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Oh the harm it causes!

In 1976, I wrote “Over-Mulching, A National Disaster” for a national trade journal. Nasty letters came from as far as Oregon and California. Forty years later, over-mulching has become a monkey-see-monkey-do calamity.
     Earlier this spring, I spent several days diagnosing plant problems for several landscape architects. In all but one, the problems were caused by excessive use of nutrient-robbing mulches.
    In several instances, well-established plantings of pachysandra were being suffocated by excessive mulch or starved by mulches containing raw wood. Where raw wood was applied around pachysandra, the plants were yellow green and the vegetation sparse. In the areas where four inches or more of mulch was applied, the pachysandra was dead and the stems rotten. 
    In one landscape, several hundreds of square feet of what was once a well established planting of English ivy was killed after having been mulched with Big Red. About three inches had been applied last year, follow by another application this year. I am frequently asked to recommend an herbicide for killing English ivy; from now on I will recommend a heavy mulching with Big Red. Guaranteed to give 100 percent control, organically.
    I saw azaleas with sparse distribution of small purple leaves and struggling in what appeared to be two to four inches of shredded hardwood bark. Soil tests indicated in excess of 300 pounds of manganese. Any level in excess of 80 pounds per acre is considered toxic to the roots of plants. It’s clear from the soil test results that shredded hardwood bark had been applied repeatedly for several years. Since the property owner had hired several yard maintenance firms over the years, she was not aware of what kind of mulch had been applied.
    In one yard I examined a large planting of boxwood with severe symptoms of decline. Digging around the base of the plants, I saw that they had been mulched several times. Over the years I have seen numerous once-healthy and hardy boxwoods killed by mulch. Boxwoods are shallow-rooted plants and should never be mulched. They are drought tolerant, and enzymes emitted by the roots and leaves prevent many weed species from growing around them.
    Most of the landscape maintenance companies were blaming poor drainage for decline or death. However, as I walked on the lawns adjoining these plantings and in the plantings, I saw and felt no symptoms of poor drainage. I augured holes in these areas and found the soil to be well drained.
    The only landscape where I did not see mulch problems was in a yard where water coming from a newly installed copper roof had flowed. Here, the decline in growth and the loss of plants was due to copper toxicity. I could easily follow the flow of water from the downspouts and areas where the water pooled. The solution to this problem was to divert the water away from the plants until the surface of the copper sheeting oxidizes to a brown or gray-green color.
    More on mulch next week …


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

Another Classic-Lite premieres

Two summers ago, the Annapolis Shakespeare Company offered a new concept in dinner theater: Comedy in the Courtyard at Reynolds Tavern, featuring modern adaptations of classics from the Enlightenment. Satires such as Molière’s Tartuffe and The Schemings of Scapin, performed by comely professionals with a flair for punny couplets, found audiences as hungry for bawdy barbs as they were for shrimp and grits. So when Artistic Director Sally Boyett commissioned Timothy Mooney, author of 17 Molière adaptations, to translate an Italian classic — Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters  — the public house was packed. Mooney flew in from Chicago for the champagne reception honoring this world premiere about love and revenge among bumbling aristocrats, saucy maids and a scheming servant.
    The servant in question, Truffaldino (Patrick Truhler), is an opportunist whose greed and incompetence engender romance between his two masters after two hours of swashbuckling confusion. It all starts when a Venetian merchant, Pantalone (Brian Keith MacDonald), arranges for his daughter Clarice (Megan Morse Jans) to marry Silvio (Michael Windsor), son of Doctor Lombardi (James Carpenter). Clarice’s previous betrothed, Federigo (Laura Rocklyn), was killed by Florindo (Carpenter), the lover of Federigo’s sister Beatrice (Rocklyn). Now Beatrice, disguised as her dead brother, has come to claim Federigo’s uncollected dowry. Yet unbeknownst to Beatrice, her lover Florindo arrives in Venice simultaneously. The servant Truffaldino contracts to serve them both even as his feeble brain is besotten with love for Clarice’s maidservant, Smeraldina (Amy Pastoor). Only the innkeeper, Brighella (Sue Struve), knows who’s who, and nobody knows fully what’s what in this comedy of errors where all’s well that ends well.
    Confused? I still am, but it really doesn’t matter. In the spirit of the Three Stooges, the entertainment lies in the delivery and the pratfalls. The dialogue is modern with such clever observations as defining patriarchy as a cockocracy. Witticisms are served up with a sauce of slapstick garnished with outrageous sound effects. A chorus of whistles, drums, gongs, castanets, horns and whipsticks accompany each gag, and no one utters the name of the mysteriously reincarnated Federigo without Ennio Morricone’s riff from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly echoing through the courtyard.
    The actors engage the audience by snatching props from their tables and deigning to sit with them on occasion, perhaps waiting in vain for a bite of the bread pudding or other menu offerings so highly praised in the script. Bawdy jokes, double entendres and physical gags are de rigueur, and Truhler as the servant is a buffoon par excellence.
    This costume comedy is a lowbrow introduction to a highbrow classic intended to entertain and enlighten the modern audience on the roots of revolutionary philosophy and letters. It runs two hours with two intermissions, and regular menu prices are in effect.


Director: Sally Boyett. Costumes: Jackie Colestock. Stage Manager: Sara K. Smith.

Playing Tuesdays (rain date Wed.) thru Sept. 29, 7:30pm (come early for dinner and drinks): 1747 Pub Courtyard at Reynolds Tavern, Annapolis; $25 w/advance discounts plus fare; rsvp: 410-415-3513; annapolisshakespeare.org.

 

No matter which county issued your card, you can use any library in Maryland

Libraries are this week’s feature story, specifically Anne Arundel public libraries, which have come to the fork in the road and must, as Yogi Berra said, take it.
    Wherever you live, this story of one county’s conflict touches you. For there’s magic in your Maryland library card. No matter what library issued it, your card opens the door to every public library in the state. Wherever you roam, whatever special collections you want to browse, you’re a welcome visitor.
    For me and many South Arundel readers, as well as Calvert Countians, the Calvert County library system is close to home and heart.
    Calvert County’s 90,613 people have four libraries, all within 10 miles of every address. Like Anne Arundel libraries, Calvert’s run a full schedule of events. Most larger events are held at the Central Library and easily draw visitors from more than 20 miles. The four libraries, constructed between 1981 and 2006, encompass 47,140 square feet. The general recommendation for public libraries is a square foot per county resident. By this measure, Library Director Carrie Plymire tells us, Calvert Library is half the size that it should be to best serve the community.
    By the way, no Maryland library lives up to that standard. Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt comes the closest, at .0924. Anne Arundel’s system offers only .0481, the lowest of the nine central Maryland counties.
    Back to Calvert: The county’s central library is Prince Frederick, which moved in 2006 into a newly constructed building: “At 28,000 airy square feet, it doubled our space,” said Patricia Hofmann, the library director in charge of its creation. “There is plenty of room for information in all forms, 27 well-used computers, teaching and get-togethers, even a café.” The cost, 10 years ago, was $8 million.
    Since 2006, Calvert Library Prince Frederick has added another 20 public computers. The meeting rooms are used every day for library programming and community organizations and businesses. Plymire, who replaced Hofmann, says she “often wishes for another 5,000 square feet to accommodate more meeting rooms, a technology lab, creative space for audio and video production and other flexible spaces that would enable Calvert Library to better serve its community.”
    Two more of Calvert’s libraries are upgrading. In 2013, Southern library moved from 3,250 square feet in Lusby to an interim location in Solomons, 9,200 square feet of the old Woodburns grocery store The county spent a little under $1 million, and the Calvert Library Foundation added another $233,000 for additional windows, technology and furniture. A new 16,000-square-foot library for the southern part of the county is slated for land acquisition in fiscal year 2021.
    Twin Beaches branch is currently operating in 4,240 square feet of leased space in Chesapeake Beach. Staff are very creative with their programming — often borrowing space in neighboring senior centers or fire stations — as there aren’t any meeting rooms or dedicated storytime space in the branch. Twin Beaches is slated for a new 16,000-square-foot branch with architecture and engineering to begin in fiscal year 2019. That project is expected to cost approximately $7 million.
    The fourth branch, Fairview, has its feet solidly in the past, looking pretty much the same as when I first used it nearly three decades ago. At 5,200 square feet it is, Plymire says, “a very busy branch right on Route 4 that serves much of the commuting population.”
    With Maryland’s rare magic library card, they’re all yours.

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

Open season on these “voracious predators”

Reader Jesse Ledford asks: “Are there any reports on snakeheads in the Patuxent River? I’ve seen one in a lake in Lusby that runs into the Patuxent.”
    There sure are, and that’s not the only place. Scientists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center have received reports of snakehead fish in the Patuxent, with some caught in the main stem near Jug Bay. The Potomac is prime snakehead territory. The highly adaptable predator has also shown up on the Eastern Shore in the Nanticoke, Wicomico, and Blackwater rivers.
    Northern snakeheads, as they’re officially called, are a fish native to China. But in 2002 the species appeared within the Chesapeake Bay’s own watershed. From a pond in Crofton, they’ve spread widely. This is trouble because snakeheads breed rapidly and eat local fish. Females spawn multiple times per year and usually release around 40,000 eggs. Maryland Department of Natural Resources describes these fish as “voracious predators.” All these snakeheads eating the population of native fish disturbs the Bay’s fragile ecosystem.

Blackened Snakehead

11⁄2 tablespoon paprika
1
tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon black pepper    
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon of kosher salt

1 snakehead filet skinned and cut into 4 pieces
    Preheat oven to 400 degrees

    In a mixing bowl combine the first nine ingredients. (This blackening spice works great with all fish, game and poultry for blackening and smoking. It can be stored for quite some time.)
    
With a dry towel pat the fish. Coat each piece on one side with a generous amount of blackening seasoning.
    Place 1 tablespoon cooking oil into a cast iron skillet and place over high heat. Once the pan has heated (you’ll know its hot when the oil is about to smoke and slides freely across the pan), place fish in the pan seasoned side down and press gently with a spatula.
Allow the fish to sear approximately 3 minutes.
Gently turn and sear for 1 minute. Place fish in oven and cook 3 to 5 minutes depending on the thickness of the filet.

    What to do? Catch and eat them.
    To help curb the invasion, DNR added an Invasive Species Award category to the annual Maryland Fishing Challenge. So now catching snakeheads in the Bay not only helps keep the ecosystem healthy but also can win you prizes. Info at http://tinyurl.com/m9dljpt.
    The fish themselves are a prize as well. They may not look like it, but they are quite tasty. Snakeheads are popular on the menus in their homeland of Asia, and you can enjoy their taste as well.
    How to cook such a fish?
    Executive Chef Chad Wells of Alewife in Baltimore offered this recipe to Maryland Natural Resource Magazine.

Embrace the madness

In a post-apocalyptic desert, a man flees a hoard of irradiated bikers. The bikers, pale and riddled with tumors, need “blood bags” — men with clean blood — to stave off the effects of radiation sickness. Max (Tom Hardy) is caught and hanged from a makeshift IV poll for the draining.
    Thee bikers serve Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a ruthless warlord. Controlling the only clean water source, he forces the locals to serve him or face certain, excruciating death. His brainwashed biker “war boys” gladly do his bidding. Non-irradiated women are forced to become his brides as he attempts to breed a “clean” bloodline for his empire.
    But Immortan’s loyal war party driver Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) takes an unexpected detour to free his brides, driving them to safety in a fabled green land. His war boys follow.
    Will Max join Furiosa to save the women? Or will his survival instinct keep him out of the fray?
    A two-hour chase, Mad Max: Fury Road is a loud, crazy blur of twisted metal and mutilated flesh. It’s also one of the best action movies made in the last three decades. Director George Miller, who helmed the original Mad Max franchise, expounds on the visual insanity of the earlier film. Every frame is a painting, each camera movement chosen to help Miller choreograph the on-screen chaos. This type of gonzo filmmaking won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a bold, complete vision that is impressive to behold.
    Fury Road is also a deceptively simple film with a lot to say about gender politics, disabilities and religion. Miller makes Max an observer of the world, a would-be hero who routinely fails. The real hero is Furiosa, a one-armed woman who brazenly defies a brutal dictator to save enslaved women and expose Immortan Joe as a false idol.
    As Max, Hardy is pitch-perfect in what could be a generic role. Though he’s nearly silent for the first hour, Hardy is able to imbue Max with both emotion and humor. Hardy’s Max is driven to survive at all costs but is still haunted by those he couldn’t save — the perfect hero for a land that has lost all sense of morality.
    A colossus of a film, filled with metaphor, gore and intense action, Mad Max: Fury Road crafts an insane yet fascinating world. Look deeper for interesting commentary on society, or sit back with a bucket of popcorn and enjoy the greatest chase movie of the new millennium.

Great Action Movie • R • 120 mins.

Telltale signs, and how to fight back

That black and white bird with a red cap and yellow belly is not a traditional woodpecker looking for bugs hiding beneath bark. At work making numerous holes all in a circle around the trunk of your tree is a yellow-bellied sapsucker, who then sucks sap from those wounds.
    In early spring, sap migrates to the phloem, the region just beneath the bark, and these birds are eager to suck those juices. Warm days and cool nights make the sap flow hard and furious, and the sapsuckers know it.  
    Sapsucker damage is easy to identify because the birds make one-half-inch diameter holes that penetrate through the bark into the cambium region. The holes are one-half to an inch apart and circle the trunk, starting from about eight feet above the ground up to where the diameter of the trunk is about six inches. Sapsuckers generally do most of their damage before sunrise and in the evening.
     They generally attack smooth bark trees such as magnolia, maple, cherry, apple, crab apple and ash. But I’ve also seen their telltale signs on pine and cedar. The damage they do can be fatal to some species. I’ve seen a southern magnolia so severely damaged that it had to be cut down.
    Why sapsuckers attack some trees more than others is not known. I have frequently seen two southern magnolia growing side by side, one showing severe damage while the other showed no damage.
    It is not uncommon to see hummingbirds feeding on the sap oozing from the holes as well as bees and wasps when the sapsuckers are feeding in the summer.
    Since sapsuckers tend to be skittish, the most effective remedy is to suspend shiny objects to the branches of trees being attacked. Cut 18-inch-long strips of foil six inches wide; twist the foil into long spiral tubes and tie the streamers loosely on branches with cotton string 10 inches to a foot away from the trunk. Space the foil strips two to three feet apart around the trunk. Use cotton string; if you forget to remove it, the cotton will decompose and fall to the ground. Wire or nylon could girdle the branches as they grow larger in diameter.


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

New mascot replaces PFD Panda

Going to the dogs is under reconstruction. In the olden days, going to the dogs described degeneration, as in another old saw: If you lie down with dogs, expect to get fleas.
    No more. Today’s dogs are superior beings offering the unconditional love that seems to be scarce elsewhere. From Haiti to Katmandu, they perform superhuman rescues. Closer to home, kids improve their reading with dogs as listeners.
    Now Maryland Department of Natural Resources is going to the dogs with Splash the Water Safety Dog — a handsome Chesapeake Bay retriever — replacing PFD Panda.
    “We decided there are no pandas in Maryland,” said Natural Resources Police spokeswoman Candus Thomson. “We’re going homegrown with a mascot more in keeping with Maryland tradition.”
    PFD Panda came off the mascot shelf. Splash is unique, created by a one of-a-kind mascot maker.
    PFD Panda’s retirement was tearful, but the 20-year-mascot held no hard feelings, giving his replacement a new orange life jacket. The six-foot-tall Chessie now always wears the life jacket; except for a hat, it’s the new mascot’s only garment.
    Splash debuts tonight at Camden Yards when the Orioles face the Seattle Mariners during National Safe Boating Week. Look for Splash in the concourse behind home plate. Stop by to welcome Splash and, if you’re lucky, win a small plush replica.
    Hereafter, Splash will visit schools, fairs and other public events statewide to remind citizens that the best way to remain safe on the water is to wear a life jacket.
    Missing PFD Panda? See his farewell, with mascots from the Ravens, the U.S. Naval Academy, the Bowie Baysox, the Coast Guard, UMBC and Towson University: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxQbQzzC22M&feature=youtu.be.
    There’s one more change to learn: With Panda goes the term PFD. Nowadays, we all wear lifejackets.

To experience our past, I had to travel to Argentina

“Seven at 11 o’clock,” I whispered. “They’re headed right for us.”
    My son John tensed and hunched lower behind the foliage of the water blind. So did I. Seconds passed slowly as adrenaline seeped through our systems.
    A group of ducks swung to our right to adjust to the wind direction, then cupped their wings to descend. They were about 20 yards away and just over our decoys when I hissed, “Take ’em.”

The Waterfowling Tradition
    I’ve been an avid waterfowler for well over 50 years, ever since my earliest days at my Pennsylvania birthplace near Presque Isle Bay on Lake Erie. When I moved to Maryland many years ago, it was only natural to embrace the Eastern Shore and its long tradition of duck and goose hunting.
    I also submerged myself in the wealth of literature describing the heydays of waterfowling when the Chesapeake was choked with widgeon grass, eel grass, wild rice and the hundreds of thousands of migratory birds that stopped to feed on their way to southern wintering grounds.
    Over the years, we harvested some fine ducks and geese from the Shore and had some great hunting experiences. We also saw that the migratory bird populations were a mere shadow of their former numbers. Our sporting activities were really homage to the bygone days of water fowling rather than anything close to the original experience. That was lost to the ages.
    Then last winter a long-time sporting friend told me of a place that was perhaps as close to those days as would ever again be encountered. It was the Pampas of Argentina, a giant plain of grass and agricultural fields interspersed with countless lagoons, small lakes and wetlands. It also was sparsely populated — except for waterfowl.

On to the Pampas
    April and May is early winter in Argentina, and the ducks are in full migratory plumage and movement. They are not the glamorous canvasbacks, mallards and redheads of the old Tidewater. But there are vast numbers of American widgeon and cinnamon teal as well as South American species such as yellow-billed pintail, white-cheeked pintail, Chiloe widgeon, speckle-head teal, rosy-bill pochards and black-bellied whistlers, among others.
    Arising each day at 5am and after a quick breakfast, our party of five would shoot ducks until 10am or so. The limits were generous, but we were under a strict allowance of just 100 shells per gun. In the afternoons, we would drive out to the edge of vast millet and sorghum fields and pass-shoot mourning doves from the endless waves of those birds heading for their evening roosts.
    The experience was as close as we would ever come to reliving the glory days of birding on the Bay.

But first we must remember

With Memorial Day upon us, I know you’re as eager as I to slip into something more comfortable — like fewer clothes, bare ankles or the water of a just-opened swimming pool.
    But not just yet, for first I have a promise to keep.
    Never to forget the original meaning of Memorial Day. That’s what Bill Burton asked of me.
    Long before Burton became a newsman, before he became outdoors editor for the flourishing Baltimore Evening Sun, before the boredom of early retirement landed him on the pages of then six-week-old New Bay Times, Burton was a SeaBee. He joined up just out of high school, in the early days of World War II, and would have gone sooner had not his family held him back.
    Whatever his war stories, Bill never told them — though in explaining why he never went in the water he did cite a promise to swim no more if he should be delivered from a desperate plight about which, if more were asked, his answer was enough said.
    A reporter through and through, Bill told the stories of other veterans. Chief among them was Henry ­Beckwith …

    Henry Beckwith of Navy Air who went down over Great Britain in ’44. As we fished, studied and chased girls, we anxiously waited to join the fight against Tojo and Hitler. Several times the Navy turned us down; we weren’t yet 17.
    We had planned to serve together, but I wanted the SeaBees; Henry, Navy Air, so we parted when we joined up. I never saw him again, though often I have played tennis at the recreational center named in his honor.
    I have lived a full life while Hen was around only 19 years. He never had the time to marry, start a family, never enjoyed the pleasures of adult life, that first new car and house, grandchildren, the works.
    It isn’t only on Veterans and Memorial Day I think about those two carefree students, Hen and me, and wonder why it was he. Why was I the lucky one?
    The day I received a newspaper clipping telling about villagers in Ireland burying Hen in a field where his plane went down, aloud I promised him he would never be forgotten.
    Nor should any of the others be forgotten; it matters not what war, what place, what time. It matters only that they made the supreme sacrifice. Enough said.

    That moving tribute was written by Bill Burton 10 years ago, in 2005, about a month before he turned 79 — 60 years more than his friend ever had.
    So Bay Weekly honors Memorial Day, a commemoration begun to honor and decorate the graves of the Civil War dead with a story Bill Burton would have liked.
    This year’s Memorial Day story comes to us from contributing writer Sandra Lee Anderson, of St. Leonard, who excerpted from her Uncle Chuck Baird’s book The Blue of the Sky, his record of the feelings of a 19-year-old experiencing the death of comrades during battle and their burial at sea.
    The book is unpublished, but thanks to Anderson — whose mother was her brother’s helper in the book — The Blue of the Sky is in the collection of the United States Navy Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C.
    In it Laird speaks only briefly of the dead. Instead he speaks for them, in the voice of a young sailor full of life, fear, determination and expectation whose life could have at any moment been cut short. Until the moment they were no more, their stories would have been much like his.
    Promise kept.
    Now, while we can, let’s live in the fullness of this summer — whose pleasures unfold before you in this year’s edition of our annual Summer Fun Guide, tucked in the pages of this week’s paper.

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

How to plant spring’s flagrant bloomer and its similars

As you continue your spring planting and transplanting, remember that many popular species perform best in acid soils. Among them are the now-blooming beauties azalea, rhododendron, mountain laurel, andromeda, Japanese hollies, deciduous hollies and blueberries. Oak and sweetgum trees also like acid soils.
    The best time to transplant these species is early spring and, even better, fall, when they’ve stopped growing new stems and leaves and are starting to generate and elongate roots.
    Pruning is best done just after blooming, but never on new transplants.
    Success in transplanting these species can be guaranteed if you follow the following guidelines.
    1. Know the Ph of your soil before planting. I rely on A&L Eastern Agricultural Laboratories in Richmond for all of my soil testing. Each soil test should be made from a composite of five or more core samples. Find directions at al-labs-eastern.com.
    2. Select a spot where the soil is well drained. None of these species will grow in poorly drained soils.
    3. All of these plants — except the trees — are shallow-rooted. The depth of the planting hole should not exceed 90 percent of the height of the root ball. In other words, 10 percent of the root ball should be above grade.
    4.  Add one-third to one-half compost by volume to the soil you removed when digging the hole. Do not bring in imported soil.
    5. Acid soils are generally low in calcium. Incorporate one rounded tablespoon of gypsum (calcium sulfate) to the compost-amended soil and mix thoroughly.
    6. If roots are tightly meshed around the outside edge of the root-ball after you remove it form the container, take a sharp knife and slash the roots at least one inch deep from top to the bottom of the root ball at three- to four-inch intervals around the entire root ball. Cutting the roots hastens root growth into the new soil.
    7. Water the plant well, even if it is raining, and repeat watering at four- to five-day intervals. Never water plants daily.


Is Your Soil Well Drained?

    To test drainage, dig a hole about a foot deep. Fill with water. Fill it again (some sources say immediately; some say the next day).
    Measure the depth with a ruler. In 15 minutes, measure again. How many inches has it dropped? Multiply by four to determine drainage per hour.
    Below one inch is poor drainage; over six is excessive. Anything in between is good drainage.


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