view counter

Articles by All

Return of the King of the Monsters

Fifteen years after a catastrophic nuclear power plant collapse in Japan, engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston: Breaking Bad) is convinced that the government is covering up the real cause of the failure that killed his wife and countless others. He breaks into the ruins of the nuclear facility to prove that this disaster wasn’t a malfunction or a typhoon, but a vast government cover-up.
    Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor Johnson: Kick Ass 2) just wants his dad to stop getting arrested. Ford has moved on, starting a family and joining the Navy. Father and son rarely see each other — unless Ford is bailing his father out of a Japanese prison. To get his father to stop his conspiracy theorizing, Ford agrees to visit the nuclear plant ruins on one last mission.
    Imagine Ford’s surprise when he discovers his father was right: The government was hiding something — something big and angry. A drilling company in the Philippines crashed into a cavern in the earth, awakening an alpha predator that feeds on radiation.
    Ford joins the military in a global effort to stop the monster from destroying the world.
    A classic monster movie worthy of the 1954 original, Godzilla is a fun, light take on the Gojira series. Credit goes to the brilliance of director Gareth Edwards (Monsters). Following classic monster movie style, Edwards is slow to reveal Godzilla to the audience, teasing us with glimpses of a tail or a massive footprint.
    Clever camera work emphasizes Godzilla’s immense size compared to the human world. Edwards forces you into the action. Shots framed with panicked onlookers in the foreground put you in the midst of the pandemonium. When he treats us to a wide shot of the action, he mindfully keeps a person in the frame as a reminder of just how massive and terrifying Godzilla would be stomping down your street.
    Still, the nature vs. man storyline is secondary to the cataclysmic battles. As a result of Edwards’ innovative and interesting camera work, Godzilla is one of the best arguments for 3D graphics and IMAX visuals to appear in theaters this decade.
    You’ll see all the types you expect in a disaster/monster movie: a crackpot who’s been right all along, a square-jawed soldier, his attractive but personality-free family, a scientist and thousands of faceless military men to act as cannon fodder. It’s hard to care about the fate of Ford, his pretty wife and his adorable moppet son because they’re cyphers instead of developed characters. But most people buying a ticket to a Godzilla movie aren’t expecting a stirring family drama.
    Still, appropriately melodramatic performances by veteran actors like Cranston and Ken Watanabe (Unforgiven) keep us invested in the fate of humanity.
    Godzilla is the perfect summer blockbuster: a fun story, amazing visuals and a monster worthy of the big screen. So buy a bucket of popcorn, adjust your 3D glasses and get ready for a modern monster classic.

Great Monster Movie • PG-13 • 123 mins.

Many virtues make it my favorite sweetwater fish

This is a special time of year for me. There have been a number of 80-degree days, trees are filling out nicely and the strawberries in our garden are ripening. The day lilies are blooming, brightening the landscape, and birds are busy, singing their songs and building nests just about everywhere.
    Our freshwater ponds and lakes are also awakening. Water lilies are reaching up and extending their green pads and white blossoms above the surface. The frogs are croaking and peeping amorously, and along the shallow, tree-shrouded shorelines, saucer-sized beds are beginning to be scraped out of the bottom by a small but mighty fish.
    Each spawning site will be guarded with singular ferocity by a brightly colored male. His profile is as saucer shaped as the spawning site he has just created, and the little bull is relentlessly intent on attracting a mate. These fish are bluegills. A good-sized fish is only 10 inches long, but it is my favorite species in all of the sweetwater.

Hooked on Fishing
    Perhaps it’s because the bluegill was the first fish that ever pulled on the end of my line. I was about six years old and remember that tug as if it was yesterday because it was followed immediately by a bigger tug. Then the small, bamboo pole I held bent over in an acute arc.
    It was all I could do to hold it upright as my heart raced like never before. Somehow managing to get the brightly colored fish up onto the old wooden dock, I watched as the furious rascal beat a reckless tattoo on the weathered boards.
    My father was careful to subdue it without getting spiked by the critter’s sharp fins, and we soon had it back in the water on a stringer, which I checked every 30 seconds for the remainder of the trip. I didn’t catch anything else, but it mattered not a bit to me in my first flush of piscatorial victory.
    For the next two days, I paraded that bluegill about the neighborhood on the stringer, eventually boring all but my mother with repeated descriptions of the grandeur of the moment. The ’gill was a big one, I was told, and without anything else to compare it to I accepted that judgment unequivocally.
    By the end of the second day my parents convinced me to give the deceased a proper burial, explaining that it was gathering an odor and we had perhaps waited a little too long to serve it as supper. But I knew there were others out there, and I solemnly dedicated myself to their pursuit. I have held to that promise for over 60 years.
    These days I have exchanged the simple cane pole for a fixed line; a hook and a red worm for a light graphite fly rod adorned with a small black reel, a floating line and a little popping bug.
    In years past I have consumed at least my share of the tasty devils, but lately I have taken to releasing almost all of them. Each of my catches, I have come to realize, are either too small to eat or too large and grand to kill.
    Over the years, pursuing these bold swimmers while wet wading, from the shoreline, from canoes, kayaks, skiffs, bass boats, dingys and even inner tubes, I have found all of the experiences the same: fantastic. There is no other fish as willing to do battle, as eager to strike in hunger or defending its territory and as energetic and resolute in continuing the fight all the way to my hand.
    These fish are a model of life lived to the fullest. Each time I pursue them, I feel blessed to experience their fiery hearts and exceptional attitudes. My rod and reel are standing at the door as I wait for the wild springtime winds to die down. The ’gills are on the beds, I have an old promise to keep, and I can’t wait to fulfill it yet again.

Take an intimate look at private lives affected by corporate callousness.

Colonial Players has kept audiences engaged in a season that has swung from the ridiculous to reality: from a time machine to Death Row, and now from a tabloid fantasy to the Industrial Revolution. In Melanie Marnich’s These Shining Lives, a fictional treatment of a factual tragedy, we meet four victims of radium poisoning whose plight spawned a landmark Supreme Court decision on corporate responsibility and workers’ safety. Despite the legalistic dénouement, this story is less Erin Brokovich than an intimate look at the private lives affected by corporate callousness.
    If you’re a fan of television’s Big Love or The Big C, you’re already familiar with Marnich’s work. Or perhaps you were lucky enough to catch this show’s 2008 debut at Baltimore’s Center Stage. Regardless, this touching chronicle of friendship and suffering will arouse your anger and sympathy for Catherine (Sarah Wade), Charlotte (Krissy McGregor), Frances (Josette Dubois), Pearl (Aricia Skidmore-Williams) and thousands like them who, for over a decade, decorated watch faces with a paint composed of radium powder and their own saliva.
    From the Roaring Twenties to the Great Depression, these working girls were heady with newfound freedoms and “easy money” thanks to the newly discovered element thought to impart a healthy glow and beneficial side effects. They got $8 a day; they lost teeth, jaws, limbs, their jobs, their good names and their lives.
    Through it all, the men around them tiptoed around the obvious. Mr. Reed (David Carter), the supervisor, kept a watchful eye on their degeneration even as he denied the hazards of the job. The company doctor (Eric Hufford) prescribed aspirin and rest. Catherine’s adoring husband Tom (Ben Carr), suspicious from the start, nevertheless grew resentful of and dependent on his wife’s work even as she
withered before his unbelieving eyes.
    The powerful story could have been more affecting with a more elaborate set. For despite luminescent designs on the floor and walls, the recycled kitchenette and worktables are ineffective substitutes for a deathbed and courtroom, and even those pieces remain unchanged throughout the production. Period costumes add a colorful touch to an otherwise drab environment, as do the scratchy recordings. But a vintage cathedral radio and more period embellishments would have added a whole new dimension of ­reality and interest.
    From a performance standpoint, Wade glows as Katie, from her first ecstatic entrance to her dying breath, meshing with Hufford with palpable chemistry in last weekend’s fine understudy performance of husband Tom. Carter brings a charming smarminess to the role of the calculating boss. McGregor, Skidmore-Williams and Dubois construct a decent rapport as the smart aleck, the jokester and the moralist. Yet beyond a couple limps and a sling, they are less convincing than Wade in their personas and their frailties. Where are the crutches, the bruises, the pallor, the blacked-out teeth and the physical manifestation of persistent pain? Without them, the tragedy feels less immediate than it should.
    Still, this show does a good job of reminding us that precious time is ticking and we should never take a moment of our shining lives for granted.

Director: Craig Allen Mummey. Set designers: Mummey and Laurie Nolan. Sound: Keith Norris. Lights: Alex Brady. Costumes: Beth Terranova.
 
Playing thru May 31. ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm at Colonial Players Theater, 108 East St., Annapolis; rsvp: $20 w/discounts; 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.

Commemoration …   

Tuesday and Wednesday, the Blue Angels awe us with fearless acrobatics, then streak into the wild blue yonder, our imaginations trailing.
    Friday, the midshipmen of the U.S. Naval Academy class of 2014 receive their commissions.
    Monday completes the cycle.
    All the warriors we honor on Memorial Day were once young as those midshipmen, younger even, entrusting themselves to a future beyond their imagining.
    They were as confident as those Angels, prepared to soar beyond ordinary mortals.
    Then came the doing. In war and in peace, each man devoted himself, each woman herself, to a cause larger than the making of an individual life. In that service, many gave their lives or lost who they had been in limbs and peace of mind.
    On Memorial Day, as we honor the legions of dead warriors, their stories want to rise from the graves and columbariums to the ears of the living. It’s their quiet call that takes us to the cemeteries, to the memorial spaces and ceremonies. We make these journeys on the last Monday in May, when flowers — peonies, iris, spirea — are blooming. Decoration Day, the old name of a commemoration begun after the Civil War, filled cemeteries with flowers and witnesses, and the stories rose from all the graves, visited and lonely.
    Speaking the names of the dead warriors, recalling their stories, is a duty veterans hold sacred. Speaking for them in this Memorial Day issue of Bay Weekly is … Korean War veteran Bill Alli, of Bowie, whose book, Too Young for a Forgettable War, we recommend to you in The Reader. As well as Barb Robbins, Sara Russell and Donna Kurrle, interviewed at the Maryland World War II Memorial on the Severn River.

… And Celebration
    The only certain lesson taught by the dead is the fullness of life. Thus the flip side of Memorial Day is our celebration of summer’s beginning.
    You’ll step out of this Bay Weekly into the season.
    Start with These Shining Lives, Colonial Players’ memorial play to, writes Bay Weekly reviewer Jane Elkin, “remind us that precious time is ticking and we should never take a moment of our shining lives for granted.”
    Next? Chesapeake Country is your oyster.    
    Planning a visit to Eastern Shore? Ocean bound? You’ll be among 333,000 travelers in crossing the Bay Bridge. If that figure doesn’t deter you, neither should gephyrophobia. Folks who, like me, are afraid to make that crossing behind the wheel of their own car will find relief (and transportation) in Josh Powell’s story on the Kent Island Shuttle Service.
    If your Memorial Day and summer plans have you getting onto the water rather than over it, we remind you of another timely seasonal commemoration: Safe Boating Week. Bob Melamud’s story will guide you to your own safe boating season.
    Every summer taste will find its satisfaction in the 2014 Summer Fun Guide, Bay Weekly’s annual supplement tucked into this week’s paper. In its 44 pages, you’ll find ways to celebrate the 101 days of summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
    To make the most of summer 2014, keep this guide by your side. Do not recycle until September 2.

How Do You Have Summer Fun?
    Here at Bay Weekly, we know a lot of ways to have summer fun. What we don’t know is your favorite summer adventure. Do tell!
    I’m seeking stories for our upcoming issue, Making the Best of Summer in Chesapeake Country. Send me your stories (up to 250 words) and pictures of adventures good, great, calamitous and redeemed: editor@bayweekly.com, subject line Summer Adventures, please.

Plus Two Last Words
    In a broader memorial sense, we say two farewells in 2014’s Memorial Day paper. Puzzler Ben Tausig alerts us to his departure. Puzzles this week through June 26 play out his long good-bye.
    We also salute Dignity Players, which ended its nine-year run as the Theatre for Change on May 17, with the closing of The 39 Steps. Memorably honoring the company for its achievement is Bay Weekly theater reviewer Jim Reiter, who directed the curtain closer.

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

And one bright, streaking light

As the sky grows dark, the first light you’re likely to spot is Jupiter high in the west, slipping toward the horizon and setting around midnight. Above it are Pollux and Castor, the two brightest stars in the constellation Gemini. Orange-hued Pollux is the 17th brightest star, and white-hot Castor is the 23rd brightest. But at magnitude –2, Old Jove is exponentially brighter.
    Mars is another easy target, appearing high in the south at dark and setting in the west around 3:30am. While it is no brighter than a strong star, its steady red glow stands out among the stars.
    You’ll have to hunt for Mercury amid the ashen light of sunset, when the innermost planet hovers within 10 degrees of the west-northwest horizon. Mercury reaches its farthest point from the sun on the 25th, when it appears 15 degrees above our horizon at sunset and remains visible for almost two hours. These next couple weeks are the best chance all year to see this elusive planet at night. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights look for Mercury between the two stars that mark the horns of Taurus the bull.
    As Mercury sinks toward the northwest horizon, Saturn rises in the southeast. The ringed planet is also making its best nighttime appearance of the year and shines overhead from dusk until dawn. Below it snakes the form of Scorpius punctuated by red-glowing Antares.
    Venus is brilliant as the Morning Star low in the east at dawn. It rises around 5am, and as daybreak nears it blazes from its perch 15 degrees above the horizon. Keep an eye on its leisurely climb and you can spot it shining through the glare of early morning.
    Another bright light pierces the darkness this week, as the International Space Station makes several good appearances. At its dimmest, the ISS rivals any star; at its peak, it can rival Venus. But while the stars and planets give you time to pause, the space station streaks by in a matter of minutes. Traveling 17,000 miles an hour, it orbits the earth every 90 minutes. Unlike the lights from a passing airplane, you aren’t seeing the lights aboard the ISS. Instead, hovering 250 miles over the planet, the station receives plenty of sunlight, which is reflected back to our eyes.
    Friday morning the ISS appears in the southwest at 5:16am, climbing toward the celestia zenith, then disappearing in the northeast at 5:20. Saturday it appears almost 30 degrees above the south-southwest horizon at 4:30am, climbs another 30 degrees, then vanishes three minutes later in the east-northeast. Tuesday the station appears almost directly overhead at 3:42am and shoots to the north before disappearing two minutes later. For more detailed sighting opportunities, visit http://spotthestation.nasa.gov.

This raucous comedy proves good fences make good neighbors

On paper, Mac (Seth Rogen: This is the End) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne: Insidious: Chapter 2) are adults. They’re married. They have a baby. And they just sunk all of their money into a house in a perfect suburban neighborhood. In reality, both Mac and Kelly are a little bored with their new responsible life and jealous of friends who still party all night.
    The couple hopes for a change in routine and maybe some interesting neighbors. Dreaming for a progressive couple with children — or at least a Taco Bell — to take over the vacant house next door, the Radners are horrified when fraternity Delta Psi moves in. Known for loud, outrageous parties, Delta Psi’s last frat house burned down after an unfortunate fireworks incident.
    Priding themselves on being cool, the Radners visit the fraternity, introduce themselves and tell the boys to keep it down, offering marijuana from Mac’s personal stash. Fraternity leaders Teddy (Zac Efron: That Awkward Moment) and Pete (Dave Franco: The LEGO Movie) befriend the Radners, inviting them to a wild party and asking for a promise to call the boys rather than the cops.
    After a night of drugs, loud music and youthful hijinks, Kelly and Mac are hung over and exhausted. They vow to grow up. Their neighbors are still ready to party. After a week of nonstop loud music, wild parties and drunken antics, the Radners have had it with Delta Psi. Their baby is up all night, they get little sleep and worst of all, Delta Psi isn’t even inviting them back.
    Fed up, the Radners call the cops.
    This act of vengeance sparks a war between Delta Psi and the Radners. The brothers want to make the old couple suffer. Kelly and Mac want the college to revoke the fraternity’s charter. As the war escalates, pranks become more dangerous until mutual destruction seems the most likely outcome.
    Filled with nudity, cursing and brutal physical comedy, Neighbors is hilariously inappropriate. Director Nicholas Stoller (The Five Year Engagement) makes sure the movie earns its R rating with plenty of off-color humor and outrageous scenes, including a fight that features Rogen and Efron using adult toys in lieu of swords.
    While it’s certainly not sophisticated humor, it’s effective thanks to a great cast. As the couple desperate to prove they’re still cool, Rogen and Byrne are a dynamic duo. Both commit so fully to the Radners’ outrageous plans that you can’t help but laugh at their shared insanity. Rogen plays the same character he does in every movie: an affable stoner dealing with adult responsibilities against his will. It’s not too hard to see how Mac could get drawn into a battle with boys who represent everything he loved in college.
    Byrne is refreshing as a straight woman who becomes more unhinged and diabolical as the Delta Psi boys threaten. It’s also nice to have a female lead openly question why she must always be the level-headed partner in a relationship. Kelly bristles at the thought that being a mother automatically means she needs to be responsible for the household. Perhaps she ­shouldn’t be, as her strategies against the Delta Psi boys would make Patton quake in his boots.
    Efron is still a dismal actor, but he was born to play the role of a dim-bulb frat boy with well-toned abs and a vindictive streak. Stoller keeps his emotional beats to a bare minimum, using Efron’s flat performance to his advantage. Teddy has nothing to do but obsess over “getting even with the old people”; he certainly wouldn’t be studying or looking for a post-collegiate job.
    I admit to laughing along with the audience at this incredibly crude comedy, but I can’t in good conscience recommend Neighbors to a wide audience. If you loved The Heat, Bridesmaids and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, then Neighbors will delight you. But don’t go unprepared; several aghast parents rushed their children out of as I watched.

Good Comedy • R • 96 mins.

Compass Rose is the first theater to produce this edgy drama

“Why try something new when we already know what we like?” asks the conservative character in Compass Rose’s current production, Another Day On Willow Street.
    “Because,” says founding artistic director Lucinda Merry-Browne, “the future of theater depends on new works.”
    So Annapolis audiences are the first ever to see this new work by acclaimed playwright, author and actor Frank Anthony Polito. Chosen for its unique structure and strong themes, this edgy drama about two relationships in crisis leading up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks considers the themes of sacrifice and commitment against a backdrop of domestic stress, isolation and jealousy.
     Ian (Ric Andersen) and Stacy (Renata Plecha) have it all: a townhome on Willow Street, his Wall Street banking career and her early retirement from publishing to have their baby. Only problem is, she’s not ready and he’s too busy enjoying his role as sole breadwinner to indulge her fears. Going stir-crazy at home, she makes a friend at the park. Mark (Jonathan Lee Taylor) is a struggling actor who rents the studio next door and is living as a geographic bachelor separated from his love, Paul (Anthony Bosco), a Boston-based lawyer. Paul, who is nursing his dying mother, is pressuring Mark to help him fulfill her dying wish to see them married. Only problem is, Mark still hasn’t come out to his parents.
    There are a lot of phone calls and domestic squalls, crossed signals and crossed paths between unacquainted neighbors, Starbucks and even some gratuitous gay phone sex as each couple hashes out the same issues in parallel conversations that echo each other. The main message, stated twice, is that, “people put things off and put things off and put things off only to realize their lives are over.” Not an original thought, but one worth repeating.
     Set and lighting are minimal, characters clichéd and dialogue circular. Yet there is some strong acting. Most notable are Bosco and Taylor, both Equity actors who were cast as last minute replacements with just one week to learn the show. Each fleshes out his role, to the extent the script allows, with finesse. Plecha, last seen as the nurse in Compass Rose’s Romeo and Juliet, is also convincing as the reluctant housewife.
    However, Andersen, last seen as Bob Ewell in Compass Rose’s To Kill a Mockingbird, is wooden and one-dimensional. There is more chemistry between Stacy and the gay neighbor than there is between husband and wife.  
     From a technical perspective, the blocking is awkward, often requiring downstage actors to turn their backs on the audience to carry on conversations with those upstage.
    Other problems come with the script. Characters’ names are barely used the first half of the show, making it hard to identify them. The play has a general flatness, and the roller-coaster of a pseudo dramatic arc culminates in a confusing climax, tidy resolution and abrupt ending.
    This is no instant classic, but it will make you think about the transience of life and the fragility of love.
    Adult themes make this show inappropriate for ages under 16, and runtime is advertised as 75 minutes with no intermission, yet opening night ran an extra 15 minutes.

Director: Lucinda Merry-Browne. Costumes: Julie Bays. Lights: Chris Timko.
Playing thru May 31. Th 7pm; FSa 8pm; Sa May 24 2pm and 8pm; Su and Sa May 31 2pm. Compass Rose Theater, Annapolis. $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-980-6662; www.compassrosetheater.org.

Time to hook our wagons to energy unlimited

Formidable is the fecundity of the vegetable kingdom.    
    Over just a couple of weeks, Chesapeake County has been conquered by green. So quickly that you have to be looking to notice the creeping change, as leaves, seeds and flowers shoot forth. Trunks, branches and limbs of apparently dead trees have burst into green life.
    Seemingly overnight, leaves have grown from miniscule hands to palms so big they could belong to giants. From the bare earth, flowers rise, expanding while your back was turned from frail sprouts to aggressive life forms. Food is growing in our gardens.
    Not just us in this well-watered, sun-kissed, mostly temperate earthly paradise. The vegetative drive for life is universal. Even in arid climates like the Sonora Desert down Phoenix way, cactus and wildflowers burst into spring bloom.
    All this from seeds often no bigger than specks.
    By comparison, humanity is a 90-pound weakling. Like our babies, our inventions have long gestations. Our planet-wide search for energy, the dominant quest of the last two centuries, has yielded nothing to compare with the force that through the green fuse drives the flower. (Poet Dylan Thomas came up with that phrase.)
    I am riding the boom.
    These are our salad days, when we eat greens from our little well-composted garden rather than from cello-bags. Sweet lettuces and peppery arugula are filling our bowls. Spinach lasagna is in delicious season. Forget dried herbs; parsley, oregano, sage and thyme are fat bushes. Mint and lemon balm are already trying to take over. Even sun-loving basil is forgiving its early planting. Catnip is thriving for naught, for the cat for whom it was planted seems nearing the end of his too-short life. Like poor Jungle Bob, my brown turkey fig tree may be a goner — but the life force is strong, so I’m prepared to be surprised.
    Had I planted asparagus, I’d be cutting my own spears rather than making regular stops at Dick and Jane’s Farm Stand and occasional forays to the grower’s tailgate market on Route 4 below the Route 258 exchange. But as Dr. Frank Gouin writes in this week’s Bay
Gardener, “asparagus is a long-term crop.”
    It also, he says, “requires advance preparations.”
    Either I’m heedless, or I’ve never dared make the commitment. With this column, I’ll no longer have the easy excuse of ignorance. The Bay Gardener tells us how, when and to what depth to dig those asparagus trenches, offering alternatives according to how we wish to cut our spears, above ground (shallower) or below (deeper).
    Asparagus is not the half of it. The wise doctor’s columns not infrequently force me to examine my character, if not my conscience. The clueless gardener of April 24’s Know Your Plants Before You Buy could have been me. I’m cursed with the results of planting things that seemed good ideas at the time. Christmas trees are aspiring to Washington Monument size. Cute bushes have turned into hungry hydras. Innocent-seeming ground-covers have revealed themselves as Sorcerer’s Apprentices. Some time in the history of all those mistakes, could I not have planted asparagus?
    Apparently not.
    Perhaps this is the year, when I’ve vowed to turn over a new leaf.
    My newly drawn landscape plan is my guide on all visits to plant sales and garden centers. So far, it’s working. Flowers, shrubs and trees reach out to tempt me, but I resist. Unless they’re on the plan, herbs or essential annuals, they find no room in my cart, car or garden. I’ve yielded only once, to native bleeding heart touted irresistibly by a garden saleswoman at last weekend’s William Paca Garden plant sale. Three pots of that old-fashioned perennial, one I’ve always loved, took me over my Mother’s Day budget. But the other dozen were all approved on my plan.
    Asparagus wants sun, so my advance preparations begin with watching the hour-spread of light on my little piece of earth. If the light is right, there’s a ready-drawn place in my plan for an asparagus trench. There’ll be no instant gratification should I make this planting. “Do not harvest asparagus spears until the beginning of the third growing season,” the Bay Gardener warns. On this end, that seems so long. In retrospect, three years will be no time.

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

The female harvest is the ­tipping point

Maryland’s favorite crustacean is in serious trouble, according to Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ 2013 Winter Dredge Survey for blue crabs. Once again, the species is teetering at the edge of collapse.
    The numbers approach population levels in 2008, when the feds labeled the fishery a disaster.
    DNR reads this year’s numbers differently: “crabbing is at safe levels,” according to a recent press release. “The crabbing harvest remained at a safe level for the sixth consecutive year.”
    That interpretation begs comment.
    During the six-year period of presumably safe harvest levels, the overall crab population plunged by at least 70 percent. Is that not alarming?
    Commercial and recreational harvest limits are the primary management tools for controlling crab populations. But they went virtually unused for six straight years.
    Anson Hines, senior scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, confirms fears about continuing difficulties with Chesapeake blue crab populations.
    In the 2008 crisis, part of the problem was harvest quotas based on flawed science. DNR had long claimed that the female blue crab spawned only once in her lifetime, so any size mature female could be taken without reducing the species’ ability to reproduce.    
    When that science was revisited, it was found that mature females spawn again and again. The overall female population, quite possibly, was the key to blue crab stability.
    By then, crab numbers were so low that the natural resources departments in both Maryland and Virginia — plus the Potomac River Fishery — began cooperating to rebuild the devastated species for the first time ever.
    In 2008-2009, winter dredging of dormant females in the Virginia portion of the Bay was halted. Maryland attempted to reduce fishing of females down the Bay in the fall. These actions achieved unprecedented protection for females throughout the Bay.
    These moves were a particularly big deal for Virginia because the crabbing industry in the lower Chesapeake depends significantly on female crabs. As the females prefer the higher salinity of the southern waters, their numbers are densest there. That’s also where all blue crabs spawn. This sparsely populated area relies on commercial fishing for jobs and income. Most of the cost of the fishery reduction was absorbed by Virginia watermen.
    The cutback led to a swift and extraordinary population resurgence. Within two years, the blue crab population rebuilt itself. The Bay saw some of its best recent crabbing seasons.
    But with that population build-up came commercial demands for renewed access to the females.
    During all of these periods of crisis, harvest of females continued under varying degrees of limitation throughout the Bay.
    The harvest of immature female blue crabs by the soft crab industry has never abated. Tens of thousands of small (three-and-a-half-inch minimum size), immature, never-spawned peeler and soft-phase females are harvested with scant control over limits.
    Just four years ago, recognizing at some level a population decline in progress, DNR made keeping female hard crabs by recreational crabbers illegal.
    That move generally transferred that portion of the recreational harvest over to the commercial sector. DNR did little else to abate the harvest of the sooks. What followed was the ecological crisis of 2014.
    This situation points to a serious and continuing shortcoming in the philosophy and management of the species. Based on DNR’s own statistics, from 1990 to 2000 the population of reproductive females in the lower Bay declined by more than 80 percent during the spawning season. The population remained at record low levels until 2008 and triggered the declaration of disaster.
    Now again in 2014, populations are back to seriously low levels, quite possibly because of the continuing and substantial commercial harvest of female crabs. Is that policy wise?

It’s good to eat and pretty enough for the flower garden

Asparagus is a vegetable that’s good looking enough to be planted in the flower garden. The foliage makes an excellent garden backdrop or can be used in sunny beds to give light shade to flowers that prefer partial shade.  I remember a flower garden where asparagus provided shade for an under-story planting of impatients and verbena. The effect was most attractive as the asparagus foliage created the impression of looking through a light fog.
    The lacy foliage varies from light-green to purplish-green depending on variety. Several harvests of the spears can be made before you allow the stems to grow to maturity.  
    To keep volunteers from taking over your flower garden, seek to buy male plants. If that’s not doable, dig out the berry-producing female plants.
    Asparagus requires advance preparations and well-drained soil.
    Asparagus are grown from roots purchased from nurseries, garden catalogs or garden centers. The roots are generally packaged in bundles of 10 to 25. Most asparagus roots are dug up in the fall and placed in cold storage for spring planting. However, soil preparation should start in the fall with a soil test. Asparagus is a long-term crop, so the pH and nutrient concentrations should be at their optimum levels from the very beginning.
    In commercial production, roots are planted deep to facilitate harvesting and minimize irrigation. Mechanical harvesters cut spears below the surface of the soil.
    Home gardeners who plant their asparagus roots deep can cut the spears underground, harvesting white-stemmed spears. Asparagus crowns can alternately be planted just a few inches below the surface of the soil. But shallow-planted beds are likely to need irrigating.
     To prepare an asparagus bed for cutting spears below the surface of the ground, remove the top six inches of soil in a trench approximately 12 inches wide. In the bottom of the trench, add a two-inch-thick layer of compost and spade or rototill as deeply as possible. Cover the excavated soil with an inch of compost and blend it with the soil. In the spring, remove about a two-inch layer of soil from the ditch and spread the roots of each asparagus crown, spacing crowns a foot apart. Cover the crowns with two to three inches of the amended soil. Check the trench weekly and add additional soil as the stems elongate. Avoid covering the spears.
    If you are planting the crowns shallow, incorporate a one- to two-inch layer of compost as deep as possible into the soil and dig a three- to four-inch-deep trench for planting the crowns.
    Do not harvest asparagus spears until the beginning of the third growing season. The first harvest should be limited to two or three cuttings. At the end of the harvesting season, mulch the bed with a two-inch layer of compost. For additional growth, spread one-half cup of calcium nitrate per 10 square feet.
    The onion hoe is the ideal tool for weeding asparagus beds.
    I apply Preen only after the harvest is complete with a second application in September to control winter weeds. Preen, which is made from fluoride, is cleared for use on vegetables and will control grasses but only a few broadleaf weeds. It is most effective when applied on clean, cultivated soil and watered or cultivated into the soil immediately. Preen provides weed control for only six to eight weeks.


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