Almanack Contributor 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.


Monday, April 4, 2022

Bluebirds are returning to the North Country 

The eastern bluebird is our official state bird. It became so on May 18, 1970, making New York the last state to acquire an official state bird.

Bluebirds are among the first birds to return in the spring. And for some bird-enthusiasts, attracting a pair of these harbingers of spring to a backyard nest box and having them fledge a brood of young bluebirds is the ultimate birding experience.

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Monday, March 21, 2022

Maple Syrup Production Combines Principles of Silviculture, Forest Management, Sustainable Agriculture, and Agroforestry 

In a few words, sustainability is the practice of using resources responsibly. It focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

The concept of sustainability can be traced back to the forest management philosophies of Hans Carl von Carlowitz (1645–1714), in his work Sylvicultura Oeconomica (Instructions for Wild Tree Cultivation), in which he established a set of concepts for sustainable management of forest resources. His belief that timber removed from a forest stand should never exceed that which can be regrown through planned reforestation continues to be a guiding principle of forestry today.

Sustainability, as a policy concept, is most-often thought of as the ability to continue use over a long period of time, or as long-term goals and / or the strategies that may be applied to achieve those goals.

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Friday, March 4, 2022

Sweet News – Maple Weekend is Back 

I have good news for readers who’ve never visited a working sugarhouse or seen maple syrup being made, but are curious about the process and would like to know more. Maple Weekend is coming. During the weekends of March 19 and 20 and March 26 and 27, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., member producers of the Northeastern New York Chapter of the New York State Maple Producers Association (NYSMPA) are joining maple tree-farming families across New York State in opening their sugarhouses to the public.

It’s a great opportunity for your family to visit one or more of the region’s family-run maple sugaring operations to see first-hand, from tree to table, how delicious, local maple syrup and other maple confections are made and to sample and take home some of the best tasting, pure, natural maple products in the world. Weather permitting, you’ll be able to watch the sap to syrup process unfold right before your eyes.

Maple Weekend is agri-tourism at its finest; an annual event organized by NYSMPA, funded by both NYSMPA members and the NY State Department of Agriculture and Markets, and supported and championed by Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Cornell Maple Program. The Maple Weekend initiative began in the mid-1990s, when NYSMPA producer-members across the state, in the first coordinated effort of this type, opened their doors for an event they called Maple Sunday. The objective for this year’s Maple Weekend event is the same as it was then; to provide an opportunity for interested persons to see for themselves, personally, how maple trees are tapped and how sap is collected and boiled into pure, delicious maple syrup.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2022

New Research Suggests White-Tailed Deer May Be Highly Susceptible to COVID-19 

Two recent studies; one published in December in Nature (www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-04353-x) and the other posted to the bioRxiv preprint server earlier this month (www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.02.04.479189v1), present evidence that white-tailed deer are highly susceptible to infection by SARS-CoV-2, with multiple reports of widespread spillover of the virus from humans to deer in the wild.

The bioRxiv-published report details a study conducted by an interdisciplinary team of researchers led by Penn State University (PSU) scientists. The team examined 131 free-ranging white-tailed deer, all living on Staten Island, the most suburban of the 5 New York City boroughs. Nineteen tested positive for COVID antibodies, indicating that the deer had prior exposure to the virus and, according to the researchers, implying that they are vulnerable to repeated re-infections with new variants.

The report has not yet been certified by peer review, but has been published as a pre-print because of the significance of the findings, according to Suresh Kuchipudi, an American College of Veterinary Microbiologists (ACVM) board-certified specialist in virology and immunology at the Department of Veterinary and Biological Sciences at PSU. He serves as associate director of PSU’s Animal Diagnostic Laboratory where, as head of microbiology, he oversees the University’s bacteriology, virology, serology, and molecular diagnostic units. Kuchipudi has expressed concern that spillover of omicron from humans to deer could result in new and possibly vaccine-resistant mutations of the virus evolving undetected in non-human hosts and noted that one of the infected deer in the study had antibodies from a previous COVID-19 infection; indicating that deer, like humans, can experience breakthrough cases.

» Continue Reading.


Monday, February 7, 2022

Food Product Labels – What Do They Mean? 

non-gmo food labelWhether we shop at the supermarket or the farmers market, the foods we purchase bare a wide variety of labels. And we rely on those labels to provide us with information on, among other things, how the food was grown and/or prepared, or in the case of meat and meat products, how the animals were raised.

When we choose to buy food products that we believe are better choices, based on labeling, we want to know that we’re buying food that’s healthier for our families and the environment? And most people would agree that consumers have a right to know. But, all of the branding, pictures, and / or descriptions we find on, or attached to food products or packaging can be confusing. And, sometimes, misleading.

» Continue Reading.


Monday, January 24, 2022

Enjoying Winter 

There’s no getting around winter. So you might as well get into it. Right?  Enjoy a good book, binge-watch Netflix, savor warm drinks, and cozy up beside the wood stove or fireplace for hours with your music (and your sweetie).

But, being active and getting outside are vital for our health. And most northern New Yorkers will tell you that access to year-round outdoor recreation is a bonus; one of the blessings that comes with living here. We have the Adirondack Park, along with many other local and state parks, forests, waterways, recreation areas, and trail systems that make the region attractive and accessible to families and friends who enjoy getting outside together. Unless it’s dangerously cold, winter weather is no reason to stay indoors.

For kids, winter is the season of snowballs, snow forts, snowmen, snow sculptures, snow angels, sledding, tobogganing, tubing, ice skating, and fat (tire) biking. And for families and friends, there’s snowmobiling, downhill skiing and snowboarding, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking, winter camping, dog sledding, ice fishing, and winter carnivals.

If you live in northern New York, you live in the middle of, or at least near, some of the best outdoor recreation in the east. In fact, outdoor winter recreation is a rich part of the region’s heritage and a vitally powerful and sustainable economic engine that supports local businesses and contributes to healthy local communities.

So, put on your long johns, layer up (consider several high-quality, moisture-wicking layers), and grab a warm coat, hat, boots, perhaps a scarf, and a well-insulated pair of toasty gloves or mittens. Because, as I’ve heard it said, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.’

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Monday, January 10, 2022

Helping Birds Survive the Winter 

Carolina wrens on snowmanAs winter sets in across the North Country, devoted bird-enthusiasts resume feeding overwintering birds. They take both pleasure and pride in helping their feathered friends survive the harsh winter months, by dutifully providing them with food, water, and shelter.

Feeding birds during the winter can be a never-ending source of entertainment and enjoyment. And an easy, rewarding, and sometimes surprising way to connect with nature. No matter where you live, you can invite birds into your yard and help to ensure their survival by simply putting food out for them to find.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Cornell University, other colleges contend with Omicron Variant Surge  

cornell covid testingIn the face of the new COVID-19 variant (Omicron) and a precipitous rise in the number of infections on college campuses across the country in the weeks following Thanksgiving, administrators found themselves confronted with having to, once again, put measures into place aimed at limiting COVID-19 transmission on their campuses and in their communities.

    Numerous schools around the country declared that students had to finish their semesters remotely. Many are extending mask mandates and requiring vaccine booster shots in order to return to campus. They’re limiting social gatherings and canceling sporting events as well, which greatly inhibits campus life. This comes at a time when almost every academic institution in America was starting (or at least hoping) to relax safety measures and begin returning to normalcy.

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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.

» Continue Reading.


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.

» Continue Reading.


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.

» Continue Reading.


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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