Author: Kara Bonsack

Fall Foliage Color: How it Happens!

Fall in New England.  Even those of us who have lived here for years or grown up here look forward to the annual brilliant display of color.   The duration and intensity of color and even the proportion of reds vs. yellows changes from one year to the next.   What are the factors that initiate and control these changes in the leaves?   Decreasing day length, temperature and moisture all play a role.

During the summer, there is a lot of chlorophyll, or green pigment in the leaves.  Chlorophyll is where energy from the sun is used by the plant to manufacture sugars using water and carbon dioxide in the process of photosynthesis.  Orange and yellow pigments, carotenes and xanthophylls respectively, are always present in the leaves but they are masked during the summer by the abundant chlorophyll.  Chlorophyll is rapidly broken down by sunlight.  During the summer, when temperatures are warm, plenty of new chlorophyll is produced to replace that which is lost.  When temperatures begin to cool, and plant hormone levels change in response to decreasing day length, chlorophyll synthesis drops off and the other pigments become visible.   Carotenes and xanthophylls are more stable than chlorophyll and remain intact as the chlorophyll is lost.


Paper birch leaves turn a bright yellow in the fall. (

Red pigments, or anthocyanins, are not present during the summer.  They are formed from sugars that build up in the leaf tissue and the amount of red pigment formed is dependent on the weather, tree species, and the acidity of the leaf.  Sugar is usually transported out of the leaves to other parts of the plant such as the roots or developing seeds and fruits.  Another phenomenon that occurs along with the change in leaf color is the formation of the abscission layer, the point at the base of the petiole or leaf stalk where the leaf breaks from the twig when it falls.  As this layer forms, movement of sugar out of the leaf becomes restricted, resulting in the accumulation of sugars in the leaf while there is still some photosynthesis going on in the remaining chlorophyll.


Red maple leaves can be striking.  (

Weather favorable to the formation of red pigments is sunny, cool (but not freezing) and dry.  Early frost (which we haven’t had this year!) weakens red pigment production.  Overall, the best and most showy fall color seasons result when we have dry, sunny weather during the day and cool nights.   Trees that are usually yellow in fall include birch, white ash, poplar, beech, and hickory.  Those that produce the best reds include red and sugar maple, red oak, dogwood, and mountain ash (not a true ash).

What about brown leaves?  Some trees, including many oak species, really just turn brown, and some hold onto their leaves until new ones begin to push out in the spring.  Brown color is from a build-up of tannins, a waste product of physiological processes in the leaves.

If you’re interested in a fun do-it-yourself look at the various pigments in a leaf using chromatography, follow these instructions from the website of the Buffalo Museum of Science:

You will need: Isopropyl alcohol, hot water, a coffee mug, a soup dish, a pencil, scissors, plastic wrap, and some filter paper (a coffee filter is perfect).

1. Take 2-3 green tree leaves and cut them into small pieces with the scissors. Crush or crumble them into the coffee mug

2. Use very hot tap water to fill the soup dish half full.  Place the coffee mug containing the leaves into the hot water in the dish.

3. Add isopropyl alcohol to the coffee mug to just cover the leaf pieces.  Soak the leaves in the alcohol for an hour or more.  Put plastic wrap over the mug to reduce evaporation.  When the hot water cools, replace it with fresh hot water to keep the alcohol warm.  Watch for the alcohol to turn a dark color as pigments dissolve into it.

4. Using scissors, cut the filter paper into 1 or 2 strips about 4 inches long by 1-2 inches wide. Using the pencil resting atop the coffee mug, drape the filter paper strips over the pencil so that one end is touching the bottom of the mug through the liquid.   Secure the filter paper to the pencil with a small piece of tape if needed. Replace the plastic wrap over the top of the mug, pencil and filter paper strips.

5. The alcohol will move up the filter paper bringing pigments from the leaf with it.  The pigments will move up the paper at different rates and after 30-45 minutes you will see them separate.

6. Try this experiment with ink too!  Make a mark with a black ball point pen on the filter paper, just above the level of the alcohol and see what colors combine to form black ink.

Take time to enjoy the fall colors while they last!

Submitted by J. Allen for UConn Extension

Will Halloween Be Ruined Again?

“Dad, is Halloween going to be cancelled again this year because of the weather?” It’s not a pleasant thought for kids dreaming of bags full of candy. Well, we are approaching the end of October, and for those of us who have been in Connecticut for the past few years, it seems appropriate to discuss big storm events. With the Halloween snowstorm of 2011, and then Sandy in 2012, we have some catastrophic events in recent memory. But how often can we expect a large event, such as a “100-year storm”, to occur?

The answer to this question is based on historical data. Rainfall data for a particular site, and for a particular duration (such as 24 hours) are sorted, from highest to lowest. Then a calculation is performed to determine the chances of an event of any given size occurring. The recurrence interval is an estimate of the likelihood of an event, and is related to the probability. So as you can see from Table 1, there is only a 1% chance that a 100 year storm will occur in any given year.

Table 1. Chances of different events and recurrence intervals.


So what happens if our rainfall totals are increasing as a result of climate change? Will we be seeing these large events more often? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here in southern New England, our yearly precipitation totals have been increasing, and we have also seen a rise in the intensity of individual events. Other parts of New England have not seen large changes. Figure 1 shows how the annual rainfall total in Connecticut has increased over the last 110 years. The past 40 years have had higher totals, with almost all years greater than the average (solid black line in figure).

Figure 1. Annual rainfall totals, state of Connecticut (from NOAA at


Historically, engineers used values from pre-1961 as a basis for sizing stormwater pipes and other structures. Researchers at Cornell have used recent rainfall totals to adjust the values for different recurrence intervals. Updated values for Storrs, CT showed that for smaller intervals, there is not much difference, but for 50-year and 100-year events, there has been quite a change (see Table 2). The old 100-year storm (7.0 inches) is about equivalent to a 50-year storm (6.8 inches) now! So the chances of us getting a storm of this size in any given year have doubled.

Table 2. Older and updated storm sizes for different recurrence intervals.


So, should I tell my daughter to be prepared to miss Halloween again this year? Not a chance!

Dr. Michael Dietz

Danbury 4th Graders & Root Vegetables

carrot%20danbury “1…2…3…crunch!,”was the sound of  children at Morris Street school in Danbury as the 4th graders bit into a fresh crispy radish slice followed by a soft sweet sliced beet.  Students enthusiastically described the colors, tastes and textures of the root veggies as they explored new flavors this Fall at the Farmers Market.

Heather Peracchio, Registered Dietitian and Assistant Extension Educator for the University of Connecticut coordinated with 4th grade teachers Rhoda Guider, Tom Young and John Zilliox at Morris Street School in Danbury, CT to talk to students about the health benefits of root vegetables.  On Sept 18th, nearly 75 students were able to see and touch root vegetables like fresh turnips, beets and radishes.

radish%20danburyStudents discovered how root vegetables have long been a fall and winter staple food since they stay fresh when stored in cool temperatures, and how the term “root cellar” came about.  Heather discussed the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables every day. Take home messages included 1) filling half of the plate at meals with fruits and vegetables 2) choosing seasonal produce 3) eating fruits and vegetables in all forms – fresh, frozen, or canned.  Children discovered what produce grows when in Connecticut by looking at and taking home a copy of the CT Dept of Agriculture Crop Availability Calendar  Students practiced reading food labels for sodium content and choosing “no salt added” for best nutrition.  Heather taught them to drain and rinse canned foods to help lower the amount of salt.

Heather gave the teachers USDA MyPlate Fruit and Vegetable posters to reinforce classroom messages.   These are a daily reminder for children to eat fruits and vegetables for good health. Children also took home a recipe, Roasted Root Vegetables in English and Spanish,, so families could share in the veggie adventure!   Two days after the in-classroom lesson the 4th graders explored root vegetables first hand by taking a walking field trip to the Danbury Farmer’s Market at Kennedy Park.  Lessons were funded by USDA SNAP-Ed, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education program. 

4-H Mentor Memos

Fairfield County 4-H offers the following recommendations to adults who mentor youth.

4-H clover2What are ways we can capture that spark that leads to a successful future?

Mentoring adults need to take this information and capture a way to spark the teens we lead, to engage them in something they enjoy and want to learn about. Youth engagement is an important component to making our youth successful. We want them to have stable families and be future leaders of their communities and their country.

  • Take youth to a ball game. Play catch with him. Help him find a team to play on.
  • Plant a small vegetable garden. Cook recipes with your fruit. Shop together to buy other needed ingredients.
  • Visit a zoo. Ask for a private tour. Take pictures of your favorite animal.
  • Find an art center. Paint pottery. Be creative.
  • Visit a business. One that your teen has expressed interest in. Have her shadow a person.

These are just a few suggestions. See their spark and explore it, encourage it, and foster it.

“Teens play a unique and important role in shaping the world in which we live, and it’s critical that we foster opportunities to make their voices heard and improve their chances for success. “ Brian Dunn, CEO, Best Buy Co., Inc.

2013 Green Pastures’ Dairy Farm of the Year for Connecticut


The Green Pastures Award judging team visited three Connecticut farms on Friday, September 13, 2013 before making their decision to choose Arethusa Farm in Litchfield, Connecticut as the 2013 Dairy Farm of the Year.  The annual award is presented at the Big E Green Pastures’ banquet where each New England state presents their winning farm.  The farms present a slide show of their management strategies and innovative goals that result in a successful dairy operation that will grow into the future.

Located in the rolling pastures of Litchfield Hills, Arethusa Farm has a proud tradition of raising award-winning purebred Jersey, Holstein and Brown Swiss cows. The judges found that ‘cow comfort’ infiltrates the farm management at Arethusa Farm, where the farm team prides themselves on providing the highest level of care.  Wide open barns, tunnel ventilation, stall mattresses, comfy bedding, and quality feed in front of all animals is evident.  The team is knowledgeable and proud of the ‘girls’ under their care.

Arethusa Farm was established in 1999. Owners George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis purchased the Litchfield, CT property with the intent of restoring the farmland once owned by the Webster family.  The Websters began “Arethusa Farm”, an all Guernsey herd, named after a rare wild orchid that grew in the back bogs of the property.  The intent of the new owners was to bring back the dairy roots, making cheese and bottling milk for sale to the local community.  However, as new barns were built and old ones remodeled, a new plan started to take shape. George and Tony became interested in the world of show cows.  Just a few short years later in 2004, Arethusa made history at the World Dairy Expo.  Farm matriarchs, Hillcroft Leader Melanie 3E 96 and Huronia Centurion Veronica EX97, were named supreme and reserve-supreme champion respectively. The pair are proven show-winners, have produced a tremendous quantity of high-quality milk and continue to be outstanding brood cows through their many descendants. These traits, combined with deep pedigrees, keep their family members and genetics in high demand to this day.  Offspring and genetics from these top quality cattle are sold throughout the world each year.

Overwhelming show success fueled major growth on the farm. New heifer, calf and state of the art milking facilities were built, and the herd is now almost entirely home-bred.     A core of fifteen exceptional employees work hard with one core principle in mind — the cows always come first. When one enters Arethusa’s milk barn they are greeted by a sign reading, “Every cow in this barn is a lady, please treat her as such.” That philosophy is put into practice on a daily basis as the team focuses on the continued breeding and development of home-bred Holsteins, Jerseys and Brown Swiss.

The clean barn environment shows up in the high quality products sold as bottled milk, yogurt, ice cream, butter, and cheese at the dairy, local shops and restaurant.  The farm website provides a detailed flowchart of how the milk is processed into these different products.

The rations comprise as many locally sourced items as possible, including dry hay, corn silage, and grain mixes.  Other high quality feeds, like large bales of alfalfa and cotton seed, are located to complete the ideal feeding program.  Electronic feed carts distribute the total mixed ration to the cows in the stall barn, with a computerized system identifying each stall to which that cow is fed additional grain from an automatic DeLaval grain cart traveling by rail around the barn.  In addition to the inside ration, the dairy herd visits large pastures each day, staying clean on the engineered gravel laneways.

With the latest project of Arethusa Al Tavolo restaurant, featuring locally sourced items to complement the farm products, off to a great start, other ventures begin to take focus.  A new state of the art composting facility will process the manure from the barns under cover.  This compost will be bagged and sold to local gardening centers.

We are proud to welcome Arethusa Farm into the family of past Green Pastures’ Award winners since 1948 when the New England contest first began.  The governor of New Hampshire challenged the other governors to find a better pasture than in New Hampshire.  Governor Dale lost his wager, presenting a top hat to Connecticut Governor McConaughy at the Eastern States Exposition in front of 6000 people.  Now each state chooses a winner, based on the overall dairy farm management.  Congratulations all!

Smartphones and GPS

by David Dickson
GPS-for-Land-Trusts_42013_301-624x377Smartphones are the swiss army knife of the digital world. They have replaced countless single-function gadgets from calculators to cameras to pagers to, um, phones! But for mapping geeks, one of the gadgets they have not quite been able to shake is the handheld GPS unit—at least until now.
The Geospatial Training Program (GTP) at UConn CLEAR, in collaboration with the Connecticut Land Conservation Council, recently developed a GPS training for land trust volunteers. The one-day training teaches participants to collect data (waypoints, notes, tracks) in the field using a GPS unit, download that to a computer, and then create an online map using the collected data that they can share with the public. However, there might be a new way to collect GPS data that doesn’t require a handheld unit costing hundreds of dollars.
According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of American adults (56%) now own a smartphone; this is an increase of 20% in just the last two years. Most smart phones today are built to include a decent GPS chip that is useful for finding the nearest Starbucks, letting the word know where you are, and tracking your run, ride, or hike. Why not geo-referenced data collection, too?
For years, we have been scouring the app stores for the perfect navigation app that does everything a handheld GPS unit can, and maybe more. Our requirements were that it is easy to use; collects tracks, waypoints, notes, and photos; exports data in a wide variety of geospatial formats; requires minimal processing to create an online map; works on iPhone and Android; and is CHEAP! After many downloads and numerous fits and starts, we believe we are close. As a result, GTP is solidifying plans to develop and teach a “Smartphone GPS” course some time in 2014 (funding permitting). Set a reminder on your phone to remind you to look up the GTP course offerings in the spring!

Fall is for Puffballs

Fall is the best time of year to go mushroom and fungus hunting.  Among those you’ll find are different types of puffball.  The fungi commonly referred to as puffballs fall mostly into three genera, Calvatia, Calbovista and Lycoperdon.  When young and before spores begin to form inside, the flesh of a puffball is white and uniform, sometimes described as marshmallow-like.  At this immature stage the true puffballs are edible and delicious.Puffballs range in size from smaller than a marble to larger than a basketball.  The giant puffball, Calvatia gigantea, grows to anywhere from 4 to 28 inches in diameter on average but the record holder was well over eight feet across and weighed in at 48 pounds.   A specimen about 10 inches in diameter contains as many as 7 trillion spores at maturity.  This species occurs throughout Europe and North America and is typically found in disturbed sites with rich soil including fields, woodland edges, parks and meadows from August through September in the northeastern U.S.

Old giant puffball, about eight inches tall, with peeling outer layer.IMG_1916

Old giant puffball, about eight inches tall, with peeling outer layer and a top view of its sponge-like appearance.
J. Allen photos.

Before eating any puffball, make sure that’s what you have!  Cut it in half to make sure the interior is solid and uniform.  Some very poisonous white mushrooms resemble white puffballs when still inside their universal veil and shaped like an egg.  The immature cap and gills will be visible inside when the mushroom is cut open.  Only eat puffballs that are still completely white inside and out.  Once they begin to turn color and produce spores, they become less tasty and, more importantly, toxic.

Okay, so how do you cook puffballs?  In many cases they can be cooked or used in dishes just like edible mushrooms.  They’re great sautéed in butter with a bit of seasoning, or cut up into strips or chunks and breaded and pan-fried.   A few great recipes are available at the puffball page of the Mycological Society of San Francisco.

Another common puffball in the northeast is the pear-shaped puffball or stump puffball, Lycoperdon pyriforme (pyriforme is Latin for ‘pear-shaped’).  Unlike most puffballs, this species is found on rotting wood of both conifers and deciduous trees instead of directly on the ground.   It was first described officially by Jacob Christian Schaeffer in 1774.  It’s often pear shaped (upside down pear) but can be pretty nearly spherical.   Young specimens are covered in small spines that are mostly lost by maturity.  As the puffballs mature, a pore forms at the top, rupturing and allowing the spores to be released and dispersed by wind and rain.  These puffballs are attached to their decaying woody substrate by rhizomorphs, thick fungal strands.

Lycoperdon pyriforme on a dead tree limb, September 2013, Connecticut.

Lycoperdon pyriforme on a dead tree limb, September 2013, Connecticut.  J. Allen photo.

More cooking tips:  Don’t wash puffballs in water; they apparently soak up water like a sponge and get soggy.  Peel off the outside skin if tough or dirty.  Fresh puffballs will store well in the fridge for 2-5 days.  Preserve by precooking (sautéing) and then freezing.  Again, never eat mushrooms or fungi from the wild unless you are 200% sure you have identified it correctly.

Don’t forget the fun of mature puffballs if you’re too late to the woods or field and they’re all past the point of edibility!  It’s fun to stomp on them and watch the smoky looking clouds of spores puff out.   And this doesn’t hurt them a bit; you’re helping disperse the spores for the next generation.

Submitted by: Joan Allen

10 Tips for the October Gardener

Photo: Clemson Extension
Photo: Clemson Extension

1. Use dried herbs to make fragrant fall wreaths and dried flower arrangements.

2. Pick bagworms from evergreen shrubs to eliminate the spring hatch from over-wintered eggs.

3. Cut down stems and foliage of herbaceous perennials after two or three hard frosts or when leaves begin to brown.

4. Squash and pumpkins should be harvested when they have bright color and a thick, hard skin. These vegetables will be abundant in farmer’s markets and will make a colorful and healthy addition to fall dinners.

5. Sketch out where you planted various vegetables in your garden back in the spring. This will come in handy next spring so when you plant, you can rotate your crops and help prevent disease.

6. If rain is lacking, continue to thoroughly water trees, shrubs, planting beds, and lawn areas. It is especially important to keep newly planted evergreens watered.

7. Outwit hungry squirrels and chipmunks by planting bulbs in established groundcovers.

8. Use a mulching blade to chop leaves finely and let them decompose on the lawn.

9. Keep collecting ripe seeds! Dry them out and place them in labeled brown paper envelops within an air tight container, and store in a cool place.

10. Limit herbaceous plant material located a few feet away from the house to eliminate hiding places for insects and mice, which could wind up indoors as temperatures plummet.

Mulch Volcanoes: A Growing Problem

Photo: Wisconsin Extension

UConn Extension has noticed a growing problem in Connecticut landscapes – tree volcanoes. A tree volcano occurs when mulch is piled around the base of the tree and climbs up the trunk. The shape of the mulch resembles a cone or a volcano. Mulch volcanoes waste money and damage trees.

Mulch is useful at the base of a tree for many. When done correctly, the mulch protects the tree from a lawnmower or string trimmer, aids in keeping the soil moist and keeps the ground cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Mulch also improves soil structure, aeration and prevents soil erosion and runoff.

Bark is the outermost protective layer or skin of a tree. To properly function, bark needs to be exposed to air. When mulch is piled around the trunk of the tree, the mulch softens the bark and allows outside organisms like varmints, insects, bacteria, virus and fungi to penetrate into the tree. Over time a tree volcano will kill the tree.

Ideally, a mulch ring is placed at the base of the tree immediately after the tree is planted. Follow these steps to correctly apply mulch to the base of your trees:

  1. Before you apply mulch, remove any weeds from around the tree.
  2. The mulch ring should be 2-3 feet wide around the tree trunk radius.
  3. Maximum depth of the mulch is 2-3 inches – the roots need to breathe. Taper the mulch layer to the grass at the edge of the ring.
  4. Aged wood chips or shredded bark are the best choices for mulch.
  5. Mulch shouldn’t touch the bark of the tree.
  6. Trees 10 inches in diameter and larger don’t need mulch.

For more information on tree volcanoes or other home and garden questions, call UConn Extension at 860-486-6271 or visit