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.


Tuesday, April 9, 2019

American Robins: Harbingers of Spring

Adult male American Robin feeding nestlings“The early bird catches the worm.” It’s an old adage that most likely refers to the American robin (Turdus Migratorius). This year, I first saw robins in late March, right around the time that maple sap started running.

As I write this, they’re still showing up, almost daily, apparently looking for fly nymphs resting on the ice and snow alongside the river. Just up the road, they’re already hopping around on bare areas in lawns, gardens, fields, and pastures; cocking their heads from side to side as they try to find a big, fat, tasty worm to eat. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Exploring the History of Maple Syrup

Mike Todriff firing the sugar boiler in 2018 (Shannon Houlihan photo)I don’t think there’s a more magnificent forest tree or more glorious shade tree than the sugar maple (Acer saccharum); a deciduous tree that matures in 30-50 years, generally growing to between 70 and 90 feet tall, with a crown that turns a brilliant, fiery yellow, orange, or red at summer’s end. The sugar maple is the official state tree of New York, Vermont, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. It’s also the national tree of Canada. And the maple leaf is the Canadian national emblem.

For sugarmakers, this is maple season. Having tapped thousands of maple trees, they now harvest their reward; collecting the sap that brings the region’s maples out of winter dormancy and boiling it down, with pride and care, to just the right consistency for pure maple syrup and the delicious cream, candies, and confections made from maple sugar. » Continue Reading.


Monday, February 25, 2019

Roosting Crows: Birds of a Feather

American Crow Birds of a feather flock together. It’s a metaphor dating back to the sixteenth century; used even then in alluding to people with similar interests, motivation, loyalties, or like minds.

It’s also a straightforward reference to the fact that birds congregate with others of their own species. So, when I’m asked, as I have been recently, about the considerable numbers of crows that people have seen roosting in the village of Malone, I’m inclined to simply answer, ‘birds of a feather…’ » Continue Reading.


Monday, February 18, 2019

Viewpoint: Coming to Terms with Solar Energy Development

Early stage project construction at the at the former village of Malone landfill sitePerhaps the most significant energy question in the North Country in the coming year will be the potential long-term advantages and/or disadvantages of advancing industrial-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) project development in the region.

Solar power represents a significant opportunity for economic development and job creation in North Country communities. And PV energy production is playing an increasingly important role in how states meet their (renewable) energy needs. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Hurricanes, Slides, Avalanches and Backcountry Access

Photo of Angel Slides on Wright Peak I’m not an avid skier. But I have several friends who are ski and snowboard (and in some cases mountain bike) fanatics. Most grew up in skiing families and learned to ski as young children, at small family operated ski areas like Mount Pisgah in Saranac Lake and Titus Mountain in Malone.

They’re people who love powder enough to climb a mountain for it, seeking out the backcountry where, as one friend likes to say, “The powder is plentiful. The lift lines are nonexistent. And I have the whole darn hill to myself.”

They hike marked, as well as unmarked trails, where nothing is groomed; often trekking up mountains in remote, inhospitable areas, for miles, intent on conquering a slope or slide that’s not part of any ski resort. And while I admire their courage and determination, unlike them, I thank God for the mountains. But thank goodness for ski lifts. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Geopolitics of Cheese

putting cheese into molds at the food science plant at Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Stocking HallI enjoy a wide variety of dairy products. And I especially like cheese. All sorts of cheese. Hard, soft, sharp, mild, pungent, curds. Sliced, shredded, cubed, balled, spread, powdered, creamed, and whipped. A little tossed into my breakfast omelet; a slice, perhaps two, on my sandwich at lunch; a touch grated or sprinkled into my salad and/or over my pasta and/or drizzled on my veggies at supper. And then, of course, there’s pizza, cheesy burritos, mac and cheese, cheesecake, cheese Danish, wine and cheese. I can go on. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Rick LeVitre Retiring From Cornell Cooperative Extension

Assemblyman Billy Jones thanks Rick LeVitre for his service to New York’s 115th District After 7 years of Executive Directorship at Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Franklin County and two years of double-duty as Executive Director at CCE of both Franklin and Essex Counties, Rick LeVitre is retiring.

I remember the apprehension I felt when Rick arrived at Franklin County Extension. I knew that our Board of Directors had been working long and hard for months; holding meetings with and about candidates, and that they’d appointed Rick to the position with good reason. But the appointment of a new Director, more often than not, is only the beginning of all sorts of organizational changes. Structural changes to the staff. Strategic changes with regard to Association goals. Changes that both the Board and the new leader believe will move the organization forward. » Continue Reading.


Monday, December 17, 2018

Poinsettias Have a Long and Colorful History

PoinsettiasPoinsettias are among the most popular potted flowering or foliage plants of the Christmas Season. They have been for decades. According to the most recent United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics available, the wholesale value of U.S. grown poinsettias was roughly $140 million in 2015; $143.7 million in 2014. (By comparison, the 2015 wholesale value of orchids was about $288.3 million; chrysanthemums, $16.7 million; Easter lilies, $24.3 million.)

Long-recognized as the largest and most successful poinsettia breeder in the world, Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, California was founded in 1924, by German immigrant entrepreneurs who moved to the US in 1902. For three generations, the Ecke family grew and sold poinsettias; first as field-grown landscape and mother plants and as cut flowers and, eventually, as greenhouse-grown stock plants. They moved their stock production facility to Guatemala during the 1990s and, in 2012, sold the business and the name. The leadership team stayed on. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Caring For Houseplants During Adirondack Winters

Snake Plant In winter, when we spend most of our time indoors, houseplants can add beauty, color, warmth, and contrast to living spaces. Several scientific studies indicate that they improve indoor air quality, too.

Successful houseplant horticulture doesn’t have to be difficult. You need to start with plants that are healthy and free of pests. And you need to understand how indoor environments affect plant growth. Even healthy plants may not survive (and certainly won’t thrive), unless they’re given the amounts of humidity, light, water, and fertilizer that they require. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Wild Turkeys Facing An Uncertain Future

wild turkey - maleThe wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, is one of only two domesticated birds native to North America. The Muscovy duck is the other. Five sub-species make up the entire North American population. The most abundant is the eastern wild turkey, sub-species silvestris, meaning forest, which ranges across the entire eastern half of the United States and parts of eastern Canada. They’re readily identified by their brown-tipped tail feathers, which spread into a fan when the birds are courting or alarmed and by the bold black and white bar pattern displayed on their wing feathers. This is the same turkey variety encountered by the Pilgrims. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Legend of Jack-O-Lantern

A Young boy carving a Jack O Lantern Perhaps the single-most-recognizable symbol of the Halloween season is the traditional hollowed out pumpkin carved into a smiling or ominous, illuminated-in-the-dark face. But, “Why,” I’ve often been asked, “is it called a jack-o-lantern?”

While much of what’s known is ambiguous at best, the first widely-accepted mention I can find dates back to the five classes of fairies in Cornish lore: the Small People, the Brownies, the Spriggans, the Buccas, Bockles, or Knockers, and the Piskies. The Piskies went about confusing wary travelers; getting them hopelessly lost and eventually leading them into bogs and moors with a ghostly light called Ignis Fatuus; ‘the foolish fire’. Among the named Piskies were Will-O’-the-Wisp, Joan the Wad, and Jack-O’-Lantern. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 6, 2018

Prepare New Garden Beds Now – Without Digging

garden sheet mulchingIf you’re thinking about a new garden bed for next spring, you need to start preparing now. You need to select an appropriate site, keeping in mind that adequate sunlight is essential, as is good air circulation and, in most cases, relatively level ground.

Good soil is essential, too. In fact, the quality of your garden soil can be the difference between thriving, healthy plants and sickly, struggling, unproductive ones. Loose, fertile, well-drained sandy loam or silt loam soil is best. Good soil is greatly sought after, but rarely found. Areas of heavy clay and waterlogged sites should be avoided. Clay soils can be particularly poor, heavy, or noticeably compacted. Oxygen content will probably be inadequate. Water, soil fauna (earthworms, centipedes, ground beetles, spiders) and roots will have a hard time moving through it. » Continue Reading.


Monday, September 10, 2018

Invasive Species And Their Consequences

Contact with the sap of giant hogweed It seemed like a good idea. Let’s start a silk industry in the United States. Silk is a valuable cloth in demand all over the world. And insects do the work. All we need to do is import some gypsy moths from France; then just sit back and wait for the money to roll in.

So, the moths were imported. They escaped. And today, gypsy moths are a major threat to U.S. forests. Gypsy moths are just one example of an invasive species. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Examining Threats to Monarch Butterfly Migration

monarch butterflyThe monarch butterfly may be the most recognized butterfly in the world. With the exception of the Polar Regions, the medium-size butterflies can be found on every continent on Earth. Their spectacular migration in eastern North America, from breeding locations in Canada and the United States to overwintering sites in Mexico, is nothing short of a miracle and has been the subject of decades of study.

Monarchs have four life stages; egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa, and adult (butterfly). The search for milkweed, the only food that monarch larvae eat, is the sole reason for the annual monarch migration. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Franklin County Fair: A 4-H Tradition

franklin county fairIt’s that time again. Everyone at Franklin County Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) is preparing for August 3rd and the official start of 168th annual Franklin County Fair. Extension staff, 4-H youth, and committed volunteers are working diligently toward making every fair-goer’s visit to the 4-H youth building and the livestock barns meaningful, educational, and wholly enjoyable.

Yes. The fair is great shows, carnival rides, and food. And there will be a midway full of rides, games and attractions, and a wide variety of commercial exhibits and concessions. But the Franklin County Fair is about much more than carnival rides, music, fried dough, French fries, and trying to win brightly colored stuffed animals. » Continue Reading.