Here are some instances where I’ve given bad advice in over 30 years – Daily Freeman


My job for over 31 years as a Cornell Cooperative Extension agent was to advise farmers, homeowners, gardeners, and just about anyone who had a question Cornell might have an answer to.

Now, I continue to offer advice to anyone who reads these weekly columns. I’ve always prided myself on providing “research-based” answers, as Cornell has determined.

Cornell frowned heavily at the thought of making up the advice or not using an “approved” source, such as another university or the USDA. They had to be, since they were legally responsible for what I was telling people. If my bad advice results in financial loss, Cornell could be sued.

When I retired, I began my retirement speech by apologizing for all the bad advice I had given over the previous 31 years. I can honestly say that I never deliberately gave bad advice, but sometimes my sense of humor got me in trouble.

The first time I nearly got fired was when I wrote in my bi-weekly newsletter that you could tie a rope to a chicken’s legs and use it to clean its chimney, putting the chicken into the flue and pulling it up and down. Flapping wings and feet were a surefire way to remove crusty creosote. I forgot to mention I was joking and soon found out that some people at PETA were not amused at all.

I’ve survived this blunder to commit several more over the years, including advising people to smear axle grease around their tree trunks to prevent gypsy moth caterpillars from climbing up and down the trunk . The axle grease really worked, but it also killed more than a few thin, barked trees.

On another occasion, I jokingly told a landlord, who was complaining about his neighbor’s dog using his lawn as a bathroom, to grab a BB gun and shoot him in the ass! I had a hard time explaining this gaffe to my boss!

So today, unencumbered by Cornell attorneys reading my cases, I continue to offer advice that isn’t necessarily research-based, but is generally harmless and time-tested.

These are usually home remedies that offer an alternative to strictly research-based data. One example is the rotten egg/rancid milk repellent mix that a reader suggested, and which I shared because it works.

In addition to bad advice, there is also “useless advice”. A few weeks ago I wrote about installing a new lawn, which can be quite an expensive undertaking considering the price of grass seed. Despite my weekly rants about the ongoing drought we were having, I didn’t realize that some communities were under mandatory water restrictions. Even if you want a new lawn, if it can’t be watered, usually daily, at first it won’t survive. Good advice from me, but useless for Kingston readers.

There was a time when many people with questions about gardening in rural New York simply called “Cornell,” but these days people are more likely to check the Internet. Asking “Google” almost anything will yield about 5 million responses in half a second. Whether the answers are correct or not is up to your own interpretation and it’s a sad situation.

What’s even more disturbing is when people deliberately provide false or misleading information because they have a political agenda they want to promote.

Gardening is generally not seen as a “political” topic, but the fact is that it is used by many to denounce or promote gardening practices, and those who adopt them, such as maintaining a beautiful lawn, using pesticides , apply fertilizers, eradicate “invasive alien aliens” or chop down trees!

Some people are offended by their neighbor’s lawn, or his decision to cut down a tree, or the plants chosen for the landscape.

To people who are judgmental of others, or who are offended by someone’s gardening practices, I say, “Let go!”

We are far too easily offended these days when no offense is intentional or justified.

A former colleague of mine from Cornell was a gentleman named Bob O’Kninefski. Bob was a Suffolk County turf specialist, maintaining a ‘green’ bentgrass lawn. Bentgrass are the most intensively managed type of plant I know of, requiring daily mowing in many cases and lots of additional inputs, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. Today, Bob would be considered something of an “environmental terrorist” by far too many people who think it’s his right to judge what he likes or dislikes.

If you refuse to use pesticides in your garden, that’s fine with me, but if you choose to use legal, probably safe pesticides (as determined by actual research, not internet opinions), that’s fine with me too. . I promise not to be offended by anyone’s gardening practices.

Bob Beyfuss lives and gardens in Schoharie County. Email him at [email protected]


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