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Articles by Dr. Francis Gouin

Here’s the one way to kill kudzu and bamboo

These very invasive species cannot be killed by spray during the summer months. They grow so rapidly that the week killers knock back only the top of the plants and not the roots.
    To kill the roots of perennial plants, the weed killer must translocate downward into the roots and rhizomes. For kudzu, you need only to kill the roots. For bamboo, you must kill both the roots and the rhizomes, the underground stems from which new bamboo canes appear.
    Only during the later part of October and early November does the food produced by the foliage of both these invasives translocate down into the roots and rhizomes. The combination of shortened daylight hours, warm days and cool nights sets the stage. In early fall, these plants build up a food supply in their roots so that they can generate strong growth the following spring when soils warm and daylight grows longer.
    Spray when foliage on the plants is abundant. Choose a bright sunny day when the soil is moist so that the foliage to be sprayed can absorb the weed killer.
    Follow the recommendations provided by the manufacturer for mixing glyphosate (Roundup) with water. To assure greater penetration, add one teaspoon of ammonium sulfate to each gallon of spray to be applied. Wear protective clothing and rubber boots to thoroughly wet the foliage. Use low pressure and a coarse spray to avoid drift. Cover nearby desirable plants with plastic sheeting. Repeat the spray treatment in seven to 10 days. 
    The kudzu vines will die back to the ground as usual, and if you do a thorough job of spraying, they will not be resuming growth next spring. The bamboo will show signs of dying in about one month following the second application. If you followed the directions, you should not observe any new growth of bamboo next spring, except perhaps at the outer edge of the planting. This can be a problem when there is not adequate bamboo foliage that can be sprayed. If this occurs, allow that bamboo to grow uninterrupted next summer and repeat the treatment that fall.


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

The bulbs grow fat when the days grow short

I have a favorite treat in June: going into the garden and lifting out a big bulb of elephant garlic for roasting. Eat a few crackers smeared with fresh roasted elephant garlic and you will think you’ve died and gone to heaven. If you wish to enjoy that heavenly food, now is the time for planting.  
    Garlic thrives in full sun in well-drained soil rich in organic matter. To prepare for planting, spread a layer of compost about an inch thick over the garden soil, add a dusting of agricultural limestone over the compost and spade or rototil to a depth of at least six inches.
    To grow large bulbs of elephant garlic, space the cloves at six-inch intervals in rows six inches apart. Using a dibble or a narrow trowel, dig holes three to four inches deep with at least one inch of soil over the top of each clove. Plant the cloves with the blunt side down and the pointed side up.
    In about three to four weeks, young, yellow-green leaves will emerge from the soil. Keep the garlic plot free of weeds. Do not apply any herbicides.  
    If your interest is in growing standard-sized garlic — Italian, German red or greater white, for example — prepare the soil as described above but space the cloves four inches apart in the row with rows six inches apart.
    Garlic is a short-day plant, forming its bulb during less than 12 hours of daylight. If you were to plant garlic cloves in the spring, the plants would only produce leaves and no bulbs.
    With mid-October planting, leaves should be four to six inches tall by mid to late November.
    Just before the ground freezes, spread a two-inch thick layer of compost over the soil and water into place. The compost will serve as a mulch, and next spring it will supply the nutrients the garlic plants will need to grow large bulbs. The nutrients contained in the compost will leach out of the compost with each watering.
    Garlic is a rather coarse feeder, meaning that its limited root system depends on a readily available supply of nutrients.  
    If the foliage develops a yellow-green color in mid May, this is an indication that the plants lack nitrogen. Apply one-fourth to one-half teaspoon of calcium nitrate, ammonium sulfate, urea or bloodmeal per plant over the mulch and water it in. A healthy green color should return in a week or two.


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

How I resurrected a 1971 sailboat

Making old things new again is part of my family history. When I was a boy, my mother furnished our home with used furniture purchased at auction. I would often help her strip the paint or varnish from the wood and apply a new finish.
    So I wasn’t daunted by the challenge of restoring a 1971 24-foot Ventura MacGregor sailboat. Wife Clara has long had a desire to own a sailboat. When we were offered this one, with trailer, for $1,400, I tested the hull for soundness and purchased it.
    After hauling the boat to Upakrik Farm, I backed it into the barn, where I used car jacks to lift the boat from the trailer; then I supported it three feet above the floor with beams attached to barn supports. Using putty knives and scrapers, I removed a five-gallon pail full of barnacles from the hull. From the cockpit we removed several bushels of leaves as well as several more of composted leaves.
    I tried to lower the swing keel by loosening the cable, but it was wedged in the housing. The keel is made with 100 pounds of steel and 400 pounds of lead with wood filling the voids, and the whole thing is covered with fiberglass. Inspecting the keel with a powerful light, I saw that the fiberglass had split open and barnacles had attached themselves to it.
    Removing the swing keel from the housing took me several years: Farm work occupied most of my time during spring, summer and fall, and in the winter it was often too cold to work in the barn. Finally, I extracted the keel in pieces. Then I fit it back together and made an accurate outline of the original. Using one-inch band steel welded to the steel shank and conforming to the original outline, I made a new swing keel. With the guidance of Garry Williams, owner of Osprey Composites of Deale, I covered the reconstructed keel with several layers of fiberglass.
    Once the keel was resurrected, I spent months sanding the hull, deck and cabin. Cracks in the fiberglass had to be ground down to a solid surface and filled with new fiberglass. I did so much sanding that I wore out a DeWalt orbital sander as well as countless pads of sandpaper. All of the fiberglass work was done under Garry’s guidance, and I hired his painters to spray paint the boat. Most of the chrome fixtures had to be ­factory refinished.
    The tabernacle that holds the base of the mast had been ripped from the top of the cabin, demanding major repair. The interior of the cabin also needed major refinishing and refurbishing; I installed ceiling lights, ship-to-shore radio and wood moldings.
    Clara had the task of naming our boat. After much research on boat names, she chose The Happy Heron.
    Nine years after purchase, The Happy Heron was launched at Herrington Harbour North in Tracys Landing and navigated to Paradise Marina, where it has been berthed on a lift when not in use.
    Since its launching, I have sailed it at least five times with a friend and twice with Clara.
    In the spring of 2013, I had a serious accident the day after Thanksgiving followed by a second worse accident resulting in permanent damage to my left leg. I have difficulty getting in and out of the boat and can no longer stand on the cabin to hoist the sails. Clara also has developed bad knees, so it appears that the time has come to sell The Happy Heron.
    That’s all right. Restoring that boat was a challenge that I enjoyed probably more than sailing it. Making something new again is in my blood.

Next year’s flowers and vegetables thrive on what you do now

The leaves of herbaceous perennials are turning yellow with their margins already crisp-brown. Trees and shrubs have stopped growing leaves; winter bud scales are well developed over the buds in the axils of their leaves. Perennial plants are getting ready for winter.
    Annuals, too, are dying. When your annual flower garden is at the point of no return, set your lawn mower to its highest level and mow down those dead and dying plants. Mowing creates a mulch and keeps stems in place to catch and hold leaves. The roots of those dead plants will decompose in place and create tunnels for the roots of next year’s annuals to follow. Leaving those tunnels is one more reason not to spade the garden next spring. Another? Spading allows weed seeds to germinate by exposing them to light.
    Turning to the vegetable garden, cover the earth over winter by planting a cover crop of winter rye at the rate of seven to eight pounds of seeds per 1,000 square feet. The rye will capture nutrients not absorbed by this year’s crop. As well as preventing nutrients from entering the Bay, the cover crop crowds out winter weeds and holds the soil in place. When you plow the cover crop under next spring, it will release those nutrients back into the soil. The decomposing cover crop will also improve both the nutrient- and water-holding capacity of your soil and reduce its density, which will result in improved root growth.
    If your day lilies, peonies and hosta are crowded, fall is a great time to divide them and extend your garden or share them with neighbors and friends. For showy flowers in May, transplant peonies shallow, making certain that the eyes, the flower buds, are at grade and not covered with more than one inch of soil.
    To assure a bumper crop of asparagus spears next spring, neglect the bed until all of the stems have turned straw color. That’s the sign all of the nitrogen that has accumulated in the stems and leaves has drained down to the roots.  Next spring when the buds start growing, there will be a readily available source of nitrogen for that first burst of spears.


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

Pet poop and chicken skat don’t fit in

If you’re making compost for your vegetable garden, don’t add manure from pets or backyard hens. There is always the possibility that dog manure may contain hookworms. Chicken manure contains high levels of salmonella organisms. Unless temperatures in your compost pile remain at 150 degrees or higher for five days running, neither of these disease-causing organisms will be killed.
    The standard of 150 degrees or higher for five days was based on research conducted on composting bio-solids from wastewater treatment plants and chicken manure from broiler farms. These standards are called PFRP — Processed Further to Reduce Pathogens.
    Such high composting temperatures cannot be reached or maintained under home composting systems. PFRP requirements can be achieved only when large volumes of organic waste are composting under controlled conditions as in certified commercial composting facilities.
    We’ve given serious consideration to pet waste in efforts to keep it from polluting creeks, rivers and the Bay.
    With laying hens in many backyards, chicken sanitation is an issue needing equal attention. If you were to visit a chicken farm, you would be required to wear rubber boots and walk through a shallow pan of sterilizing solution before entering and exiting the poultry house. The sterilization solution works to prevent diseases from being carried into the poultry house and salmonella from being carried out.  
    Children should not be allowed to play in areas where chickens are foraging, and safe disposal methods for their waste must be devised flock by flock. 
    One way is direct composting chicken waste in flower gardens or in landscaping. In those uses, the only health risk is from handling the manure.


Keeping Silt Out of Pond Waters

Re: Stopping Brown Bay Waters: www.bayweekly.com/node/29154

Q Thanks for your great Aug. 20 article on Stopping Brown Bay Waters. I live on a four-acre tidal pond. Several of the properties have steep slopes, and there are two ravines that cascade heavy rains into the lake.
    Whether we have rain or not, the water is always murky brown. From your article it appears that the Filtrex Sox would help in the wooded ravines. Would it help to line the shoreline with it as well?

–Dave Bastian, via email

A The Filtrex Sox is being used to line the sides of creeks and shores of lakes and ponds. I recently saw it being used in Maine in highway construction.

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

Nurseries want to sell, and planting time is right

Many garden centers and nurseries have fall sales to reduce their inventory. What doesn’t sell, they have to spend money protecting in winter or suffer losses.
    These sales are timed right for you, too, because early fall is a great time for planting trees, shrubs and perennials, as the plants have time to establish roots in their new soils before winter sets in.
    Plants produce new roots faster when their tops are going dormant. In preparation for winter, most woody plants stop growing leaves and new shoots starting in mid-August when daylight hours grow shorter and evenings become cooler. Thus, all of the sugars being produced by the foliage are directed toward growing new roots. New roots this fall means more top growth next spring.
    Container-grown plants you buy now have been growing in that container all summer. Therefore, it is likely that the outer edge of the root balls are encircled by roots, a good indication that the plants are root-bound.  If you transplant such plants without disturbing the roots, it is unlikely that they will survive the winter because new roots cannot break through the mat into the surrounding soil.  
    When removing plants from their containers, examine the root balls carefully. If the roots have filled the container, pull them loose or slash them with a sharp knife.  I prefer slashing the outer edge of the root ball from the top to the bottom approximately one inch deep at three- or four-inch intervals. By slashing the outer roots, you will be forcing the fine roots to branch and form new roots in the new soil.  
    An alternative method is to crush the root ball until you see the roots loosen, and use your fingers to pull the loosened roots away from the ball. This method requires more time but achieves similar results.
    Never dig the transplant hole any deeper than the depth of the root ball. Ninety percent of the roots of trees and shrubs are in the upper six inches of soil. Plant with 10 percent of the root ball above grade. Back-fill with a mixture of one-third by volume compost blended with two-thirds by volume existing soil.
    The compost will provide not only the essential nutrients for good root growth but also a transition zone for roots that have been growing in a soilless mixture. If you are transplanting azaleas, blueberries and related species, blend one to two tablespoons of gypsum into the soil before backfilling. Acid soils are nearly always deficient in calcium, which is essential for good root growth.


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

Move crowded azaleas this month

Perhaps you planted young azaleas close together to achieve instant effects. Within a few years, those young azaleas will be crowding each other. Unless you remove some of them, they will grow tall and spindly.
    September is the best time of the year to dig and transplant azaleas, rhododendrons, andromeda, mountain laurel, blueberry and related species. By early September, the plants have stopped growing and are setting flower buds. When plants stop producing stems and leaves, they start producing roots. Thus, transplanting in September gives the plants time to establish themselves and be ready to resume normal growth in the spring when they begin to flower.
    When transplanted in the spring, the plants will flower, but new growth will be limited because the plants have to grow new stems, leaves and roots at the same time.  
     Azaleas and related species are very particular about where they grow. Unless irrigated during drought, they are best grown in light shade. On the other hand, the more direct sun plants receive, the more flowers they produce. Under dense shade, they will produce good dark foliage but few flowers.
    It is always best to grow these  plants in deep organic-rich soils that are acid in nature so they can absorb nitrogen in the ammonium form. Ammonium nitrogen is more readily available in acid soils than in neutral soils such as those good for growing annual flowers and vegetable gardens.
    To avoid problems, have your soil tested before planting. A good soil test will provide the pH of the existing soil, the amount of calcium and magnesium present as well as other essential nutrients essential for good plant growth. Never fertilize these species with lawn fertilizers; they contain nitrogen in the nitrate form, which will cause stunting.
    Acid soils tend to lack calcium, which is essential for good growth. Calcium is as important in plants as it is in humans. Thus, to supply calcium without making the soil neutral or alkaline, blend a few tablespoons of gypsum (calcium sulfate), into the soil before planting. If the soil is low in magnesium, add a tablespoon of Epsom salts, which is magnesium sulfate.
    Successful transplanting also depends on careful watering. A newly transplanted shrub or tree should be watered thoroughly at three-day intervals. Light daily watering does more harm than good.


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

These sensitive trees show you air pollution in action

If your Heritage birch is dropping yellow leaves, blame it on the Orange Alert of early August. Heritage birch is a clone of river birch, which is highly sensitive to both ozone and sulfur dioxide. Both of these gasses are present in an Orange Alert.
    An Orange Alert is announced to warn the elderly and people with pulmonary disorders to remain indoors in air-conditioning and minimize outdoor activities until the alert is lifted. Heritage birch, the deciduous trees most sensitive to air pollutants, have no choice but to remain in place and try to survive.
    Maple, oak, cherry, apple, dogwood and other tree species are not affected.
    Only older leaves are yellowing and dropping. Younger leaves closer to the ends of the branches are remaining green, and the trees are producing new leaves at the ends of the branches.
    Age is the cause of the leaf drop. The spongy layer of plant cells in leaves converts carbon dioxide into oxygen by absorbing air through small openings called stomata on the underside of birch tree leaves. These stomata are surrounded by guard cells that open and close depending on moisture, time of day and the presence of air pollutants.
    In younger leaves, the guard cells remain very flexible. As soon as they detect air pollutants entering the leaves they close, thus preventing damage to the spongy leaf tissues that absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. However, as leaves age, the guard cells become sluggish and sometimes stop functioning, thus allowing the polluted air to enter and kill the spongy leaf tissues. In other words, the guard cells are not as spry as they once were.
    Once the spongy leaf tissues are killed by the air pollutants, the older leaves react as if they had been damaged by an early frost.
    If the air pollution were to occur at night, it is unlikely the problem would be as severe because the guard cells close at about the same time the sun sets. The damage would be limited to only those leaves where the guard cells are stuck in the open position.


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

We have the knowledge but not the will to fix the problem

In a recent fishing trip with residents of the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home, we could not help but notice how brown the water appeared even after several miles of boating into Herring Bay. One of the veterans asked why. I explained to him that what he was seeing was mostly clay in suspension.
    Where is it coming from?
    Clay comes from agricultural fields and home gardeners with exposed soils as well as from construction sites.
    “How can it come from construction sites,” he wanted to know, “as they are required to surround such sites with silt fences?”
    Silt fences remove only floating organic waste, sand and silt. They do not remove clay from water flowing through them or nutrients soluble in the water.
    Only two methods effectively remove nutrients and clay from waters penetrating silt fences. The water must be treated in a waste water treatment facility with tertiary water treatment or be passed through compost.
    Research has clearly demonstrated that water filtered through silt fences can be purified by passing the water through a berm of active compost. Because of the negative and positive charges in compost, clay particles are trapped along with nutrients. Growing winter rye in those berms of compost also helps in absorbing nutrients trapped in the compost.
    This information — common knowledge to us researchers — has been presented at many public meetings and published in trade magazines. One company manufactures Filtrex Sox, a mesh tube 12 to 18 inches in diameter and filled with compost. The tube has an apron that forces water to flow through it.
    This information has been presented to highway departments and at contractor meetings without much success. Rebuttals have been “we use bales of straw or mounds of wood-chips” to filter surface water. These methods do not solve the problem of trapping muddy water because neither has positive and negative changes attracting particles and nutrients.
    It’s an old familiar story: Research tells us what must be done, but great resistance rises against new and improved methods. Change comes slowly unless it is made mandatory.
    Enough said.


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

Our four have assisted all in their own ways

Four dogs have helped us run Upakrik Farm.
    Our first farm dog was a black cocker spaniel. Dixie moved with us from College Park but adapted to farm life. She quickly learned the perimeter of the fields and the joy of riding on the tractor. The sound of its diesel engine made her stop what she was doing and make a beeline for the tractor. Despite her short legs, she would jump onto the platform and sit behind my legs, watching as we drove. She was a great companion during the many hours I spent on the tractor preparing the fields for planting.
    For some unknown reason, she needed help getting down from the platform to the ground. I often suspected that she would have preferred staying on the tractor. Dixie was good at chasing squirrels and rabbits but to my knowledge never caught any. One night when she was 14 years old, Dixie walked away from the farm never to be found.
    Several months after Dixie left us, we adopted an eight-month-old golden retriever. Dandy was not much of a farm dog and did not like riding in the tractor or even a car. But he was a great companion who loved to play fetch and follow me around the farm. He always stayed within eyesight of me, and whenever I stopped to rest, he would come to me wanting to be petted. I never saw him chase squirrels or rabbits, but one day I found him licking baby rabbits in a litter under a tree. I watched him nudge the baby rabbits with his long nose and wash a few with his tongue while holding them between his front paws. I had to pull Dandy away so mother rabbit could approach and feed the babies. He paid daily visits to those baby rabbits until they left the lay.
    For a short time after we adopted Dandy, T.J. joined the family. He appeared to be a cross between a cocker spaniel and a basset hound. We adopted him from our oldest daughter, who was having difficulty training him. Within days, T.J. and I became inseparable. He followed me wherever I went on the farm and would lie patiently by my desk when I had office duties to perform.
    Since T.J. was a rescue dog, we knew nothing of his background except that he had a stiff rear right leg, evident when he walked or ran. One day while following me in the field, he tripped and fell while chasing a rabbit. He was in pain and unable to stand. Since the accident occurred in the evening, I carried him to the house and laid him on the foot of the bed. The next morning I brought him to the veterinarian where X-rays reveled breaks in the shoulder joints of both front legs. The X-ray also reveled he had a metal pin in his right rear leg, which caused him to limp. Because damage was extensive and with an apparent history of broken bones, I decided to have him put down. Clara and I both missed T.J. because he was the only dog we could take for a canoe ride, as he sat motionless and seemed to enjoy the changing scenery.
    Our current dog, Lusby, is a Carolina dog, a breed related to dingoes. She is a rescue dog from Georgia, where she was on death row. Lusby is a real farm dog and knows the territory. She has reduced the squirrel, rabbit and groundhog population and even catches mice. She prefers being outdoors and running beside my golf cart instead of riding in it. Lusby follows me all over the farm and stays within eyesight. When I stop to rest, she comes to check on me but is not a dog that likes to be petted much. She is my back-seat companion when I drive the truck.
    Lusby is great with children whose parents come to cut Christmas trees. She shows off by running at great speed in circles and follows the children through the trees. She will even fetch sticks and balls for children, though she will not fetch for me.


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