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, 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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Saturday, February 6, 2021

Flag Up! Ice Fishing: Have Fun, Stay Safe 

Very few northern New Yorkers believe that cold weather is a reason to stay indoors. In fact, for most North Country families, winter is fun! For kids, it’s the season of snowballs, snow forts, snowmen, snow sculptures, snow angels, sledding, tobogganing, tubing, and ice skating. And for family activities, there’s snowmobiling, snowshoeing, snowboarding, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, winter hiking, winter camping, winter carnivals, dog sledding, and ice fishing.

 Ice fishing is a great way to enjoy the outdoors with family and friends. You can even bring the dogs. Think of it as a day at (or should I say on) the lake, a picnic, or a tailgate party. Just bring a grill or a camp stove, some food and your favorite beverages (hot and/or cold), lawn chairs, and a heater or portable fire pit. A tent is optional.

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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Hunger: A Growing Problem During the Pandemic 

food bankFood Security. It’s a term we hear a lot these days. But defining food security can be difficult. There are literally hundreds of definitions and an even greater number of food security indicators. As defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS), food security is “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” More precise definitions include references to food preferences, dietary needs, safety, etc.

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Saturday, January 9, 2021

Bobcats: Shy, nocturnal and successful 

In the weeks before Christmas, friends of a friend told me about a bobcat sighting they had, while hiking on a trail in southern Essex County. And, not long after that, a very dear friend of mine who lives in the same area sent me a couple of photographs she’d taken of a mound and scratch marks she’d discovered in her yard. She told me that she’d also found what appeared to be claw marks on a nearby tree trunk. A bit of research confirmed that both were signs of a bobcat.

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Saturday, January 2, 2021

Using Energy Conservation and Efficiency Saves Money, Resources 

When I ask people what they think are the two cheapest, cleanest, safest, most environmentally friendly, and most reliable energy technologies available today, the answer I receive is almost always wind and solar. But the correct answers; conservation and efficiency; have nothing to do with generating electricity. And the first step to utilizing these technologies is to commit, individually and collectively, to making a coherent and lasting reduction in our consumption of energy.

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Saturday, December 12, 2020

Under the mistletoe

What is Mistletoe? 

A mistletoe is a flowering plant (angiosperm) which, although capable of growing independently, is almost always parasitic or, more specifically, partially or hemi-parasitic. Mistletoes grow on the branches of host trees and shrubs, sending out roots that tap into their hosts’ vascular systems, which they then rely on for uptake of water, mineral nutrients and, to some extent, carbohydrates. It’s interesting to note that the word mistletoe translates from its Anglo-Saxon origin as dung on a twig; derived from the ancient belief that the plants grew from bird droppings. Actually, they grow from seeds found in the bird droppings.

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Monday, November 30, 2020

Shop Local and Support Small Business During the Holiday Season and Throughout the Year 

Why Shop Local? 

   For generations, small businesses were the principal employers in every North Country community. They were an economic engine; bringing in money from local, out-of-area, and international consumers. They employed local workers, who in turn spent money in the local region. And they supplied local communities with tax funds that were used to grow even more economic opportunity.

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Saturday, November 14, 2020

Dairy Cows, Milkmaids, and the First Vaccine 

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented worldwide societal and economic instability. We’re facing an astonishing loss of human life and unprecedented challenges to public health, economies at every level, food systems, employment, and education. And global extreme poverty is rising for the first time in more than 20 years.

While nations everywhere struggle to prevent the further spread of the virus, developing a Covid-19 vaccine has, apparently, become the number one priority in the world right now. Several candidate vaccines are in development, including a few that are currently in phase 3 trials in the US. The first two were halted briefly after safety incidents, but the FDA has since allowed them to continue. The results are promising.

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Sunday, November 1, 2020

Invasion of the Murder Hornets 

They’ve been in the headlines since last December: Giant Murder Hornets Arrive in North America; Murder Hornet Nest Found in Washington State; A Sting that Can Kill.

They look and act like something out of a science fiction movie or taken straight out of a Steven King novel. They’re huge. They spit venom. And their stings can be lethal to humans.

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Friday, October 16, 2020

An apple a day … keeps NY’s orchards in business

prairie orchardNew York is the nation’s second-largest apple producing state. With more than 10 million trees, our roughly 600 commercial apple growers produce, on average, 29.5 million bushels of apples annually. And they grow more varieties than producers in any other state. Among them: McIntosh (the national apple of Canada), Empire, Cortland, Rome, Gala, and many others.

Our apple industry provides about 10,000 direct agricultural jobs (e.g. growing, packing), as well as roughly 7,500 indirect jobs (e.g. marketing, distribution). In 1976, New York’s policymakers designated the apple as the official state fruit. In 1987, they approved the apple muffin as a state symbol.

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Monday, October 5, 2020

Gleaning Can Help Feed our Hungry Neighbors 

Hunger in America

According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, 37,227,000 Americans, of which 11,174,000 are children, are currently grappling with hunger. In other words, more than 11% of Americans are, at this moment, food insecure (lacking reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food). Among them are 13.1% of the people living in St. Lawrence County; 12.9% of those living in Franklin County; 11.9% of those in Clinton County; 10.3% of those in Essex County; and 10.1% of those in Hamilton County.

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Sunday, September 20, 2020

Webs in the Trees? – They’re Relatively Harmless 

It’s starting to feel very much like fall around here. Days are getting shorter, leaves are changing color, temperatures are cooler (some of us have already seen a frost or two; even a freeze), air conditioners are silent, pumpkin-spiced food and beverages are available at several coffee shops and fast food establishments, schools have reopened (sort of), and fall webworms are here en masse in places all across the North County.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

In Pursuit of Giant Puffballs, the queen of edible mushrooms: 

Puffball is the generic name for a large group of edible mushrooms with similar characteristics. They come in many sizes and are usually spherical or globular in shape.

Puffballs are distinguished from other mushroom groups by the fact that they lack many of the features or characteristics that other common mushrooms possess. A puffball has no stem. It has no cap. And no external gills. All of the spores are produced inside of the fruiting body.

The most common way in which they release their spores is through impact; the external force of rain or falling debris landing upon them or of animals stepping on or brushing against them, thereby compressing and/or breaking the peridium; the protective layer that encloses the spore mass inside the fungus. When that happens, as the name puffball implies, the spores are ejected in a large puff.

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