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 11, 2021

Boughs of Holly 

holly

Deck the Halls 

    Deck the halls (with boughs of holly). It’s a fun-to-sing Christmas song (with its fa-la-la refrain) and perhaps one of the most widely recognized and most-often caroled.

    First published in 1881, the song is generally believed to be American in origin, although the author remains unknown. The music, however, (or should I say the tune) dates back to 16th Century Wales and a song titled Nos Galan, which means New Year’s Eve. Some people associate the music for Nos Galan with a duet for violin and piano by Mozart, and / or a piece written for voice and piano with violin and cello composed by Haydn.

    Interestingly, an early calendar in the Church of Rome described Christmas Eve as templa exornantur; churches are decked.

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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Solar Grazing: A Ewe-nique Idea 

Harvesting the Sun 

    According to the United States Energy Information Administration, there are approximately 2,500 commercial solar photovoltaic (PV) energy gathering and generating stations currently serving the nation’s electric grid. Most produce one- to five-megawatts (MW) of power. A five-MW facility requires roughly 40 acres of land. Some analysts maintain that, depending on how quickly the nation moves from non-renewable to renewable electricity, an additional 10-million acres of land could be needed by 2050. That’s an area greater than the land-mass of Massachusetts and New Jersey, combined. Although commercial solar arrays are frequently built on low-quality, low-impact sites, such as landfills, brownfields, abandoned mining land, and former industrial locations, they’re often placed on agricultural land, as well.

    A couple of years ago, I wrote an article addressing solar development on agricultural land in the North Country. At the time, several large-scale PV energy generating projects were being considered in northern Franklin County, including a massive 150-MW power generating project on roughly 950-acres of land in the town and village of Malone, proposed by Minnesota-based Geronimo Energy. After the initial proposal encountered unwavering opposition from local residents, the application was scaled back to 50-MW, but resistance remained high and the project was eventually scrapped.

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Monday, November 15, 2021

The Season of Northern Lights 

aurora

In late October and earlier this month, spectacular aurora activity was visible across much of the northern hemisphere. Sightings were reported from Maine to Washington State and as far south as Connecticut and California.

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Friday, November 5, 2021

Fuzzy-Wuzzy Woolly Bears

Banded wooly bear caterpillar; Pyrrharctia Isabella larva Whitney Cranshaw; Colorado State University; Bugwood orgIt’s been a remarkably mild fall. In fact, at the time of this writing (Oct. 27), I still haven’t had a frost at my home, near the Canadian border. But winter is coming. And while winter can be a very picturesque time of the year and getting outdoors in winter can be a lot of fun, harsh winter weather can stop most of us… well… cold.

Someone recently asked me, “What do you think the winter will be like this year?” I simply replied, “I don’t know.”

Even meteorologists, using state-of-the-art models can’t predict weather with 100-percent accuracy. In fact, it seems to me that meteorology is a notoriously inexact science, with accuracy dropping especially quickly as you look more than a week or so into the future.

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Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Real Johnny Appleseed

apples

There’s little in life more pleasing than biting into a fresh, crisp, juicy, mouth-watering, slightly sweet, slightly tart, apple. And what could be healthier? Apples contain vitamins C and A, antioxidants, potassium, pectin, fiber, and no cholesterol. They can be eaten fresh, baked, or stewed. They can be juiced or turned into cider; made into sauce, butter, jelly, vinegar, and wine; or cooked into pies, crisps, crumbles, cakes, doughnuts; even meat dishes. They make delightful confections when coated with candy (sugar syrup), caramel, or toffee and nuts, too.

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Monday, October 4, 2021

A Harvest of North Country Cranberries

Gathering cranberries with a floating 'boom'

The 2021 growing season is nearing an end. And, as the last of the greens, Brussels sprouts, and turnips are taken from the ground, I’m grateful for the diverse variety of vegetables that family, friends, and neighbors have harvested, processed, stored, and shared; everything from tomatoes, potatoes, summer squash, and zucchini, to Romanesco broccoli, Kohlrabi, purple cauliflower, tomatillos, and blue dent corn. Tree fruit and nut yields from both wild and cultivated trees were bountiful this year, too. Wild and cultivated herbs and edible medicinal plants are being readied for use as spices, teas, tinctures, and poultices. And the harvest of forage corn, hay, and beans, which will feed dairy and meat cattle in the months ahead is nearly complete.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

A Change of Season: The fall equinox and ancient astronomers

At Hovenweep Castle provided by Richard Gast
The Autumnal Equinox

This year, the autumnal equinox falls on the 22nd of September. It typically occurs on the 22nd or 23rd but, due to differences between the calendar year and the solar year (365 days versus 365 and 1/4 days), may take place anytime between Sept. 21st and Sept. 24th. The last time an autumnal equinox was on the 21st however, was in 1931. And the next Sept. 21st equinox isn’t until 2076. The last time one occurred on the 24th was in 1907. That won’t happen again until 2303.

An equinox takes place when the Earth’s axis is turned neither away from nor towards the sun, which when seen from the equator rises due east and sets due west. Day and night are of approximately equal length everywhere in the world. The word equinox comes from the Medieval Latin word equinoxium, which means equality of day and night.

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Monday, September 13, 2021

Asters and Goldenrod: Late Season Native Perennials

Monarch-Butterfly-on-New-England-Aster-2-–-Rick-L-Hansen-US-Fish-and-Wildlife-Service.

As autumn approaches, the days grow shorter, evenings grow cooler, acorns fall from the oaks, and the maples, in anticipation of the coming change of season, start to reveal hints of the glorious spectacle of color that lies ahead.

It’s also the time of year when the goldenrod and the asters (also called starworts or frost flowers) present their showy blooms along roadsides and forest edges, in woodland openings, meadows, and old fields, and along stream banks. At a time when most other perennials have finished blooming, their eye-catching flowers are an abundant source of nectar for bees and butterflies, including adult monarchs, setting out on their remarkable flight to overwintering sites in the high-mountain forests of central Mexico. The seeds of both (and the insect larvae that feed on the plants themselves) are a valuable food source for birds, including migratory birds making their way south, and for many small mammals, as well.

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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Farmers Markets are in Full Swing Across Northern New York

keene valley farmers market adirondack harvest

During my years at Extension, one of my (self-proclaimed) missions was to support local farms and producers and to promote consumer-access to, education about, and appreciation for local, fresh, sustainably produced foods and products, while also working to develop farmers’ markets as vibrant gathering places within local communities. That mission continues.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2021

High Tunnels can Extend the Growing Season and Enhance High-Value Crop Viability

Putting the finishing touches on a high tunnel Photo Credit: Susan Alman; University of Arkansas

High tunnels, sometimes called hoop houses, offer northern New York market growers an easy way to extend our limited growing season by two or three months. Sometimes more. Farmers can grow early and/or late crops of cool weather and salad vegetables even while there’s snow on the ground. And depending upon the weather, warm season crops, like tomatoes, can mature several weeks earlier and be harvested and sold many weeks after similar field grown crops have been killed by frost.

In addition, high tunnels offer protection from wind, driving rain, disease, insects, and deer. And more than a decade of Cornell University-conducted research has shown that the yields and quality of produce grown in high tunnels can be far superior to that of comparable field-grown crops.

This is great news for consumers too, who gain access to an ever-increasing variety and supply of top-quality, locally-grown fruits and vegetables, both earlier and later in the year.

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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Emerald Ash Borer and Ash Trees – A New Approach

The emerald ash borer adult is a green buprestid or jewel beetle about 1/2 inch long.

The emerald ash borer (EAB) is a half-inch long, green buprestid or jewel beetle. It’s an invasive insect native to Asia, believed to have made its way to the United States on solid wood packing material carried in cargo ships or on airplanes.

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Saturday, July 17, 2021

Plan Next Year’s Perennial Wildflower Garden Now

rudbecka hirta black eyed susan

Look at the wild flowers. See how they grow. – Luke 12:27; International Children’s Bible

You belong among the wildflowers. – Tom Petty

Love is like wildflowers; it’s often found in the most unlikely places. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I walk along the fields, meadows, and roads or hike through the forests of northern New York, I often come across wildflowers and think, “those would look great in my yard.” Native wildflowers are hardy, low maintenance, and attractive to pollinators, which makes them very desirable for cultivated landscapes. And, because they’re adapted to the climate and soils of the region, when grown under similar conditions they’re generally well-suited for use in home gardens and landscapes.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Foraging for Wild Food: Workshop series at Paul Smith’s VIC

pigweedI’ve always found the idea of foraging for wild edible plants appealing, but daunting. I know a little about wild plants and foraging, but I lack confidence. And with good reason. I didn’t grow up foraging and, although it’s possible to acquire knowledge about foraging from books and websites, it’s a lot easier (and safer) to learn from someone who has first-hand foraging knowledge and experience; someone who has been gathering, preparing, and eating wild foods throughout his or her entire life.

Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Franklin County is offering a series of Wild Edibles Workshops during July and August.

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Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Bald Eagle – A National and a New York State Conservation Success Story

adult bald eagle

According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the bald eagle population in the lower 48 states has grown, since 2009, from just over 72,000, including roughly 30,000 breeding pairs, to an estimated 316,700 birds, something Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, recently called, “truly a historic conservation success story.” 

At the start of the 20th century, New York was home to more than 70 nesting pairs of bald eagles and was the wintering ground for several hundred. But by 1960, only one nesting pair remained and a scant few dozen overwintered here. Today however, as a result of protection and active management, New York State is home to more than 426 occupied bald eagle nest sites. (Source: New York Natural Heritage Program; a partnership between the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). 

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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

4-H Camp Overlook – A Memorable Outdoor Experience

 girl on a zip line  
Would you like to give your child a truly remarkable gift this summer? How about a memorable outdoor experience in an informal and truly unique educational setting; an experience that enhances life-skills, stimulates interest, and challenges his or her abilities through training, education, and play?  

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