Posts Tagged ‘Gardening’

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Deer-Proofing the Adirondack Garden?

“There’s a deer in the hummingbird garden,” our intern said in a stage whisper. “It’ll probably be gone by the time I get there,” I said, as I grabbed the camera and made a dash for the door. Lo and behold, the deer stood there, ripping through our hosta as though it was so much buttercrunch lettuce, completely ignoring me as I stepped closer and closer snapping one shot after another.

While this certainly gave us a wonderful wildlife encounter, it isn’t really the type of wildlife we want to see in our butterfly and hummingbird gardens. Already it has pruned the hollyhocks, and who knows what else it will munch on next. We’ve had little problem with deer before now, but once they’ve discovered the choice produce aisle, it is hard to keep them away. What is a gardener to do? » Continue Reading.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Wild and Woolly Adirondack Aphids

While hustling a group of first and second graders along the trail to get them back to their bus on time, I hit the breaks when my eye was caught by masses of white fuzz in the alders along the boardwalk. I zoomed in on the fuzz, with the kids right beside me. What could it be? When I got close enough, I knew what we had: woolly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tesselatus).

Usually we see these insects in late summer and early fall when the bits of white fuzz start flying around. They are kind of pretty, in a fluffy faerie sort of way, with just a hint of pale blue showing through the fuzz. But, they are aphids, after all, and we all know that aphids tend to be bad news for plants.

In preparation for writing this post, I read up on woolly alder aphids, and it turns out that, like so many things on this planet, they are pretty interesting characters. For example, let’s look at that glorious white fuzz. It’s more than just a pretty covering. This cottony fluff is actually a waxy substance that the aphids exude to protect their juicy grey bodies from predators. After all, if you were looking for a mouthful of tender insect, and instead you got a mouthful of waxy fuzz, you might think twice about snacking at this location.

But every problem has a solution, and indeed there are two major predators of these aphids: the larvae of green lacewings (Chrysopa slossonae) and the caterpillar of a butterfly appropriately known as the Harvester (Feniseca tarquinius). This caterpillar, by the way, is one of the world’s only predaceous butterfly caterpillars. Both these predators adapt a pretty interesting hunting strategy: they cover themselves with the aphids’ own waxy fuzz. Thus disguised, they become veritable wolves in sheep’s clothing, hunkering down among the aphid colony and munching away.

But wait…the story doesn’t end here. The disguise adapted by these larvae isn’t so much to hide them from the aphids as it is to hide them from the aphids’ body guards. Like many aphids worldwide, woolly alder aphids have an arrangement with Ant Protective Services. If you find a colony of aphids, look closely and you will surely find ants nearby. These ants may look like simple shepherds, herding flocks of aphids and “milking” them for honeydew, but the arrangement isn’t quite so bucolic. Sure, the aphids squeeze out droplets of super sweet liquid (a by-product of the sap they sucked from the plant – more on this in a moment) when stroked by the ants’ antennae, and the ants then tote these droplets home for dinner, but in exchange for this the ants protect the colony from all intruders. Go ahead and stick your finger among the aphids and see what happens. Quickly your finger will be attacked by the nearest ants. So the clever costumes used by the lacewing and butterfly larvae do a pretty good job of tricking the ants. If you don’t believe it, consider this: some researchers introduced undisguised larvae to an aphid colony and the ants patrols effectively removed them from the scene.

The aphids get an additional benefit from the “milking” process mentioned above. As we all know, a steady diet of sugars isn’t nutritionally balanced; even aphids need some protein, especially when it comes time to reproduce. In order to acquire the necessary nutrition (nitrogen), the aphids consume more sugary sap than they need. Their systems then separate out the minute traces of nitrogen and excrete the excess sugars (honeydew). The nitrogen is then utilized in making the necessary proteins for reproduction.

And this brings us to the life cycle of the woolly alder aphid. When you gaze upon a colony of aphids coating the twigs and branches of your alders, you are looking naught but females. There won’t be a male in sight. This is because these insects reproduce asexually, via a process known as parthenogenesis. This system of reproduction is actually a lot more common than you’d think. Unlike many insects, the virgin female aphid gives birth to live young (no time and energy wasted in making eggs), all of which are daughters. In almost no time at all, the daughters are squeezing out girls of their own. This reproductive strategy has the advantage of producing individuals perfectly adapted for the host plant and its immediate environment. Some researcher with nothing better to do once calculated that one female aphid could give rise to over 600 BILLION clones of herself over the course of a single season! Thank goodness for predators, parasites, diseases and limited numbers of host plants, eh?

But, even this sort of perfection has its limits, and towards the end of the summer, the host plant may be weakening, or the colony just needs to move on (perhaps the host is getting too crowded). Things become stressful and suddenly a generation is produced that has males. You will know this has happened when the formerly stationary insects have produced models with wings. The resources are now available for sexual reproduction, which results in the mixing up of genetic material. This in turn produces offspring that may be better able to survive conditions in other locations, so off they go. Natural selection will then determine which ones will survive.

What an amazing world we live in. Every time you turn around there is something new to discover. Who knew that white fuzz on a shrub could turn out to be so strange and exotic! I love science fiction, but part of me really believes that we don’t need to travel the expanses of the universe to find bizarre lifeforms: they are already here and living among us. So go forth, ye citizens of Earth, and see what fantastic lives you can uncover right in your own back yard!


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Contemplating Carrots

“Eat your carrots – they’re good for your eyes.” What mother hasn’t intoned this mantra to her children? Well, I’ve always loved carrots, and yet I’ve worn glasses since I was in third grade. Go figure. Still, carrots are good for you, and, even more importantly, they are easy to grow in the Adirondacks!

One of the things that makes the Adirondacks (or at least a good chunk of the region) ideal for carrots is the loose sandy soil. Root veggies need loose soil so they can grow big roots. If you suffer from heavy clay soil, you will have a tougher time growing things like carrots and beets, but with plenty of soil ammendments, you can still make a go of it. Afterall, my parents’ garden had terrible clay soil, it made weeding a misery, and yet we grew plenty of carrots and beets every year.

When it comes to picking out what carrots to grow, it can be difficult to choose. I tend towards heirloom varieties, partly because they have neat names, partly because they have some unusual colors, and partly because I like to support the folks who are protecting our seed diversity. I don’t particularly like the idea of one or two companies owning the patents on produce and making it illegal for folks to gather their own seeds from these plants. But that’s another story. This year I have Scarlet Nantes, Red Cored Chantenay, and St. Valery among my carrot selections.

Now comes the “hard” part: planting the seeds. Carrot seeds are tiny. Carrot seeds are light-weight. Planting on a windy day can be a disaster. They say to plant your carrots in rows two inches deep. This is difficult to do if you aren’t planting in rows. I mix my carrots with my onions – onions supposedly keep carrot pests at bay – but this means that I’m not planting in rows. So, I end up scattering my seeds on top of the soil and then raking the soil over the top. The trick then is to keep my shallowly-planted seeds wet enough to germinate.

Once they sprout (which takes a while), I discover that my scattering technique needs work. Vast areas are carrotless, while small patches are thick as turf. This leads to the next chore with carrots: thinning them out. I have always hated thinning my veg – it seems like I am wasting food! However, if you don’t thin, then you end up with runty carrots. Runty carrots are difficult to peel, although they make great snacks for the dog.

So I’ve come up with an alternate solution to thinning: transplanting. I tried this last year with some success, so I figure I’ll give it a go again this year. The goal is to take those thick clumps of carrots and spread them out into the Spartan spots; carrot seedlings are so much easier to handle than those weeny carrot seeds. All I have to do is gently remove the clumps, separate them into individual plants, and carefully stick them back into the ground, doing as little damage as possible to the root.

It’s worth the extra time and effort, however, when late summer and fall roll around and the time has come for the carrot harvest. They say that the later you harvest your carrots the sweeter they will be. Some even suggest you leave your carrots in the ground all winter, digging them as you need them. These pundits obviously don’t live in the snowbelt like we do. Dig them in winter? With what, a jackhammer? Nope, I’ll dig mine before the snow flies, thank you.

The final decision is what to do with your carrot crop. My family always froze our veg, so that’s the route I usually take. Still, I do like the idea of fresh raw carrots in January and February, and with a little planning, you can store your carrots all winter to use as needed. All you need is a deep container of damp sand. You fill your container partway with the sand and then lay down a layer of carrots. Cover with sand. Add more carrots. Continue until container is full. When you want a fresh carrot or six, you simply dig them out of the sand.

OH, and you’ll need a cool place to store your container(s), like a root cellar. I don’t have one of those, so I will stick to freezing my carrots.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fighting Colorado Potato Beetles in the Adirondacks

Last year it seems my yard was the staging ground for every potato beetle in Newcomb. No other gardeners I’ve spoken with seem to have had any, yet my potatoes were covered and defoliated faster than my patrols could keep up. This spring I resolved that I would not fall victim to these insects. I ordered an organic-certified insecticide, and read that by planting my ‘taters later (say, mid-June), I could avoid an infestation.

Well, I went out in the garden the other day (after planting my potatoes…I just couldn’t wait another week), and found a Colorado Potato Beetle on a potato plant that had just emerged, a sprout from an overlooked potato from 2008. I crushed it beneath my boot. Then I found another…and another. A couple days ago I went back out and found that not only did I have adult beetles grazing on these resurrected plants (they are sprouting up all over the place – I must work on my potato digging skills), but they were mating and laying eggs. I smooshed several clusters of the brilliant orange eggs before I went inside and mixed up a batch of spray. Thus armed, I commenced my attack. Then it rained. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gardening for Butterflies and Moths

Most of us are familiar with monarch butterflies, those stunning Hallowe’en-colored insects that make phenomenal migration flights from the northern parts of North American to the hidden forests in Mexico. But if you mention painted ladies, people are more likely to think of old Victorian houses with bright new paint jobs, or women with questionable reputations, than they are butterflies. Likewise, thanks to ads for a popular sleeping remedy, luna moths are easily recognized by much of the American population, while Isabella moths remain mostly unknown (woolly bear caterpillars turn into Isabella moths). » Continue Reading.


Sunday, May 31, 2009

Adk Gardens: To Till or Not to Till

Spring arrives and the garden beckons. The urge to plant seeds and pick flowers is strong. But first, the chores must be done, and the big garden chore that looms over all is preparing the soil for planting.

We open the shed and stare at the tiller (or we go to the garden store and stare at the tillers). Lugging the machine out into the yard we check for fuel, check for oil, push the lever to choke and yank on the chord. If we are lucky, it fires up with only a pull or two. If not, well, we stand back, glare at the machine, pull the chord some more, kick the infernal machine, push some levers back and forth, pull the chord, flood the engine, and lug the thing back into the shed.

There must be a better way.

That was me last weekend. I had one bed that I really wanted to till up, but for the first time in three years I couldn’t get the tiller started. Not being mechanically inclined, I returned the tiller to the shed and grabbed my broadfork instead.

I discovered the broadfork three years ago, about the time I was really getting into my veg gardens. All the flower beds around my house I had dug by hand, and doing the same with the veg gardens was daunting, so I bought a tiller. After running/bouncing it over the lawn a few times, I still had to dig by hand to remove all the rocks and weeds and clumps of grass. What had been the advantage of getting this $300 machine that now stood idle in the shed?

I read through some of my gardening books and came across the broadfork in a book about Biointensive gardening. This method espouses double digging, in which the gardener starts at one end of a garden, digs down with a shovel one shovel length, puts that soil in a container, and digs down another level to just loosen the soil. This can be done with the broadfork – a tool that breaks up and loosens the soil without disrupting the soil’s structure (more on this in a moment). This tool looks exactly like its name: a fork that is rather wide. It has 6-8 tines attached to a horizontal bar, with handles emerging upright from the ends of the bar. One thrusts the tines into the ground, steps on the bar, and then grabs the handles, levering the tines through the soil. It’s a primitive thing, but it works great! You then back up and start the next row of digging. The first layer’s soil goes into the trough you just dug, on top of the broadforked soil. The second layer is now forked. This continues until you reach the end of your bed. After you broadfork the last layer, the soil you removed from the first row is placed on top – the loop is closed, the system complete.

Over the years, my garden reading has come across many justifications for not tilling the soil. I first learned of no-till agriculture in a conservation class I took many years ago in college. We were reading about the Dust Bowl and how the advent of no-till farming helped cut down on soil erosion. In today’s gardening world, however, the idea of no tilling has more to do with “being green” – not polluting the air with gasoline fumes, cutting down on our carbon footprints. But it’s more than that – it’s also about preserving the vitality of the very soil itself.

As soil develops, layers are built; this is the soil’s structure. But the structure is more than mineral and organic layers; it is also the layers of living things: the worms, the beetles, the fungi, the bacteria. All these things work in concert to create a healthy environment in which plants can grow. When we run through this carefully balanced system with our rototillers, we mix everything up, disrupting the health and balance. Can your plants still grow in it? Of course, but the soil’s vitality has been reduced. By using the double digging method we preserve the soil’s structure. We are essentially fluffing up the soil without turning it on its head.

So I took my broadfork to this final garden and applied it. I was anticipating a struggle with hard-packed soil, but to my pleasant surprise the soil loosened up with hardly any effort at all. Maybe this is because last year the bed was built without any tilling: I layered tons of newspapers on the lawn and covered them with compost and manure. I was expecting the soil this year to be hard – that preparing the bed would have me digging down through the hard lawn under the papers (hence my initial attempt at using the tiller). As it turned out, the layers had successfully (for once) smothered the lawn underneath and all was cool, moist and soft – the easiest veg bed I have ever prepared.

Maybe the tiller will go in my next yard sale.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Great Sunflower Project – Another Family Activity

Last summer I grew some amazing sunflowers – they must’ve reached ten or more feet in height and over a foot across the blossom! I also grew some smaller sunflowers, in all shades from a chocolaty red to a brilliant yellow. My sunflower bed became one of my favorite gardens, especially last fall when the chickadees came to steal the seeds (afterall, I planted the flowers to provide food for the birds).

Then I discovered The Great Sunflower Project (http://www.greatsunflower.org). This outfit’s goal is to sign up folks around the country to plant sunflowers and monitor them for bee activity. It’s kind of like the Lost Ladybug Project I wrote about earlier, except this time it’s bees that are in the spotlight. (The photo is from their website, by the way, taken by Ginny Stibolt.)

Most of us have heard about the crashing honeybee populations, better known as Colony Collapse. There are many theories out there as to why it’s happening, but I don’t think anyone has nailed down THE reason yet. Honeybees, however, are non-native insects, brought over to this part of the world for their honey-making skills and pollination efforts. That said, North America is home to many native bees (over 4,500 species of bees, according to the Great Sunflower Project’s website), most of which are important pollinators in their own right.

But even many our native bees are having some difficulty surviving these days. One reason, according to the website http://nature.berkely.edu/urbanbeegardens, is how we are gardening. The latest gardening fad is mulching, either with natural materials like wood chips or with synthetics like plastic or landscaping cloth. Mulching is touted for its weed-suppressing, water-conserving qualities, something every gardener appreciates. These ground covers, however, make it nearly impossible for ground nesting bees to find ground in which to nest. And in urban areas, which already have a surplus of impenetrable ground, thanks to roads, driveways, parking lots, lawns, etc., this can spell doom for some species of bees.

So, the Great Sunflower Project is recruiting gardeners, students, teachers and general nature nuts like me to survey our gardens for bees. If you sign up early enough, they send you a free packet of seeds (this year it was Lemon Queen Sunflower seeds). It’s too late now for the freebie seeds, but you can find Lemon Queens at many seed shops or catalogues. You plant your seeds, they grow and bloom, and then you watch for bees, timing how long it takes for five bees to show up at your plant(s). You send your data to them and that’s about it. But they aren’t looking for just any ol’ bee. Specifically, the sunflower folks want to know about bumble bees, carpenter bees, honey bees and green metallic bees. A quick buzz through their website will provide you with ID info for these species – it doesn’t get much easier than this!

Perhaps you don’t have sunflowers, or maybe you aren’t a sunflower fan. Not to worry – you can also monitor bee balm (if you need some, see me – I have a surplus of the stuff), cosmos (great companion plant for your veg garden, by the way, because it attracts these important pollinators), rosemary, tickseed and purple coneflower.

Maybe you are hesitant because you are afraid of getting stung. Did you know that bees are really quite shy and mostly are just too busy going about their own business to worry about you? About the only time most bees “attack” is if their nests are threatened (and by the by, male bees lack stingers). So if you are just puttering around your garden, taking notes on bees, they will happily ignore you and continue collecting pollen, sipping nectar, or looking for mates.

Need more reasons to participate? The Urban Bee Garden website has some great tips for bee watching, including interesting bee behaviors you can witness. For example, some male bees actually sleep overnight inside flowers; if you get up early enough you can catch them snoozing in their blossom bowers. Other males are very territorial, protecting “their” flowers from other males. In truth, they are on the lookout for females and spend most of their time driving away potential rivals.

This weekend I will probably plant my sunflower seeds and brace myself for the influx of bees. I’ve already noticed bees of many stripes about my gardens, some at the flowering shrubs, others hovering over bare ground, no doubt testing its potential for a nest site. I know that my yard is a great bee haven, thanks to the many flowering companion plants I scatter among the veg, but also thanks to my lax gardening standards: mulch is spotty at best these days. Watching the flowers for specific bees will give me just one more excuse to stay outside and learn something new about my fellow earthlings; the vacuuming and dishes will have to wait for another day.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Companion Plantings for the Vegetable Garden

Picture a vegetable garden full of bright flowers and variable foliage. Instead of a giant garden with straight rows of vegetables, you have many smaller beds, each a jumble of vegetables, herbs and flowers. A waste of space? Not at all! It turns out that vegetable gardens that exult in variety are inclined to be the most productive. Companion planting, folks – that’s the name of the game.

A classic book in the lexicon of gardeners is Carrots Love Tomatoes. Since this book came out, however, many others have joined the bookshelf, and one of my favorites is Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham. This book has almost become my garden bible because it is not only chocked full of great gardening advice, but it is immensely readable!

The key to a successful garden really is variety. You want to avoid the monoculture. When you plant expanses of just one type of plant (be it trees, flowers, or vegetables), you increase the odds that some disease or insect pest will find it and destroy it. If, on the other hand, you mix things up, garden survival rates soar!

But you don’t just want to chuck plants/seeds haphazardly into your garden; you need to follow a plan, you need to mix and match appropriately. For example, carrots and onions/chives are great companions. Carrots can be susceptible to carrot rust flies and onions/chives deter them. Onions are great for companions for many plants, actually, because of their pest-repellent qualities. Carrots also like caraway/coriander, calendulas and chamomile.

Beans and potatoes – these are a classic combo because the beans will help deter Colorado potato beetles. Here’s my two cents worth on this: bush beans yes, pole beans no. Make sure you use the right beans! Beets and onions are another good pair – alternate these root vegetables in your garden plots (I’ll discuss garden plots vs garden rows in another post). Your cabbage family plants (like broccoli) do well with aster family plants (like zinnias, dill and marigolds). Growing corn? Then you might want to try the traditional corn-beans-squash trio that many of our native people used (and still use). Plant your greens among your garlic, or under your cucumbers, or under broccoli and cauliflower, where the leaves will shade the tender greens from the harsh summer sun. Tomatoes do well with basil and peppers – all your pizza ingredients in one bed!

Nasturtiums, cosmos, calendulas and marigolds all feature prominantly in my veg garden – they provide wonderful spots of color, but also attract pollinators and other beneficial insects. Buckwheat is another great attractant for pollinators, and it’s also a great green manure when turned into the soil.

So break away from the boring vegetable garden. Turn it instead into a riot of color and textures. Mix and match your herbs and flowers and vegetables, and then see if your produce doesn’t do better for the effort.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Saving Fruit Trees from the Frost

The forecast says the low temperature tonight in Saranac Lake will be 22 degrees. The apple tree we share with a neighbor decided to bloom yesterday. What to do?

Since the tree has thrived at an elevation of about 2,000 feet for longer than anyone living in this neighborhood can remember, it must be a pretty cold-hardy variety. But a deep freeze at blossom time really threatens to thin the crop. So we called Bob Rulf, who owns Rulf’s Orchards, in Peru. He said it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to light charcoal in a couple of grills beneath the tree (this is a pretty big tree) and keep the smoke rising. Between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. is the coldest part of the night, Rulf said.

The temperature is only supposed to get down to about 29 degrees in Peru, the more-temperate apple basket of the Adirondacks. Cornell Cooperative Extension advises that when an apple blossom is tight and in the pink it can stand 30 degrees F for an hour; when it’s wide-open white it can stand 28 degrees for an hour, which seems counterintuitive, Rulf said.

His orchard is not equipped with wind machines or any large-scale equipment for dealing with frosts, so he’ll take his chances with the apples. However Rulf does plan to tow a furnace around the strawberry patch tonight with helpers riding along to blow hot air on that crop.

Photograph: Our apple tree in bloom


Sunday, May 17, 2009

North Country Gardening: Innoculations for Vegetables?

Believe it or not, some of your vegetables will benefit from the application of an innoculant. We’re not talking vine flu here, or spinach pox, but the addition of a few beneficial bacteria to give your veg an extra boost. And not just any veg: legumes.

Legumes are those vegetables that have nitrogen-fixing nodules on their roots, which enable them to access naturally occurring nitrogen much more readily than plants that don’t have them. Your basic legumes are peas, beans, peanuts, and fava beans. And with the probable exception of the peanuts, all can be grown here in the North Country.

The bacteria in question is Rhizobia. It is a naturally occurring bacterium, but apparently it isn’t terribly active. In order for it to be of tremendous benefit to your plants, you need lots of it! This is where the innoculant comes in. Innoculant can be ordered from almost any seed catalogue. It does have an expiration date, so you should check to be sure that what you purchase is good for the year you want to use it. I bought some last year but never used it. I found it in a drawer of my fridge this spring and decided to see if it was still viable. I’ll let you know.

So, you get this little packet of Rhizobia (millions and millions of them in one tiny packet). How you apply it is up to you. You can shake it onto your seeds after you plant them, you can shake your seeds in a bag with it, or you can mix it up as a slurry and soak your seeds in it. I did the latter: 4.5 oz water and the bacteria. It was like mixing up mushroom spoors in water: a very fine black powder. If you go the water route, you must be sure to not let it dry out – use within 24 hours. Don’t let the wind dry your seeds, either. If the innoculant dries, the bacteria are dead.

The only real downside that I discovered in doing the slurry method is that my fingers and hand ended up coated with the black slurry of bacteria as well. Hm – I wonder if I’ll absorb more nitrogen this summer as well.

Do you have to use innoculant? Of course not. I never have before now, my parents never did, and I doubt my grandparents did either. But sources claim that you can have up to 77% more peas/beans/peanuts if you do use it! Hm. I picked an awful lot of peas last year. I planted even more this year, and I used the innoculant. I may be overrun with peas. Wouldn’t that be a shame?


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Agro-Forestry: Making Money From The Forest

At MFO training, agro-forestry expert Bob Beyfuss talked about income opportunities for forest owners that don’t include logging. Here are a few things folks can do according to Bob:

Recreation: hunting leases, cabins, and cottages for various seasons. Take a look at www.aplacetohunt.net and www.woodlandowners.org.

Silvapasture is leasing for grazing or browsing. Although now somewhat limited for elk and deer due to Chronic Wasting Disease and it’s not for sheep or cattle (they cause too much forest damage), there are opportunities for goats. Goats love burdock, beech, and especially poison ivy. They still may need to be fed if they are grazing in strictly forested lands.

Maple syrup production – I’ve already covered that here.

Ginseng, goldenseal, bloodroot, black cohosh, ramp/wild leeks, and fiddleheads are just a few of the botanicals that can be managed on forest lands for profit. Contrary to popular belief, while nothing can be taken from state land, only ginseng and goldenseal are regulated on private land. Old ginseng can sell for $1,700 a pound. Other opportunities include native ornamental plants like foam flower, maidenhead fern, and a lot more. In 1900, there were 5,000 ginseng farms in New York State and New York was the leading producer.

Mushrooms: chanterelles and morelles can be gathered, but oysters and shitakes can be grown at home (shitakes can bring $16 a pound).

Bob recommends two books:

Growing & Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal & Other Woodland Medicinals

Wildflowers, (The New England Wild Flower Society)

Also check out Marketing Special Forest Products in New York State


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Adirondack Gardening Dilemma: Timing Seed Planting

This spring has many of us North Country gardeners in a quandary: do I put in my peas yet or not? The rule of thumb here in Newcomb is not to plant before Memorial Day Weekend, but this year the weather has been so balmy so early that we are itching to get those early veggies started.

Seed packets come with instructions like “Plant after all danger of frost has passed,” or “Plant as soon as the ground can be worked.” The latter applies to peas. And with the scorching weather at the end of April, it was really really hard NOT to plant – I had to keep telling myself, “It’s still April.” And even though peas and spinach are cool weather plants, killer frosts and even snow are not out of the question.

I ran into a neighbor that last weekend in April and we immediately started talking peas. He said that if he could get his tiller going that day, he’d plant his; I heard the tiller rumbling the rest of the morning. And I hear that the doctor over in Long Lake put his peas in, too. I decided to spend the day prepping my veg beds instead, getting ALL of them ready for planting a little later in the season.

Last Sunday, as the weeding continued, I uncovered a whole bowlful of leftover potatoes in one of the beds! Mmmm – fresh potatoes in May! I even have undug onions and last year’s leeks resprouting! We’ll see if they grow into edible bulbs.

Meanwhile, every day the tomatoes are getting a bit taller in the kitchen, and the squashes I started are, eh, doing so-so (I was a bit over-anxious and started them a wee bit too soon). The flower seeds I started a week or so ago are sprouting now, too.

So, we wait and practice patience. Still, there is something appealing in being able to plant the garden BEFORE the blackflies come out!


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Regional Foods Site Now Online

More and more consumers are looking for local foods. Community leaders are increasingly supportive of developing farmers markets and other venues for regional farmers to sell their products locally. A new website developed by the North Country Regional Foods Initiative – www.nnyregionallocalfoods.org – provides information on how to find regional foods and resources to help communities support and expand local food marketplaces.

The new website includes links to online tools designed to connect producers and consumers, research-based publications about North Country local foods, a calendar of local food events, and links to ongoing local foods work in the North Country.

Publications on the new website range from how to find money to strengthen local food systems and guides to increase the consumption of local farm products to cookbooks, advice on how to serve local foods at events, and economic analysis of farmers’ markets and other community-based food systems.

The site also includes the North Country Regional Foods Initiative’s series of research briefs, fact sheets and recommendations intended for other farmers, food business owners/operators, consumers, policymakers and community & economic developers working to enhance and sustain agriculture in Northern New York.

The report includes social and economic impact data generated by local/regional foods operations and the Northern New York-based organizations that support them and a summary of the spring 2008 conference on the role of Adirondack North Country foods in community and economic development.

The initiative was developed through a partnership of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Associations of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties and the Economic Development Administration University Center at CaRDI and designed to document how local food businesses and activities benefit the northern New York region and identify strategies for enhancing those benefits.

According to CaRDI’s Ag Economic Development Specialist, Duncan Hilchey, consumer surveys, in particular the Empire State Poll conducted by the Cornell University Survey Research Institute in 2007, show that 78.5% of the New York State residents age 18 and older buy local foods and 37.4% of that group said they go out of their way to buy local food.

Partnerships between producers, consumers, community and economic developers and local officials can serve as a model for bringing community members together to support other regional development efforts. Those interested in learning about and supporting local food activities in the North Country may now join a regional electronic network.

To activate entry into the cce-nnylocalregionalfoods-l@cornell.edu listserv, send an email to bel7@cornell.edu with “Add me to the NNY Local/Regional Foods List” in the Subject line. More information on local and regional food initiatives is available from members of the Northern New York Regional Agriculture Program Direct Marketing/Local Foods team and the Community and Rural Development Institute (CaRDI):

Franklin County: Bernadette Logozar, (518) 483-7403, bel7[AT]cornell.edu

Clinton County: Anne Barlow-Lennox, (518) 561-7450, alb326[AT]cornell.edu

Essex County: Laurie Davis, (518) 962-4810, lsd22[AT]cornell.edu

Hamilton County: Nancy Welch, (518) 548-6191, naw5[AT]cornell.edu

Jefferson County: Rosalind Cook, (315) 788-8450, rlc53[AT]cornell.edu

Lewis County: Dolores DeSalvo, (315) 376-5270, dbd6[AT]cornell.edu

St. Lawrence County: Katherine Lang, (315) 379-9192, kaa20[AT]cornell.edu

Additional Info: The website at www.nnyagdev.org/ncrf-home.htm include links to:

Adirondack Harvest – a community organization focused on expanding markets for local farm products so consumers have more choices of fresh farm products and on assisting farmers to increase sustainable production to meet the expanding markets; www.adirondackharvest.com

Adirondack North Country Association – a 14-county association committed to economic improvement. Since incorporation in 1954, ANCA has worked to create a greater sense of regional identity and pride through advocacy and promotion; www.adirondack.org/

Community and Rural Development Institute (CARDI) – Since 1990, the Institute at Cornell University has responded to current and emerging needs in community and rural development; works with Cornell faculty and staff, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and other state and regional institutions; http://devsoc.cals.cornell.edu/outreach/cardi/

Cornell Farm to School Program – provides resource development, educational programs, and evaluation to support efforts to increase the amount of locally produced food served in NY’s schools, colleges, universities & other institutions; http://farmtoschool.cce.cornell.edu/

Farmers’ Market Federation of New York – a grassroots membership organization of farmers’ market managers, market sponsors, farmers and market supporters, offering services to increase the number and capacity of farmers’ markets in NY, develop the scope of professionalism in farmers’ market management and improve the ability of markets to serve their farmers, their consumers and their host communities; www.nyfarmersmarket.com/

FoodRoutes – a project of FoodRoutes Network, a national nonprofit organization that provides communications tools, technical support, networking and information resources to organizations nationwide that are working to rebuild local, community-based food systems; www.foodroutes.org

GardenShare – a non-profit organization working to end hunger in northern NY; focuses on local foods; harvest sharing; farm-to-school; food security; home gardening; and public policy; publishes free quarterly newsletter and St. Lawrence County Local Food Guide; and operates the EBT terminal for Food Stamp Program participants at the Canton Farmers Market; www.gardenshare.org

MarketMaker – interactive mapping system locates businesses and markets of agricultural products in NY, providing an important link between producers and consumers; http://nymarketmaker.cornell.edu/

Pride of NY Member Search – The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Pride of NY Program promotes and supports the sale of agricultural products grown and food products processed within New York State; http://www.prideofny.com/

USDA Community Food Systems – A Nutrition Assistance Program through USDA, contains general resources and information from farm to table and links to specific topics such as eating in a community food system; food entrepreneurship; and, community food systems research; http://fnicsearch.nal.usda.gov/fnicsearch.


Monday, August 11, 2008

OPINION: Going Local in The Adirondacks

There was an interesting story in Sunday’s Press Republican about Gordon Oil in AuSable Forks. The company was founded by Clifford Gordon in 1921 and is now in it’s third generation. Part of the story was a tiny detail at the end that says a lot about our current economic environment:

“Starting out as Standard Oil of New York — or SOCONY, as the sign on top of the display [at Gordon’s main office] states — in the 1920s it became Mobiloil and then, in 1931, Socony-Vacuum.

Following 1955, every decade or so the parent company underwent business transformations, which included Socony Mobil Oil Co., Mobil Oil Corp., Mobil Corp. and, in 1999, ExxonMobil…

Lewis [Gordon, who operated the business with his brother Waxy for 50 years) recalled the big tanks they used to have, which were cut down for steel during World War II.

“There used to be storage in Plattsburgh,” he said. “Big barges would come through Whitehall and unload up there, and we would go get it.

“Now it all has to be trucked in. All the big companies had their tanks there in Plattsburgh. It’s kind of too bad.”

When the company switched to electrically operated pumps years ago it gave it’s older pumps to a local farmer who used them for many years. That’s the kind of localism we’ve lost and it’s to our detriment.

Localism – involvement in local politics, local economies, an understanding of local culture and the environment, underlies much of the Green movement. It’s not just politics and the environment, it’s about supportive communities of neighbors working together to protect each other from the sometimes ravenous capitalist economy (seen most recently in energy and food costs). It’s what was happening when Gordon Oil gave over those pumps to that farmer. It’s what was destroyed when those tanks were taken down and not replaced.

Localism is also the future we face. I was recently talking with a local hardware store owner, part of the True Value chain. He sells lumber, paint, the usual goods (plus his simply built furniture). He was telling me that he needed a special piece of lumber that he didn’t stock. He took his truck to pick it up at the Home Depot in Queensbury; they were out of stock, so he went to the Lowe’s and found what he was looking for. The piece of lumber cost him an additional $30 in gas for the truck, plus about two hours of time away from his shop. That piece of lumber could have been boughten for a fraction of the price not a quarter-mile away – albeit at a competing lumber store.

The story of the fuel oil storage facilities and the local hardware store owner are revealing for local businesses. They once stocked nearly everything a household needed. As corporations took over our world, local supplies (seen on store shelfs and those Plattsburgh tanks) have had to pared down their stocks as consumers have opted to drive long miles to shop at big box stores (or shippers have turned to trucking and on-demand wharehousing).

That is something that we’re going to see come to an end, although it make take a while for our neighbors to break their old habits. Even if the price of oil goes down before the election (as we argued it would), the damage has been done, and Adirondackers have started turning local out of necessity. That necessity is something local greens have been vociferously saying was bound to happen since the late 1980s, even as they argued for serious political efforts toward locally sustained communities.

The trend toward localism has already begun in a number of segments of Adirondack society – especially among small farmers and local wood products producers – but now we are going to see a much more general trend. Already Chestertown, North Creek, Schroon Lake, and surrounding areas have taxis – that’s right, cabs, right here in the North Country above Warrensburg. Not just a single car either, several companies that range widely through the mountains. You don’t need a taxi unless you are going someplace local.

James Kunstler (recently interviewed locally here) has been the most public area voice for localism. His books are a must-read for people interested in what future local economies could look like:

The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape (1994)

Home from Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the 21st Century (1998)

The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century (2006)

One thing Kunstler makes clear, is that it’s not just about energy – food is as important, and there are several ways to get informed about going local.

NCPR recently celebrated 10 years of the Warrensburg Riverfront Farmers’ Market, and new markets have been established around the region in recent years. Local Harvest does a good job online showing where you can find local farmers and farmers markets in our region, but eating local means more than local farmer’s markets. It means connecting with a local CSA (Community Supporter Agriculture) farm, it means growing your own food (alone and in cooperation with your neighbors), and it means shopping locally for locally produced goods.

Speaking of growing your own, Cornell Cooperative Extension has a program for beginning framers that has recently expanded on the web. According to NCPR who recently reported the news, the new site:

…guides new farmers, and farmers changing crops or marketing strategy, step by step through starting a farm business: from setting goals and writing a business plan, to evaluating land, to taxes and permits. There’s a frequently asked questions section, worksheets to download, and an ongoing forum. The website is the latest offering from the New York Beginning Farmers Resource Center. The center is based at Cornell, but its roots are in the North Country.

We need to get to know our local farmers. The Wild Center is holding two more “Farmer Market Days 2008” on September 11th, and October 2nd “in celebration and promotion of the wonderful local food producers in the Adirondack Region.” Naturally we can’t live on the mostly fancy foods the Wild Center’s program seems to focus on, but their effort is a good start to introducing local farm operations to the Adirodnack community at large.

Adirondack Harvest is a buy local food group that was started 7 years ago. They recently received a $50,000 grant to expand their program, which they describe on their site:

Since its inception in 2001, Adirondack Harvest has grown to encompass Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, and Warren counties in northeastern New York. These counties contain major sections of the Adirondack Park and the Champlain Valley. Our focus has been on expanding markets for local farm products so that consumers have more choice of fresh farm products and on assisting farmers to increase sustainable production to meet the expanding markets.

A more direct path to lessening food costs and supporting local farms comes from Adirondack Pork, aka Yellow House Farm and a member of Adirondack Harvest, where you can buy a whole or half locally raised pig (or go in on one with another family). A whole pig serves a family of four for about 6-9 months, depending on your eating habits. They raise a pig for you until it weighs about 200-225 pounds. Your pork is prepared for you by a local butcher – you tell them any special cuts, wrapping, etc., you want. Your meat comes to you wrapped, labeled and frozen. It takes a lot less freezer space then you would imagine, and its cheaper.

The bottom line is the economy is changing and the sooner we accept that it true and end our reliance on the big box stores filled with products from half a world away and their corporate partners. They have a stranglehold on our local economy and it’s time we fought back.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Adirondack Region Marijuana Crop Will Be HUUUUUUUGGGGGGE

The Glens Falls Post Star is reporting that there will be a “bumper pot crop” in Washington County thanks to hot and humid weather this summer. “We’re hearing it’s a great crop,” said Saratoga County Undersheriff Michael Woodcock, “It was jungle-like weather, and it is a tropical plant.”

The PS reports: “With its prodigious farmland, Washington County has long been one of the biggest producers of marijuana in the Northeast, though the advent of indoor growing operations has led to a drop in seizures over the past decade or so. In the early 1990s, 10,000 to 15,000 plants were pulled up annually in the county.The agricultural areas of Saratoga County have also been significant pot-producers over the years. This summer, local police will be able to employ a new, old weapon in the search for illicit pot patches.”

It seems that the Iraq War has taken qualified helicopter pilots out of the local pot-busting action, but starting this year the old helicopters will be back thanks to the newly established Northern Branch of the Capital District Drug Task Force which covers Saratoga, Washington and Warren counties.

“We’re hearing it’s going to be a pretty good year,” said Cambridge-Greenwich Police Chief George Bell. Cambridge was the site of the biggest seizure so far this summer, when State Police pulled up 103 plants last month in the hamlet of Center Cambridge.

The question is – when will they start prosecuting all those poppy growers in our region? As Jim Hogshire pointed out a few years ago in an article in The Atlantic Monthly, poppies grown by millions of home gardeners are fully capable of producing opium. Here’s an excerpt from his book Opium for the Masses:

Very potent, low cost opium is available in virtually every town in the country. It is entirely possible that it is carried by your local grocer. It’s even possible that you could walk into a grocery store and come out with all the ingredients you need to make your own morphine and perhaps even heroin if you’re clever.

Look out grandma!


Suggested Reading

Poppies: A Guide to the Poppy Family in the Wild and in Cultivation

The Little Book of Opium

Opium: A History