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, 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.


Saturday, July 21, 2018

Richard Gast: Scream for Ice Cream

cornell dairy ice creamYou know it’s hot outside when you stop by a friend’s home on the 4th of July, he’s got a growler of Township 7 Raspberry Haze ale and a half-gallon of Stewart’s butter pecan ice-cream on the kitchen counter, and he’s making himself a craft-beer float. “Try one!” he said. Let’s just say it’s an acquired taste.

But it made me think that something similar may have been the inspiration for Butterbeer, the brisk, inebriating beverage enjoyed by the characters in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. So, I asked him what the inspiration for his craft-beer float was and he just looked me like it was a dumb question. “It’s hot,” he answered. Then he told me that July is National Ice Cream Month. And since it was Independence Day, it was our “patriotic duty” to drink those craft-beer floats. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 2, 2018

Why We Should Stop Buying Bottled Water

hydration stationI don’t actually remember the first time I saw single-serving bottles of water for sale. But I do remember thinking that it was crazy! Who would pay for water?

Was I ever wrong! According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, which provides management consulting, research, and advisory services to the global beverage, food, and consumer packaged goods industries, worldwide bottled water volume in 2016 was 12.8 billion gallons. That’s more than 246,000,000 gallons a week and an increase of nearly 9% over 2015 volume. Around the world, we now drink as much bottled water as we do packaged milk. Or beer. And bottled water now surpasses carbonated soft drinks as the largest beverage category in the United States; a major milestone; with all but 1% of it sourced domestically. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, June 23, 2018

Adirondack Farmers’ Markets Open for the Season

farmers market Farmers’ markets have existed as a part of American society, business, and trade since 1634, when the first farmers’ market in the new world opened for business in Boston, Massachusetts. And throughout much of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, outdoor market places were vital centers of commerce in both American cities and rural communities.

The Central Market, in Lancaster Pennsylvania, has been held in the same location since 1730. George Washington wrote about sending his kitchen staff to shop at Philadelphia’s outdoor market during the 1790s. And Thomas Jefferson wrote, in 1806, about buying beef, eggs and vegetables at an outdoor market in Georgetown. » Continue Reading.


Monday, June 4, 2018

Intense Tent Caterpillars

eastern tent caterpillarThey hang around on finely spun strands of silky string; blue-black caterpillars parachuting ever-so-slowly to earth, landing in yards, crawling around on decks and porches; even finding their way into homes. Over the past few weeks, several people have asked me about them. Some have been coping with large numbers of them. And one person asked if they were the same worms that make their webs in apple trees.

They are not. They are similar, though. Both are hairy. Both are dark colored. Both grow from less than one-eighth of an inch to two inches or larger over a six to eight week period. And both are tent caterpillars. Beyond that, they’re clearly different. » Continue Reading.


Monday, May 7, 2018

Wild Pollinators And Crop Viability

pollinatorsIf you’re like me, you enjoy the beauty of colorful flowers and love eating fresh fruits and vegetables. You recognize that many of the medicines and supplements we use come from plants. And you realize that the astounding diversity of ornamental, food, and medicinal plants that we grow or forage would not exist, if not for the interdependent synergy (referred to in biology as ‘mutualism’) that exists between flowering plants and their pollinators (bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies). » Continue Reading.


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.