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Straw-Bale Gardening Works

Re: www.bayweekly.com/node/23750

Siberian kale grows happily on bales of straw.
    This summer, I experimented with soilless gardening in bales of straw. The trick is priming the bales with fertilizer. I used 21⁄2 cups per bale of high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer minus all herbicides, testing both organic and inorganic.
    I prepared the bales in mid-August, inserting a long-shank thermometer and irrigating two to three times weekly. Priming initiates the composting process. The thermometer monitors temperature, which rises during active composting. When inner temperature again matched that of ambient air, in mid-September, I scattered seeds of Siberian kale over the bales.
    The seedlings grew equally vigorously on bales treated with the organic and inorganic fertilizers.


Save Gita Bean Seeds for Next Year

Re: www.bayweekly.com/node/13348

If you grew Gita beans this summer, by now some of the pods may be three feet long. Harvest those long brown pods and extract the seeds. For the past two years, I have tested saving seeds of Gita and comparing them to seeds purchased every spring for planting. Thus far I have found that the seeds saved are of equal quality to those purchased.
    After harvesting the seedpods, I lay them on a shelf and allow them to dry. When the pods are dry, they split easily and the beans are easily extracted. I then store the seeds in a small plastic, zipper-lock bag in the refrigerator along with the rest of my leftover seeds.
    Gita bean seeds are some of the more expensive you can buy, so saving them from year to year can result in a substantial savings. Last fall I failed to harvest all the bean pods. Gita bean seeds that fell to the ground germinated and grew. Clearly these seeds are quite cold hardy.


White Pines Don’t Like Wet Feet

Q    I live in a townhouse community. The trees in the community are 20 to 25 years old. This last year I have noticed that many pine trees are turning yellow and dying. Any idea of the cause and if we can prevent their deaths?
      –Greg Welker, Bowie

A    I strongly suspect poor soil drainage. We had a very wet growing season, and the soil in Bowie is mostly clay. White pines cannot tolerate poorly drained soils.
    The yellowing symptoms are also due to poor soil drainage. Yellowing of old needles is common, but this season’s yellowing is a symptom of root loss due to excess water.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

7 million Books for International Goodwill

B.I.G. stands for Books for International Goodwill. Taken at face value, the word tells another truth. Books for International Goodwill is big. This week, the 18-year-old Parole Rotary Club project packs its seven millionth book in its 300th shipping container.
    Those milestone figures tell only part of this big story. Books come in at the rate of 1,500 a day. Local readers make many of the contributions, dropping off loads of books 24/7 at the B.I.G. Annapolis warehouse at 2000 Capital Drive. Overprints from publishers add volume.
    Dealing with 547,500 books a year takes 600 volunteer hours, 95 percent contributed outside Rotary by citizens motivated by the B.I.G. mission.
    That would be supporting schools, libraries and literacy projects in countries where books are a dreamed-of luxury. Most are former British colonies as most B.I.G. books are in English. Uganda was the first. B.I.G. began as an effort to send books to three schools when a bookless principal there asked friend and now-deceased Parole Rotarian and B.I.G. founder Leonard Blackshear for help.
    In 18 years, books have been sent to over 30 countries in tractor-trailer loads of 20,000. Eight hundred box-by-box shipments have gone to Peace Corps volunteers and 1,000 to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Seven million books would fill Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to a depth of eight feet.
    The shipments are funded by donations and monthly book sales.
    “B.I.G. is a win-win-win operation,” says Rotary organizer Steve Frantzich. “Those donating books realize they will go to a good home. From an environmental perspective, B.I.G. has saved the county over 6,000 cubic feet of landfill space from once-discarded school and library books alone. Finally, recipients receive the tools they need for empowerment through literacy.”
    Browse 70,000 well-organized books and buy at bargain prices — 50¢ to $1.50 or $30 a bagful — to fund Books for International Goodwill this Saturday, Nov. 1 from 8am to 2pm at 2000 Capital Dr., Annapolis: 410-293-6865; www.big-books.org. Next sale, Saturday, Dec. 13.

While the wind blows, I’m ­getting a handle on things

The Beaufort Wind Force Scale puts the threshold for a half-gale at 20 miles per hour. These stiff Bay winds are projected to be with us intermittently into November.
    Winds like these cheer the hearts of sailboat skippers after the doldrums of summer. But anglers on the Chesapeake suffer at being blown off the water as the season winds down.
    To calm the turmoil that gens up in my angler’s innards when I realize another Maryland winter is fast approaching, I clean my gear.
    Most in need of TLC are the cork handles of my favorite rods.
    Cork is extremely lightweight, odorless, compressible, long lasting and eco-friendly compared to synthetic materials used for the same purposes. It is warm and comfortable to the touch and has a non-slip quality, even when wet, which is why I prefer it to all other materials for my light-tackle outfits.
    This splendid material is increasingly expensive and ever more difficult to find at any price in the better grades used in quality fishing rods. Portugal and Spain produce 80 percent of the cork for world markets, the lion’s share consumed by the wine industry.
    Production is a complex, long-term affair. The material is derived from the bark of the cork oak, which must be at least 25 years old before it can stand harvest without harm. Subsequent extractions can be made every nine years. Luckily, however, the cork oak has a lifespan of 200 years.
    If well maintained, a cork-grip fishing rod will last indefinitely, at least the lifetime of the owner. Proper maintenance is not difficult. Start out by giving the handle a gentle but thorough scrubbing with a sponge and common kitchen scouring cleanser.
    After scrubbing, rinse the handle and put it aside to dry. Inspect for any gaps or flaws in the cork. These should be corrected with good-quality wood filler.
    I like Elmer’s Interior/Exterior Wood Filler in Golden Oak. It is easy to use and closely matches the hue of most cork. Fill the voids and scars on the handle with a small knife or similar instrument. After the filler has completely dried, use 220-grit sandpaper to smooth and blend all surfaces. Then let the filler set up for an extra day or two before proceeding with the final step.
    All cork rod handles should be dressed after cleaning and drying with a generous application of Pure Neatsfoot Oil. This will insure that the cork does not dry out and will protect it from weathering and restore its flexibility and fine tactile qualities.
    If our windy weather finally breaks, cork maintenance is not in vain. A clean, well-oiled handle will not soil easily, and a few extra, late season uses will do hardly anything but give you an extra appreciation for your efforts. You will, after all, have already gotten a good handle on things.

Meet ghosts, Volvo ocean racers and a 1,900-mile runner in this week’s paper

If ghosts do haunt historic places, they may view ghost hunters of Melissa Barba’s ilk with the same distaste long-time celebrities feel for paparazzi. Two or three centuries into the job of haunting, a new generation comes hunting with intrusive paraphernalia: flashlights, cameras, camcorders and voice recorders. So, if you follow Barba’s instructions in this week’s feature, “If There Be Spirits, Now’s the Time to Find Them,” don’t be surprised if the ghosts of Point Lookout, William Paca House and Jefferson Patterson Park are uncooperative if not downright irritable.
    Haunted as historic places may be, you don’t need to go far — in time or place — to find ghosts. They’re rising up from the earth, clinging to trees and shrubbery, blowing in the wind. Visit most any neighborhood in Chesapeake Country or across America, and you find them. Expressive celebrants of the holy day and holiday of Halloween have hung ghosts, skeletons and the popular roll of dead or undead characters in their yards and driveways.
    This year, a neighbor on Fairhaven Road has bedecked a long drive and front yard with gauzy orange bows as well as white plastic bag ghosts à la friendly Casper. Morning and night, it calls to me. I have driven in for a closer look.
    For I appreciate such efforts, in every form. Even huge spiders, giant illuminated pumpkins and inflated Frankensteins are okay by me this time of year.
    ’Tis, afterall, the season.
    As Mother Nature’s children fall and flee our world, human natures long to pierce the mystery. Ghosts seem to be calling to us from the nether world. Or is it we calling them?
    Whoever’s calling who, the meeting of the worlds of the living and dead is a celebrated tradition this time of year. Its timing is rooted in sky as well as earth, balanced on a nice celestial ellipsis midway between the autumnal equinox, Sept. 22, and winter solstice, Dec. 21.
    The celebration goes by many names. Samhain was the sacred festival of Celts and Druids. Hallowe’en, our festival, is the evening, or e’en, of the Nov. 1 Christian feast All Saints Day, honoring the good souls who’ve gone to heaven. November 2, the following day, is All Souls Day, honoring the not-so-good dead earning their way into heaven. In Mexico, the same day is the celebrated Day of the Dead, which has icons scarier than ours, including calaveras, effigies of human skulls often made of sugar.
    The Day of the Dead, I’m told, is ideally feted in cemeteries where your living and dead families get together for a high-spirited reunion.
    My most recent family are buried in Illinois and St. Louis, and earlier generations I don’t know where, so my Day of the Dead celebrating won’t take me to their resting places this year. In plenty of fine Chesapeake County cemeteries, historic St. James Parish in Lothian for one, I could meet up with old friends. Other dear ones lie not so far away in Arlington National Cemetery.
    But if ghosts are real, do I need to travel to find them? Won’t any so motivated find me? Maybe our own ghosts are the spirits that give us goose bumps this time of year.

    Ghosts are not the whole story, even this time of year. In this week’s paper, you’ll encounter superhuman and well as supernatural phenomena.
    The Volvo Ocean Race, now nearly three-quarters of the 6,500 nautical miles from Alicante, Spain, to Cape Town, South Africa, returns to this week’s paper, introduced by Steve Carr, who’s chronicled three earlier races in our pages.
    Here, too, you’ll meet near-superhuman Al DeCesaris, the Annapolitan who biked cross country last year and is now running the whole East Coast to help find a cure for his niece and other kids suffering Sturge-Weber syndrome.
    Read on for these and all your favorite Bay Weekly features.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

Violence and horror make a surprisingly beautiful war story

Working in a tank is a special kind of hell. For five men the cramped chamber of a motorized cannon is their home, their battlefield and, often, their coffin. With limited visibility, thin armor and light firepower, Sherman tanks were often easy targets, especially against the superior German Tigers.
    The crew of the Fury has so far beaten the odds. Led by Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt: The Counselor), the team has survived combat in Africa, France and Germany. As they roll toward Berlin, they lose their trusted gunner in gruesome fashion. The replacement is a typist named Norman (Logan Lerman: Noah), who’s never been in a tank and is terrified by the prospect of battle.
    As Fury rolls toward combat in the heart of Nazi territory, the seasoned four must make Norman a soldier if they are to survive.
    A brutal, beautiful film about the monsters war makes, Fury offers truths rarely shown in movies about the Greatest Generation. Director/writer David Ayer (Sabotage) looks at these men with respect and sadness, examining the complicated mix of violence and family they depended on to survive.
    As men who have seen it all and wish they hadn’t, Pitt, Shia LaBeouf (Nymphomaniac), Jon Bernthal (Mob City) and Michael Peña (Gracepoint) are realistic versions of stock characters. Pitt is the tough-as-nails leader whose sadistic streak covers the heavy toll of combat. The religious man, LaBeouf quotes scripture to comfort himself in the face of death. Bernthal is the wild man whose chosen analgesic against the horrors is outrageous behavior. Peña is the drunk scrounging ruined towns for his solace.
    Ayer makes Norm our stand-in. With him, we’re thrown amid the Fury crew, no training, no get-to-know-you talks. He must kill or risk his crewmates through inaction.
    Fury doesn’t shy away from the unsavory. Grady gleefully instructs Norman that women will sleep with him for as little as a candy bar. These are desperate women, terrified of the men with guns who could invade their homes, demand their meager possessions or worse. Faced with the choice of rape or rewarded submission, they take the candy bar.
    While Ayer revels in the ugliness of war, he and cinematographer Roman Vasyanov (Charlie Countryman) find ways of making even the claustrophobic tank scenes beautiful. Gripping battles unfold in painterly shots that embody the immense scale of war as well as its personal tolls.
    Fury is easily the best combat film in a decade.

Great Drama • R • 134 mins.

Even eclipsed, this star blinds

If you didn’t already know about the partial solar eclipse just before sunset Thursday, you’re not likely to have solar glasses at the ready. Do not look at the eclipsed sun for even a moment as it can cause lasting eye damage or blindness. But you can still watch safely with little preparation.
    Try projecting the image through binoculars. Cover one lens and aim the other at the sun, pointing the eyepiece toward the floor or a piece of paper until the sun’s orb appears. Bring it into focus, and voila! You may want to use a tripod, and you can use a small telescope in the same fashion.
    Another option for watching the sun is a pinhole projector, a perennial science project requiring only two sheets of white paper and a pin. Poke a clean round hole in a sheet of paper. With your back to the sun, hold the pierced paper between the sun and the second sheet of paper until you see the sun’s inverted image projected onto it. Increasing the distance between the two sheets enlarges the image but decreases its sharpness. Or you can get more elaborate using the same principles with a box large enough to put over your head to create a viewing chamber.
    Here along Chesapeake Bay, the eclipse begins Thursday at 5pm with the sun low in the west. Alas, it will still be in full swing come sunset at 6:17pm.
    The eclipse won’t be your only chance to put a pinhole projector to use. The sun right now is in the midst of a massive solar storm, resulting in sunspots large enough to see with the protected-but-unaided eye.
    Sunspots start as massive magnetic bursts deep within the sun that migrate to its surface. While highly charged, this energy is cooler than the sun itself, thus appearing darker than surrounding areas. Once to the surface, the energy flares into space in what are called Coronal Mass Ejections, which can wreak havoc on satellites and take down sections of the power grid. Already the International Space Station has turned to face away from the sun to limit the damage from this solar storm.
    Out of all this violence comes beauty, too, in the form of the Northern Lights. So keep a lookout, as a solar storm of this magnitude could make them visible this far south. Learn more at SpaceWeather.com.
    The moon returns to view Saturday as a thin crescent very low in the west-southwest. Look to its lower right for Saturn. As the moon waxes into the new week, it shines near the planet Mars.

From pot to rooting medium to placement, these plants have ­special needs

Orchids are becoming one of the most popular potted plants. They have the advantage of long-lasting flowers and very attractive leaves. However, after they have flowered, they are often neglected and only watered on inspiration.
    Orchids are epiphyte, meaning that they obtain most of their moisture from the air through root-like structures. In nature, they live in tropical forests, growing on trunks and branches of trees. The terrestrial forms of orchids, most commonly offered for sale, are sparsely branched with coarse roots.
    The typical rooting medium for growing orchids is fir bark, coarsely ground to provide maximum air movement through the container in which the roots are growing.
    Orchids generally bloom once each year. But with proper care after they bloom, you can have them blooming yearly for many years.
    After the plants have bloomed, you will often notice coarse roots growing outside. This is your cue that the time has come to repot into a larger container. 
    Common potting media guarantees death to the plant. Repot using fir bark.
    Carefully remove the orchid plant from its original container. If the roots are circling to conform to the shape of that pot, gently pull them apart allowing as much of the old fir bark to remain attached as possible. The new container should be at least one size larger than the current container. A shallow container is better than a deep container. Never a container without drainage holes in the bottom because the roots of orchids cannot tolerate standing in water.
    Place a couple of inches of fir bark in the bottom of the container before positioning all of the roots in the pot. Using one hand to support the plant in the middle of the pot, work the fir bark around and between the roots with the other, shaking the plant from side to side and bouncing the container on the potting bench to get the bark down between the roots. With thumbs and fingers, press the bark firmly around the roots.
    Water the plants thoroughly several times immediately after potting to help fine particles of bark fill some of the voids. Water from the top, not by sub-irrigation.
    During winter, the plants should be irrigated twice-weekly and fertilized monthly using a liquid fertilizer. I recommend an organic liquid fertilizer for best results. Do not place the plants near a window, lest they are chilled. Avoid direct sunlight, too. Give your orchids a spot three to four feet from an east- or north-facing window.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Hearts beat in time with the building suspense

Twin Beach Players’ Halloween season production of the eternally terrifying Legend of Sleepy Hollow took seven months in the making — from spooky sound effects to thick fog and period costumes to uniformly spot-on acting.
    Eerie sound effects help transform a gymnasium into the town and forest of Sleepy Hollow, where I edged forward on my seat as suspense built to the hair-raising climax.
    Washington Irving gave us this story now embedded in American tradition, and he himself appears to tell it to us. As Irving, Kurt Kugel leads us through the play with his supernaturally quiet narration.
    The nervous, studious and awkward Ichabod Crain, played brilliantly by Justyn Christofel, comes as a new teacher to a town haunted by a Headless Horseman. My heart went out to Ichabod as he fell hopelessly in love with the town beauty, Katrina Van Tassell (Brianna Bennett) much to the dismay of her suitor, town brute Abraham “Brom” Van Brunt (Ethan Croll).
    Brom captures the role of the bad guy as he makes it his duty to teach the schoolmaster a lesson in humility and gathers the boys of Sleepy Hollow to scare Ichabod.
    Tales are told of the Headless Horseman’s rampage through the woods that Ichabod is willing to brave to attend a party at the home of the apple of his eye, who has herself invited him.
    When Ichabod cuts in on Brom to dance with Katrina, Brom plans revenge: confrontation with the Headless Horseman.
    Each character in the supporting cast of townspeople has distinct charms. There are gossips, troublemakers, clowns and bystanders who don’t know what to make of the new schoolmaster — nor he of them and their tales.
    Dawn Dennison’s costumes are perfect to period.
    The basic stage conveyed many settings, such as a handful of human trees with long, skin-hugging, black-gloved arms reaching to the sky and creeping thru Ichabod’s hair as if they were twigs in a haunted forest. Children played forest animals, with an opening dance number led by an adorable spirit (Koral Kent) who makes a huge impression, all without speaking a word. She wisps in and out in her pumpkin costume with the grace and poise of a ballerina. When she places a pumpkin into the hands of the Headless Horseman, she seems immune to terror.
    Don’t miss this spooktacular production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Playing to full-house crowds opening weekend, it’s sure to sell out as Halloween approaches and the barrier between worlds grows thin.


The original production of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was adapted for Twin Beach Players’ by resident playwright, Mark Scharf, who also penned last year’s production of Frankenstein. Pioneer Drama Service will publish both scripts.
 
Playing thru Nov. 2: FSa 8pm; Su 3pm; plus 9pm Oct. 31 at North Beach Boys and Girls Club; $15 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-286-1890; www.twinbeachplayers.com.

What to do when skunks move into the neighborhood

We’re a little worried about our new neighbors. They’re a well-dressed couple, but their reputation precedes them — malodorously.
    Skunks are more often smelled than seen. Now that we’re seeing them, can smelling them be far behind?
    Not necessarily, according to Maryland Department of Natural Resources. It costs a skunk a lot of energy to spray a load of musk at you or your dog. That’s energy they’d rather preserve, especially this time of year when they’re fattening up for lean months ahead.
    Food is the most likely reason skunks are checking out the neighborhood. They’re omnivorous, glad to feast on mice, voles, your trash or the veggies growing in your garden.
    Except for their legendary spray, skunks are defenseless. With a full pouch of musk a week in the making, a cornered skunk wants only to escape. Encountered, it will try to run away. Next, it will try to warn you off by stomping its front paws. If that doesn’t work, it will turn around, lift its tail and spray.
    Though not 100 percent effective, Neutroleum Alpha works way better than smearing yourself with peanut butter or tomato juice:
1 quart fresh three percent hydrogen peroxide
1⁄4 cup baking soda
1 tsp dish soap as a degreasing agent
    Mix in large open container. While the solution bubbles, use it to thoroughly wash skin or fur. Then wash with soap and water.
    Better is to discourage skunks from moving into the neighborhood by securing your trash. Try placing ammonia-soaked rags in places that attract them.
    A final resort is hiring a trapper. You’ll pay for the service, and caught skunks will be euthanized under Maryland’s rabies vector law. Though they are seldom rabid, they rank as one of four main species that can carry the disease.


Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Nuisance Hotline: 877-463-6497.

The catching is still good if you can stick with the search

We were almost back home when the fish hit.
    Gulls wheeling about and feeding are the single best indicator of rockfish surface action. Having seen not a single bird — much less any stripers — for more than three hours, we were packing this trip in.
    Fishing farther south or north was out of the question, for the wind was kicking up high, wet whitecaps in both directions.
    In a last desperate stop before the marina, we trolled small white bucktails while hugging a lee shoreline. The trip seemed all but over until the rod right next to my head went down with a strike.
    I grabbed it and set the hook. From the force of its fight, I guessed that it was not a giant, perhaps not even a keeper.
    I lifted and cranked the fish slowly and steadily toward the boat with the short spinning outfit that we had put into play as a trolling rod. Assuming we had a schoolie on the line, I was a bit casual about rod handling — until the fish broke water behind the boat.
    The bright black-lined sides of a striped bass were the sight I expected. So I was stunned when a broad, deep olive flank flashed in the light of our overcast sky. It was a white perch and a big one. Spotting the fish at the same time, my two companions yelled in surprise.
    Frank Tuma, a good friend and the captain of Down Time, the 29 foot C Hawk charter boat we were prospecting from, readied a net. But by that time the fish was alongside, and I could see that it was well hooked.
    That big little devil caused more excitement than a 30-inch rockfish. We laid it out and measured it at 13.25 inches, over citation size. Since big perch have become scarce around the mid-Bay the last two years, it was quite a satisfying catch.
    Circling back, we fixed our attention on the finder and saw a tight school of impressive marks about where the big one had hit. Breaking out some light rods, we rigged them with small jigs. We came up with nothing. The school had apparently moved as we had readied our tackle. Try as we might we couldn’t locate it again.

Back for More
    Rotten weather and busy schedules kept us off the water for almost a full week. When Frank and I finally did more prospecting for that school of perch, our effort paid off.
    Our first pass over the lucky area resulted in four big black-backs, all over 11 inches. Subsequent passes netted more brutes. A four-gallon bucket was filling with those mouth-watering white perch.
    When the bite dropped off after an hour or so, our bucket was over half full. Satisfied, we headed toward the Bay Bridge in search of birds and breaking rockfish.
    Gulls were screaming and circling low around a middle bridge support. We tossed jigs and top-water lures into the melee. These stripers were numerous but just undersized.
    But on the fish finder, Frank noticed suspicious marks deep beneath the breakers. Drifting with our perch outfits, we again scored on black-backs. Ten-inch white perch came up and over the side one after the other, and within half an hour we had filled our bucket.
    Cleaning them back at the marina, we had to admire our great luck. We had located not one but two nice schools of the best-eating fish that swims the Chesapeake. What’s more, we had caught enough for a number of wintertime fish fries.
    Colder weather has signaled an end to the Chesapeake’s more comfortable days. But the catching is still good if you can stick with the search. And the fish, when you find them, are fatter and more delicious than at any other time of year.