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Trouble’s brewing below the surface

Mother Nature mulches in the fall by dropping leaves from her trees and by laying the blades of grasses or the leaves of herbaceous perennials over the soil. She covers the ground only with the waste she produces.
    We, on the other hand, buy bags of ground bark, chipped wood scraps or colored wood waste from only God knows where, pile it over the soil and call it mulching. I see mulch piled so deep trees seem to emerge from volcanic cinder cones. Roots of shrubs gasp for air and die from suffocation. Dense mulch absorbs most of the rain before it can penetrate to the soil, and plants suffer in drought.
    The leaves that fall to the forest floor in autumn serve as a blanket of insulation, allowing the soil to remain warmer longer and roots able to absorb water longer. The longer roots absorb water, the more resistant they become to damage by freezing temperatures. The leaves will decompose during the growing season, allowing nutrients to return to the soil for roots to absorb.
    Ground bark sold as mulch, on the other hand, contains very few nutrients. Decomposing, the mulch leaves behind clay-like particles called colloids. As colloids accumulate from repeated applications of ground bark, a slime-like layer forms over the soil, reducing air movement. Roots need oxygen, and they generate carbon dioxide. A thick layer of mulch over a colloidal layer can cause a toxic accumulation of carbon dioxide.
    Hardwood bark decomposes faster than pine bark, creating a colloidal layer sooner. Double-shredded hardwood bark mulch decomposes within a year, leaving behind fine organic colloids.
    Repeated applications of hardwood bark and especially double-shredded hardwood bark also raise the pH of soil and accumulate manganese. Since manganese is not very soluble, it accumulates to toxic levels within seven to 10 repeated applications. When the manganese levels in the soil exceed the levels of iron, copper and zinc, roots are unable to absorb iron for photosynthesis. Thus repeated use of hardwood bark mulch is a double-edged sword.
    Novice home gardeners like hardwood bark mulch because it is dark, keeps that color and does not easily wash away. But out of sight, trouble is brewing. Early signs of manganese toxicity are a gradual decline in growth, iron-deficiency symptoms on the newly emerged leaves, stunted growth and extensive branch dieback.
    Often, the only solution is removal and replacement of plants and soil.
    Repeated application of hardwood bark and composted wood chips recently forced one commercial ­blueberry grower to dig up an acre or more of plants. Manganese had accumulated to nearly 400 pounds to the acre, killing the formerly well-established and productive plants. Lowering the manganese from toxic levels took plowing the fields to a depth of a foot to dilute surface soil by blending in sub-soil.


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

Use light-tackle techniques for the fairest fight

If you want the best odds for hooking up and landing the most and the biggest migrators in the early trophy rockfish season, then troll. A wide spread of big baits with multiple heavy-action trolling rods spooled with 30- to 50-pound line will give you a definite edge.
    For many anglers, however, the trophy-sized rockfish deserves to be challenged on light tackle. There is nothing certain about tangling with a giant ocean-running striper on medium-weight spin or casting tackle with line testing 20 pounds and under. You’ll not only have to be at the top of your game but also a bit lucky to land a keeper, minimum size 35 inches.
    For the true sport, that’s exactly how it should be. Right from the start it will be a man-versus-fish battle with not much connecting you other than a slender rod and thin, delicate line. A trophy rockfish hooked and landed on light tackle is indeed a trophy.
    As the fish are traveling in the warmer top 15 feet of the water column this time of the year, you don’t need a lot of weight to get the lures to the proper depth. Thus trolling is a viable option. The lighter test and thinner lines on your tackle will allow a medium-sized swimming plug to get down to the proper depths.
    The hottest swimmers for this type of operation are the Rapala X-Raps, Mann’s Stretch Series Plugs and Bomber Long As. For filling the water with sound and vibration to get a big fish’s attention, add Rat-L-Traps.
    Traditional buck-tail jigs in small to medium sizes dressed with skirts and adorned with Bass Assassins, Sassy Shads or similar soft bodies will provide larger silhouettes and interest larger fish. Paddle-tail variations will add noise and vibration to your spread.
    Be wary of especially large hooks. Their thicker diameters, regardless of how sharp they are, can make penetration problematic, especially with the harder mouth structure of older stripers. When you do get a good strike, set the hook firmly and more than once. A big striper can simply hold a lure in its jaws and prevent hook penetration. That’s one of the few drawbacks of using light tackle.
    When boat noise drives the fish down from the top of the water column or they’re feeding near the bottom strata, you can still use light tackle by jigging. Once you marked a pod of big stripers holding deep, metal jigs such as a Crippled Alewife, Stingsilver or Little Jimmy can get down to the sweet spot and induce strikes. Seven- to 12-inch soft plastics like the BKDs and Bass Assassins will also get results when matched with jig heads of proper weight, three-quarters to two ounces.
    Using ultra-thin braided line such as Power Pro, Spiderwire or Fireline gives you a definite advantage. There is less resistance in the water so you get deeper with less weight. And as there is little to no stretch with these lines, you can troll your lures far behind the boat or jig deep water without fear of getting good hook sets on any fish that tries to eat your lures.
    The third and final technique for trophy season light tackle fishing is simply old-fashioned bottom fishing. The best baits right now are fresh menhaden and jumbo bloodworms. The addition of chum to your presentation can also attract attention. The only problems will be the unpredictability of the fish and the fact that they are in small groups and constantly on the move. So as you are committed to one location, patience and persistence will be key.
    The prime locations for presenting these baits will be near the mouths of the larger tributaries where the migratory stripers will tend to stage before moving upriver to spawn. That’s also where they are likely to pause and feed post-spawn in preparation for the journey back to the ocean. Bay shore areas such as Sandy Point State Park, Matapeake State Park, Tolley Point and Point Lookout offer public access where the odds of encountering a giant are also good.
    The trophy season is the ideal time for encountering the biggest rockfish of the year, so be prepared. Make sure your line and leaders are fresh, your knots tight, your hooks sharp and your drags set properly. These migratory giants will test every part of your tackle and all your angling skill.
    Good luck as we welcome the 2017 rockfish season!

Balancing valid interests — without falling off the tightrope

In 90 days of deliberations since Jan. 11, the 2017 Maryland General Assembly told us a lot about the state we’re in. It’s a message bigger than the sum — and subtraction — of the parts of the hundreds of laws passed or the 2,000-plus bills bypassed this year.
    By their actions, our lawmakers defined Maryland as a sovereign state vis-a-vis the federal government, balancing independence with the interdependence of the union. One place you see that message is the Maryland Defense Act, a Joint Resolution enabling the Maryland Attorney General to sue the federal government for illegal or unconstitutional actions.
    This is a smart step given harm that could come our way from a host of new administration initiatives, from ending long-settled programs to clean up Chesapeake Bay to forcing states and localities to assist with rounding up undocumented immigrants.
    At the same time, our General Assembly defined Maryland as a state that balances commercial interests with human and environmental interests. Keeping both those interests in play is, like tightrope walking, a feat of many tiny acts of adjustment.
    Looking at just a couple of new laws, we see that balancing act play out.
    One starts with oysters, though it’s a lot bigger than oysters or one law alone.
    Everybody wants oysters: They’re good in themselves, they’re good for the Bay, they underwrite Chesapeake culture, they support oystermen and their industry all the way to the table, where they’re good eating.
    How do you get enough oysters to go around, when — as every Marylander knows — we’ve loved them almost to death?
    Oyster sanctuaries are a big part of the current plan, and they’re where the story takes us. If oysters are growing so well in sanctuaries, shouldn’t oystermen — also an endangered species — get some of the bounty? Wouldn’t a harvest every couple of years be a good and fair thing?
    We have competing interests, and each has value and allies.
    Gov. Larry Hogan has sworn to make Maryland a business-friendly state, helping people, oystermen included, make a good living. At the same time, Maryland is committed to the Chesapeake, and that means giving oysters every chance.    
    How do you balance the interests?
    Back and forth, in increments of adjustment.
    This year’s compromise keeps oyster sanctuaries closed to harvest for two more years — until lawmakers and regulators have a sustainable management plan to guide and coordinate every oyster decision.
    That’s good: it takes Maryland a step down the road to planfulness, meaning we try to see choices in their full circle of consequences.
    It’s not so good for the oystermen. If I’m right about the kind of state we Marylanders are in, the balance should be tipped in their favor. Maybe we should encourage Gov. Hogan and our lawmakers to treat oystermen like farmers, who are so well incentivized to balance their livelihood with the good of the Bay — and the economy.
    The same kind of balancing act plays out with wider consequences in Maryland’s new law requiring businesses to give paid sick leave to workers. Lawmakers set the threshold at 15 employees, while the governor says 50. With rhetorical pyrotechnics, he’s promised to veto the lawmaker’s bill, which is still likely to become law.
    Still, the bigger point is that both sides — Republican governor and Democratic-controlled General Assembly — want to balance human needs with corporate interests.
    A state that balances both interests — with give and take on both sides — is a pretty good place to live.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com

Humans prove to be the real animals in this dramatic war film

In 1939 Warsaw, the Zabinski family — Jan (Johan Heldenbergh: The Tunnel) and Antonina (Jessica Chastain: Miss Sloane) — run a popular zoo.
    Their world is destroyed by invading German tanks and planes. Carpet bombings of the city empty cages, loosing wild animals on the city to be shot down by the Nazis.
    Trying to salvage the remainders of their zoo, the Zabinskis recognize the greater atrocity around them. As Jews are ordered to move to the ghetto, Antonina and Jan put their empty zoo to good use, hiding Jews from the Nazis.
    It’s a dangerous gambit. The Nazis rule by day, transforming cages to storage. By night, the Zabinskis pack their basement and the animal tunnels with people, praying that they’ll be quiet enough to avoid detection.
    The plan works, and the zoo fills with endangered people.
    Still, stress tears the couple apart. Jan goes into the ghetto every day, pretending to collect trash to feed the pigs but instead smuggling out as many men, women and children as his truck will hold. He is haunted by the crimes he witnesses and the conditions people endure.
    Antonina, meanwhile, has caught the eye of Hitler’s head zoologist (Daniel Brühl: The Promise), who shows up at random in hopes of wooing the keeper’s wife. She endures his pawing, but Jan cannot.
    Can the Zabinskis keep their new charges safe?
    Based on the bestselling novel and true story, The Zookeeper’s Wife is a moving but flawed Holocaust drama. Performances are fantastic. But director Niki Caro (McFarland, USA) fails to knit a cohesive whole; time is especially jumbled.
    While Caro adapts Holocaust narrative clichés — children loaded onto trains, burning ghettos and violated women — he uses them effectively. With an extended sequence of Nazi killing of exotic animals, including a bald eagle, he breaks new ground in portraying Nazi evil.
    As the heart of the film, Chastain is a marvel. Strong, kind and willing to make dangerous decisions for the greater good, her Antonina is both an emotional support for traumatized people and their fierce protector. Antonina’s impossible position — beguiling a Nazi to protect her family and her charges — invokes a plot too charged for many movies to dare.
    See it for excellent performances and insight into the history of the resistance in Poland.

Good Drama • PG-13 • 124 mins.

Trophy season opens in just a week

The trophy rockfish season is fast upon us.
    These migratory trophy-sized fish are in spawning mode. First they move up the Bay to their natal headwaters. Then, having spawned, they move back down the Bay, returning to the Atlantic. They move in pods unpredictably. Thus fishing in a fixed spot or targeting a specific area is not the most productive strategy. Constantly moving and presenting baits continually over an area as large as possible is the better method. That’s trolling.
    For these big fish, you’ll be dragging a lure 12 or more inches long. Its size tends to discourage undersized rockfish, less than 35 inches, but it does not eliminate them, as even 16-inch fish will attack and get hooked.
    While the spawning rockfish are almost impossible to anticipate in their movements, some considerations can be helpful. Because of the Coriolis effect caused by the earth’s rotation, a stronger (and saltier) incoming tidal current occurs on the Eastern Shore of the Bay, with a correspondingly greater outgoing tide on the Western Shore. Thus stripers tend to ride the incoming flow up the Bay on the eastern side and leave on the Western Shore’s stronger ebb.
    The keyword is tend because there are other variables at work. The availability of forage fish is equally important as stripers feed throughout the spawn. If the baitfish are congregated on the Western Shore, the rockfish will soon be there as well. If the stripers’ natal water is a Western Shore river, that’s where they will eventually be.
    The migrating pods of striped bass will also transit along the deeper channels of the Bay because that’s where the tidal currents will be the strongest. The temperature comfort zones this time of year will be in the top 15 feet of the water column. That’s the depth where trophy-sized fish can usually be found — unless they are not.
    Boat noise will drive the fish deeper, and a lot of boat noise will put them right on the bottom.
    Feeding fish can also be found down deep unless they’ve keyed on schools of bait higher up in the column. Keeping an eye on the fish-finder will establish where most of the bigger fish are. Adjust your trolling weights and lure type accordingly to target those depths.
    Color also has a part to play in your trophy-fish solution. The traditional selections are chartreuse, white and yellow in fluorescent or standard colors or combinations. There are also days when purple, black, green or red are catching the fish. The only consistent color consideration when fishing the early season is that, inevitably and ironically, the biggest fish will want the color you don’t have. So be prepared and change colors frequently, especially if you are moving over fish that aren’t responding.
    To present your baits over as wide an area as possible, avoid traveling in a straight line, especially directly down or up current. Instead move diagonally, and change course frequently until you find some pattern to the presence of fish. They may be on the edges of deep channels, in the middle of the channel or over a specific depth.
    Finally, keep your boat’s speed on the slow side. Three to four knots is about right, but don’t hesitate to vary your speeds a little to find the speed at which the fish want the baits presented. Rockfish will often take bait moved very slowly, but they’ll rarely hit one being trolled faster than five knots.
    Have you got all that? Is your boat shipshape and your tackle set? Then you’ll be ready to go April 15.

The misnamed Jerusalem artichoke supplies both

The Jerusalem artichoke is a sunflower cousin that gives both flowers and food. In late August and into September, bright yellow flowers cover its tall stems. Below ground, it is growing tuber-like structures on its roots that resemble pachymorphs of the bearded iris. The tubers are edible.
    This North America native is invasive and must be grown in an aboveground container to prevent it from spreading. I grow my Jerusalem artichokes in a plastic half-barrel with the base partially buried to prevent it from tipping over. They like a rich organic soil that is well drained.
    Plant the tubers in spring. Once started, you will never have to replant — unless you harvest 100 percent of the tubers, which is nearly impossible. Abundant lumpy yellowish-white tubers grow from near the base of the stem to as deep as 18 inches below the surface of the soil. The tubers may be individual or clustered.
    Harvest the tubers in the fall after the stems have died back, using a digging fork so as to not damage them. Start digging from the inside walls of the barrel toward the center. The tubers will be scattered at varying depths. Remove as many as you can find.
    After you have finished digging them up, blend two parts by volume existing soil with one part compost and refill the planter. Plant four to six of the smallest tubers about two inches deep for next season’s crop. Many stems will emerge in the spring.
    Eat the tubers raw or cooked. First scrub them thoroughly with a stiff vegetable brush. Then, working underwater, scrape the corners with a sharp knife to remove the brown areas and soil. The tubers do not have to be peeled. They can be steamed or boiled and mashed like potatoes. Or they can be eaten raw like a radish or shredded and added to salads.
    Go slow at first. Although the tuber is mostly starch, Jerusalem artichokes contain a natural compound called inulin that is not absorbed by the digestive system. It acts like a mild laxative to some people. Before substituting them for mashed potatoes, start with a small sample both raw and cooked.


Spot-Planting Grass

Q    I need to plant grass in bare spots. What is the best procedure?

–Paul Lefavre

A    Use a steel rake or potato digger to loosen the top two inches of soil. Rake an inch-thick layer of compost into the soil and smooth the surface. Sprinkle grass seed into the top layer of soil-compost blend. Water using a fine mist. Sprinkle a thin layer of straw or shredded paper over the seeded area to create about 30 percent shade, then mist again. Mist daily until the seed germinates, reducing to one misting every two days for the first week, then twice weekly until the new grass seedlings develop their dark green color.


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

You’re looking at one of them

Mary Davis makes quite the Bay Weekly cover girl.
    In one way, you may find her appearance surprising. Yet she’s just Bay Weekly’s kind of story.
    We’re inspired by people who have figured out what matters to them. Swan calling or oyster gardening, community organizing or organic farming, bee keeping or ballroom dancing, body building or poetry proselytizing, opening a new restaurant or keeping up a family gallery, somebody is sure to do it.
    As curiosity is the force that drives journalism, we want to know who and why.
    Diversity is a virtue we admire in human endeavor as much as we do in animal specialization, where it gives us a world big enough to hold giraffes, Luna moths and cow-nosed rays (just put under state protection by the General Assembly). Obviously, specialization may verge into the odd, at least by some reckonings. But who’s to judge?
    “There’s no accounting for taste,” my grandmother taught me. “That’s what the lady said when she kissed the cow.”
    Cows may not be your kissing partners, but somebody loves them. Grace Cavalieri for one, who put them to work in a poem you’ll read in Giving Poetry a Voice, which we run this week in honor of National Poetry Month.
    Don’t Undersell Yourself
Consider the brown cow
Eating green grass
Giving white milk

    Typically, we channel our curiosity to the Annapolis Capital Region of Chesapeake Country, broadly Anne Arundel and Calvert counties between the Bay and the Patuxent River. That’s where Bay Weekly is distributed and where most of our advertisers do business. Much as we love the rest — and tempted as I am to extend my curiosity to the new white rhino, Jaharo, who’s just moved into the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore — we’d be spreading ourselves too thin to try to cover much more.
    Theme as well as geography keeps us focused. We’re a quality-of-life paper, focused on culture, lore, good times and our relationship to the Chesapeake, the great Bay that gives our region its identity and obligations. Put all that in a word, and you have sustainability: using all the resources we inherit in the best way we can for today and a long tomorrow.
    Sustain can be a demanding verb; making it into the noun sustainability takes dedication. People like Davis and Cavalieri show that dedication. It wouldn’t be going to far to say that Davis embodies it.
    We’re awed by the lengths to which inspiration drives people. Week by week, we see the truth of the 10,000-hour rule described by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: Mastery takes about that much “deliberate practice.”
    Put it into your body, as Davis is doing, and you’ve got a masterpiece worth looking it.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com

With astronauts this dumb, it’s hard not to root for the alien

The astronauts aboard the International Space Station expect to make history. Hurtling toward them is a probe that has collected what may be proof of life on Mars.
    Station biologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare: Rogue One) finds a long-dormant single-cell organism among the dust samples. After cursory study, he tries to do the impossible: Resurrect a creature that has been dead for millennia. After a few tweaks to the shuttle’s environment and some nourishment, the cell, named Calvin, comes to life.
    Derry is thrilled, seeing Calvin as key to unlocking medical secrets. Earth is cheering the momentous discovery and lauding the astronauts as heroes. But as Calvin evolves day by day into a more complex organism, the other astronauts worry.
    Eventually, Calvin escapes the lab, as all horrific alien beings must. The critter then begins hunting down veteran astronaut David (Jake Gyllenhaal: Nocturnal Animals), safety specialist Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson: The Girl on the Train), mechanic Rory (Ryan Reynolds: Criminal), navigator Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada: The Last Ship) and captain Kat (Olga Dihovichnaya: House of Others).
    Can the crew stay alive? More importantly: Can they keep Calvin from finding a way to Earth?
    A movie so predictable you’ll swear you’ve already seen it, Life ruins the inherent tension of a horror movie set in a confined space with poor character development, hackneyed dialog and stale plot. Director Daniel Espinosa (Child 44) unsuccessfully tries to build tension using every horror cliché in movie history.
    Pursuit by an alien that disintegrates a body in minutes leaves little room for nuance. Characters reduced to stereotypes — from the serious doctor with a secret to the wise-cracking mechanic — might as well be picked off by an angry alien.
    Nor are any of them capable of doing a job in a rational way. Biologists stick their fingers within striking range of alien species, astronauts panic and no one thinks about escape pods until it’s far too late. Espinosa works so hard to keep the astronauts from escaping their predicament that the creature and its abilities become mythic.
    In fact, there’s an argument to be made that Calvin is the hero of this film. It is smarter, stronger and more interesting than any of the bipeds. Tumbling through space without needing much oxygen, it figures out every trap the astronauts plant and eventually learns how to navigate a space ship. Calvin is not only proof of life on other planets but also proof that human beings are the dullards of the universe.

Poor Sci-Fi Horror • R • 103 mins

Bay Weekly’s All-Age Guide to Finding the Help You Need

In this issue, we haven’t told you quite everything you need to know to spring into your homestead’s seasonal renewal. For that inadequacy, you will be glad. Anymore than we’re offering would make you wish for assisted living before your time.
    Why, come to think of it, should assisted living be reserved for the very old and infirm? Most of us need assisted living nowadays, when our work for our livings is so often demanding plus far from home. At the Martin-Lambrecht household, for example, we fit in time for chores or projects — seldom both. So there’s always far more that needs to get done than does get done.
    Is it any different at your house? I bet not, unless you’re like my efficient neighbor whose telecommuting schedule lets him do his paid job and manage all sorts of masterful home-improvement projects. Of course you need skill as well as time to be so self-sufficient.
    For the rest of us, assisted living is a generous concept affording permission to hire out chores and projects, inside and out, that can be better done by experts than ourselves.
    So in this week’s paper, you’ll find not only problems but also solutions.
    The Bay Gardener gives us three full months of advice for planting, pruning and lawn care. I promise you, there are a lot of projects in his generous offering. Read him to know what to do, when and how. Then you’ll have the knowledge to do your favorite projects yourself, and you’ll know what questions to ask and parameters to set for the projects you hire out. In this very same Bay Weekly, you’ll find experts to hire.
    Home is just as demanding as garden competing for your precious time. On these scores, too, we’ve called in the experts with assistance on chores and projects from house cleaning to window washing, air cooling and cleaning, plumbing and water purification, painting and roofing, furnishing and accessorizing, selling your old home and buying a new one.
    Their expert assistance gives you more time for living.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com

Spring’s sirens are sounding

The chirping call of spring peepers, Pseudacris crucifer, is my favorite sound of spring. Perhaps it was my upbringing in swampy Louisiana that draws me to frog songs. I often find myself rolling down the windows as I drive home along Muddy Creek Road in southern Anne Arundel County to catch a wave of springtime from the marshes and wetlands along the road.
    The chorus of these tiny frogs is one of our first harbingers of warmer temperatures and longer days. You’ll hear them long before spring’s official arrival.
    “It’s that time of the year, getting a little warmer,” says DNR’s Glenn Therres. “We heard them a couple of weeks ago. Then the cold front quieted them down. Now they’re itching to jump out and start singing.”
    Peepers spend the winter in hibernation, to the point of being frozen alive. Surprisingly, they can survive up to a week after being frozen. Their blood contains a biological antifreeze that prevents immediate death. Peepers emerge from hibernation once temperatures being their annual rise.
    The song we hear is the males’ inflating their vocal sacs to attract the ladies. Biologists think the females prefer the loudest singers. Their calls have been compared to a refrain of sleigh bells, and that’s music to my ears.
    While they are easy to hear, I can’t recall seeing a spring peeper. Trying to sneak up on one is near impossible as this species is primed to jump for its life.
    These high-pitched amphibians are tiny brownish-yellow, olive or gray frogs with a dark X on their back. They are also small; one can fit on a fingertip.
    “Listen and look for them in shallow-water ponds without fish; otherwise tadpoles become fish bait,” Therres advises. “They show up in wet depressions in woods and fields, sediment ponds, in almost any shallow body of water that persists for a couple of months.”
    After Romeo has wooed his Juliet, tadpoles emerge in two to three weeks, meaning more peepers to sing us into next spring.
    They are probably Maryland’s most common frog species, Therres says, “and definitely the most vocal.”