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Essex

I caught a lot of flack for poking fun at Cornell professors, especially the ones Amy has over for dinner. In retrospect, it was unkind of me to make fun of them, but there's something a little irksome about well-educated and very skinny people who are unreformed chowhounds.

The most recent Cornell visitor at our house was a vegetable specialist, Jud Reid, who specializes in unheated greenhouses called high tunnels. Crops are planted directly in the ground, and with the ends removed, tilling can be done by tractor. We visited the high tunnels at the Willsboro Research Farm with a group of growers on a cold and windy day last week. In the greenhouses, good looking plots of arugula, lettuce and spinach were laid out, green and healthy even though the air temperature was around freezing. Jud gave an off the cuff talk on these particular crops and cold weather growing in general, while we asked questions and shivered. The spinach was especially attractive, with lots of large deep green leaves, but sampling is forbidden, because as Amy pointed out, it's not just spinach, it's data.

The meeting continued over lunch, with Jud discussing pest problems. We heard about the cunning of aphids, which aren't killed off by cold temperatures, but survive in some form of limbo and get destructive again when temperatures rise . Slugs cause serious damage if allowed to proliferate, but can be controlled with iron phosphate, an organic option. I'm glad to hear Cornell pushing organic methods. All in all, it was delightful to hear a good talk, eat a warming lunch, and ponder where I'm going to put my own high tunnel.

There's something appealing about this time of year, when a bit of snow in the fields reveals animal pathways through the grass, and deciduous trees show their structures. Houses and barns that are hidden by foliage come back into view and there's a nice clarity to the landscape. In places, it's admittedly bleak, but it's not an unending dreariness: a good snowfall will take care of that.

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