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After rescue and recuperation, turtles released on World Sea ­Turtle Day

After seven months of swimming circles doing rehab in the pools at the National Aquarium, two juvenile green sea turtles have returned to the open wilds of the ocean, stronger and healthier.
    The duo swam into the waters off Assateague Island National Seashore on June 16. The date marked World Sea Turtle Day and coincided with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Turtle Week as well as the National Park Service’s centennial and the Aquarium’s Animal Care Center’s 25th anniversary.
    Hardhead and Beachcomber (all of the patients get nicknames) came to the center in November 2015. Hardhead was rescued on the coast of Delaware and transferred to the aquarium for long-term rehabilitation. He arrived with a low body temperature, broken ribs and a torn lung, which left him unable to swim.
    Beachcomber suffered a rare blood infection and kidney problems after being stranded along the coast of Cape Cod. Thanks to a round of antibiotics and assisted feeding, he has returned to eating on his own and is healthy enough to return to his natural habitat.
    “The triumph of returning a healthy animal to the wild is the reason we have such a devoted Animal Rescue team,” says Aquarium Rescue program manager Jennifer Dittmar. “The program is successful today with the help of our staff, volunteers and the good Samaritans who call in tips.”
    Ten rehabbed Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles from the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium and National Marine Life Center animal rescue programs were also released. These turtles were among some 200 cold-stunned turtles that washed up on Cape Cod beaches this winter.
    Since 1991, the National Aquarium team has successfully rescued, treated and returned more than 160 animals to their natural habitats, primarily along the Maryland coastline.
    “Our sea turtle stranding and entanglement network partners improve the survival of not just these individual animals,” says NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Program Coordinator Dave Gouveia. “They are making a big difference in the recovery of these threatened and endangered species as a whole, and to our understanding of the threats these species face.”

Once trees reach a certain size, roots cannot re-stabilize the plant

The combination of saturated soil and strong winds has tilted trees and tall shrubs. If the trunk of a tilted tree is thicker than four ­inches, it is unlikely that the tree can be straightened and remain upright without permanent support. This is also true of large shrubs. The problem lies with the inability of roots larger than two inches in diameter to regenerate and develop sufficient size to stabilize the plant.
    This spring I have seen several large arborvitae, spruce and maple trees that appeared to have been blown over now supported with ropes and cables in an effort to straighten them. In most instances this is futile without a permanent brace, especially if the plant is part of a hedge or screen. In this case the problem is not only the plant’s inability to generate new roots from the large roots but also root competition from surrounding plants.
    Another problem associated with trying to straighten a large tree or shrub is girdling. Wrapping a cable, chain or rope around the stem of a plant and leaving it for more than a year will strangulate it. As the diameter of the stem increases, the binding will prevent the stem from enlarging above the point of contact, resulting in death of the higher portions. Whenever wrapping anything around a growing stem, readjust the ties periodically and pad them with wide straps or slats of vinyl or wood to distribute the pressure on the stem.
    Where plants growing in a screen or hedge have been blown over, it is generally best to remove the plant and allow the adjoining plants to fill in the space. With competition removed, nearby branches will occupy the vacant space with surprising speed. A common practice in commercial nurseries is to dig every other plant, allowing the remaining ones to nearly double their size in half the normal time because of less competition for light, water and nutrients.
    The problems with replacing blown-over plants with new plants is matching the existing plants in size, shape and color. After new plants are in place, they must be kept properly irrigated because the roots of surrounding established plants have a greater capacity to absorb water.
    Narrow-leaf evergreen screens and hedges have another problem, especially if they are dense, in bottom branches with no live needles. Unlike deciduous trees and shrubs, narrow-leaf evergreens are not able to grow new branches after needles have fallen. The complete loss of live green needles means death to that branch. Thus, for trees like arborvitae, pine, spruce, juniper, fir and chamaecyparis, dead-looking brown, brittle branches will never turn green again.


Free Gita Bean Seeds

    Over the years, I have recommended growing Gita pole beans in your garden. Fully mature, Gita beans will grow to a length of almost three feet. However, harvested when they are about 12" to 18" long with a diameter of a pencil, they are tasty and tender. Gita perform best in the heat of summer in full sun. The plants will grow up to 10 feet in height and will flower and produce fruit simultaneously. For the past two years I have been collecting seeds and testing them.
    If you would like to try growing Gita beans, send me a self-addressed stamped envelope, and I will return to you a dozen or more seeds. Send your letter to F.R. Gouin, 420 E. Bay Front Rd., Deale, MD 20751.


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

You’re not alone in loving soft crabs

In early morning, we were drifting bridge structure for rockfish on a slowly moving tide. I had already dropped down my bait, lightly weighted with just a quarter-ounce twist-on sinker, and fed out plenty of line. Thinking it finally near the rubble-strewn floor 30 feet below, I put my thumb on the spool and lifted the rod tip to give the bait a bit of motion. I may have waited too long. Apparently my rig was hung up on the bottom.
    Shifting the Yamaha into reverse, I crept back up-current to get a better angle to try to work it loose. But the line angled off in an unexpected direction into the water.
    Suddenly suspicious, I put the reel in gear, cranked in line to eliminate any slack and lifted the rod in a strike. Something powerful came immediately alive on the other end, unhappy with the sudden pressure. My spool blurred, and the drag hummed as a large and angry fish headed away. The king of baits had seduced another victim.
    Bait-fishing is about the oldest technique for catching fish on hook and line. It also remains the deadliest. From producing the most fish to securing the largest, it continues to be the ultimate method.
    However, not all baits are equal.
    Worms, baitfish of all types, clams, squid, shrimp and their ilk are all great producers at one time or another on the Chesapeake. But one bait in particular will outproduce all others: the soft crab.
    Like human epicureans, most of the fish in the Bay love soft crab. Its mere scent makes virtually every species of pan or game fish throw caution to the wind in their desire to find and consume it.
    Anglers determined to tempt larger rockfish from their lairs will often find that just a half or quarter of a soft crab is sufficient to get their attention. Many anglers prefer to present these baits on a treble hook, believing that the extra hook points mean a more solid purchase within the bait, so they can strike instantly upon noticing any degree of bite and be assured of a hook-up.
    The 34-incher below that bridge abutment was just the last of our limit that morning to fall victim to our supply of softies. The remainder of our baits we would use (in smaller pieces) to temp the lunker white perch that often populate the bases of the same bridge piers that larger rockfish like to frequent.
    Though rockfish consider most white perch legitimate prey, an 11- or 12-inch perch with big, needle-sharp spikes on its fins is usually safe from all but the largest rockfish. While these big perch are well experienced, having survived at least six or seven seasons and among the more difficult types to entice with the usual baits, they, too, cannot resist a piece of tasty soft crab.

Chesapeake Curiosities

Sonora Smart Dodd wanted a holiday to match Mother’s Day in honor of fathers because she and her five siblings were raised by a widower. She worked to gain — and found — community support. Her home state, Washington, was the first to have a recognized Father’s Day in 1910. In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday.
    In the intervening years, the idea drew some controversy. In the early years, opponents criticized Father’s Day as a commercial invention, requiring gifts for a made-up reason. In the 1920s and 1930s, a movement rose to scrap both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in favor of a unified Parent’s Day.
    The Depression and World War II cemented Father’s Day as retailers seized on the holiday to bolster business. During World War II, the holiday gained favor as another way to honor the men serving their country away from home.
    This year, consumers are anticipated to spend an average $125.92 on Father’s Day, according to the National Retail Foundation’s annual survey. That’s up $10 from last year’s $115.57. Total spending is expected to reach $14.3 billion, the highest in the survey’s 13-year history but still below this year’s Mother’s Day total of $21.4 billion.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

Scientists refute their reputation as oyster bandits

The rays are back. Anglers and paddlers are already spotting schools — sometimes called fevers — of cownose rays in Bay waters.
    Perhaps this year they will be met with a warmer welcome than in years past thanks to a long-awaited acquittal for their impacts on wild oyster populations.
    These gentle gliders migrate up the Bay in May to give birth to their pups. They generally stay till October. A decade ago, cownose rays in the Atlantic were accused of gorging on oysters in the Bay at the time oyster populations were crashing. The rays became the villains.
    An ensuing campaign to “Save the Bay, Eat a Ray” encouraged ray fishing tournaments as well as creative efforts to promote cownose ray as a table fish.
    New research has cleared the big flappers of many charges of villainy.
    Rays eat oysters — as we do — when they can get them.
    “Both oyster restoration and aquaculture efforts placed large numbers of small single oysters out where rays could eat them like popcorn,” explains Smithsonian Environment Research Center scientist Matt Ogburn. “By modifying how oysters are planted on shellfish beds (i.e., oyster spat set on shell), predation has been minimized.”
    The historic decline of oysters in the Bay seems to have more to do with excessive harvesting and pollution than with rays.
    To get better answers, scientists are studying the creatures and have recorded the first full annual migration of a Chesapeake cownose ray.
    “We don’t know exactly what ecological role cownose rays play in the Bay,” says Simon Brown, biologist with Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources.
    “But we know that the Chesapeake Bay plays a huge role as the place where they come to give birth and mate, and we know that rays have always been here. Stingray Point is named for where Captain John Smith was stung by a ray,” Brown says. “I know they can be a nuisance to both watermen and restoration projects, but a restored Bay should be resilient enough to support both vibrant fisheries and the Bay’s native creatures.”

Big fish love to eat them

It started with a comment by an angling buddy who had been fishing for white perch the day before. “I was getting them two at a time, but they were nowhere near big enough,” he said. “I had to search another three hours before I found any keepers.”
    Early the next morning, I was on that very same site with my trusty perch tackle: a light six-foot rig able to handle drifting a two-ounce sinker and a hi-lo rig in deep water. My No. 6 hooks, dressed with orange beads and a small spinner, were baited with nice bits of juicy bloodworm.
    Slowly cruising the area, I found promising marks on my electronic finder and lowered the baits to the bottom 20 feet below. Within a few minutes, I had a thrashing beauty to the surface and then in my hand: a five-inch white perch. Another 20 minutes resulted in a dozen more swimming in my live well. These guys were going to be perfect baits to live-line for rockfish.
    I racked the perch rig in the console rod holder, fired up my Yamaha, kicked the skiff up on plane and headed for my new destination at full throttle. There was not a minute to lose. This was going to be a morning bite — if there was to be any bite at all.
    The bridge I had in mind had not been very productive of late. Jig anglers who normally target the structure for rockfish had migrated. Throttling down and approaching at slow speed, I noted that I had no company.
    Being the only angler in a normally congested area can mean one of two things: Either I was going to be the first to discover a good bite … or everyone else already knew something I didn’t. Hoping for the former, I netted the smallest perch I could find from the live well, gently slid the 6/0 hook just under its skin in front of the dorsal and flipped it over the side close to a concrete pier.
    As the released perch headed for the bottom, I lightly thumbed my reel letting the spool spin freely as 20-pound mono followed the fish into the depths. With no weight and a light fluorocarbon leader, I was depending on the perch to get down to the proper depth where, I hoped, it would be ambushed by a rockfish.
    I did not have to wait long. First I felt the perch make a number of rapid dashes, then all movement stopped. Slowly, then more rapidly, my line began to move away from the structure, going deeper, then heading for the other end of the concrete pier.
    When a striper takes a white perch, it inevitably does three things. First it disables the baitfish with a crushing bite. Then, because of the perch’s sharp spines, it turns it head-first in its jaws. Only then does it swallow the baitfish. Hoping that the fish below had completed these steps, I put the reel in gear and struck.
    The satisfying bend in my rod indicated success as the fish below went wild, pulling line off my reel. I let it run while I shifted my quietly idling motor into reverse to pull away from the bridge.
    Thumbing the spool to add more resistance to the running fish, I slowly increased separation from the bridge and began to draw my adversary into more open water where I could let it run at will. Twenty-pound mono is no match for barnacle-encrusted bridge piers.
    A few minutes later, I led a fat, shining rockfish into my landing net. After measuring and admiring the 23-inch fish, I deposited it into my fish box and covered it with ice. I had dinner plans for this one.
    It took another hour before I could put its twin on ice as well. Releasing the remaining perch from my live well, I fired up my outboard and headed for home, well before noon.

Keeping up, veggie by veggie

This has been a great year for asparagus. Spears are popping out of the ground daily, growing four to six inches in one day. I find it best to cut the asparagus just below the soil line and harvest spears that are at least six inches above ground. This allows you to snap the bottom of the stem, which guarantees they will be free of woody tissues. Keep asparagus beds free of weeds by hoeing weekly. To avoid promoting additional weed growth, scrape away the weeds with minimal disturbance of the soil.
    If your asparagus bed has been growing for three years or more, it is safe to harvest spears until early July.
    Within days after the last harvest, top dress the bed with either organic or chemical fertilizer, and cultivate the fertilizer into the soil to minimize the loss of nitrogen into the atmosphere. Soil incorporation of fertilizers is the only effective way of minimizing de-nitrification. To minimize weeding, mulch the asparagus bed with a layer of shredded paper about four inches thick.
    Soon broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage and kohlrabi will be ready to harvest. A good replacement crop to occupy this vacant space is okra. For a jumpstart on okra, sow individual seeds in two- or three-inch pots filled with potting soil. Place one seed per pot because okra seeds germinate 100 percent within 10 days. As soon as the seeds germinate, place the pots in full sun outdoors and water as needed. In three to four weeks, the plants will be ready to transplant 18 inches apart in the garden. Okra plants grow best when the weather gets hot. Plants started in a protected area will quickly establish themselves in the garden.
    If you planted garlic in the fall, be on the lookout for firm round stems growing from the middle of the whorl of leaves. These round stems are an indication that the plants are going to flower. As soon as you see swelling near the end of the round stem, cut just below the swollen area to remove the premature flower head. Allowing garlic to flower and produce seeds will result in smaller garlic bulbs and cloves.
    As soon as the foliage of garlic plants starts to wilt and turns brownish-green, it is ready to harvest. Soft-neck garlic can be braided at this time. Hard-neck garlic cannot be braided and is best stored by tying in loose bunches before hanging in a shaded and well-ventilated area.
    If you use stakes or cages to support your tomato plants, treat the cages and stakes with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water.
    Watch the bottom leaves on your tomato plants. When they start to turn yellow-green, it is time to side-dress the plants with additional nitrogen. If you are an organic gardener, your best source of nitrogen is blood meal. If you are a traditional gardener, use calcium nitrate. Either way, apply one-fourth cup fertilizer per plant and cultivate into the soil.
    As soon as cucumbers, melons and squash start to produce vines, they should be given additional nitrogen if they are to yield their best crop. Vine crops also benefit from additional nitrogen when they are extending their vines and producing fruit at the same time.


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

Sometimes you need fertilizers

Am I an organic gardener? I’m often asked that question. I suspect that many who read this column conclude that my frequent reference to composting and compost in gardening means I must be an organic gardener. They seem shocked when I say that I use chemical fertilizers in addition to amending my soils with compost. My reasoning is that of a scientist.
    Before my research into compost, my primary area of research was mineral nutrition of plants. My research for the thesis for my master’s degree resulted in the development of a slow-release fertilizer marketed as Osmocote 18-6-12. The three-year study was conducted on yews, a narrow-leaf evergreen common in landscape plantings. At the time, the nursery industry was starting to grow more plants in pots. Nurserymen were using the same fertilizers as in field production. The two are totally different growing conditions. Plants growing in pots require more frequent irrigation, which washes more nutrients through the bottom of the pots. Plants grow faster in pots because of high rooting-media temperatures and better aeration. But the rooting media used for growing plants in pots do not store nutrients well.
    My research and reviews of the results of many other plant-nutrient experts convinced me that it can be very difficult to satisfy the nutrient requirements of plants at different stages of growth.
    My later work in the use of compost in the production of nursery and greenhouse crops reinforced the conclusion that it takes both organic and mineral fertilizers to achieve both plant health and high crop yields.
    In the spring when soils are cool, compost, animal manure and organic fertilizers are unable to generate sufficient nutrients because they require microbial activity to release nutrients. For spring-planted crops such as peas, cabbage, broccoli, onions and cauliflower, chemical fertilizers can provide those nutrients.
    Again when tomato and pepper plants are flowering and fruiting simultaneously, the demand for nitrogen is greater than organics are capable of generating. Plants drop bottom leaves because the nitrogen within them is migrating out of the leaves and moving up the stem. This makes the plants more susceptible to blight.
    In mid-summer when sweet corn is growing rapidly in advance of tasseling, organics are not capable of generating sufficient nitrogen for big, sweet ears. Thus the corn stalks drop their bottom leaves.
    We know from studies on the use of compost to grow bedding plants that the nutrient-supplying power of rooting media containing compost can supply adequate levels of nutrients for only about six weeks.
    Nitrogen is the element plants need in greatest abundance. Organic matter is incapable of supplying all that is needed. Numerous research studies have confirmed my initial research that most plants require five to six times more nitrogen that phosphorus and two to three times more potassium than phosphorus. As day length, moisture and temperature affect plant growth, using the combination of soils rich in organic matter with supplemental applications of chemical fertilizers gives you the best of both worlds.


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

Chesapeake Curiosities

Daughters of the American Revolution erected the first roadside markers in 1927 and 1928 to rally support for a coast-to-coast national road. The Daughters’ Madonnas of the Trail were 18-foot-tall statues dedicated to the women pioneers who had crossed the country in covered wagons. One of these markers stands in Bethesda (on Wisconsin Ave. across from Metro), with 11 others across the country.
    As car travel became more popular, roadside markers gained support. In Maryland the DAR and the State Roads Commission collaborated in the early 1930s to identify and mark sites of historical significance. The Maryland Historical Trust now oversees about 800 historical markers on our roads.
    In Maryland, these include a series of markers placed in 1932 to mark General’s Highway, according to Nancy Kurtz, National Register Coordinator for the Maryland Historical Trust.
    Did you know the significance of that name?
    It’s the route of General Washington’s journey, December 3 to 23, 1783, from New York to Annapolis to resign as Commander-in-Chief of the first American army.
    Each state has its own marker program.
    If you know of an interesting historical place not marked by a roadside sign, you can propose a new marker to the Maryland Historical Trust: http://mht.maryland.gov/
historicalmarkers/Propose.aspx.
    “It can take from 12 to 18 months for a marker application to be reviewed, revised, ordered, cast and installed,” Kurtz says. It takes eight to 12 weeks to cast and ship a marker.


    Chesapeake Curiosities investigates regional oddities and landmarks to increase understanding of our unique local culture and history.
    Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

Chesapeake Curiosities

What are the dilapidated buildings in the woods near Beverly-Triton Beach at the end of the Mayo Peninsula?
    Most likely, they are the remains of picnic pavilions at the popular beach complex and tourist attraction.
    Before the Bay Bridge was built in 1952, people from Washington and Baltimore and the surrounding suburbs would take the relatively short trip down to Chesapeake Country to get out of the city during the sweltering summer months. Mayo Beach, Beverly Beach and Triton Beach were all resorts that catered to the influx of summer residents.
    “People from D.C. and Baltimore owned summer cottages in the area. Women and children would stay longer, while the husbands worked during the week and joined them on weekends,” explains Lara L. Lutz, author of Chesapeake’s Western Shore, Vintage Vacationland.
    The complex at Beverly-Triton Beach was sprawling, with huge pavilions, slots machines, mechanical animals for children, concessions, rental stands and picnic areas.
    “I was told that Beverly Beach was the young people’s hangout, where teens went to meet and mix with teens. Mayo Beach was the family beach, and Triton Beach opened later and was mostly used for corporate picnics and other group events,” said Lutz.
    Half a century later, there are woodland trails and limited access for boat launches. Anne Arundel Department of Recreation and Parks is working toward reopening the beach for swimming next summer.
    “There are some erosion and some major safety issues we want to address,” said Recreation Supervisor Wendy Scarborough. “We need to know what we need to do to bring it up to code for additional usage.”
    Meanwhile, the Lost Towns Project is working with Central Middle Schoolers to explore and research the park. This summer and fall, you’ll be able to visit and learn about the good old days’ unique history: www.losttownsproject.org.


    Chesapeake Curiosities investigates regional oddities and landmarks to increase understanding of our unique local culture and history.
    Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.