My job for more than 31 years as a Cornell Cooperative Extension Agent was to advise farmers, homeowners, gardeners, and just about anyone else who had a question Cornell might have an answer for. Now I continue to offer advice to anyone who reads these weekly columns. I’ve always prided myself on providing “research-based” answers, as defined by Cornell. Cornell frowned upon making up the advice or not using a “recognized” source like another university or the USDA. It had to be them as they were legally responsible for what I was telling people. If my bad advice resulted in financial loss, Cornell could be sued.
When I retired, I started my retirement speech by apologizing for all the bad advice I’d given over the past 31 years. I can honestly say I’ve never intentionally given bad advice, but sometimes my sense of humor got me into trouble. The first time I almost got fired was when I wrote in my bi-weekly newsletter that you can tie a rope to a chicken’s feet and use it to clean its chimney by putting the chicken in the flue and pulling it up down. The flapping wings and feet were a surefire way to remove the crusted creosote. I forgot to mention I was joking and soon found that some PETA people weren’t amused at all. I survived this mistake to make several others over the years, including advising to smear the logs with axle grease 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 skinny, debarked trees. On another occasion, I jokingly told a homeowner who was complaining about his neighbor’s dog using his lawn as a toilet to get a BB gun and shoot her in the butt! I had a hard time explaining this slip-up to my boss!