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The Dog Star’s neighbor once shined almost as bright as Venus

The Globe at Night campaign continues through the end of the month, so you still have a chance to contribute to this stellar effort. “Citizen scientists” — that’s you and me — are asked to study the constellation Orion and upload your sightings to the organization’s web site. Find details at www.globeatnight.org.
    The hunter’s neatly aligned belt stars point almost straight down to the brightest star in the heavens, Sirius in Canis Major, the Great Dog. A Greek-rooted word, Sirius means sparkling and scorching. The ancient Egyptians worshiped this star as their god, the dog-headed Anubis.
    Marking the dog’s forward paw is the constellation’s third-brightest star Mirzam, meaning the announcer in Arabic, as this star rises just before Sirius.
    The second-brightest star in Canis Major is Adhara, marking the great dog’s loin. Five million years ago, Adhara was a mere 34 light years away, and it blazed at –4 magnitude — nearly as bright as Venus! Seen from earth, no other star has ever shone so bright except our own sun. Since then, Adhara has raced from us and is now some 430 light years away and shines at a still-respectable magnitude 1.5.
    Less than five degrees directly below Sirius is the open star cluster M41, named after the 18th century French astronomer Charles Messier, who catalogued the night sky’s brightest objects. With today’s light-drenched skies, M41 appears as a single point of light. But that wasn’t always so. Around 325 BC, Aristotle wrote: “one of the stars in the thigh of the Dog had a tail, though a dim one: if you looked hard at it the light used to become dim, but to less intent glance it was brighter.”
    Staring at a point in the darkened sky, you’ll see what the Greek philosopher meant. Gaze straight at a star, and it dims. Look at it out of the corner of your eye, however, and the same star appears noticeably brighter. This is because our eyes have two distinct light-recognizing cells: Rods and cones. When we stare intently at something, the cone cells to the center of our retina react, providing us detail and color. However, in dim lighting, the rods at the retina’s outer edge respond.
    Today astronomers know that M41 is in fact hundreds of stars, but if you hope to see more than one point of light in this cluster, you’ll need binoculars or a modest telescope.

Transplanting seedlings

The sooner you can transplant seedlings after they germinate, the better they can survive and continue growing. Delay transplanting your seedlings after they have become crowded and have true leaves, and you’ll get stunting, resulting in slower growth.
    The first green leaf-like structures you see on seedlings are called cotyledons. The cotyledons contain all the energy necessary for germination and the development of the first true leaves. To minimize transplant shock, transplant seedlings soon after the first true leaves appear.
    Small plants grow rapidly, and the sooner you transplant them the faster they grow. Transplant bedding plant seedlings into individual three- or four-inch pots in cell packs such as 804. Metro-Mix, Sunshine Mix, Farfard Mix or Pro-Mix can be used as a transplant medium. These commercial blends have sufficient fertilizer to supply the needs of the transplants for six weeks. Eliminate the need for later fertilizer by blending one-third by volume compost made from lobster or crab waste with the commercial mix.
    Your growing medium must be moist, neither wet nor dry. Using the point of a plant label or the point of a knife, lift each seedling or clump of seedlings from their growing medium. With the same instrument, separate the clump of seedlings into individual plants. Using your fingers, lift each seedling by gently grasping the cotyledon. Never lift young seedlings by grasping the stem. The stem is the permanent part of the plant while the cotyledons are only temporary structures engineered to drop from the stem as soon as the plant becomes well established. If you accidently squeeze the stem, you can permanently stunt the plant’s growth.
    At this point of development, the seedling will require full sun. Minimum temperatures should not drop below 65 degrees. The containers should be irrigated only when warm and dry to a fingertip pressed lightly on the surface of several containers.
    Consider conditioning the plants by placing them outdoors in partial shade for at least a week before transplanting them into the garden.  
    Seeds of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers and lettuce should be sown now, from late February through early March. Seeds of tomatoes should be sown approximately five weeks before they are to be transplanted into the garden — unless you desire to transplant tomato plants with tomatoes already attached to the stem.
    A certain amount of pride comes with growing your own bedding plants from seeds.

Coming next week: One-step potting.

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

Brady Bounds opened up the Bay to fly fishermen

Brady Bounds says he is semi-retired. By that he means he no longer books 250-plus charter days on the water during a relentless 12-month season. For his own enjoyment of life plus some past health issues, he’s cut that down the last few years. Still, he probably fishes more than 90 percent more than the rest of us.
    Bounds was one of the first guides to embrace light-tackle fishing on the Chesapeake some 50 years ago. It happened almost by accident.
    Loosely defined, light-tackle Bay angling is pursued with medium-power spinning or casting rods about seven feet long, lines from eight- to 20-pound breaking strength and almost any fly rod setup. This is equipment designed for freshwater fishing and, before Bounds, not often seen on the Chesapeake, where stout, six-foot boat rods and 30-pound test line were the norm.
    Bounds was a young man living in Leonardtown in St. Mary’s County when he and a friend planned to buy a boat to get in on those years’ great middle-Bay fishing for rock, blues and other brackish water game fish. They decided on a used Chesapeake Bay deadrise. When the time came to sign the papers, the friend backed out and Bounds had to go it alone.
    Miffed, he dedicated himself to demonstrating to his buddy just what he had missed. Bounds became a skilled Bay fisherman, then got his commercial license and earned money chartering the deadrise. Trolling, chumming and bottom fishing, he acquired quite a reputation for delivering a good day on the water.
    He was working on his equipment at the dock one afternoon when, all of a sudden, a fellow who had been admiring his boat and setup offered to buy it. It was at a price Brady just couldn’t refuse, despite the fact that up to that moment he’d had no thought of selling.
    A local marina signed the boatless Bounds on to captain charter boats, and he liked the work. Meanwhile, friends had discovered freshwater bass fishing and the tournaments then new to Maryland.
    Bounds often spent the morning running a Bay charter and the afternoon fishing sweetwater with his buddies for bucket-mouths. Finally he invested the money from the sale of his deadrise and bought a used bass boat of the new, shallow-draft, flush-deck design that was sweeping the largemouth bass fishing world.
    To be competitive in tournament bass fishing, Bounds soon found, he had to perfect his structure-fishing game. Structure fishing is a freshwater technique that targets open water and the unseen bottom contours such as sunken creek beds, lumps, drop-offs, submerged trees, brush and other fish-holding features. Structure fishing in lakes and impoundments was far more productive in terms of numbers and size of fish than fishing shoreline edges.
    It was difficult fishing in those days as there was no GPS technology. Bounds mastered the skill of triangulating shoreline features and keeping close notes on bottom readings from his fish finder. His techniques are now called Conceptual-Pattern Fishing
    He shared his tournament knowledge and promoted bass and striped bass angling by writing for local fishing journals. A popular author, he also hosted a fishing program on local cable TV for five seasons.
    Next he tried advertising light-tackle charters for striped bass in a Bay journal. Over a few months, he had no inquiries. Disappointed, he told the journal editor he might as well cancel.
    The editor suggested tweaking the ad. The next edition carried the same small ad but with one modification, a narrow red border emblazoned with the words fly fishermen welcome.
    Bounds’ phone began ringing off the hook. He knew little about fly fishing but was certain he could get fly anglers on fish and in position to catch them.
    Soon he was swamped with charters.
    The fly fishermen brought non-fly fishing friends who used Brady’s freshwater bass fishing tackle. Those anglers came back with other friends wanting the light-tackle, big-fish experience.
    Word spread, and the number of anglers and guides using this new equipment and approach multiplied exponentially for years thereafter.
    Fly- and light-tackle fishing had arrived on the Bay.

Put in the right hole, our money — and effort — makes a difference.

As winter hangs on like a bad cold, my hibernating nature has sought no bigger decision than whether to devote the 9pm Sunday hour to Downton Abbey or True Detective.
    Yet in the wider world, big stuff — actual transformative change — is going on. So I’ve poked my head out of the burrow to take a look.
    Bob Melamud — who doesn’t make hardship weather a stay-home-from-work excuse — reports this week on promising news on oyster restoration. He tells us that findings in Florida and Virginia suggest we’ll get results from at least some of the money Maryland has poured into the Bay to restore our hard-working, many-skilled native oyster.
    His subject in “Maryland’s $6 Million Shell Pile” is the use of fossilized oyster shell to sustain new generations of oysters — not to mention their many lively associates — in Harris Creek on the Eastern Shore.
    Harris Creek is one piece in a big picture. An oyster sanctuary, it’s part of the 25 percent of Maryland’s productive oyster bottom now set aside for oysters to grow for the Bay’s sake rather than for harvest. Sanctuaries, too, are part of a bigger picture of oyster restoration.
    In other parts of the picture, people are making plans for native oysters’ future, a horizon we’d about given up on just a few years ago. Raising oyster seed. Raising oysters from seed on their piers to stock sanctuaries like Harris Creek or in their own communities’ waterways. Collecting empty oyster shell from packing houses and restaurants.
    And learning how to farm oysters as aquaculturists, helping create a new oyster economy and new oyster appetites while taking the pressure off wild oysters and adding their filtering power to cleaning up the Bay.
    All those separate actions and many others are painting a rosier oyster picture than we’ve seen in many years. Action by action, they’re adding up to the magic of transformative change, in economy and ecology. 
    It’s about time, as well, for reporting some good news about Maryland’s Watershed Protection and Restoration Program. All the bad-mouthing we’ve heard makes the Rain Tax seem like the worst thing that’s happened since the Flush Tax.
    Let’s hope we’re so lucky. Because of the dedicated funding source affectionately known as the Flush Tax, we’re working house by house and water purification plant by plant to keep toilet water out of the Bay.
    Under the Watershed Protection and Restoration Program, we take responsibility for our hard places — roofs and driveways and streets — by paying our share to reduce their bad effects on the Bay.
    County Executive Laura Neuman — who on taking office promptly vetoed the Anne Arundel County Council’s decision on how to make the plan work — is now putting our share of the fee to work by hiring the right man for the job. At South River Federation, Erik Michelsen captured stormwater in creative ways all over his watershed. Now his expertise is benefitting us countywide.
    At the same time, Neuman’s creating an advisory Stormwater Fee Committee of citizens “to have a seat at the table on issues that affect them.” That’s the best place we can be, and I’m rooting for my neighbor Mike Brewer, an environmentalist in practice and policy, to take one of those seats.
    Like restoring oysters and improving water purification, holding back the polluting torrent of stormwater is part of preserving our future. Don’t believe the naysayers. Making a difference is up to us, and we’re doing it.

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

Help plot the stars and shine a light on light pollution

With the moon waning through pre-dawn skies, this week marks the year’s second Globe at Night backyard observing drive, which aims to enlist you in charting the night sky. The goal: “to raise public awareness of the impact of light pollution by inviting citizen-scientists to measure their night sky brightness and submit their observations to a website from a computer or smart phone.”
    This month’s target constellation is Orion. To get started, log onto the Globe at Night website — www.globeatnight.org — where you’ll find star charts of Orion custom-tailored to your viewing area. Then, find a dark location and see how many stars you can spot compared to those shown on the charts. Finally, upload your results on the website or through the Globe at Night smart-phone app. You can make and tally as many observations as you like from the same or several locations. Based on the results, astronomers can gauge the effects of light pollution across the earth.
    Sunset reveals Jupiter high overhead. Shining at the feet of the Gemini twins Castor and Pollux, Jupiter rules the heavens in brightness for much of the night.
    Saturn is on prime display by midnight, and Thursday it should be all the easier to spot as it travels within a few degrees to the left of the moon. The moon and Saturn remain together through the night, and by dawn Friday you can find them low in the south. Farther to their right are Mars and Spica.
    If you’re up before dawn and have a clear view to the east, you’ve probably noticed the morning star Venus. Blazing at magnitude –4.9, Venus is at its brightest of the year. Wednesday, ­Venus is joined by the thin crescent moon just to the left. The two are just as close before dawn Thursday the 27th.

Sow slow-germinating seeds now

As you know from last week’s calendar of when to sow what, now into early March is the time to sow seeds of onions and shallots, begonias and coleus, petunias and impatients. These very fine-seeded species require special treatment. Here’s what to do.
    Buy a commercial seed starter that’s a sterile fine mixture of peat moss, pine bark and fine vermiculite amended with limestone to adjust the pH to near 6.5.
    Sow onions and shallots in four-inch pots with drainage holes. The seedlings will grow in these containers until you transplant them to the garden. Fill the pot to the top with seed starter; scrape away the excess. Bounce the bottom of the pot several times on your work surface to eliminate air pockets. Smooth the surface of the growing medium. Now uniformly spread 30 to 40 seeds over the surface. Watering the seeds will cover them with medium as it causes additional settling.
    The seeds will germinate best at temperatures between 75 to 80 degrees. The top of the refrigerator supplies the heat to make an ideal germinating table. As soon as seedlings appear, move the pots to a window facing south for maximum sunlight — or into a greenhouse. Irrigate as needed. Fertilize after seedlings have grown two to three inches tall. Use either fish emulsion or a diluted commercial water-soluble fertilizer.
    For starting seeds of begonia, coleus, impatients, petunia and so on, salad trays — the plastic kind you fill at salad bars — are ideal. Using an ice pick or a pointed knife, punch holes uniformly across the bottom, spacing the holes one inch apart. Punch from the inside out. Next add at least one to two inches of seed-starting mix. Using plant labels, divide the surface area of the starter mix so that each species gets approximately two by two inches. Scatter the seeds uniformly over their area, label each species and sprinkle with water until the excess drips out the container’s bottom. Snap the clear cover closed and place the container on top of the refrigerator.
    As soon as the seeds start to germinate, move the container to a window facing south or to a greenhouse. To prevent the build-up of heat within the salad bar container, lay a pencil or wooden dowel half-way between the hinge and the front edge of the container, across the length of the container and wrap with a rubber band to keep the cover partially closed. The seedlings will be ready to transplant into larger pots as soon as they can be lifted.

Next week: Transplanting seedlings.

The donuts are all that’s missing in this theatrical treat

Welcome to Superior Donuts in Uptown Chicago, established by the Przybyszewski family c. 1950 and static ever since. You know the place: checkerboard floor, lettered window, illuminated menu board, vintage register. All that’s missing in Colonial Players’ set is the sweet aroma and some napkins for the dispensers.
    Arthur (Terry Averill), the aged hippie who owns the place, hasn’t had his heart in it lately. What with his ex’s death, his daughter’s estrangement and the new Starbucks across the street, he’s more in touch with past failures than present possibilities.
    Still, he has his regulars: namely officers James Bailey (Chris Haley) and Randy Osteen (Shirley Panek), who has a crush on Arthur; and Lady Boyle (Mary McLeod), his homeless friend and confidante. When vandalism pushes Arthur to the brink, Max Tarasov (Rick Estberg), the Russian immigrant who owns the DVD store next door, offers to buy the place.
    Then Franco Wicks (Darius McCall) hires on and lobbies for healthier menu options, poetry readings and profit sharing. Arthur isn’t so sure about Franco’s ideas, but he feels kinship with the gifted writer who’s put school on hold to pay off debts — gambling debts, as it turns out. Enter Luther Flynn (Mike Fox), a loan shark and exploiter, and his enforcer Kevin Magee (Gerald Inglesby).
    While Superior Donuts is funnier and lighter than Tracy Letts’ typical work (August: Osage County), it nevertheless contains mature themes, language and violence. A story for modern times, about community as a substitute for family, it teeters between chill and chilling. Arthur’s story lulls us with introspective calm through snippets of conversation in his foggy present and lucid soliloquies about his past — until reality breaks the hush, demanding he take a stand against the thugs who strong-arm his new friend.
    This is a smart show, well staged and well acted. Every actor surpasses the character sketch. Averill is every inch the 1960s’ holdout, deceptively sly and capable under his rumpled appearance.  McCall delights with his youthful enthusiasm and mastery of a role he learned in only three weeks. Estberg is flashy and hilarious with his authentic Russian accent and butchered English, bringing a depth of conviction to the comical immigrant who nevertheless commands respect. McLeod wears her duct-taped tiara with dignity. Haley and Panek eclipse their cop personas with genuine personalities. The Mafiosi radiate menace, and Ben Carr captivates in the tiny cameo of the monosyllabic Russian giant Kiril Ivakin.
    The show is technically strong as well, with a soundtrack of ambient street noises timed to swell each time the door opens and lighting details that evoke a commercial failure. The costumes speak volumes about their characters, from Lady’s plastic-bag boots to Arthur’s tie-died T-shirt.
    My only reservation is the credibility of casting Terry Averill as the main character. Averill is an outstanding actor, but his frail build belies the Pillsbury doughboy image of the aged baker. Add to that his climactic fight scene with hulking Fox (Luther) and the play touches on theater of the absurd. It’s like watching Tony Soprano and Woody Allen in a knock-down drag-out.
    Suspend your disbelief in that incongruity, and you’ll see a winner at every level, including insight into urban development, racial tension and the fragmentation of the family.

Director and set designer: Kristofer Kauff. Sound: Ben Cornwell. Lights: Brittany Rankin. Costumes: Jean Berard and Beth Terranova. Running time: two and a half hours plus intermission.

Playing thru March 8 ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm (also 7:30pm Feb. 23) at Colonial Players Theater, Annapolis. $20w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.

A rare breed proves it’s still Best in Show

Whiskey was the first wire fox terrier to enter our home. He chased children and adults, pilfered food from the table and ripped the shingles off a hand-built doghouse — even after application of sour apple anti-chew spray. He could open coffee cans and drag leaded food dishes up flights of stairs. This miscreant pup was a terror on four legs.
    He barked, he dug and he obeyed only when convenient.
    After Whiskey, we couldn’t imagine owning another breed.
    Brilliant, insubordinate and hilarious, fox terriers were bred for fox hunting in 17th century England. Smooth and wire-haired terriers (considered the same breed until 1984) rode in pouches on the hunters’ horses until the prey was driven to ground. The terriers were then sent into the fox dens and yanked out by their tails, doomed fox clenched in their teeth.
    By the 1930s, wire fox terriers’ square heads, keen eyes and compact build earned them popularity with the glamorous set, in movies and on the arms of the rich and famous. Actors and heiresses weren’t the only ones smitten. Wire fox terriers have won 14 Best in Show titles at Westminster, more than any other breed. The breed got its latest win this year when five-year-old GCH Afterall Painting the Sky, aka Sky, took the Best in Show prize.
    Now that Sky has showed you that foxies are beautiful, loyal and full of personality, be warned that they aren’t the dog for the faint of heart. These usually bouncy and friendly terriers are too smart for lazy owners. Leave them alone for too long, they’ll empty your trash cans all over the floor. Yell at them, they’ll bark right back. Ignore them, and they’ll force your attention by leaping in your lap or snatching whatever you’re focused on. Mental stimulation and regular exercise are the barrier between you and a household of destroyed items.
    If, however, you can’t resist a dog that believes it’s intellectually superior to you, wire fox terriers are a great addition to your family. With a fox terrier in your house, you’ll have good bad dog stories enough for years.

Now’s the time to pack the things you’re sure to need

A number of tools can make an angler’s life easier. The most important of these are often needed multiple times a day. Many are the frustrated anglers who have overlooked them.
    I’m frequently surprised by the number of experienced fishermen and women who have to rummage around in their pockets or tackle bags to find a tool to cut their line when changing terminal tackle. If you’re using braided line, you’ve found that not every line clipper will manage its thin diameter and tough composition.
    Your line cutting device should be designed to include braid and should always be carried in an easily available location on your person. Keep in mind that an angler’s hands are often fouled by fish slime or bait offal (or both) at the precise moment the device is needed. Having to plunge one’s dirty mits into pockets looking for a line cutter is always unpleasant.
    A clipper or proper cutting pliers on a belt holster is handy. It will inevitably save any angler time and trouble. Plus, if I’m fishing with you, you won’t have to bother me by asking to use mine.
    The second necessary item is a small folding utility knife. I’ve carried a scout-type knife for years, and there’s hardly a day on the water I don’t use it. Searching through tackle boxes and bags for a screwdriver or a hole punch, can opener, bottle opener or cutting tool is unnecessary if you keep one of these in your pocket.
    The curved beak can opener, by the way, also excels at picking out particularly nasty backlashes and knot tangles. A Swiss Army knife with its combination of tools also works well, particularly the Tinker model.
    The next most important everyday item is a long needle-nose pliers suitable for extracting a hook from deep within a fish’s mouth or throat. Even when using circle hooks, a busy day of fishing will inevitably result in hooking a throw-back fish (in a difficult-to-reach location. The proper tool, close at hand, makes the hook’s removal much less traumatic for the fish and allows you to return it to the water promptly.
    A stout wire cutter is also essential. Sooner or later, the odds are that you or someone in your party will get a fishing hook imbedded somewhere on their person. Prepared anglers can retrieve their wire cutters, snip the hook off with just an accessible part of the shaft protruding, dose the area with a disinfectant and then tape the protruding shaft firmly down and out of the way.
    The unfortunate victim can continue fishing and afterwards visit a medical center to have the remains of the hook removed with the aid of a local anesthetic and get the necessary shots and antibiotics.
    If you don’t have a wire cutter on hand, your day on the water is suddenly over. Hook-removal techniques are endlessly touted by instruction books and videos, but, I have never seen the large rockfish hooks used on the Bay removed on-site without the accompaniment of pain and often some ugly tissue damage.
    A good-quality fillet or fish knife is also an item that should be included with your tackle. A sharp knife is absolutely necessary for the precise cutting and preparing of baits. At the end of the day, if you’re fortunate enough to have access to marina fish cleaning facilities, it will save you much fuss and bother by helping you reduce your catch to fillets before heading home. I use a freshly honed, five-inch, Russell, curved-blade, boning knife.
    A small but powerful flashlight with fresh batteries is another particularly useful item that is somehow often overlooked. Though most fishing trips are planned for daylight hours, the launch often occurs before dawn and the return sometimes happens after dark. Finding boat keys or anything dropped is much more problematic if you have to search by feel.
    The final must-have item in your gear bag is not really a tool, but it can be critical. Always store at least one small tube of high SPF sunscreen somewhere among your gear. Staying out on the water means a nasty burn unless you have some on hand.
    Fish fully prepared. You’ll never regret it.

This nebula is alive with stars

As the sun sets, one of the first constellations to appear is Orion, already high in the southeast, and by 8pm looming in the south. With its geometric, hourglass shape, Orion is one of the easiest constellations to spot and one of the most rewarding to study. The brightest star is blue-white Rigel to the lower right, marking the hunter’s left knee. Opposite to the upper left is the red-giant Betelgeuse, punctuating Orion’s raised right arm.
    Marking the hunter’s opposite shoulder is Bellatrix, meaning female warrior. While nowhere near as bright as Rigel or Betelgeuse, Bellatrix is still the 22nd brightest star. Juxtaposed to the constellation’s lower left and marking the hunter’s right knee is Saiph, bright enough to stand up to the glare of this week’s bright moon.
    Perhaps even more recognizable are the three almost perfectly aligned stars of Orion’s belt, Alnilam, Mintaka and Alnitak. The belt points down toward Sirius in Canis Major, the brightest of all stars. Following the belt the other direction leads to Taurus the bull and its red-orange star Aldebaran.
    Hanging perpendicular from the belt is another, fainter line of stars that forms Orion’s sword. One of the objects in the sword isn’t a star at all but rather a blazing and massive illuminated cloud of stellar gas, the Orion Nebula, or M42. At 1,400 light years distant, the Orion Nebula shines at fourth magnitude, appearing as a fuzzy patch to the unaided eye. Binoculars reveal M42’s light as distinct stars, while even a modest telescope hints at the vast number of stars lurking within the clouds. But what really stands out is the luminosity as opposed to individual points of light. Nestled within the clouds like a celestial incubator are thousands of nascent stars, their light diffused and spread through the gas.
    The beacon of light above Orion is Jupiter. It is visible all night before finally setting in the northwest around 4am. Mars rises around 10:30pm and is high in the south around 3am. Saturn rises after midnight, well to the left of Mars and high in the south with dawn. By that time Venus is well positioned above the east horizon, having risen around 4:30. There’s no missing this morning star, unless you mistake it for a plane or some other unidentified flying object.