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.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Moles and Voles and Yards with Holes

star-nosed mole It’s spring. Days are getting longer. The weather’s getting warmer. The sun is sitting higher in the sky. And, as I write this, the persistent snow in my yard is finally giving way to bare ground.

This is the time of year when the consumer horticulture season really begins in earnest at Cooperative Extension. It often starts with questions from anxious callers about recently discovered lawn, landscape, and garden damage; often from wildlife pests. Questions about mice, squirrels, and chipmunks are frequent. But, perhaps because of their tenacious tunneling activities, the most noteworthy culprits of concern to frazzled callers are meadow voles and hairy, or more often, star-nosed moles, the 2 mole species that live in northern New York. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Cornell Researchers Advancing Industrial Hemp

Christine Smart professor of plant pathology and director of the School of Integrative Plant Science discusses Cornell hemp researchAs farmers across the state get ready for the 2018 growing season, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) is preparing to oversee a second year of industrial hemp field trials across New York State.

Cornell has been funded to develop, support, and advance the best management practices for optimal growing and processing of industrial hemp. Cornell scientists and research technicians are continuing to study and evaluate potential production barriers (e.g. disease and insect pests) and to identify and breed the best commercially available hemp cultivars for the state’s broad range of agricultural environments. The goals of the program include establishing certified seed production within the state and developing basic agronomic and production-cost information for growing industrial hemp in different locations around New York State. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Arrival of Spring, Phenology and Climate Change

Native ground nesting bees visit apple blossomHow do you know when spring has begun? Is it the flow of maple sap? The first crocuses coming up through the snow? Ice out on local lakes? The arrival of the first red-winged blackbirds? The clamor of peepers? Apple trees and/or lilacs blooming?

Meriam-Webster defines phenology, which is derived from the Greek word ‘phaino’ meaning to show or appear, as ‘a branch of science dealing with the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena.’ Think of it as a timeline or chronology of periodic natural events; such as when insects hatch or arrive; when flowers and plants emerge, bloom, and produce seed; when migrating birds and insects (e.g. monarch butterflies) arrive, mate or nest, and depart; and how all of these function within ecosystems and respond to change. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

iSeeMammals: Black Bear Citizen Science

Bear at a feeder in Marathon Ontario - Cornell Lab of OrnithologyAs I write this at my home, there’s snow on the ground. But spring is almost here. In fact, as I opened the door to leave my house this morning, I was greeted by a sure sign of spring; the patently pungent smell of skunk! And I couldn’t help but wonder if the little stinker, indeed, missed or misted its adversary.

It never ceases to amaze me how animals can spend the winter months in hibernation (deep sleep) or torpor (a state of decreased physiological activity during periods of extreme cold; light hibernation) in order to survive months of harsh weather and scarcity of food. They’re waking up now, and coming out of their dens and lairs looking for (in the case of skunks, mates and) something to eat. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, February 24, 2018

Weather Extremes And Maple Syrup Production

Sugarhouse at Brandy Brook Maple Farm in EllenburgNorthern New Yorkers are definitely not strangers to cold winter weather. But most of us would rather have not had to deal with the brutally relentless cold that gripped much of the nation during December and January.

According to data from the Southeast Regional Climate Center, cities including Buffalo, New York; Worcester, Massachusetts; and Bangor, Maine all experienced their coldest 2-week-stretch of weather ever recorded last Dec. 23 – Jan. 5. The week between Christmas and New Year’s was the coldest on record in Buffalo’s history. And, on Dec. 28, 30 record low temperatures were set across the country; the lowest of which was recorded in Watertown, NY; -32°F. Eighteen east coast cities saw record lows on January 2, including Morrisville, Vermont; -29°F. Their previous low for that date was -14°F. And let’s not forget he first major storm of 2018; the infamous ‘bomb cyclone’ or bombogenesis. » Continue Reading.


Monday, February 12, 2018

Maple Confections: A Sweet And Local Valentine’s Gift

Maple Syrup and Confections Valentine’s Day. The day when, more than at any other time of the year, people declare feelings of romantic interest, love, and adoration for one another. This is most-often done with a card. Approximately 150 million Valentine’s Day cards will be exchanged in the US, this year; 2.6 billion worldwide (according to the Greeting Card Association).

The oldest known Valentine’s Day card, if you will, is still in existence. It’s a poem from Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife; written while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415, and preserved in the British Library in London. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

CSAs: Taking Control, Ownership of Our Food System

CSA veggiesIn this age of global markets and marketing, more often than not, the food we eat is grown on large industrial farms; then shipped across the country, or from central or South America, or overseas, to huge distribution centers, where it’s sorted, packaged, processed, and then trucked to chain supermarkets, convenient stores, and fast food outlets.

We seldom think about the environmental impacts resulting from expanded mechanization and transportation of foodstuffs over great distances; of the ecological consequences of large-scale mono-cropping of food with intensive use of pesticides; or the impacts that food globalization has on our health (e.g. 2/3 of Americans are now considered overweight or obese). » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Will Our Extreme Winter Cold Wipe Out Ticks?

Deer TickI’ve been asked on four different occasions, recently, how tick populations will be impacted by the December/January below-zero cold. Some of those asking had heard reports, apparently claiming that tick populations would be decimated, if not eradicated, by the prolonged period of extremely cold weather.

We’d all certainly welcome that. It’s probable that you or someone you know has been affected by ticks and/or by Lyme disease. And any downward pressure on tick populations is welcome. But, the answer isn’t that simple. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Local Breweries Have Big Potential; Local Hops Challenges

beer hopsThere’s an old Irish toast: ‘To long life and a merry one. A quick death and an easy one. A pretty girl and an honest one. A cold beer and another one!’ I can think of no better way to bring in the New Year than raising a glass of frothy-delicious craft beer from a homebrewer friend or relative, or small, independent craft brewery.

According to the 46,000-plus-member American Homebrewers Association, a division of the Brewers Association (an American trade group of brewers, breweries-in-planning, suppliers, distributors, craft beer retailers, and individuals concerned with the promotion of craft beer and home-brewing), more than 1.2-million Americans brew their own beer at home. And, as an industry, beer is massive.

The Brewers Association says U.S. retail sales of beer exceeded $107.6 billion in 2016, with craft beer accounting for $23.5 billion of that total. Directly and indirectly, the beer industry employs nearly 2.23 million Americans, providing more than $103 billion in wages and benefits. In NY, 269 breweries produced 1,000,785 barrels of craft beer in 2016 (2.1 gallons for every American over the age of 21), with a retail value of $3,439,000,000.   » Continue Reading.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

(Flying) Reindeer and Climate

reindeerI recall years ago; two young boys having a conversation. “There’s no such thing as Santa Clause,” the older boy insisted. But the younger boy wasn’t buying it. Come Christmas Eve, he was going to stay up all night, just to catch a glimpse of old Santa and his legendary sleigh full of presents. What excited the little guy the most though, was the thought of seeing those remarkable flying “reindeer on the roof!”

“Santa’s reindeer really can fly, can’t they?” he asked me, catching me completely off guard. I hesitated; then told him that reindeer were deer; very much like the whitetails we see around here, but with thicker bodies, shorter legs, and broader hooves. I added that whitetails and reindeer are cousins. And that moose and elk are reindeer cousins, too. Fortunately, he let it go at that. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

Buy Local Christmas Trees, Support Local Growers

Christmas Tree PlantationChristmas trees can be seen everywhere during the holiday season. And, because of this, we often think of Christmas tree farming as a seasonal business, which it certainly isn’t.

To be successful, year-round management and maintenance are needed. And the work is often labor-intensive, and/or needing to be completed under adverse weather conditions. » Continue Reading.


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.


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