.

What’s more, our producers and processors contribute significantly to local economies and to the vitality of local communities. And the milk and milk-products they produce are consistently top-notch.

» Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 4, 2022

A Zucchini is Not a Cucumber 

Cucumbers are a part of any summer vegetable garden. And from salads and dips to sandwiches and smoothies, crunchy, refreshing, water-rich cucumbers are an indispensable part of any summer diet, as well.

I suppose, much the same can be said for zucchinis. And, given their similar appearance, it’s easy to see how cucumbers and zucchinis can sometimes be mistaken for one another. They’re alike in shape and color and belong to the same family of plants (Cucurbitaceae, the gourd family). But they’re of different genera (Cucumis and Cucurbita, respectively) and, actually, quite unalike.

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Monday, August 22, 2022

Managing Your Woodlot for Sustainable Firewood Production 

The Heating Season is Coming and Heating Fuel Costs are High 

It’s the time of year when North Country homeowners and renters start to think about and prepare for the upcoming heating season. The price of heating oil, propane, and natural gas all reached record highs earlier this year. And, what we’ll be paying for those fuels during the winter is anyone’s guess. The price will depend on many factors, including the weather, supply and demand locally and worldwide, and inflation. Whatever the cost, it’s apparent that high fuel prices aren’t going away. And that fuel prices are just one of several inflation pressures that everyone’s facing.

» Continue Reading.


Thursday, August 4, 2022

Learn About 4-H at the Franklin County Fair

The 172nd Annual Franklin County Fair (frcofair.com) kicks off on Sunday, August 7th, with poultry judging, horses in place, Holstein and red and white cattle in place, and a demolition derby. It will conclude on Sunday, August 14, with an open beef show and tractor pulls. You can take a spin on the Tilt-a-Whirl or a ride on the Ferris Wheel, enjoy some fried dough, and take in a Monster Truck Show (Aug. 10), a demolition derby (Aug. 11), or a concert by Rodney Atkins and Tracy Byrd (Aug. 12th) or Walker Hayes and Tigirlily (Aug. 13).  

It’s also an opportunity to learn about or show your support for 4-H, America’s largest youth development organization. 4-H is almost certainly the most highly recognized of all Cooperative Extension programs. And the Franklin County Fair has a long and rich tradition of supporting 4-H programs and 4-H youth. For more than a century, the Fair has been a place for 4-H members to come together to showcase their skills, craftsmanship, showmanship, and their animals. The Fair isn’t actually a part of the 4-H program and Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Fair Board are not directly related. But both organizations have been cooperating for generations to assure continued success.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Controlling an Invasive Plant Without Herbicides

Invasive species are plants, animals, fungi, or microorganisms that spread rapidly and cause harm to other species. They are introduced species that can thrive in areas beyond their natural range of dispersal.

     Characteristically, invasive plant species are adaptable, aggressive, and usually lacking natural enemies that can limit their growth and populations. They have a high reproductive capability; growing rapidly in short life cycles and producing abundant amounts of seed. They aggressively compete with native plants and plant communities and often displace them, thereby disrupting the normal functioning of ecosystems and threatening biodiversity and already endangered native plant species.
     Purple loosestrife is a perfect example of an introduced plant species that has become a serious and widespread threat to native species, natural communities, and ecosystem processes. It was brought to North America by the European colonists as an herbal remedy for dysentery, diarrhea, and other digestive ailments and introduced in the 1800s as an ornamental. It was well-established in New England by the 1830s, and spread along canals and other waterways. Supposedly sterile species were offered for sale for many years, but researchers later found that those cultivars were fully capable of cross-pollinating with plants growing in the wild.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Bringing Farmers and Consumers Closer Together

Throughout most of the twentieth century, our local communities were thriving. We had sawmills, gristmills, fruit and vegetable farms, butcher shops (with butchers that may have known or raised the animals), dairies (many offering local delivery), and bakeries. Much of the food (and many other items) found on store shelves was from area farmers and producers.

    Today we import most of our food. We depend on grocery chain stores to make it available to us. And while it’s clear that we’ve become very effective at producing affordable food for much of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic, among other recent / current geopolitical events and climate change issues, brought to light an unexpected lack of security in our food chain (and several other consumer product distribution chains, too).
    Farmers were unable to ship produce or livestock to distributors, processors, market outlets, or slaughterhouses. And American consumers experienced (and to some degree are still experiencing) panic buying, empty store shelves, rationing of food staples, and the inability to obtain certain food items and consumer goods altogether.
    To better endure a crisis in the future, we need to build more sustainable, more resilient food systems. One way to accomplish this is to bring producers and consumers closer together.

» Continue Reading.


Monday, June 27, 2022

This Summer, Visit Tourist Destinations that are Close to Home

Summer’s here. And people are getting back to traveling. However, in recent weeks, tens of thousands of travelers have found themselves stranded at airports due to flight delays and cancellations. And for almost everyone else, rising gas prices and travel costs in general, have become a major barrier to taking that dream vacation.

Fortunately, families in northern New York can escape to budget-friendly vacation spots that aren’t so far away that they’ll devastate an already dwindling bank account. There are many extraordinary and some truly world-class places to visit locally. Whether you crave an adventurous getaway, a relaxing lakeside beach, unrivaled fishing, great entertainment, or a few days of luxurious living, you can have just about any summer vacation you want right here. And you can improve your travel experience by researching local destinations ahead of time.

Sometimes we forget that we live in an area with literally millions of acres of publicly accessible land. We have incredible parks, recreation areas, and tracts of state land nearby, many with inexpensive campsites, and a few that still offer free backcountry camping.

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Sunday, June 12, 2022

Keeping a Squirrel as a Pet?

Squirrels are a common sight throughout the North Country. They live in wooded areas and forests, but are most-often seen in yards and parks. They’re easily able to survive even the hardest of winters and very well-adapted to living among people. In fact, gray squirrels frequently occur at much higher densities in urban and suburban settings, where there aren’t many natural predators and they can easily take advantage of the abundance of human food sources.

Some people just love them. Some people hate them. I think they can be fun to watch. But I’m aware that they can cause problems and would never consider keeping a squirrel as a pet.

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Monday, May 30, 2022

The Remarkable Migration and Solitary Lifestyle of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is the only hummingbird species commonly seen in northern New York. Like all hummingbirds, they belong to the avian family Trochilidae. They’re our region’s smallest breeding bird, only growing to about 3 inches long, with a wingspan of around 3 to 4 inches and a body weight of just 2 to 6 grams (roughly the weight of a teaspoon of sugar).
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Migration 
    The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is migratory. They return to the North Country every year starting in May. The first to arrive are usually males.
    When adequate flower sources and supplemental feeding are available, a small number of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds will spend the winter months in Florida, in areas along the southern extremes of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. But most of them will overwinter in Central America, between southern Mexico and western Panama. In both the spring and the fall, many of them travel a migration route that includes a difficult, sometimes punishing, non-stop flight of more than 500 miles across the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. By most accounts, the flyover takes 18 to 20 hours, under favorable conditions.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Pollen Seasons are Becoming Longer and More Extreme 

pollenThis is a wonderful time of year for most people. Days are warmer. Evenings are longer. And the trees and flowers are growing again. But for those who suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis; more commonly known as hay fever and sometimes simply called allergies; this time of year can be challenging.

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Monday, May 2, 2022

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Providing Technical and Educational Information and Resources for Agriculture 

Did you know that New York is one of the nation’s leading agricultural states? Or that New York State agriculture generates well over $5-billion in revenue annually? Or that, according to the latest data available, when you figure in all sectors of agriculture, including processing and support businesses that provide feed, supplies, machinery, and services, the industry provides work for nearly 200,000 New Yorkers?
Our farmers are world-class producers of dairy products. We rank first in the nation in yogurt, cottage cheese, and sour cream production, third in milk and Italian cheese production, and fourth in total cheese production. We’re the second-largest producer of maple syrup, apples, cabbage, and snap peas; third in grapes (and recognized around the world for great, often distinguished and celebrated wines and wineries); and fifth in production of tart cherries and squash. Honey and other fruits and vegetables (e.g. potatoes, sweet corn) are of significant economic importance, as well.

Friday, April 15, 2022

If You Want to Help a Horse

April 26 is National Help a Horse Day; an initiative launched in 2013 by the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to create and raise awareness of ways to take better care of these often-beloved animals and to promote protection of neglected and abused horses across the country.

I can think of no animal more valued or respected than the horse. Nor can I think of one that has had greater influence on civilization. Horses were among the first animals to be tamed and broken. And, without question, the domestication of horses transformed the world.

» Continue Reading.


Monday, April 4, 2022

Bluebirds are returning to the North Country 

The eastern bluebird is our official state bird. It became so on May 18, 1970, making New York the last state to acquire an official state bird.

Bluebirds are among the first birds to return in the spring. And for some bird-enthusiasts, attracting a pair of these harbingers of spring to a backyard nest box and having them fledge a brood of young bluebirds is the ultimate birding experience.

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Monday, March 21, 2022

Maple Syrup Production Combines Principles of Silviculture, Forest Management, Sustainable Agriculture, and Agroforestry 

In a few words, sustainability is the practice of using resources responsibly. It focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

The concept of sustainability can be traced back to the forest management philosophies of Hans Carl von Carlowitz (1645–1714), in his work Sylvicultura Oeconomica (Instructions for Wild Tree Cultivation), in which he established a set of concepts for sustainable management of forest resources. His belief that timber removed from a forest stand should never exceed that which can be regrown through planned reforestation continues to be a guiding principle of forestry today.

Sustainability, as a policy concept, is most-often thought of as the ability to continue use over a long period of time, or as long-term goals and / or the strategies that may be applied to achieve those goals.

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