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11 minutes a year can really add up

The moon wanes through late-night and early-morning skies this week, reaching last quarter Tuesday. The moon rises Thursday around 9pm, with the bright star Spica trailing about 10 degrees behind. Far to the west of the moon is Jupiter, the next-brightest object. Friday night Spica rises ahead of the moon, but now the two are less than five degrees apart.
    The moon rises just before midnight Sunday followed only minutes later by the red planet Mars, roughly five degrees to the southeast. As sunrise approaches Monday you’ll find them high in the south.
    The moon rises around 1am Tuesday, and now it’s six degrees to the left of Mars. Another red light, Antares, the heart of Scorpius, shines to the moon’s lower left, and it, the moon and Mars form a tight triangle. Ten degrees east of the moon is golden Saturn. The moon and Saturn are spectacular Wednesday before dawn, with the moon just two degrees above ­Saturn.
    Venus still glimmers low above the southeast horizon in the half-hour before daybreak. You may even spot Mercury lower still, though you may need binoculars.
    Monday marks Leap Day, that time every four years when we recalibrate our calendars to celestial time. You see, it takes the earth a little more than 365 days to orbit the sun, so we add a 366th day on each Leap Year to keep things in synch. You might think that Leap Year is a modern development. In fact, it was first enacted by Julius Caesar more than 2,000 years ago.
    Those early astronomers were able to track the earth’s annual passage around the sun to within 11 minutes — pretty good considering the telescope would not come along for another 1,400 years. While 11 minutes may seem insignificant over a typical year’s 525,600 minutes, it adds up to a full day every 130 years. By the 1500s, the vernal equinox fell on March 11 rather than the 21st.
    Enter Pope Gregory XIII, who in 1582 wiped from that year the days of October 4th through 15th. Further, he ordained that Leap Years would continue in years divisible by four except those ending in 00 — unless those 00 years were themselves divisible by 400. So back in 2000 we observed Leap Year, but in the year 2100 we will not. This reduces the difference between a solar year and our calendar year to 26 seconds, one day every 3,000 years!
    Again, pretty accurate computations at a time when the abacus was the most advanced mathematical instrument.

Put yourself in its place

Oh, the stories I’ve heard of abuse to cactus. I’ve spent many afternoons and evenings in plant clinics where people wheel in large barrel or drum cacti with decaying centers. Often water was oozing from the bottom where it had begun to rot. One elderly lady arrived in a chauffeured limousine. She sent the chauffeur inside to bring me out to examine her plant, a three-foot-tall Saguaro cactus. Before she would allow me to examine her cactus, she requested my credentials.
    My first question to her, and to the other cacti owners I advised, was where the plant was kept at home. Most often, I was told, in the middle of the living room.
    Where do cacti grow? The desert.
    Cacti growing as houseplants need to reside in an area with full sun.
    Cacti are succulents and store large amounts of water in their cells. Because the epidermal layer is thick between the spikes and covered with a chitin like material, they lose little water by evaporation. In the home, most cacti should not be watered more than once a month and should only be fed with a liquid fertilizer once a year.
    They’ll need repotting every four to five years. The soil can be made by blending 10 percent garden soil with 90 percent sandbox or builders sand. To each cubic foot of cacti soil, add one-half cup of agricultural limestone and blend thoroughly. Heat garden soil at 200 degrees for one hour to kill weeds, insects and worms or grubs.
    Because most cacti have sharp spines, they are dangerous. To handle them, crumble many sheets of newspaper into large, tight balls. Put the paper balls over the spines, pressing firmly into place until you can no longer feel the sharp ends.
    To remove a cactus from its pot, slide a long sharp knife along the inner side the container and the root ball. Tip the container on its side and slide out the root ball. If the root ball does not slide easily, strike the bottom of the container with a rubber hammer or with a two-inch-thick board cushioning a carpentry hammer to prevent breakage.
    The new container should be at least three inches larger in diameter than the old and one to two inches deeper. Measure the depth of the original root ball and add soil to raise the top of the root ball to within one inch from the top of the pot. Stand the plant upright and lift into the middle of the new container. Wear thick gloves and get your hold on paper, not spikes. Use your repotting mix to partially fill the space between the root ball and the wall of the new container. Then wash the new soil into place with a steady stream of water. Add more prepared soil and water until the new soil is level with the top of the root ball.
    For large cacti, repotting will require several hours of intensive labor.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Yellow perch break winter’s fast

Things are looking up for Maryland anglers when the first runs of yellow perch are reported. Also called ring perch, neds or yellow neds, they are the first Tidewater fish to respond to spawning urges. Leaving their wintering grounds, they will now break up into small schools and migrate toward fresher tributary headwaters to lay eggs and reproduce.
    Waysons Corner where Rt. 4 crosses the Patuxent River is usually the place yellows first appear in our neck of the woods, and this year is no different. The run there started a week or so ago and is growing. Fish up to 12 inches are being taken, but with a nine-inch minimum size and a 10-count possession limit there can be lots of throwbacks.
    Other places will soon see these fish. Maryland Department of Natural Resoures lists some 40 springtime yellow perch fishing spots on its website: dnr2.maryland.gov/fisheries/Pages.
    You might not find them the first or second try, so don’t hesitate to change locations. But if you are persistent, you will score the first fresh fish dinner of the new year — and it will be a good one.
    The migrating schools of perch tend to move up the rivers and streams on the incoming tide, retreating to deeper water as the tide reverses. The best shoreline bite is usually some phase of that high tide. Focus on the brushy shorelines, especially near downed trees, bushes and sunken debris. During low water, try channels and deep pools.
    Small male yellow perch move up the tributaries first, the larger males arriving a bit later. Both remain upriver and near spawning sites as long as females keep coming. The roe-bearing females show on their own immutable schedule and then leave soon after they spew their eggs. Yellow neds also live in most freshwater impoundments throughout Maryland and feel the same springtime spawning urge.
    Yellow perch exude their roe in accordion-like sacks designed to foul on any submerged structure, holding the roe suspended. The eggs hatch in 10 to 25 days.

Fishing Yellow
    Five- to seven-foot light or medium spin rods work well this time of year. Reels should be spooled with fresh four- to 10-pound test monofilament. Small hooks are generally best, with a No. 2 the largest for this time of year.
    Low water temperatures will limit the success of artificial lures, as this time of year most fish locate their food by scent rather than sight, and perch are no exception. Present fresh bait such as minnows, grass shrimp, bloodworms, earthworms, wax worms and butter worms on hi-low rigs. Use a sinker in deeper water and shad darts suspended under a bobber in the shallower areas.
    When fishing bobber-suspended baits, cast out and pop the bait slowly back to create sound and constant motion.
    I’ve had good results with a tandem rig with a gold No. 12 Tony Accetta spoon and a lip-hooked minnow on the long leg and a bright colored 1⁄8-ounce shad dart dressed with a grass shrimp or a bit of worm on the shorter leg. Casting this rig out to likely areas and slowly working it back will almost always draw strikes when yellow perch are around. It has the additional advantage of enticing any pickerel lurking about.
    When you locate perch in deeper water they will usually remain concentrated in that area for some time. But the neds in warmer shallow water are generally in spawning mode and constantly moving. As females begin to exude their egg sacks, groups of males follow them, bumping their sides and exuding milt to fertilize the eggs.
    Gravid females appear to be the meatiest of the perch, but most of their physical bulk is made up of the eggs. It is better to keep the legal, slimmer males and release the egg-bearing females to contribute to next year’s population.

Shad come 77 stream miles closer to spawning headwaters

American shad, once plentiful in the Bay and its tributaries, are inching back thanks to a combination of restoration efforts in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland.
    Water quality improvements, harvest moratoriums, stocking efforts and the 2015 opening of 77 additional stream miles have all contributed to the resurgence.
    Improving fish passage allows migratory species to swim from the salty ocean waters to freshwater rivers to spawn. In the latest Bay Barometer, the Chesapeake Bay Program’s annual assessment of its restoration efforts, the program announced 817 additional miles of streams have been restored since 2012, bringing the program closer to achieving the mandated 2025 target of 1,000 miles of water open to migratory fish.
    Our Bay watershed is home to several fish species that need to move between the ocean and freshwater rivers. These anadromous fish have long been a major resource to communities along their routes.
    Both American Indians and early European settlers depended on annual shad runs. The shad numbers dropped as dams and roads went in, blocking and destroying river habitat.
    Removing dams or installing lifts or fish ladders reopens the river habitat so the fish can swim farther upstream where they can spawn.
    “People around the Bay should be concerned about American shad for the same reason they should be concerned about all fish and aquatic life — all life really,” says Jim Thompson of Maryland Department of Natural Resources’s fish passage program. “Each species plays an important part in the food web and circle of life.”
    Between 2000 and 2014, American shad increased from 11 percent to 44 percent of the target, due in large part to rises in the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers. There’s more opportunity in the James, Susquehanna and York rivers, which have had consistently low spawning stocks.

Colonial Players presents a laugh-filled farce with Boeing, Boeing

French playwright Marc ­Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing made a successful takeoff overseas in 1962, playing for seven years in London. But on Broadway three years later, it stalled after 23 performances. A movie version with Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis was widely ignored. But a 2008 Broadway revival was a hit, and that version has landed at Colonial Players in Annapolis.
    Bernard (Brandon Bentley), an American living near Orly Airport in Paris, is juggling three fiancées, each an air hostess: Gloria (Debra Kidwell), the American; Gabriella (Sarah Wade), the Italian; and Gretchen (Rebecca Gift) the German. Making meticulous use of airline timetables and the complicity of his French housekeeper Berthe (Cece Mcgee-Newbrough), Bernard has managed smooth flying for his ruse.
    Along for the bumpy ride comes Bernard’s old pal Robert (Colin Hood), a nervous naïf from Wisconsin who can’t believe his friend’s luck in keeping “one up, one down and one pending.” Robert finds himself more than a witness when the planes get faster and weather sets in. That’s when the wit hits the fanjet, and the laughs start to soar.
    As Bernard, Bentley knows how to deliver a punch line and lands several. But by overdoing his physicality, he seems to be trying too hard for a cool, calm lothario. His later breakdown as things … well, break down … is more believable, so perhaps he’ll get comfortable with his sexy baritone and good looks and settle into the role more comfortably as the run progresses.
    As Robert, Hood uses his comic chops to perfection, taking his jittery body and voice right to the edge of credulity and then stepping back just enough so that we not only believe him but also share a certain empathy. He lands a nice transition from nervous pal to would-be lothario.
    As Berthe the housekeeper, Mcgee-Newbrough walks a similar comedic tightrope, balancing physical comedy and character without falling into caricature. Her lines are funny. but what she does with those lines is even funnier. Her almost silent but quite physical reaction when she first discovers that two of the fiancées have somehow infiltrated the flat at the same time is 15 seconds of comic angst that alone are worth the price of admission.
    As the stewardesses, Kidwell, Gift and Wade shine. Wearing brilliantly colored stewardess costumes by designer Christina McAlpine, each maintains a credible accent and her own brand of clichéd character — but it’s in the clichés that the comedy works.
    Gretchen is the dominating German whose voice and body are whip smart and just as stinging. Gift maintains the dominatrix attitude with aplomb; a long early scene with Robert flies by as she and Hood circle and collide hilariously. Wade’s cooing Italian and Kidwell’s Betty Boop-like cosmo girl each commands her own entertaining niche, while still being brilliant at the ensemble work that the play demands.
    Director Scott Nichols, who also chose the fun 1960s soundtrack, keeps the timing tight. Even on opening night there was nary a blip.
    So fasten your seat belts, put your tray tables up and fly on over to Colonial for a laugh-filled flight to farce.


ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm & 7:30 thru March 12. 108 East St., Annapolis, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org. Two and a half hours with intermission.

Stage manager Dave Carter; Set designer Alan Zemla; Lighting designer Eric Lund.

A flawed but funny romantic comedy

Four New York women explore the complexities of love.
    Alice (Dakota Johnson: 50 Shades of Grey) moves to the city to find herself. But single life in the big city is rough, and she can’t get her boyfriend back. Alone and hoping for a grand romance, she restarts her search for Mr. Right.
    Alice’s sister Met (Leslie Mann: Vacation) is at the other extreme. This independent Ob/Gyn looks for happiness in work rather than love. When she decides to have a baby, she visits a sperm bank and prepares for single-motherhood. Pregnant and content, she meets a younger man who makes her rethink singlehood.
    Coworker Robin (Rebel Wilson: Pitch Perfect 2) lives for hookup. Drinking and sleeping her way through the city, Robin offers to be Alice’s guide to single life.
    Lucy (Alison Brie: Doctor Thorne) lives over Alice’s favorite bar. So determined is she to find the right man that she designs algorithms to help her navigate dating sites. Then a promiscuous bartender tempts her to follow her heart rather than her chart.
    Will any of these women find love? Or is life in the city heart-crushing?
    A surprisingly progressive romantic comedy, How to be Single suffers from a single problem: Alice. The lead of this ensemble piece is such a boring, spineless mope that it’s amazing she’s capable of making friends, let alone attracting love. It isn’t Johnson’s fault; she does what she can with terrible material. It’s insipid characterization by director Christian Ditter (Love, Rosie)
    The other actresses are more entertaining, and the film works best when Ditter lets them riff. Mann is the most likeable, while Wilson takes a page from John Belushi’s playbook, acting the buffoon. Brie is an odd case. She is charming but separate from the other women, popping up now and again like a Jack-in-the-box.
    Though uneven and underwritten, How To Be Single offers some interesting options. Each woman gets a happy ending, though perhaps not the one she imagined. Some find that romance isn’t the only route to love and satisfaction. Love can flourish with a good friend, or within yourself. It’s a powerful message that subverts the notion that marriage is the narrow road to happiness ever after.

Fair Romantic Comedy • R • 110 mins.

Look for them together from dusk Tuesday to dawn Wednesday

Sunset Thursday and Friday finds the waxing moon high overhead in the company of Gemini’s Castor and Pollux above, Canis Minor’s Procyon below and Orion’s Betelgeuse off to the west. Come Saturday the moon is in the constellation Cancer, too faint to compete against lunar glare.
    Come Sunday, the moon has a new companion, the bright star Regulus trailing a dozen degrees behind. The brightest star in Leo, Regulus is also part of the asterism called the Sickle of Leo, which looks like a backward question mark, the star marking the dot at the bottom.
    Monday’s full moon — the Snow Moon and the Hunger Moon — trails Regulus, while bright Jupiter follows the moon by roughly the same distance. Finally, Tuesday evening the moon and Jupiter are within two degrees of each another, appearing as a tight pair until sunrise.
    Just two weeks shy of opposition, Jupiter is at its best and brightest, rising in the east around 7:30pm and shining high in the south at 1:30am and brilliant above the western horizon at dawn.
    Dawn highlights the other four naked-eye planets. Mars rises around 1:30am, and by 6am it is high in the south. The red planet is just beyond the head of Scorpius, and it is 15 degrees from the scorpion’s red heart, the bright star Antares, whose name means Rival of Mars. You’ll have ample time to compare them in coming weeks as Mars drifts closer to Antares.
    Contrast that to golden Saturn to the east, creating a skewed triangle with Antares and Mars. You’ll find the ringed planet in the southeastern sky as dawn begins to brighten the horizon.
    Venus and Mercury rise just before dawn. Venus blazes brighter than all but the sun and moon, and Mercury, just a few degrees lower, shines at a respectable magnitude –0.1); even so, you’ll need an unobstructed view of the east-southeast horizon and likely binoculars to spot them.

Kids here, lambs, calves and piglets on the way

The stork has been busy at Kinder Farm Park in Millersville. Since the beginning of February, there have been multiple births from the celebrity Eco-Goat squad — with more on the way. All are half fainting and half Boer goats.
    Penny, a black and white goat, gave birth to a girl, now named Mable. Mable is an energetic kid who loves to hop around.
    Twin kids Nanny and Boh, a boy and a girl, were born to Tequila, a brown, white and black goat. The twins enjoy snuggling and romping.
    Goat Irrissa’s triplets did not fare so well. A boy kid survived but was too weak to nurse. Volunteers took the little guy home to tube feed until he could suckle, then switched to a bottle. When he is strong enough, he will rejoin the herd.
    These kids may grow up to join the family business, grazing areas of the park overgrown with invasive plants.
    Roy Fielder leads the Friends of Kinder Education Committee, which promotes agriculture through public education about the animals and activities going on down on the farm.
    More goats are due this week, as is a sheep. Bella the cow is due in early March, reports Fielder. The Kinder Farm Park 4H program has a pig due February 22. “Next week should be crazy,” Fielder says.
    We hope they have stocked up on birth announcements.
    Visit the 288-acre park from 7am-dusk daily, except Tuesdays. There is a $6 parking fee, with passes sold and discounted for seniors.

Be ready for fish with the year’s most appealing lures

High winds, dark days and 20-degree temperatures have limited anglers’ choices this ugly February. Enforced home time is just what you need to prepare for next season.
    Among good news last season was the appearance of vast schools of schoolie rockfish. Many proved under the 20-inch minimum size, meaning many will have grown fat and legal by the time fishing blossoms again.
    Be ready for these coming-of-age fish with the most appealing lures. You won’t want to see nearby anglers scoring cast after cast while your offerings are getting only minimal acceptance.
    On a quick and casual survey of tackle shops around the Chesapeake, I made a list of lures that should produce as the 2016 rockfish season commences on the Tidewater.
    An eclectic enterprise on Kent Island that prides itself on being first in identifying new trends in lure design had some interesting recommendations. Blueblue, a Japanese lure company with scant exposure here, has a couple of lures that have given their anglers particular success.
    They are the Blueblue Searide Jig and the Blueblue Snecon 130, a swim bait in green with an orange belly or yellow with a red belly. Both lures have a radically different noise and swim action from traditional rockfish lures, which may explain their effectiveness. Both are worth examining.
    An Annapolis tackle shop with a long tradition of handling excellent artificial baits offers some light tackle lures as well. Big (10 inch) BKDs in white or chartreuse are definitely favored on black one-and-one-half Mission jigheads for springtime trophy efforts. The Tsunami holographic soft plastic baits in bunker color in all sizes are also worth a look, especially on hardhead two-tone jigheads. They’re said to work equally well for casting, jigging and trolling.
    Five- and six-inch soft plastic, Saltwater Bass Assassins in Opening Night and Albino Shad have remained consistently productive, customers say. But Panhandle Moon- and Ripper-colored five-inch Saltwater BAs on one-and-one-half Mission jigheads were reported as superior for most of the second half of last season.
    Stingsilvers, especially when rigged with a dropper fly, continue to be among the better metal baits to work with in vertical jigging for rockfish. Silver is the most productive color followed by gold when fishing in overcast or stained water.
    A reliable Edgewater tackle store added that Mirrolure Popa Dogs, a top water popper with walk-the-dog action and a unique sound, was a surprising and overwhelming favorite last season. The redhead, white-body model was tops in sales, which numbered in the hundreds.
    Soft plastics by Bust ’em Baits, competing with BKD and BA lures, are also achieving local notice with a unique construction that delivers a more pronounced undulating action.
    Time will tell if they are worth making room for in your tackle box.

It’s time to start onions and peppers

Onion and pepper seeds are slow to germinate and slow in their early stage of seedling growth. So if you’re growing them from seed, you want an early start. Now’s the time.
    Sow the seeds in a sterile potting mix rather than garden soil to avoid sprouting weeds and contaminating your seedlings with soil-borne diseases. Fill the pots a half-inch from the top. Tap the pot on a bench several times to eliminate air pockets. Firm the potting mix by pressing three or four fingers across the top of the mix. Sprinkle the seeds across the smooth surface, and lightly cover with fresh potting mix. Use a rose bulb or a fine sprinkler to lightly moisten the potting mix until you see water dripping from the bottom of the pot.
    Germinate these seeds in total darkness at constant temperatures of 75 to 80 degrees. How to get those conditions?
    Once excess water has drained from the bottom of the pot, cover the top with plastic and put it on top of the fridge or near the furnace where temperatures are relatively constant. Check the pots daily to make certain that the potting mix does not dry. Moisten accordingly.
    Onion plants grow in their original pots until it’s time to move them into the garden. Sow their seeds a quarter- to a half-inch apart to give them room to produce thick stems and larger root systems to better survive transplant. Sown closer than one-quarter inch apart, onion seeds will grow thin and spindly seedlings too weak to survive transplant in the garden. To accommodate a good population of seeds, use a six- to eight-inch diameter pot three to four inches deep.
    Pepper seeds can be sown closer together because you’ll transplant the individual seedlings into separate pots as soon as their true leaves appear. The first leaf-like growths are not leaves but cotyledons that provide energy for germination and early growth. Do not transplant the seedlings until you see true leaves.  
    Using a pencil or other object, lift each seedling from the potting mix. Grasp the seedling only by the cotyledon. Grabbing the stem or leaves may harm the plant, but the cotyledons are temporary and will separate from the plant under the shade of the leaves.
    To produce strong, healthy plants for your garden, transplant into four-inch pots in the same potting mix the seeds were sown in.
    Check the potting mix bag to see if it contains added nutrients. If nutrients have been added and if compost is part of the blend, water the pepper seedlings until the excess drips from the bottom of the pots.
    If the mix is free of nutrients or compost, add half the amount of water-soluble fertilizer recommended by the manufacturer. Fertilize at the full rate as soon as active growth begins.
    The amount of nutrients generally added to potting mixes is adequate for approximately one month. After that, use a liquid fertilizer as recommended by the manufacturer.
    Give the young the plants full sun. Check daily to maintain proper moisture.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.