Discover agriculture in your NNY backyard

Dear Aggie: I am new to the area. As a military family we came from a rural, farming community and love the agricultural landscape. How do we learn more about agriculture here, our new home!

A: Welcome to the north country and thank you for your service! I hope you find a warm welcome and support as you venture into this new phase and new community. The north country has a long history of agriculture. We appreciate and understand that many military families come from agricultural communities and want to re-engage in agricultural activities. Cornell Cooperative Extension Association wants to help. Here are some things you can do:

1. Check out our Local Food Guide at Learn about local food in your neighborhood. Buy local produce at the many farm stands, farmers’ markets, and small retail shops that specialize in local. Many farms sell CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) shares. In addition, you can buy cheese products, local meats, cider, and honey. Learn about local agriculture and your new community by visiting each farm.

2. If you are interested in learning more about agriculture and are thinking about a career in agriculture when you leave the military, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County is the place for you and veterans. Learn about what Farm OPS can do for you. Farm OPS tailors classes, workshops, farm tours, agribusiness tours and work/internships with veteran farmers. These “mentors” will teach you about their agribusiness. If you want to try your hand in an agricultural enterprise but lack the land or facilities CCEJC has access to a Model Farm where you can practice your farming idea before you make it your livelihood. For more information, call CCEJC at 315-788-8450.

3. Cornell Cooperative Extension also has much to offer children through its 4-H and camping programs. Do not let COVID restrictions limit your children’s engagement and learning. Our camp and youth education programs are far-reaching and have something for everyone. Visit to learn more.

Dear Aggie: I have a small vegetable garden, but I would like to add some fruit plants to my yard. I don’t have the space for large trees or an orchard. What are my options?

A: With the advent of COVID, there has been a huge interest in home food production. Vegetable gardening is easy since most of the crops are annuals. Fruit plants require a little more thought since they are perennials. Even though you don’t have a large space, there are many options even for small yards. Select locations that have full sun and well-drained soil — most fruit plants will thrive under those conditions.

If you prefer fruit trees (apple and pear do best in Northern New York), choose dwarf trees. With a height of 8 to 10 feet, they are prefect for small yards. Dwarf trees also produce fruit rather quickly, usually after three years. Remember that you will need at least two compatible varieties for cross pollination.

There are also many shrubs that produce fruit. They can be incorporated right into your landscape, just like an ornamental plant. And like ornamentals, they also have attractive leaves, flowers and fall color, along with being small in size.

Currants and gooseberries (Ribes spp) are multi-stemmed shrubs that reach about 3 feet in height. There are three species of currants — white, red and black. The berries are about the size of a small pearl. Gooseberries are the size of a marble and the bushes have small thorns. Both have interesting leaves with scalloped edges.

Another shrub with edible fruit is the Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa). At 6 to 10 feet tall, it has a round, compact habit and pink flowers in the spring. In addition, the exfoliating bark is a shiny reddish brown, which adds interest during the winter months.

The honeyberry or haskap (Lonicera caerulea edulis) is about 3 to 4 feet tall and also has a compact habit. The berries look like an elongated blueberry, with a similar flavor. They ripen in June when not many other fruits are available, except strawberries.

Speaking of strawberries, they are another fruit option that will grow well in the home garden. An 8-by-8-foot area will yield enough berries for fresh eating and preservation. Plus, you have the option of June-bearing varieties which produce fruit during a compact time period, or day-neutral varieties, which produce fruit throughout the season. You can expect about three years of harvest before the site needs to be replanted.

All of the above can be used in pies, for jams and jellies, sauces or for fresh eating and are high in beneficial nutrients and antioxidants.

For more information, join in the upcoming program offered by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. “Edible Landscaping” will be held virtually at 10 a.m. April 17. Register at, or visit

First question answered by Michael Nuckols, agriculture and natural resources issues leader at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. Send email to Second question answered by Sue Gwise, horticulture educator and master gardener coordinator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. Contact her by email at

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