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While not a beautiful swimmer, the channel catfish provides the sweetest flesh a seafood fanatic can hope for

Pulling on my weather gear, I headed out in the morning gloom to hook up the skiff. The forecast was poor, but I had cabin fever and had to get out on the water.
    The white perch were up the trib shallows, I felt sure, and there is no better cure for poor weather than the promise of a good perch fry that evening. Now all I needed was the fish.
    Taking my lightest rods and an ample supply of Rooster Tails and Captain Bert’s spinner baits, I splashed my boat at the local ramp, double-checked my gear and headed out. I was the lone boat to launch that morning. Either I knew something that no one else did, or vice versa. It kinda turned out versa vice, but in the end it worked out.
    It took almost an hour to get the first fish. They weren’t hanging on the shoreline, as I had assumed, but were almost 25 yards out, scattered across the flats. A nine-incher started the game off, and I slipped it back over the side as too small. I soon regretted that move.
    The next fish was about five inches, the next six, and for about a half hour they stayed in that range. Then I lost a good one, at least it had felt like a good one. By then the sky was hanging heavy and the forecast for a day in the 70s looked like so much meteorological wishful thinking. I was getting uncomfortable, and the wind was freshening.
    Perch anywhere near frying size insisted on not showing up. But I persisted. With no Plan B, I did not have much choice. Throwing in the towel and heading in for a hot shower and a hotter cup of tea was crowding my options more than I cared to admit.
    Then my luck changed. At the end of a long cast, I got a firm take, a very firm take. The sound of a singing drag and a rod bent over to the corks, even on a light rod, can give a guy an instant lift, which is exactly what happened.
    You can’t really have a slam-bang battle with six-pound mono and a five-foot spin rod. But the fight can be as tense as any struggle with a trophy rockfish when dinner and the success of the day are at stake. As the fish surged one way then another, a notion took hold.
    If it was a big perch, then it was a really big one. The fish had not come closer in over five minutes of give and take. Plus, I doubted that a giant whitey would be lurking with all those throwbacks. If it was a striper it could mean trouble. It felt substantial, but I feared it would not be over the 20-inch minimum.
    On the other hand, even though it consistently took drag, it did not make a rockfish’s traditional long run in the three-foot depths of the flat. There was a lot of head shaking going on, and the fish stayed deep and fought in short, brutal rushes.
    Eventually the scrapper neared the boat, and I reached for the net. Through the dim, rain-stained waters I caught the first glimpse of my antagonist, a long golden flank flashed through the murk. I was overjoyed.
    The channel catfish is not a beautiful swimmer. It is, however, substantially constructed of firm flesh of the sweetest tooth a seafood fanatic can aspire to. Its tough, rubbery mouth, once punctured by a hook’s barb, does not often slip free. I was pretty sure this one was coming in the boat.
    As I deposited the fat, struggling 21-inch beauty in my fish box, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had my fish fry.
    To affirm that, within another 15 minutes the Chesapeake gave me a twin of the first fish, another fat golden channel cat. There would be enough for company.

With your help

Has the world ever looked more beautiful? Probably, in some pristine past, but in the eye of this beholder, these late days of spring sparkle with perfection — and when the sun doesn’t come out they give us moody skies reflected in shady green.
    Who doesn’t want to be out in times like this?
    Somebody who does is the Eastern box turtle. That beloved little fellow with the high domed shell crawls out of the leafy cover of the forest floor this time of year to see the world. There’s a lot to see and do after months of hibernation. Like all of us, turtles have their ranges, within 250 yards of the nests where they were born, according to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. That’s home, where they forage, mate and lay their eggs. If a road cuts through it, turtles take it in stride.
    Unless we have the luck of a turtle visitor, a road is where we’re most likely to see them, carrying their camouflage-patterned shell on little clawed feet. Stop to check one out, and you’ll see how it got its name, for it snaps its shell closed like a box. Inside is a safe place to be, so box turtles have little to fear from predators — except us.
    Taking a box turtle home for a pet is a bad idea. You cannot manage for them so well as they can for themselves. Unless you do careful research into what to feed them and how to keep them, they’re likely to starve. Certainly they won’t be making any more baby turtles.
    The loss of just one adult box turtle from a local population each year could wipe out that population, for box turtle reproduction is a lengthy, tenuous and oftentimes inefficient process.
Females typically produce small clutches of only three or four eggs a year, and temperature extremes, heavy rainfall, fungus and predators frequently destroy the eggs.
    Even when an egg does hatch, the hatchling — again having to struggle against weather, predators and other hazards — has a slim chance of reaching adulthood.
It takes years to fully develop the stronger, protective adult shell and years of habitat familiarity to attain some degree of relative safety.
    A female who is able to survive her first several years, reaching reproductive maturity, can produce a few hundred eggs during her lifetime, which can be 75 to 100 years. From this lifetime of egg production, only two or three hatchlings may reach adulthood to sustain the population.
    When you see a turtle crossing the road, the right thing to do is help her or him across in the direction it was traveling. (You’ll know it’s a him if you get a glimpse of his eyes, as males have red eyes.)
    The other day, a woman driving in front of me stopped her SUV, hazards flashing, on Rt. 2 approaching Aris T. Allen Parkway and ran, arms flapping, to save a box turtle.
    If the turtle you hope to rescue does not snap into a box shell but remains exposed, pointy bill snarling at you, it’s likely an aptly named snapping turtle. Cautiously — very cautiously — pick it up by the shell, not the tail, but well back so it can’t turn its long flexible neck to bite the hand that rescues it.

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

Better than average for a series that should have ended with the first film

Henry Turner (Brendan Thwaites: Gods of Egypt) grew up knowing that his father, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom: Unlocked) was cursed to spend eternity as Davey Jones’ replacement at the bottom of the sea. Obsessed with freeing dad and reuniting his family, he scours the legends of the sea for a loophole to allow his father to surface.
    Now he’s recruited once-legendary pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). Sparrow is now a drunk with a half-built boat seeking treasure to sate his mutinous crew. But self-preservation allies him to Turner’s cause, for he has unwittingly broken the curse that doomed his sworn enemy Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem: The Last Face) to a watery grave.
    Completing the mission is Carina (Kaya Scodelario: The Maze Runner), an orphan whose personal obsession is finding Poseidon’s trident. With the rising dead on their heels and the sea threatening to swallow, are they goners?
    Dead Men Tell No Tales is unique in the Pirates franchise because its director and crew seem to be serious about movie-making. The action is exciting, special effects (especially the waterlogged zombie sailors on Salazar’s crew) are glorious and performances okay.
    Depp is back in fighting form, restoring the wiles to a man searching for redemption.
    He gets fantastic support from Geoffrey Rush (Gods of Egypt) as Captain Barbossa, his frenemy. Rush is an old hand at camping up the morally ambiguous character, making his violence and rotted teeth charming affectations. He hops through each scene on a bejeweled peg leg and holding a gun.
    Bardem gleefully snarls his way across the seven seas, making his Salazar seem a formidable foe. His quiet gravitas and striking eyes emphasize Salazar’s threat. By embracing the madness, Bardem steals nearly every scene, roaring death threats as he menaces all around him with a half-rotted face.
    Alas, the love story is no better than ever, with no chemistry between Thwaites’ Turner and Scodelario’s Carina.
    The plot is so ridiculous that it’s almost impressive with it mash-up of Da Vinci Code clues to a treasure, silly histrionics and about eight extraneous story lines.
    Think twice before taking small children, as there are some creepy zombie pirates and plenty of intense fights.

Good Action • PG-13 • 129 mins.

Break the rules and root vegetables won’t grow

A Bay Weekly reader complained that most of the carrots, radishes, turnips and salsify he harvested from last year’s garden had branched roots. My immediate diagnosis was that he must have added a lot of compost to the soil before planting. When root crops are planted in soil rich in freshly applied compost, they tend to produce branched and fibrous roots.
    According to his description, he had applied only two wheelbarrows of compost to a garden approximately 30 feet wide and 50 feet long. Since most wheelbarrow tubs hold between two and three bushels, that amount of compost should not have caused the problem.
    I next asked what kind of compost. LeafGro, he said, incorporated into the soil with a rototiller. Had he had his soil tested? Yes, and I had made recommendations for him based on spring soil tests.
    Stumped so far, I asked how he planted his garden. As soon as he told me that he had sown all of the seedlings in trays and transplanted them in the garden, the problem was solved. Direct sowing is recommended on the seed packets, but he wanted all of his seedlings evenly spaced so that he would have perfect rows.
    Never, never, never transplant root crops. Seeds of carrots, parsnips, salsify, radish, beets, turnips, rutabaga, etc., should always be sown directly into the garden soil. Any disturbance to the roots once the seeds have germinated will cause branching.
    A couple of years ago, another Bay Weekly reader said he could no longer grow carrots and parsnips in his garden. Since he lived in Deale, I stopped by his home and walked into the garden. I sharpened a half-inch diameter piece of broom handle and tried to push the sharpened end into the soil. Four inches was as far as it would go.
    I asked what he used to till the soil. He showed me the Mantis tiller he had used to prepare this same garden bed for at least a dozen years. That was the problem. Repeated tilling had formed a plow-pan, a compacted layer of soil caused by the bottom pressure of the tines of the tiller. Farmers have the same problem from repeated use of plows.
    To solve his problem I recommended that he apply three to four cubic yards of LeafGro per 1,000 square feet and rent a hefty rototiller with six to eight horsepower. After spreading the compost evenly over the garden area, he was to set the tiller to dig as deeply as possible. Soil testing told him what else was needed to make plants grow better.


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

In May, it could be full of worms

The second rockfish season opened just days ago to mock my expectations of another great fishing year.
    Day one saw me headed to just below the Bay Bridge Western Shore rockpile, where the fishing had been gangbusters on the opener the last two years. Finding a dozen or so boats scattered there did not bother me. That early bite had been no secret, and I saw good marks on my finder throughout the area.
    Anchoring up, dropping my chum bag over the side and baiting up with some fresh menhaden chunks, I awaited certain action … and waited and waited. All around me for over two hours others were doing the same before leaving one by one.
    Finally, I too pulled anchor and searched south until arriving at Hackett’s green can, where another fleet of boats was holding steady. Despite good fish marking all around me, I found another slack bite there, too. My best effort was a 19-inch throwback. I saw no other fish caught.
    Day two, partnering with my regular sidekick, Moe, we tried again at Hackett’s. Moe’s uncanny luck held out as he landed a nice 25-inch fish within the first hour. I managed to score only a fat blue catfish, my first from the Bay. Then the action died. We held out until slack water but it did not resume.
    Day three I partnered with another long-time fishing buddy, Mike, who suggested a better spot, south of Hackett’s.
    This time we pulled out all of the stops. Anchoring in 35 feet of water, we put a chum bag at the surface behind the boat and another weighted bag about 20 feet down. Starting out with big chunks of menhaden on 5/0 hooks with two-ounce sinkers, we also presented medium-sized chunks, small chunks and gut balls, all down deep. Within the first half-hour, I had a good fish hooked up.
    The 27-incher was game the whole way to the boat, and I let the scrapper do its stuff. Patiently waiting for it to tire, I drew the reluctant fish toward the side until Mike finally slipped the net under it.
    After a picture to verify my official entry into the second season, I then iced it down in the skiff’s cooler, all the while imagining its filets, browned in butter with just a sprinkle of lemon juice and dill. Within the next half-hour Mike broke his season in with a fat 22-incher that gave a distinct impression of a much larger fish all the way to the net.
    Our intense effort included frequently changing baits and cutting the changed-out baits into smaller pieces to add the chum slick. Its third victim was a twin of my first. As Mike netted it and it lay thrashing on the deck, the solution to the recent days’ slow bite was revealed. The fish started spitting up May worms.
    May worm hatches are the curse of the rockfish bite this time of year. Resembling miniature bloodworms, the worms live in the oyster lumps and the shell-strewn bottom of the Chesapeake until they rise up en masse during May, and often into June, in their mating dance. All a rockfish has to do is open its mouth wide and swim through the thick underwater clouds of worms to easily swallow hundreds of the protein-rich little critters.
    With their appetites satisfied, most rockfish then continue to hold in loose schools and casually loiter, awaiting the next worm feast. Meanwhile, boatloads of eager anglers float about on the surface trying to get their attention.
    Mike hit our limit an hour before noon with the biggest of the day, a fat fish just a hair under 28 inches.

Soon these pullets will be laying eggs

Right about now spring chickens are no longer the cute, fuzzy bundles they were just five weeks ago. Just like human children, they have begun maturing — at first by bits. Now they look like mini adult chickens.
    So it’s a good thing most chick purchases are not for cuddly cuteness but for modern homesteading.
    For now, new chicks are still dependents, requiring extra attention food, shelter and water. Chicks must maintain a body temperature of at least 90 degrees when brought home, with diminishing temperatures after that. They are pullets, the proper name for hens of this transitioning age, no longer chicks but not yet laying.
    Novice chicken farmer Susan Nolan of Lothian has six chickens in her developing flock, two Barred Rock, two Red Stars, one Andalusian Blue and one New Hampshire Red.
    From now until early fall, she gives them two heaping scoops of feed a day. Just like the kids at home, the chicks are messy eaters, leaving more on the ground than in their bellies.
    By early June, they can leave the shelter of Nolan’s home to live in their own residence, the coop.
    Around September, they’ll be feeding Nolan and her family approximately three to five eggs a week per chicken.
    Read more on raising egg hens at:
www.bayweekly.com/node/17991.

Honor the holy day. Then celebrate the holiday.

Memorial Day is both a holiday and a holy day.
    On the far side of war, it’s the holiday beginning summer’s season of outdoor living, welcomed with barbecues, crab feasts and pool openings. I’m eager to plunge into that season this week or next, weather permitting. Imagining you are too, all of us here are preparing Bay Weekly’s indispensible Summer Guide to tuck inside your June 8 paper.
    On the near side of war, Memorial Day is a holy day. Dating back to the Civil War, it began as Decoration Day, when a mourning nation decorated the graves of its lost sons with the flowers of spring.
    World War I gave Memorial Day a great boost. America entered the Great War, its working title, 100 years ago, calling 4.7 million into service and sending four million men to fight along war-weary French and British soldiers.
    All must have feared what American poet Alan Seeger predicted:

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air —
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

     The feelings of one of the 4.7 million, Illinoisan
A.L. Dixon, survived the century. I read in his own hand ­lonely, newsy letters he sent to my grandmother’s first cousin, Miss Cora Smith, during his 18 months of ­service. Safe from the German barrage, spared by spinal meningitis and influenza, Dix served an easy war as a quartermaster sergeant in Camp Taylor, Kentucky. But of course he did not know that going in.

December 13, 1917
    Me thinks we will soon see France and I hope so, just to get this over with. I have taken out $500 insurance and Mother may find herself rich some day soon …

April 19, 1918
    There are three stars in the home service flag now and I am some what proud of it — there will be a chance of some of us boys in the Dixon family getting shot I think. I can’t say that Mother is proud of her best soldier sons, but they are all insured for $40,000 and she had better wish us good luck in this scrap.

November 4, 1918    
    The flu was sure bad here and some few of our boys “kicked off.” It failed to land me this time so you and others will still have to keep on sending letters to Camp Taylor and trust the Huns to get me when I go across.

    Then the war was over. Dix and his brothers were lucky. Others were not. America suffered 306,000 casualties.

December 31, 1918
    There are lots of the oversea boys here in camp all wounded and all quartered at the base hospital, they must make me bawl every time I see them for some are in bad shape and one can see just what war means.

    Of the 306,000, 53,402 died in action. Among them was the poet Alan Seeger. An early volunteer with the French Foreign Legion, he kept his rendezvous with death on July 4, 1916, nine months before America entered the war.
    Disease, including the war years’ terrible flu, and other causes took 63,114 more lives.
    The War to End All Wars did not live up to its billing. Since 2001, 6,886 American warriors have died according to http://thefallen.militarytimes.com. The ­Religious Society of Friends’ count is higher.
    Memorial Day seems to serve a lasting purpose.
    In this week’s paper, we continue our remembrance of World War I, introducing storyteller Elloise Schoettler, who you can hear in person Saturday, May 27 as she recounts Unknown Stories of 64 World War I Nurses from Maryland at Chesapeake Beach’s annual Stars and Stripes Festival.
    You’ll also learn what Dix meant by three stars in the home service flag. For that, turn to Crofton Library’s Blue Star Memorial: One of an All-American Chain of Monuments to Peace, also by Diana Dinsick.
    Honor this holy day. Then celebrate the holiday.

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

Ridley Scott is more interested in philosophy than chills in this latest sequel

Leaving Earth in search of a habitable planet, The Covenant carries a crew of married couples plus 2,000 colonists and a few trays of embryos. While the crew and passengers hypersleep, android Walter (Michael Fassbender: Assassin’s Creed) cares for the ship.
    A disaster ends the crew’s slumbers.
    The crippled Covenant’s luck improves when the crew finds a habitable planet nearby. Shall they take a look?
    The one voice of dissent is Daniels (Katherine Waterston: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), a just-made widow who is second in command. Her objections overruled, Daniels reluctantly accepts a mission to see if this mystery planet is suitable for humans.
    The team finds the planet perfectly habitable yet deserted. The only being they encounter is David (also Fassbender), an android from the ship Prometheus, who has made this empty Earth a lab for his experiments. The crew’s curiosity about the missing Prometheus is tabled when xenomorphs show up to eat them.
    Where is the thrill? Director Ridley Scott, creator of Alien, seems to have forgotten the elements that made his 1979 film a triumph: tight plotting, interesting characters and a realistic threat that was not easily escapable. Today’s Scott is more interested in philosophic debates. It’s difficult to take his weighty subjects seriously as murderous xenomorphs pop up. Dialog is so silly that the audience giggled through talk on the meaning of life, the purpose of survival and the quest to discover our origins.
    Adding insult to injury, we must wait nearly an hour for the aliens, during which time, Scott fails to develop his characters so that later none of their deaths have impact. The one bright spot is Fassbender, who gives both androids distinct personalities and wants.

Poor Sci-Fi/Horror • R • 122 mins.

Death by herbicide is the first step toward no-till farming

This spring, Chesapeake Country meadows turned from green to the color of straw. It’s been a strange sight and one you’ll see more of in coming years. No, it’s not a symptom of climate change. It’s a step in no-till farming.
    No-till farming offers many advantages over conventional farming.
    Plowing, disking and cultivating destroy soil structure and organic matter and cause soil to compact and to lose moisture, thus requiring ever more energy and more powerful equipment. Turned soil is exposed to wind and water erosion. Dormant weed seeds, which infest our soils, are exposed to sunlight, which can give them the push to germination in a few seconds.
    No-till farming, on the other hand, promotes the accumulation of organic matter. With more organic matter, soil needs less fertilizer, keeps its moisture, avoids compaction and is protected from erosion. But the first step, conversion from conventional to no-till, requires greater dependency on chemical weed killers called herbicides.
    The quick spring change from green fields to gold means the vegetation was sprayed with Gramoxin. Gramoxin is a restricted-use herbicide used to kill either annual weeds or a cover crop of winter rye or wheat. The applicator must be certified to use Gramoxin.
    A more gradual change of color over seven to 10 days suggests the chemical herbicide was glyphosate, pioneered as Roundup by Monsanto. This chemical is used most on peren­nial weeds.
    Weed killers in agricultural use generally have a short lifespan. They are applied in ounces per acre and decompose by light, heat and microbes. As no-till promotes the accumulation of organic matter, there is an increase in microbial activity, which helps keep soil productive.
    In no-till farming, the only soil disturbed is a thin slice where both the seeds and fertilizers are injected into the soil. With less soil disturbance, the weed population diminishes with time, thus reducing the need to apply weed killers in the future.
    The immediate advantage is most noticeable during drought years. No-till crops are more drought-tolerant because the soil retains more water.
    It takes about three years before farmers begin to measure the full benefits of no-till farming. As organic matter accumulates, there is less fertilizer needed to optimize crop yields. With less soil compaction, the roots of crops are able to penetrate deeper for water and nutrients.


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

On these, you did your part

A couple of recent stories have given us just the response we like to hear: You loved them.
    Every Wednesday afternoon, we wash our hands of the next day’s paper, just as I’m doing today on the paper of May 18, 2017 — which happens to be one of which we’re all proud.
    When our work is done, yours begins. For newspapering is a partnership among those who make it — writers, editors, photographers, designers, ad reps, advertisers — and those who read it. We and You.
    A newspaper without readers isn’t even fish wrap.
    Our interdependence is just as real on a personal level. Each of us sends our weekly contributions out into the world as foundlings. What will happen to the story we’ve spent so much time on, which belongs to people about whom we’ve grown to care? Will you take it into your heart as we did? We depend on you to finish the story.
    Ask Diana Beechener, Mick Blackistone, Audrey Broomfield, Jackie Graves, Sarah Jablon and Kathy Knotts, all writers in this week’s paper. That’s what they’ll tell you. (Dennis Doyle we granted a rare week off.) Even Bay Gardener Francis Gouin thrives on your interest and questions.
    Or how about that page Alex Knoll or Betsy Kehne wrestled with to make it call out to you?
    One of those pages is why I’m smiling as I write. That’s our May 5 two-page spread of people and their dogs promenading with SPCA of Anne Arundel County.
    Appealing as that page looks, bringing it to you is no walk in the park. Just on our side — for I’m not even going to try to imagine all SPCA puts into this annual event — four Bay Weekly humans and one Bay Weekly dog, turned out for the Walk for the Animals. Audrey Broomfield and her husky Misty took the early shift, starting at 7:30am. She and Alex Knoll and son Jack engaged walkers, while Karen Lambert shot photos. From camera to page, Betsy Kehne took over, straining to arrange the montage that had us all wishing we’d been there to see the fun in person.
    By 5pm Wednesday, May 3 we’d put that particularly challenging paper to bed, emailing it to our printer in Virginia, which is a high-tech story of its own. Early Thursday, May 4, 20,000 copies were trucked to us and waiting for their delivery drivers.
    What happened then?
    Did all those people and their dogs put a smile on your face? I’d still be wondering — except that Lou Carter, a woman with her heart in SPCA, phoned to say she was thrilled. What she had to say, you’ll read down the page in Your Say. Because of talking with Lou, I’m smiling, too.
    Our May 11 story, The Magic of Song, reaped another kind of reward. All week, emails from fans of that story’s hero, Jeanne Kelly of Encore Chorale, have been flooding my inbox. Clearly, the impresario of elder song has built quite the network, for each one sang her praises.
    Standing on the wings of appreciation is writer Diana Dinsick, without whom that story would never have been.
    Encore Chorale had been a faint blip on my editorial radar screen for quite some time. For years, we’d reported in 8 Days a Week the Chorale’s regular releases reaching out to singers and announcing concerts. Fans had encouraged us to do a story.
    The spark that turned a good idea into a story came early this spring, in the Chorale’s announcement of its May 13 concert at DAR Constitution Hall. Ah-ha! I said, and opened the line to writer Dinsick, herself a Daughter of the American Revolution. The story that pleased all those readers came to be because Dinsick made the calls, did the interviews, listened to performances, researched the science, wrote the story and endured my editing. Now she’s smiling, too.
    That satisfied smile is usually what happens when we hear from you (unless we’ve made a mistake!).
    The advertisers who bring you Bay Weekly want to hear from you, too. Remember to say, I saw your ad in Bay Weekly!

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