Sunday, October 18, 2009

Have Dinner With Samuel de Champlain Oct. 24th

Rogers Island Visitors Center in Fort Edward is hosting dinner with Samuel de Champlain on October 24th at the Tee Bird North Golf Club (30 Reservoir Road, Fort Edward). Local Chefs, Neal Orsini owner of the Anvil Restaurant in Fort Edward and Steve Collyer, researched the stores list aboard Champlain’s ship, the Saint-Julien, to develop a dinner menu using European, 17th century ship and New World ingredients. Some menu items were standard fare aboard 17th century ships, but the Saint-Julien was 500 tons, carried more than 100 crew and had a galley which meant that even livestock was brought on board aboard, if only for the captain and officers.

Don Thompson, who has spent this Quadricentennial year traveling throughout New York, Vermont and Canada portraying Samuel de Champlain, will serve as a special guest presenter bringing the story of de Champlain’s North American explorations to life.

There will be a cash bar at 5 pm; and dinner served at 6 pm. The price is $22 for Rogers Island VC members, $25 for non-members and $8 for children under 12. Special prize baskets have been donated for a raffle.

For reservations call Rogers Island Visitor Center at 518-747-3693 or e-mail rogersisland@gmail.com. Proceeds benefit the Rogers Island Visitor Center.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Food, Agriculture And The North Country Economy

It’s often overlooked as a part of our Adirondack economy and history, but believe it or not farming has been a part of Adirondack culture since the 18th century. At one time, farming was what most Adirondackers did either for subsistence, as part of a commercial operation, or as an employee of a local farm or auxiliary industry. While in general across America the small family farm have been in decline, according to the 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture farms that sell directly to the consumer in the six Northern New York counties grew from 506 to 619, while all other agriculture sectors declined 6.6%. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

What to Do With All Those Carrots

Since we’ve already had our first snow, I figured it was about time to dig up the carrots. So yesterday I braved the wind and rain when I got home from work, grabbed my grandfather’s spading fork and a bushel basket, and headed for the carrot patches. At first I tried pulling the carrots right out of the ground; after all, we’d had plenty of rain lately, so I figured the ground was probably wet enough to let the roots go easily. It’s a good thing I brought the fork.

I planted several varieties of carrots this year, ever hopeful that some would grow well. I’ve not had much luck with carrots, you see, which is surprising, considering how sandy our soil is. Loose sandy soils are usually great for growing carrots, for their roots can push down easily, growing to great lengths before harvest-time. I suspect, however, that soil isn’t so much my problem as crowding is.

In early June I scatter the tiny carrot seeds and cover them with a thin layer of soil. Keeping them watered is a challenge, especially since I’m trying at the same time not to wash them away. Once they germinate and get growing, I feel so grateful that any survived this long that I feel guilty if I thin them out. Thinning is really important with carrots, though. If left crowded, few, if any, of them will grow to any size worth keeping. So, bite the bullet and thin them out.

Thinning can be accomplished multiple ways. Traditionally, you pulled out the superfluous sprouts. This, however, can disturb the remaining ones, so the modern backyard gardener goes out with little gardening shears and snips the tops off the extras. I still couldn’t quite bring myself to cut their little carrot lives short, so I tried relocating the extras this year. I found out yesterday that this did work, sort of. Some of my transplants grew in very odd shapes – all bent and curled.
Some, however, did just fine, while others still remained pretty runty.

So, I forked my way through the carrot patches yesterday, tossing the dirt-covered roots into my bushel basket. Surprisingly, it filled up quickly. In the past I’ve been lucky to fill up a single bag with my carrot harvest. This year, however, I already have two bags of carrots in the fridge, and now I have a bushel more to put up for the winter. Even more impressive, however, is the fact that more than half of these carrots are more than two inches long. I’d even be willing to claim that more than half are over four inches long!

Some sources say to wait to dig your carrots until late in the fall, and then only after several sunny days. It seems our sunny days ended about mid-September, so I dug mine in spite of rain. Then these sources tell you to leave your freshly dug carrots out in the sun to dry for a few hours. This will make removing any clinging soil easier, and it will kill off the root hairs. If you plan to store your carrots whole, say in a root cellar, then you want these root hairs killed of, for this will make the whole carrot go dormant. If the carrot doesn’t go dormant (or if dormancy is broken during storage – more on this in a bit), it will rot.

Now, if you are going to cut up your carrots and freeze them, as my family always did, this next bit won’t apply. You can just go ahead and wash them, cut them up, blanch and freeze. If you want to store your carrots raw, read on.

Clean the soil from the roots. You want to do this gently, with as little handling as possible. Some authorities say to use well-chlorinated water when you clean so as to kill off all unwanted pathogens. Use your own judgement. Take your clean carrots and trim off the tops to about two inches. Now you have a choice to make. Do you want to store the carrots in your fridge, or in a root cellar type of system?

If going the fridge route, take your carrots and place them in plastic bags that have holes in them. You want to be sure the carrots get some air circulation. Then stick them into the coldest part of your fridge. Carrots want to be stored between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and they want to be kept moist. Below 32 they will freeze, and over 40 they will break dormancy and either start to sprout or start to rot.

If you opt to store in the cellar, garage, non-heated attic, or on the porch, you can go with the traditional storage system. Take a crate, box or barrel. Fill the bottom two to three inches deep with damp peat moss, sand or sawdust. Place a layer of carrots on top, staying two to three inches from the sides. Cover with another two to three inches of damp peat/sand/sawdust. Add another layer of carrots, etc., until you reach the top. The last layer should be your insulating material. Place the container in a cold, moist area. Again, you want the temperature to be steady, somewhere between 32 and 40 degrees. If your carrots are stored in an area where the temperature fluctuates, even if it is only by about five degrees, your carrots will break dormancy and either sprout or rot.

My last two carrot harvests, which, as previously mentioned, only filled a single bag each year, did very well in my fridge all winter long. I chopped them up for color in my omelets, diced them into the dog’s food, and added them to stews. This year, however, because I have so many carrots, I will probably be blanching and freezing most of them. Some will stay in the fridge, though – a garden fresh carrot is a welcome taste at any time of year.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

North Country-Grown Wines Win Awards

This week Richard Lamoy will help begin the harvest of 25 varieties of cold-hardy grapes at an experimental farm in Willsboro. “The grapes are running about two weeks late this year,” says Lamoy, who lives in Morrisonville and cultivates a three-acre vineyard of his own. With a cold winter, wet spring and summer, windy pollination and now a cold rainy harvest, he says, “pretty much anything that can go wrong this season has gone wrong. Still we’re hoping to get some good wines out of it.”

Wine grapes are new to the Champlain Valley so LaMoy was eager to find out how locally grown wines compare to more established vintages. This year he entered eight wines he made in a contest sponsored by WineMaker magazine. He came home with six medals, including a gold for French hybrid white grapes (LaCrescent). “Obviously they did pretty well,” he says. “I’m encouraged by that. The whites are doing especially well in this region.”

LaMoy is one eight grape and wine producers participating in a Northern New York Agricultural Development Program-funded cold-hardy grape research trial based at the Cornell University Agricultural Research Station at the E.V. Baker Farm in Willsboro. The project was established in 2005.

The WineMaker contest is reputed to be the largest amateur winemaker event in the world and had 4,474 entries in 2009, judged in Manchester, Vermont.
 
Lamoy earned three silver medals for varietal wines (St. Pepin, Adalmiina, Petite Amie) made with locally grown French hybrid white grapes, and one bronze medal for a wine made with Champlain Valley French hybrid red grapes (Leon Millot). He earned another gold for a non-local grape.
  
Lamoy plans to apply for a winery license so he can sell wines next year. For now he’s gaining experience working in the vineyard at the Willsboro Research Farm and conducting Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education-funded trials in his own vineyard, Hid-In Pines.

The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program awards grants for practical on-farm research, outreach and technical assistance and is supported by funds from the New York State Legislature through the backing of the North Country’s state senators and assembly members.
 
The program receives support (funds, time, land, expertise, etc.) from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, NYS Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, six Northern New York Cornell Cooperative Extension Associations, W. H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute, U.S. Department of Agriculture, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, cooperating farms, agribusinesses across the region, and others.

To learn more about the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program, go online to www.nnyagdev.org, contact Program Co-chairs Jon Greenwood: 315-386-3231 or Joe Giroux: 518-563-7523, or call your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office.

Photograph of grapes from the Willsboro Research Farm


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Potato News: Late Blight Spares Some Crops

Tucker Farms in Gabriels is in the midst of what’s being described as a good potato harvest. According to co-proprietors Steve and Tom Tucker, the 300-acre farm’s crop seems to have escaped late blight.

Less important but surprising: the tomatoes in a shared Saranac Lake garden plot were turned to brown mush by the blight, but untreated potatoes in a mound surrounded by those plants produced lots of apparently healthy tubers.

Steve Tucker has heard similar reports from other gardeners. “Tomatoes are a little more tender to the blight apparently,” the farmer says. The airborne fungal pathogen has destroyed fields of tomatoes and potatoes around the Northeast this year, introduced on shipments of tomato plants to big box stores. Cornell Cooperative Extension reported in July that an unidentified commercial field of potatoes in Franklin County “was completely lost and has been mowed down.”

The Tucker brothers took precautions, spraying the foliage as often as once a week with fungicide. If invisible late blight spores ever reached the Gabriels farm, the fungicide probably killed them. Once the blight enters the plant, however, fungicide won’t help, Steve says.

Because this region is remote, high and relatively pest free, the Adirondacks is a source of seed potatoes for the rest of the state. Tucker Farms sells seed potatoes as well as table stock. Tom Tucker explained that Tuckers’ eating potatoes can also be planted because, unlike most supermarket potatoes, they’re not treated with sprout nip, a chemical that inhibits eye growth. The potatoes in the Saranac Lake garden, by the way, were Tucker Farms’ Adirondack Blue variety, and they were delicious.

Photograph courtesy of Richard Tucker


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Adirondack Family Activities: The Corn Maze

This year we will be hunting space aliens in Gabriels. Yes, crop circles have been found in the Adirondacks, though this time they can be proven the direct result of human effort, not the paranormal. For the fourth year in a row the design for the maze at Tucker Farms is from the artistic work of Scott Rohe. He didn’t even have to perpetuate any crop circle myth by going out in the dead of night to complete the large-scale land art. He just came up with the design so the Tuckers could plant the corn in a grid-like pattern. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

When is it Apple-picking Time?

For the first time, I have apples that are perfect! Admittedly, I only have a few (okay, four), but that’s more than I’ve had in the past. I’ve been on the fence, however, about picking them. Last year I finally picked my Northern Spies out of desperation—we were expecting snow. I made tarts and took them to our Book Club meeting, but they really weren’t ripe. Unlike most people I know, I do not like green fruit (green as in “unripe”, not green as in color, although the two can be synonymous).

This year there was enough rain that the apples grew well. The sunny days of late August and September made the fruit grow. No scab appeared, and only a few were attacked by insects. But each day the fruits remain on the tree is one more day for something to happen. When should I pick the apples?

It all depends on what type of apples you have. Some varieties ripen early in the season (some, I’ve read, as early as July), while others linger until almost Thanksgiving. Up here in the North Country, that can be a problem; by Thanksgiving the tree could be buried in snow!

Your best bet is to find a local orchard and find out what apples are being picked and when. Sure, you could go on-line and find picking dates, but unless the orchard you select is in the same climate as you, you cannot count on the accuracy of those dates.

But suppose you don’t have any local orchards. There are certainly plenty of orchards along the Champlain Valley, but that’s the banana belt compared to the central Adirondacks. No one in his right mind has an orchard in our neck of the woods. Sure, there are lots of “wild” apple trees, but you can’t necessarily go by them. These were likely planted by early settlers as a source of fruit for making apple jack, a fermented tangy cider (not the sweet cider that you get with your donuts when you go pumpkin picking). They didn’t care what the apples tasted like or what condition they were in. No, you can’t go by these wild apples. The bears may like them, and the deer, but most of them are not for the likes of you and me.

So you stand there staring at the fruit on your tree. Do you go by color? If it’s red, is it ripe? Well, suppose your tree doesn’t bear red apples – what if they are yellow, or green? Can you trust color?

The answer is yes, sort of. First, you need to know what color your apples are supposed to be. Unless they are green apples, you can use color as a guideline. You want to look at the color of the skin near the base of the stem. If this area is green, the apple isn’t ripe yet. Once it turns red, or yellowish, then it is probably safe to pick.

You can also go by firmness. If your apple is hard as a rock, it isn’t ripe. If, however, it has a little bit of give to it when you give it a gentle squeeze, go ahead and pick.

You can test readiness by the ease of of the apple’s release from the tree. When you pick an apple, it should pluck easily, almost falling into your hand. If you have to tug and wrench it off, it’s not ripe.

Now, suppose a heavy killer frost is coming, and your apples are still on the tree. What do you do? You have to make a decision. Are they ripe enough that if you pick them and place them in a cool, dark place they will continue to ripen? If so, pick away. If not, then you might want to cover your tree, just like you would your pumpkins and squash.

Up here in the mountains growing perfect apples can be frustrating. Some years you might succeed, and other years your crop may be a complete failure. The best thing you can do it relax; after all, there isn’t much you can do about the weather. Get to know your trees, learn what varieties you have, and check the picking dates at the nearest orchard(s). From there you can only use common sense. With a little luck, you will have apples to enjoy throughout the cold and grey days of winter – a little taste of fall.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Adirondack Harvest Benefit Dinner Announced

The Lake Placid Lodge’s Chef Kevin McCarthy and DaCy Meadow Farm will be hosting an Adirondack Harvest Dinner on Tuesday, September 29th at 6:00pm at the St. Agnes School Auditorium in Lake Placid. This unique dining experience will feature ingredients supplied by local Essex County farmers. According to the official event announcement, “dinner will feature beverages, an appetizer, Dogwood Bread Company bread, soup, garden salad with maple balsamic vinaigrette, an entree featuring a selection of local, pasture-raised meats and fresh vegetables, and a dessert created with pure maple sugar.”

A keynote speaker, noted food and restaurant consultant Clark Wolf, will discuss developments in the local and healthy food movements and how the Adirondack region can move towards a more sustainable agricultural-based economy.

Ticket prices are $30 for adults and $15 for students and all proceeds will benefit Adirondack Harvest and Heifer International. Seating is limited to 150 people and reservations are required (call Dave Johnston at (518) 962-2350 or email djohnston [AT] dacymeadowfarm [DOT] com. Checks should be made payable and mailed to: DaCy Meadow Farm, Box 323, Westport, NY 12993


Monday, September 21, 2009

Harvest Festival at The Adirondack Museum

The Adirondack Museum will hold its annual Harvest Festival next Saturday and Sunday, October 3rd and 4th, from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. The Museum offers free admission to year-round residents of the Adirondack Park in the month of October including the Harvest Festival.

As a part of festival the Museum is sponsoring a food drive in support of Warren-Hamilton Community Action. Donations of non-perishable food items will be collected in the lobby of Visitor Center from September 29 through October 6.

Circle B Ranch in Chestertown will be providing rustic wagon hay rides through around the museum grounds as wel as pony rides.

Traditional folk music eill be provided by Roy Hurd and Frank Orsini both days at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

Other Harvest Festival highlights include cider pressing, a blacksmithing demonstration, barn raising (for young and old), as well as pumpkin painting
and crafts inspired by nature. Regional artists and crafters will offer unique handmade items for sale. Kids can enjoy a variety of harvest-themed games and activities.

For more information call (518) 352-7311, or visit
www.adirondackmuseum.org.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dealing with Frost in the Adirondacks

Last night the Weather Gurus predicted a low of 25 degrees Fahrenheit for Newcomb. Brrr. In anyone’s book, that is chilly. Thanks to a wet growing season, followed by a very dry September, I find that my garden has needed very little in the way of frost protection. With the exception of a couple pumpkins, this year’s garden is unconcerned with crisp weather.

But perhaps your garden is a different story. Are you one of the lucky few who have tomatoes? Perhaps you have squash and corn still ripening. Or maybe you put in some late season veg, like kale or other greens. If you fit into this category, then you’ll want to be alert for freezing forecasts and ready to ward off Jack Frost.

Some veg are hardy and can take the cold. In fact, there are veg that improve with cooler temps, like carrots. Many a gardener has claimed that carrots only get sweeter with the cold. I’m testing this theory this year by leaving most of my carrots in the ground as late as possible. But other veg are more tender and in need of some TLC if they are to survive.

Over the last couple of years I’ve invested in floating row covers. These fibrous white sheets come in varying thicknesses depending on the amount of protection you desire. The thicker the cloth (heavier the weight), the more protection. This is beneficial for frost protection. Row covers also reduce light transmission, so in the springtime lighter weight material might be preferable so that the plants can get enough light to sprout and grow.

A cheaper alternative to agricultural row covers is bed sheets. Sheets, towels and blankets sprout in many a garden with fall rolls around. Like row covers, they are draped over plants and pots, keeping the frost from killing tender leaves and fruits. A key to remember here is that you don’t want your cover to touch the plants. The cover is acting like a roof and walls, keeping the warmer air of the day trapped around your plants, and keeping the cold air of night away. If the cold air can get under your blankets, or if your sheet is touching the plant beneath it, the cold can still cause damage.

Usually, though, I find that by the time killing frosts arrive, the thrill of the garden has faded somewhat. The novelty of picking beans and making tomatoe sauce has worn thin. I go out and drape tender plants with sheets, row covers, blankets, using clothespins to hold them all together, but if the frost sneaks in and kills the beans and tomatoes, I find I can get over it pretty quickly. Usually it’s the still unripe winter squash and pumpkins that that merit the most attention.

You could go the route of The Fan. The idea here is that the fan draws the warm air up from the ground and sends it out over your plants, displacing the colder night air. Or you could try misting your plants before night settles. There’s a claim that misted plants will develop an outer layer of ice crystals that will protect the rest of the plant from damage. Hm. Then there are smudge pots. These essentially create localized smog, which traps heat and keeps the plants from freezing.

If you have only a few plants that need protection, there are some nifty options out there that you can try. One is called a water wall. This plastic device is essentially a plastic cylinder that you place around your plant. The cylinder is made of pockets/tubes that you fill with water. During the day the water absorbs heat, which at night is released slowly, keeping the plant within its embrace nice and warm. At about $12 a pop, this can be expensive if you’ve got, oh, say 90 tomato plants to protect.

We used a similar but much cheaper option in the greenhouse where I used to work in New Jersey. We brought in our empty milk jugs and filled them with water. During the day the heat of the greenhouse warmed them up, and at night they released that heat, keeping the inside temps relatively steady as the outside temps fell. I’m sure it would work just as well in a garden, especially if you covered the plants and sun-warmed jugs with a sheet.

Straw bales can also provide your garden with some protection. Stacking up bales around your sensitive plants will block the outside air. Toss a blanket, or old window, or a frame covered with plastic, across the top and you have a temporary greenhouse (or cold frame) that will serve you well.

Gardening in the Adirondacks can be tricky even in a good year. With frost possible in June and August, we are left with only a few short weeks to breathe easily in the belief that our plants are safe. But with some careful planning (the selection of seeds and plants, the layout of the garden, the construction of cold frames, a collection of plant protectors), we can extend our season and eke a few more days or weeks out of our harvest. And if you really want to get into it, you can build a greenhouse, or a high tunnel system, that will permit you to have harvests all year ’round…but that’s another story.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Another Invasive in the Adirondack Garden

“What have you got that the deer won’t like?” I asked the dude at the garden place. This was my favorite nursery, and over the years I spent hundreds of dollars there. I liked the people, I loved their display gardens, and their plant selection was terrific. Unfortunately, they included several invasive species in their stock and promoted them for garden plantings.

“The Japanese Barberry would be great – we have two colors, green and rose. The rose-colored one will look great next to your pale yellow house.” » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Adirondack Harvest Celebration Events

Adirondack Harvest, the community-based farm and food development and promotion program, is welcoming the fall harvest season with a week-long Adirondack Harvest celebration. the events offer opportunities to meet farmers, visit farms, taste products from local farmers, chefs, and markets. Here is the complete list of events from Adirondack Harvest:

Farm Tours on Saturday, September 12:

Black Watch Farm. 9:00am to 4:00pm. 56 Elk Inn Rd., Port Henry. 546-3035. Come visit this 1860’s civil war era farm located on 60 acres. Primarily a horse farm offering riding lessons Black Watch features Connemara ponies originally from Ireland. Their vegetables garden is laden with pumpkins, gourds & cornstalks. Delicious homemade jam for sale as well. A walk through this farm will bring you many photographic opportunities.

Adirondack Heritage Hogs. 10:00am to 12:00pm. 26 Clark Lane, Lewis. Adirondack Heritage Hogs currently has 20 pigs of varying ages, sex and breed including a litter of 5 that will be two weeks old at the time of the tour. They also have some pigs on pasture, and some in the woods as well as free range turkeys, laying hens and meat chickens. In addition they are nearing completion on a custom butcher facility and operate a sawmill on the premises.

DaCy Meadow Farm. 10:00am to 2:00pm. 7103 Rte 9N, Westport. 962-2350. The Johnston family at DaCy Meadow Farm raises British heritage livestock, sells natural pork and beef, and has an agricultural themed art gallery. They also host special events, business meetings, educational groups, and serve farm to table meals.

Uihlein Maple Research Station. Tour at 1:00pm sharp until about 2:30pm. 157 Bear Cub Lane, Lake Placid. 523-9337. The core of the Cornell Sugar Maple Program, the Uihlein Field station’s sugar bush of 4000 taps is used to demonstrate the merits of new technology and proper forest stewardship to visiting maple producers and landowners.

Ben Wever Farm. 2:00pm to 4:00pm. 444 Mountain View Drive, Willsboro. 963-7447. Heart and Harvest of the Adirondacks. Working with previous owner and “senior agricultural consultant emeritus” Ben Wever, the Gillilland family has given new life to an old family farm creating a diversified operation specializing in grassfed beef, pork, chicken, and turkeys. They also sell eggs and honey and have a picturesque farmscape scattered with beautiful horses.

Crooked Brook Farm & Studios. 4:00pm to 8:00pm. 2364 Sayre Rd., Wadhams. 962-4386. Come experience the famous Mongolian barbeque! Bring your own veggies and meat to throw on an original hand-forged grill. View oil paintings and monumental sculpture by Edward Cornell.

Adirondack History Center Museum on September 12 & 13: Daily 10:00am to 5:00pm. Court Street, Elizabethtown. 873-6466. During a year filled with celebratory events, the 2009 Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commission has inaugurated the state’s first Heritage Weekend on September 12 and 13. Visitors are welcomed free, or at a reduced rate, to many museums, historical societies, and heritage areas in the Champlain Valley, the Hudson River Valley, and New York City. The Adirondack History Center Museum in Elizabethtown is offering free admission on Sunday, September 13 for Heritage Weekend and in celebration of Harvest Festival week sponsored by Adirondack Harvest and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Essex County. For further information on Heritage Weekend sites, visit the New York Heritage Weekend website www.heritageweekend.org.

Cornell E.V. Baker Research Farm Tour on Tuesday, September 15: 10:00am to 12:00pm. 38 Farrell Road, Willsboro. 963-7492. The Cornell University E.V. Baker Research Farm serves to connect Cornell University faculty with important agricultural issues facing northern NY farmers including best management practices for perennial forages, tillage and soil health interactions, wine grape variety evaluations, small grain variety trials and season extension using high tunnels and other studies.

“A Taste of Essex County History” on Saturday, September 19: Crown Point State Historic Site and Campground, Crown Point, NY. Part of a day-long celebration of the Crown Point Lake Champlain Quadricentennial event re-dedicating the Crown Point Monument & Rodin Sculpture. Adirondack Harvest will have an agricultural history display on site as well as a market devoted to serving local foods and offering farm fresh items for sale from Adirondack Harvest members.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Adirondack Autumn: The Raking O’ The Leaves

Ah, fall. That time of year that brings amazing colors to our lives, and tourists to our towns. For many it is the peak of the year. For others, it signals one more chore: The Raking of the Leaves.

Have you ever really thought about leaf raking? Why do we do it? Are those leaves a threat to our lawns? Or are they merely an eye sore? Do we do it because “someone” (probably a Victorian, and probably the same person who invented lawn mowing) decided it should be done and now it is accepted as another rule we must follow? (Personally, I suspect it is all a plot of the Lawn Worshippers.)

I know as a kid I loved raking leaves. They were dry, they were crunchy, they were light weight, and the piles were so much fun! You could jump in them, you could throw great armfuls at your friends and family (without anyone getting hurt), and you could stuff them into old clothes, creating scarecrows and porch decorations. But something happens when we grow up – seasonally fun activities like raking (and shoveling snow) become Chores. They are no longer fun. Instead, they are now Things That Must Be Done.

When I moved to the Adirondacks, I bought a house in a little “development.” My acre of property had exactly two deciduous trees, both black cherries that have seen better days. Sometimes I think they shed as many dead branches as actual leaves. For the first four or five years, I never even lifted a rake – there weren’t enough leaves to bother with. Since then, however, I’ve planted 11 apples, two pears, three crabapples, a red maple, a sugar maple, a couple elderberries, three dogwoods, three ninebarks, four serviceberries, three sumacs, three chokecherries, and two hawthorns, not to mention the grapes and hops. Admittedly, most of these are still too small to produce much in the way of leaves, but someday, should they all survive, I may be breaking out the rake once more. And I look forward to that day, because I need those leaves!

What in the world do I want all those leaves for? Unlike most Americans, I see leaves as Gardener’s Gold, not Yard Waste. When a tree sheds its leaves, it is also shedding a lot of nutrition. Well, maybe not a lot, but a fair amount. Leaves are the food factories of the trees. When fall comes, the trees (we’re talking deciduous trees here, not conifers) reclaim about 95% of the nutrition that’s left in the leaves, nutrition in the form of vital nutrients: potassium, nitrogen, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, et al. Still, that leaves 5% of those nutrients behind. In the natural world, the leaves fall to the ground, decompose, and voila! those nutrients are returned to the soil where the trees’ roots can absorb them the following year. Since I don’t have a ton of leaves smothering my yard, I feel perfectly content letting falling leaves lie, where they can decompose and feed my meager lawn.

But the ideal, for me, is to get those leaves into the garden. Most vegetable gardens are at least somewhat nutrient deficient. Sure, we could all go out and purchase bags of fertilizer and work it into the soil, but why not save some money and use the fertilizer that nature is already giving us? Instead of raking the leaves and bagging them for the dump (a concept that boggles my mind), take those leaves and pile them several inches deep in the garden. Give them a good watering, which will alert the critters in the soil that something is going on. Then take your hoe and chop the leaves into the earth. The worms will love you, having all this wonderful food available to them throughout the winter. You can even top dress it all with a few inches of straw, which will also decompose over time, providing even more nutrients for next year’s veg. Come spring, your garden will be ready and waiting for those seeds you spent the winter selecting from all those gardening catalogues.

But maybe you don’t have a vegetable garden and you find yourself swamped with autumn’s bounty. Consider donating your leaves to your community garden, or to your neighbor who gardens. You might even get some fresh zucchini in exchange!

As for me, I’ve been seriously considering two actions to boost my leaf intake this fall: posting “leaves wanted” signs around town, and clandestinely swiping bags of leaves from the curbs of Glens Falls. Maybe you could save me from awkward explanations to the police (“Honest, Officer, I was just collecting leaves for my garden”) by bringing your leaves to me.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An Adirondack Poison: White Snakeroot

‘Tis the season for White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima). This pretty, weedy plant can be found blooming in many of our forests from late summer “until frost.” Hm…that could be any day now, if you believe the weather reports!

One of the nice things about white snakeroot is that it is one of our native plants. According to my field guide, it is classified with the bonesets and Joe Pye weed – a Eupatorium. However, botanists, like birders, can be found reclassifying living organisms on an almost daily basis, it seems, and now this plant is in a separate genus: Ageratina.

I think that because we are surrounded these days with warnings about non-native invasive species, we tend to slip into the idea that native plants must all be good. In one sense they are: they are good for the ecological niche in which they have evolved. But this doesn’t make them “good” plants, necessarily. White snakeroot is an excellent example of this, for it is poisonous.

Back in the 19th century, many many people died from a disease that was labelled “milk sickness.” It seems that some milk (and, it turns out, meat) was tainted with something that made the cattle ill and killed people. The disease was known to wipe out large portions of early settlements (Abraham Lincoln’s own mother was one of its victims), and it became such a problem in parts of Kentucky that a $600 award was offered in the early 1800s to anyone who could find the cause of the disease.

Although not officially identified until 1928, legend has it that Dr. Anna Bixby (1809-1869) identified the causative agent long before that. Supposedly many of her patients were dying from milk sickness, and, as was probably fairly common at the time, the disease was blamed on witchcraft. Dr. Bixby knew there must be a more rational explanation, and noted that the disease only turned up in late summer and into the fall, and it seemed to be based on something the cattle were eating. One day she met up with a Shawnee woman who told her that white snakeroot was the culprit. Dr. Bixby fed a bit of the plant to a calf, which promptly displayed all the symptoms. She had all of the plant torn out from the fields and forests where cattle were grazing, and remarkably, the disease went away. Sadly, she never got credit for this (nor did the Shawnee woman).

What happens is that cattle eat white snakeroot when there is no other forage around, so it’s not like it’s a primary food choice for them. The plant contains tremetol, which is the poisonous compound. Tremetol is stored in the meat and milk, and thus it gets passed on to people who consume these cattle products.

That said, according to Daniel Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotany, the Cherokee and Iroquois did use this plant for a variety of medicines, including treatment for urinary ailments, as a diuretic, and as a treatment for venereal diseases. He doesn’t say, however, how well the medicines worked.

Still, just because a plant is toxic doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it – just don’t eat it! As you walk through the woods, perhaps along a shady path, keep your eyes open for a scraggly-looking plant about three to five feet tall. The leaves are jagged, and the top has a flattened cluster of white flowers. If you are lucky, you may find some butterflies nectaring on it, for it is one of their foods. Take the time to get to know it, for it is a lovely plant. Then note where it is so you can be sure your cattle don’t graze upon it.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Hyde Museum Offfers ‘A Taste of Art’ Wine & Food Event

In conjunction with The Hyde Collection’s exhibition Degas & Music, the Museum (in Glens Falls) is hosting its 7th Annual A Taste of Art … A Wine and Food Experience on Friday, September 18 from 6:30 – 9:30 PM. In keeping with French Impressionist Edgar Degas’ lifelong interest in all things musical, the wine tasting décor will evoke the feeling of a 19th century ‘café concert’ – a popular form of musical entertainment of the period featured in the exhibition.

The evening offerings include a combination of various wines, complementary foods, and lively entertainment. Putnam Wine (Saratoga Springs) and Uncorked (Glens Falls) work together to bring in a wide selection of wines from New York and other US wine producing regions, as well as vintages from Europe, South America, and Australia. The wines are complemented by food samplings from a number of area restaurants including Adirondack Community College’s Culinary Program, The Anvil, Cherry Tomato, The Farmhouse Restaurant, Friends’ Lake Inn, Fifty South, GG Mama’s, Grist Mill, Luisa’s Italian Bistro, and The Sagamore. Davidson Brothers Restaurant and Brewery will host the beer garden in the Museum’s Hoopes Gallery.

Attendees will be entertained by two musical groups – The Dick Caselli Trio and Alambic, as well a silent auction featuring music, food, and art-related items.

Tickets for ‘A Taste of Art’ are $75 per person. Reservations are required and accepted on a first-come, first served basis. Those interested in attending should call 518-792-1761 ext. 23 or email bchildress@hydecollection.org. A special master class is open to Connoisseur Committee members (those contributing an additional $250 to the event). This year’s master class will focus on the wines which would have been familiar to Edgar Degas and his contemporaries. Because of the limited master class space, those wishing to join the Connoisseur Committee should contact the Museum at their earliest convenience.

All proceeds from the wine tasting event will benefit The Hyde Collection’s exhibitions and educational programs through the Museum’s Annual Fund.


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