The arrival of cooler nights with widespread valley fog and heavy dew creates favorable conditions for many creatures that require excessive dampness. Among those forms of life that function best in moisture laden surroundings are the slugs, a collection of invertebrates known for their slimy, unappealing appearance, incredibly slow rate of travel, and ability to wreak havoc in gardens just as produce is getting ready to harvest.
Slugs, along with the snails, are gastropod mollusks. As a general rule, slugs lack the rounded or spiral-shaped exterior shell that typifies snails. There are many different categories of slugs, and attempting to determine the exact identity of an individual can be as challenging as trying to figure out what species of mosquito has just landed on your arm. » Continue Reading.
After several days without a significant rain, an observant gardener pulling up clumps of weeds, or a perceptive hiker traveling through a pine forest or a meadow near a stand of conifers may notice a glob of saliva-like fluid attached to a wildflower stalk or the stem of a piece of grass.
Occasionally referred to by some people as snake spit, or frog spit, this common frothy deposit of whitish, watery liquid is neither associated with a snake or frog, nor is it produced by the salivary glands of any creature. The spit-like fluid seen on various plants during the early days of summer in the Adirondacks is a form of protective enclosure that surrounds a small insect known as the spittlebug. » Continue Reading.
The King’s Garden at Fort Ticonderoga opens for the season today, June 1 with the colors of the bearded iris and other early blooming perennials and annuals. The garden celebrates the history of agriculture on the Fort Ticonderoga peninsula with tours, programs and special events throughout the season. Opportunities include hands-on family programs, adult learning, daily guided tours and quiet strolls through the scenery, volunteer initiatives, and a garden party.
The first program in the King’s Garden Workshop Series on herbs takes place on Wednesday, June 8th at 1:00 PM – Nature’s Wild Herbs Discovery Walk with local herbalist Nancy Wotton Scarzello. » Continue Reading.
From the outside looking in, Bolton Landing is a tightly knit community. Jane Neil Caldwell, who’s lived in Bolton for almost 40 years, says she’s still searching for that community.
“We may be part of extended families, or be involved with the school if our children are students, or belong to clubs or a church, but we never seem to come together in one place, for one purpose, as a true community should,” she said. » Continue Reading.
Cornell University Cooperative Extension Warren County was awarded a New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets grant to develop a Warren County Farm Guide and encourages farmers to participate.
The Warren County Farm Guide is expected to allow for more information to be made available to the public in their search for locally grown products and educational farm tours. The guide will include a listing of farms along with potentially a listing of Warren County farmers’ markets, ongoing ag events and festivals, a harvest calendar, information on Why Buy local, and important agricultural facts. » Continue Reading.
Cornell Cooperative Extension in Warren County is offering its Vegetable Garden Seed Kit Fundraiser for the 2011 planting season. It’s not too early to start preparing for spring and summer planting. The prices for store-bought vegetables are sky-rocketing and growing your own fresh vegetables could save you money. Spending time outdoors and eating your home-grown vegetables is also a perfect way to ‘Go Healthy!’ » Continue Reading.
The Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Master Gardener Volunteer Training Program is now accepting applications for the program beginning in January 2011. Space is limited, so contact your local office soon for an application. Information about the program can be found on the CCE Warren County website.
After enrolling, you are provided with a large binder of information and reference material for the course that supplements the weekly presentations from Cornell University faculty, Cooperative Extension staff, and local experts on a wide range of horticultural topics. The topics include: Basic Botany, Entomology, Soils, Home Lawn Care, Vegetable and Fruit Gardening, Composting, Organic Gardening, among others. Local regional training is held in Ballston Spa (saratoga County) on Mondays from late January to mid April. » Continue Reading.
In 1960, New York State was home to 88,000 active farms; today that number has decreased to roughly 36,000 farms – a decline of nearly 60% in 40 years. In response, The Farmers’ Museum in historic Cooperstown, NY is assembling an exciting collection of original photography to chronicle and preserve the changes in agricultural practice, rural life, and farming families of New York State from the 19th century through the present. » Continue Reading.
Rita Poirier Chaisson was born in 1914 on Canada’s Gaspe Penninsula. In 1924, her father Paul Poirier, a lumberjack, moved the family to the North Country where logging jobs were more abundant. Her mother agreed to leave Canada with reluctance. The Poirier family spoke French, no English, and she was convinced that New Yorkers “just talk Indian over there.”
The family kept a farm near Tupper Lake, with as many as 85 cows. Rita planted potatoes and turnips, and helped with the haying. She and her siblings attended a local school, where she was two years older than most of her classmates. Although she picked up English quickly, her French accent made integration difficult. She left school at the age of 14, and worked as a live-in maid, cooking and cleaning for local families for three dollars a week. She used her earnings to purchase clothes by mail order for her sisters, mother, and herself. » Continue Reading.
In 1916, the New York Commissioner of Agriculture reported that Essex County is “by far the most broken and mountainous section of the state.” In spite of the fact that “only about one-third of the area of the county is in farms and only about one-eighth improved farms, yet there is a remarkably good report of agricultural production.” County farmers produced 96,383 bushels of corn in 1915, along with barley, oats, buckwheat, potatoes, and hay and forage.
Corn has long been a staple food in the Americas. It is a domesticated plant, bred from a wild grass native to southern Mexico nearly 7,000 years ago. Its use as a cultivated food plant in the northeastern United States began about 1,000 years ago. Although the Adirondack climate is not generally conducive to agriculture, there are pockets in the valleys and surrounding areas where the growing season is long enough, and the soil rich enough, to grow corn. The vegetable was one of the staples of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) diet. European settlers in the region grew corn where they could, not only to feed themselves, but to feed their livestock as well. As settlement and tourism in the region grew, Adirondack hotels and resorts kept kitchen gardens to feed guests. Adirondack families grew their own vegetables, preserving what they did not eat in season for the long winter months. Locally grown corn was featured on the menu for human and animal consumption.
Although the Commissioner’s 1916 report indicating that most crops grown in Essex County were produced “for the supply of camps, cottages, hotels, and summer tourists,” by the late 1800s, some northern New York farms were growing enough corn to export to wholesale dealers in cities like Boston, Syracuse, Rochester, Watertown and New York City.
During the Depression, newspapers like the Malone Farmer offered advice on creating healthy and inexpensive meals. In October, 1931, readers were advised that “as for cost, corn preparations are among the more economical of the common foods. Two pounds for five cents is the average price per pound by bulk for both corn meal and hominy.”
A regular column, called the “Market Basket,” offered readers tips on shopping, canning, cooking, and sample menus. The May 20th, 1931 edition also included a recipe for corn soup:
2 cups canned crushed corn 1 cup water 1 quart milk 1 onion, cut in halves 1 tablespoon flour 4 tablespoons butter Salt to taste Pepper
Combine the corn and the water, cook for 10 minutes, and stir constantly to keep from sticking to the pan. Press the corn through a strainer. Heat the milk and the onion in the double boiler and thicken with the flour and fat, which have been well blended. Add the corn pulp, salt, and pepper, Heat, remove the onion, and serve. Buttered popcorn makes an interesting substitute for croutons to serve with corn soup.
Adirondack farmers hosted “husking bees” during harvest. Families and neighbors gathered together to remove cornhusks before cooking for a crowd. In Willsboro, an unidentified farmer or family member used a small wooden peg, pointed on one end and held with a strap of leather to the thumb as an aid in removing husks from many ears of corn. Made by hand near the turn of the 20th century, it would have made such a repetitive task easier.
Come see the corn husker (76.163.12), and other corn-relates artifacts in ‘Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions” at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, on exhibit this season through October 18, 2010.
Corn Husker Found in Willsboro, NY ca. 1890-1930 76.163.12 Gift of Dennis Wells
The more I learn about bees, the more interesting they become. This morning I was out photographing the insects and flowers in our butterfly garden, and a large portion of the insects I saw were bumblebees, which were mobbing the globe thistles. When the bumbles are this plentiful, it makes studying them a bit easier, for space is at a premium. When they find a good spot to feed and collect pollen, they stay there until the resource is exhausted. So armed with my macro lens, I started stalking the bees. One busy little lady was well-laden with pollen, her pollen sacs bright orange bulges on her hind legs. This got me to wondering about pollen sacs. What exactly are they? Are they actually pockets in which the bees stuff pollen, or are they just sections of leg around which pollen is piled? I had to know more.
As it turns out, bumble bees have a very interesting system for storing pollen, which begins with pollen collection. Because they are extremely fuzzy animals, pollen sticks to them every time they visit flowers. It sticks to their antennae, their legs, their faces, their bodies. They become one giant pollen magnet.
One of the really neat things I learned about bumble bees (and apparently beetles and ants), is that they actually have a special structure just for cleaning their antennae. Located on their front legs is a special notch. The inside curve of this notch is lined with a fringe of hairs that work like a comb. Have you ever watched a beetle, ant or bee wash itself? It will draw its antennae through this notch, and the comb-like hairs brush off pollen and any other debris that might be there. Pretty nifty.
Meanwhile, the middle legs are also equipped with brush- (or comb-) like hairs. These are run over the body, scraping off the collected pollen. From here the pollen is transferred to the pollen presses located on the hind legs.
At this point we have to take a good look at those back legs. Just like us, the bee’s legs have a tibia, which is the lower leg (think of your calf). On bumble bees the tibia is flat, somewhat convex, shiny and surrounded by hairs, some of which are rather long and stiff. This forms what is called the pollen basket. Located at the lower end of the tibia (think of your ankle) is a comb-like structure, and on the metatarsus (think of your heel or foot) is the press. These two structures work together kind of like levers.
So, the pollen (which has been moistened with nectar to make it sticky) is transferred to the press and the bee manipulates the press and comb to press the pollen onto the bottom part of the flattened tibia. Each new batch of pollen is pressed onto the bottom of the basket, pushing the previous batches further up. When the basket is full, it will bulge with upwards of one million grains of pollen. The hairs that surround the tibia hold the pollen in place while the bee flies from place to place, either collecting more pollen, drinking nectar, or flying back home to stock the nest with this carefully gathered food, which is what her offspring will eat when they hatch.
Bee pollen is considered one of the all-time great foods. Of course, the information I found on the nutritional content of bee pollen is specifically for honey bee pollen, but bumble bee pollen is probably very similar. So, here are some statistics on honey bee pollen:
• It is a complete protein; • It is the only known food to contain all 22 amino acids that the human body needs but cannot produce for itself; • It contains more protein than any meat or fish; • It takes a honey bee about an hour to collect one pellet (basketful) of pollen; • A teaspoon of honey bee pollen contains about 1200 of these pellets.
(Honey bees, by the way, have crevices on the backs of their knees, and it is into these that the gathered pollen is stuffed.)
It is now clouding up and the bees have probably left the garden. I know, however, that the next sunny day we have, I will be out in the garden watching the bees. I want to see if I can actually witness a pollen press in action. Perhaps some of you will do the same. If you get to see a bee pressing pollen onto its pollen basket, I hope you will let me know.
The Adirondack Park’s largest environmental organization held its annual Forever Wild Day celebration on July 10 at Hohmeyer’s Lake Clear Lodge, with just over 250 guests in attendance. The Council presented the group Adirondack Harvest with its “Conservationist of the Year” award for 2010, for promoting sustainable local farming.
Part of the celebration was a 100-mile-lunch, in which all ingredients for the meal came from 100 or fewer miles from Lake Clear and the Adirondack Council’s 35th annual members’ meeting. » Continue Reading.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), a perennial herb, once proliferated along the eastern seaboard from Maine to Alabama. It is similar to Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), and was one of the first herbs to be harvested and sold commercially. The name “ginseng” comes from the Chinese word “jen-shen” which means “in the image of a man,” a reference to the shape of the mature root, which resembles the human body.
Wild ginseng in China and Korea has been relatively rare for centuries, a result of over harvesting. It was discovered in central New York in 1751. By the late 18th century, Albany, New York had become a center of trade in ginseng. Most Adirondack ginseng was exported to China where it was (and is) used as a popular remedy. By the middle of the 19th century, wild American ginseng was in danger of being eradicated by “shang” hunters, who dug up the brittle roots for sale to wholesale enterprises. Horticulture experts and private citizens alike experimented with cultivating the herb.
The September 5, 1906 issue of the Malone Farmer featured a front-page ad: “Wanted—People to grow Ginseng…Any one can do it and grow hundreds of dollars worth in the garden. Requires little ground.” F.B. Mills, of Rose Hill, NY, provided seeds and instructions (at cost) and a promise to buy the mature roots at $8.00 per pound.
Ginseng farming takes patience. It grows in cool, shady areas, in acidic soils such as are found in hardwood forests. The larger and older the root—which can live 100 years or more—the more it is worth. Ginseng is relatively easy to cultivate, but one must wait for the plants to mature over the course of 5-10 years before seeing a return on investment.
Nevertheless, by the turn of the 20th century, ginseng farming was common, and held the promise of great profit. The July 16, 1908 edition of the Fort Covington Sun ran a headline proclaiming “PUT GREAT FAITH IN GINSENG. Chinese Willing to Pay Fabulous Prices for Roots.” In 1904 a Plattsburgh paper reported that L.A. Childs of Chazy “will make an extensive exhibit of this product at the coming Clinton county fair, and this will be the first public exhibit of it ever made in Northern New York.” Three years later Miss Melissa Smith of St. Johnsville, “probably the only woman in America who grows ginseng for a living,” was reported to have roots valued at more than $10,000.
The actual medical benefits of ginseng have been disputed in Western medicine for centuries. The September 19, 1900 issue of the Malone Farmer expressed the opinion that “The ginseng trade is the most extraordinary in the world. American doctors believe it to be practically valueless as a medicine, or at the most about as potent as licorice.” Users claim it increases energy, prolongs life, and induces a feeling of wellbeing.
The Adirondack Museum’s permanent collection includes this ginseng root harvester, used in Franklin County during the late 19th century. Ginseng is never pulled from the ground. Whole, unbroken roots have the greatest value. This tool was used to dig the soil around the plant, some six inches away from the stem. Once the soil around the root was removed, the shang hunter could lift the root out and carefully brush away the dirt.
The market value of ginseng has risen and fallen over the centuries, but it remains an important forest crop. In 1977, the US Fish and Wildlife Service imposed restrictions on the sale of ginseng under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. New York State, as well as most states in the Northeast, tightly regulates the sale and harvest of ginseng. No wild ginseng may be harvested on state lands.
Photo: Ginseng Root Harvester Found in Tupper Lake, NY ca. 1850-1890. Courtesy the Adirondack Museum (2001.38.2).
Eventually, every naturalist writes a piece about dandelions, those golden discs of sunshine that dot our lawns, raid our gardens, and provide hours of entertainment for children and frustration for adults. The time has come for me to write mine.
The dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, is, quite frankly, an alien invasive. And like many invasives, it has done quite well on our side of the pond. But we really should consider all aspects of this plant before we make any judgments. » Continue Reading.
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