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Plant a flower garden and extend your acquaintance

Lantana drew this common buckeye butterfly to Sandra Bell’s Port Republic garden. “Butterflies and hummingbirds love them!” she wrote of this bright, cluster-flowered species of verbena.
    They’re drawn to open, sunny areas with low vegetation and some bare ground. The six eyespots on the buckeye’s wings discourage predators that take if for something bigger. The warmth-loving species lays three broods in the deep South, and some of those progeny reach as far north as Canada.

It’s rewarding all around

There is nothing in the world like the feeling you get when you adopt a homeless animal.
    They say the animal you rescue will know that you saved them, and I have experienced that first hand.
    Our current pack is as diverse as they come, with all of these amazing animals rescued from the SPCA of Anne Arundel County. Fred, a Lab-great Dane mix who loves everyone and everything, was rescued in 2007, Tank, the St. Bernard, joined the family in 2010; yes, shelters have purebred animals. Mabel was 12 when we adopted her, yet she has more energy than all of us combined; senior animals need homes too. To round out the pack, we are fostering Casper, who is a dog in a cat suit. With some special medical needs, Casper is thriving in our home. I am now a cat person. My husband and I feel like we are the lucky ones. Please consider the benefits of adopting or fostering with a local shelter.

–Lisa Gyory is with SPCA of Anne Arundel County

How else to explain such a catch?

Pulling on the trotline one final time to straighten it and ensure proper tension, we dropped the red trailing float and released its anchor into the water, completing the setup. It was just after sunrise, an early start being a necessity when hoping for a good catch of blue crabs. Still, we also knew our job was not going to be easy.
    There had been nothing but bad news this season on the local population of jimmies. My friend Frank had invited me on this trip with the understanding that he needed a basket of crabs for a gathering later that very afternoon. But, perhaps, if we caught enough, a few fat males might come my way.
    That possibility, I knew, was slim to none. But hope springs eternal on the Chesapeake. We also had two lucky charms with us: two of Frank’s granddaughters, Emma and Sydney, ages nine and 10.
    If anything tugs at the heartstrings of crabbing’s Lady Luck, it’s a youngster on board, and two female youngsters pull on them that much more. Frank and I, of course, had no idea how much good fortune the girls would bring.

Fishing a Trotline
    A simple crabbing trotline has the chicken neck baits tied directly onto the line, generally one every five to seven feet. There is a drawback to that simplicity. When the line begins to be pulled up off the bottom, the weight of the crab grasping the neck flips it over. Often that startles the critter enough to cause it to drop off.
    Our trotline, however, was rigged with snoods. A snood is a dropper line about six inches long knotted onto the main line and rigged with a slip loop to hold the chicken neck. This tends to keep crabs holding on all the way to the surface as the line is pulled up.
    Our first run was startling. In recent seasons, the number of crabs in the Bay has dropped significantly, to about half that of years past and worse in some areas. If a sport crabber nets just a few legal (51⁄4 inches) males off a trot line with some 200 baits, lately that’s considered a good catch.
    When we reached the end of the line and lifted it off the roller, we rushed back to the culling basket and counted. Fourteen keeper-sized jimmies crowded the bottom, fiercely brandishing big, bright blue claws and daring us to come closer. It was an awesome beginning, but, we feared, unlikely to continue.
    Then it did. Taking turns, the girls netted crab after crab. Occasionally, the girls relinquished their nets to do a share of the culling, allowing us adults to make the catch.
    Within an hour, keeper jimmies were filling the big orange basket, climbing up and over the top to scuttle into the confines of the boat. That wouldn’t do. So we put a lid on the first basket and pulled out a second.
    Well before the end of the morning, the impossible was accomplished: Two bushels of big, beautiful blue crabs, one for Frank, and the other, quite miraculously, for me. Motoring back to the dock we all congratulated ourselves and, especially, our lucky charms.

Fall gardens want compost

It is highly unlikely your garden has used up all the fertilizer you applied this spring. This is especially true if your garden soil is rich in organic matter and you used lots of compost.
    Compost raises soil temperatures, while its organic matter releases nutrients at a rate nearly equivalent to the needs of plants. The roots from the previous crop are also decomposing and releasing nutrients.
    If you used your own compost or one based on yard debris, your plants will benefit from an application of nitrogen. But if you used compost from lobster waste or crab waste, you’ve almost certainly got all the nitrogen your fall crops will need.
    If you are an organic gardener, blood meal, cottonseed meal and fish emulsion are good sources of nitrogen. Other sources of nitrogen include calcium nitrate, ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate and urea. Don’t apply slow-release formulas on fall vegetable gardens.
    Fall gardening is an excellent time to maximize your use of compost. If you are tilling the soil to control weeds, incorporate compost into that surface layer of soil. With soil temperatures into the upper 70s, the compost will instantly start releasing nutrients at just the correct rate to promote good steady growth of plants. As the soil begins to cool in mid-September, the release rate of nutrients from the compost will decrease. At the same time, the nutrient requirements of maturing plants will be less. After soil temperatures drop into the 30s, the compost will stop releasing nutrients, thus reducing nutrients lost to leaching. As soon as soil warms in the spring, the organic matter in the compost will start releasing nutrients.
    Another advantage of applying compost in the fall is that spring garden tilling will incorporate the residual compost more deeply into the soil, where it will help reduce the bulk density of the soil and improve its structure.
    Organic matter does so much good for soils. In addition to providing nutrients and reducing the density of soil, compost also has disease suppression properties most effective when applied in late summer. Soil-borne diseases are most prevalent when soil temperatures are high. Applying compost to your garden soil in time for planting the fall crop helps maximize all of the benefits compost has to offer.
    Only where you’re planting carrots do you want to skip the compost. Carrots grown in composted soil will look like clusters of fingers. That’s because high levels of organic matter tend to cause multiple roots to develop on tap-rooted plants. I reported these findings from studies I conducted in the mid 1970s on the use of compost in the production of black walnut trees. This effect was beneficial for producing walnut seedlings for transplanting but not good for growing carrots, where a single root is preferred.


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

Cool-weather vegetables are ready to plant mid-summer

Now that spring-planted lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi and potatoes have been harvested, it’s time to prepare your fall garden. Many spring vegetables can be repeated. Beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots cauliflower, lettuce, peas and snap beans love the cool weather of fall. Most can be planted in the garden from late-July to mid-August.
    Unless your garden is heavily infested with weeds, there is no need to till or plow the soil.  If the weeds have taken over, mow them first with the lawnmower or weed-wacker. Then till as shallow as possible to destroy the weeds. Shallow or no tilling helps conserve soil moisture and delays the formation of plow pan.
    Seeds of fall beets, carrots, peas and snap beans can be sown in the garden during the last two weeks of July.
    If you are growing your own transplants of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage and kohlrabi, it’s also time to sow those seeds indoors in air-conditioning. As soon as the seeds germinate, move them outdoors to grow in full sun.
    Delay the sowing of lettuce seeds until the second week in August.
    To maximize production, I sow beets, carrots and peas in double rows six to eight inches apart. To reduce the need for thinning carrots, I mix equal parts by volume of carrot seeds with dry ground coffee. Ground coffee has approximately the same bulk density and size as carrot seeds.
    To minimize having to thin beets, I mix equal amounts of sawdust and beet seeds before sowing.
    Soon after sowing the peas, I install 48-inch-tall chicken wire supported by bamboo stakes for the peas to climb.
    Since I grow my own transplants, I direct seed using cell packs and commercial potting mix. Direct seeding means placing two seeds in each cell. This method reduces the need to transplant and results in larger plants because the growth of seedlings is not delayed. I sow the seeds at least one inch apart. If both seeds germinate, I save the larger seedling and either snip away the other seedling or carefully remove it to transplant into a cell where the seeds failed to germinate.
    If you are purchasing transplants, do so soon after they appear on the market, and plant them promptly in the garden. The longer you keep those plants in the cell packs, the longer they will take to become established in the garden soil. If the transplants are growing in peat pots, tear away the tops of the pots before planting them. If the top edge of the peat pots is allowed to remain above ground in the garden, the root balls are likely to dry out because the exposed peat will wick away water from the root balls.
    If you see a dense mat of roots on the outer edge of the root ball when you lift the plants from the cell pack, crush the root ball to force the root to grow into your garden soil. Root-bound plants establish slowly.

Help Bailey find his way home

Oh where, oh where has this giant dog gone? Oh where, oh where can he be?
    Five-year-old Bailey, a 120-plus-pound all white Great Pyrenees, ought to be hard to lose. But in the month since Bailey wandered away from his West River home, owners Janet and Bennett Crandell have found not a clue to his whereabouts.
    “People from Edgewater to Waldorf are saying, I could swear that I’d seen that dog,” Janet Crandell says. “But the sightings have not been Bailey.”
    Bailey and the family’s second dog, golden retriever Bella, went missing July 4. A door was left ajar, and both dogs slipped out. Bella soon turned up rolling in a nearby horse field. Bailey has not been seen since.    
    Family members, friends, neighbors and strangers have joined in the search. Crandell has contacted Anne Arundel County Animal Control, the SPCA and rescue organization Dogs Finding Dogs. The Anne Arundel County Police Department is keeping an eye out for the big dog.
    The area has been blanketed with flyers. One volunteer used his boat for a shoreline search. Drones are in on the hunt. Social media are buzzing with 25,000 hits and hundreds of shares on the Facebook page Bringmybaileyhome. Phone calls at all hours report possible sightings.
    “I am so overwhelmingly blessed to have such an outpouring of support,” Crandell says. “I feel as though I have 20,000 new friends. But I feel someone out there has him.”
    A reward is offered for the safe return of this laid-back dog, so agreeable that the Crandell’s seven-month-old grandchild happily crawled over him.
    “I’m begging for his safe return,” Crandell says. “No questions asked.”
    Bailey was last seen in the area of Crandell Road, off Muddy Creek Road. Friendly as he is, he’ll evade a chase. Should you see him, call him by name.
    If you believe you’ve see him or know where he is, the Crandell family wants to hear from you: 443-994-9339; on Twitter at #bringmybaileyhome; Facebook at Bringmybaileyhome.

Recreational anglers deserve their fair share of the catch

Our white perch have long waited for Maryland Department of Natural Resources to give them a formal management program. A plan proposed in 1990 stalled over opposition from commercial fishermen. A 2005 effort failed again.
    Finally, an updated management program is under way and a draft released for comment. In reading the 2015 Review of the Maryland White Perch Fishery Management Plan, I was pleased and only a little disappointed.
    The good news is that DNR officials thought enough of the species for another attempt at implementing a management plan. Disappointing, however, are text and the tone, which indicate that all is well so nothing needs to be done: “Restrictive measures on either the commercial or recreational fishery does not appear necessary at this time.”
    One of the management plan’s goals is to “Provide for fair allocation of allowable harvest, consistent with traditional uses, among components of the fishery.” Yet no specific allocations have ever been established for either commercial or recreational fishing. Essentially, the white perch fishery remains a free for all.
    I fish for white perch a great deal, and over recent years the number of 10-inchers I catch has fallen significantly. My experience is confirmed in conversations with fellow anglers. There seem to be a lot fewer nice perch in the western mid-Bay.
    In updating white perch management, I wish DNR would note the imbalance between approximately 500,000 saltwater recreational anglers in Maryland and fewer than 500 commercial watermen fishing for white perch. Yet the commercials take is two to three times the recreational harvest.
    Springtime white perch is one of the most popular of the early-season recreational fisheries on the Bay. Yet as soon as commercial white perch nets go up each spring, the majority of the tributary sportfishing dies for good-sized white perch.
    Once commercial operators have removed their desired take (estimated at 1.5 million to 2 million pounds annually), the remaining white perch may very well not be worth the effort of fishing for them.
    Since Maryland’s recreational fishery generates about 10 times the income to the state (per NOAA studies) as the commercial fishery, and the dollars generated from the sale of recreational fishing licenses make up the majority of DNR’s operating ­budget, should not a priority be placed on more equitable scheduling aimed at providing a better quality experience for the sporting angler?
    Also problematic is by-catch, including the by-catch of perch during the rockfish gill netting season and the by-catch of rockfish, spot, croaker and young menhaden via perch netting. The waste of valuable marine life is lamentable and avoidable with proper planning, scheduling and the proper gear.
    The 2015 White Perch Management Plan has every potential for affecting all of these issues. I wish the plan all possible success.

Big Eye keeps the birds away

For years I have covered my blueberry plants with bird netting just before the berries start turning blue. The netting was suspended from wires stretched on top of eight-foot-tall piles.  After harvest, the netting had to be removed and returned to storage. This was a demanding job that required most of a day. Despite my best efforts, mocking birds and robins always managed to eat the berries. They entered the cage on their own, but once in they were stuck until I freed them. Occasionally, a black snake would become tangled in the bird netting, and I had to spend time cutting it loose without being bitten.
    The bird netting could survive only four or five growing seasons, so purchasing replacement netting was a regular expense. Then I’d have to hand-sew several sheets together to match the measurements of my blueberry patch. Sewing bird netting is quite tedious because it is always catching on something and the material is very flimsy. The job wasn’t over yet because to make certain that the netting was properly positioned each season, I sewed a three-quarter-inch-thick rope at one end. I used the rope to roll the netting for storage and tagged it at one end with the word south to indicate the direction of placement.
    Never again.
    Last year a friend gave me five bright yellow and one black inflatable polyethylene balloons, each measuring 18 inches in diameter when inflated. Each balloon has five large painted eyes, each with bright aluminum centers. Dangling below each balloon is an aluminized plastic strip a foot long and an inch wide. Tied loosely to wires above plants, the balloons move with the wind.  
    Since these balloons have been hanging above the blueberry plants, I have not seen one bird come within 50 feet of them. I only wish the Japanese beetles, which are feeding on my nearby raspberry plants, were as afraid of those balloons as the birds are.


Share the Bounty
    Remember to contribute your surplus fresh produce to local food banks or pantries to avoid waste and allow others to benefit from your gardening skills.


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

Net a Crab

Our beautiful swimmers are starting to run

Dennis Doyle’s cautious Sporting Life report that crabbing finally “may be improving” is seconded by commercial crabbers, who are notorious pessimists. Better still, we’ve seen chicken-neckers pulling in crabs at local piers.
    Chicken-necking for Chesapeake Bay blue crabs requires you spend a quiet morning or afternoon alongside the Bay or one of its rivers. It gives you the fun of catching wily crustaceans. Then you get to eat them.
    You don’t need any fancy equipment or permits. Maryland allows catching up to two dozen crabs per angler per day without a license, and a dozen crabs is a generous meal for just about anyone.
    What you do need is a ball of cotton twine for your hand lines, a package of chicken necks (easily acquired at most grocery or bait stores), an inexpensive, wire crabbing net, a ruler to measure your crabs and a basket to hold your catch. A pair of tongs or some thick gloves are also helpful for handling your feisty catch; their claws can pinch hard.
    For each of your hand lines, strip off about 15 feet of string and tie a chicken neck securely to one end. Tie the other end to the pier or on some shoreline structure. Throw the neck into the water. You can use any number of baited lines.
    When a crab happens upon your chicken neck, it will immediately attempt to swim off with it, and your line will straighten out. Gently take the string in your fingers and slowly pull it back. If you’re careful, the crab will hold on until it nears the surface of the water. You or a companion must be ready with the net at that point.
    Position the net in the water a foot or two down below where you believe the crab will appear. Note that a crab will always flee downward. Pull the crab up until you can see it. Then scoop from below as quickly as you can.
    If you’ve been successful, measure the crab before you put it in your basket to be sure he’s legal size, at least 51⁄4 inches from tip to tip. All females, distinguished by their triangle-shaped apron on the underside, must be returned to the water.
    In Anne Arundel County, Sandy Point State Park has a nice crabbing pier, as does Carr’s Wharf in Mayo, the latter with no fee. There is also good free crabbing at Jonas Green Park at the Severn River Bridge. In Calvert, chicken neck free from piers at Solomons and at Kings Landing Park in Huntingtown.
    Find information on where to crab, regulations on sizes and seasons at Maryland Department of Natural Resources website: dnr.state.md.us/fisheries.

My guests were not who I expected

At Ivy Neck Farm in Cumberstone on the shores of Rhode River, we have a dock and a very nice boat with a swim platform. We also have a considerable number of river otters who catch fish and oysters and seem to enjoy the swim platform on the boat as a convenient place to eat dinner. They leave an awful mess.
    To see who came to dinner, I set up my game camera on the dock. My bait was an old rockfish carcass nailed to the pier to keep the river otters from carrying it off.
    The next morning, the fish was gone and the camera had fired a number of photos. What they showed was no river otter but a pair of magnificent eagles. They look to me like one of the well-established pair of eagles I often see on Rhode River and in our farm fields where they hunt for small mammals.
    What amazed me was how polite they were to each other in sharing the food. I think that the very large eagle is the male, and that the smaller eagle is his mate.  
    So much for trying to get pictures of river otters.