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Bats have a colony of mothers

Who knew that bats make excellent mothers? You and I do, thanks to Maryland Department of Natural Resources bat biologist Dana Limpert, who speaks highly of the brown bat.
    “They take excellent care of their young. If a baby falls out of the roost or is injured, the mother will recognize its calls and rescue it.”
    Myotis lucifugus is small, about three and a half inches with a wingspan of nine to 11 inches and weighing less than half an ounce. Their name comes from their long brown fur. Brown bats live throughout Chesapeake Country, especially near water for drinking.
    A female bat gives birth to one or two pups every spring, late May to early June, with twins common hereabouts. During pregnancy and after birth, mother and pups reside in a “maternity colony” that can range from five to several hundred of the winged mammals. Think about a Yaya sisterhood on an animal level.
    Babies not yet able to fly attach themselves to mom immediately after birth and feed on her milk for the first few weeks. When momma bat gets hungry, she leaves her pups in the colony cluster and goes out to hunt for bugs. Upon return she licks faces, recognizing her pups by scent and call.
    In a month or so, pups join their mother in catching and eating bugs.
    Recent developments in gene identification have shown that all members of a colony are related. Colonies live in tree trunks, caves and barns. Eventually — in the fall for females and a year later for males — the pups leave their mothers’ sides to start their own families. The mothers will rejoin their male counterparts in forming a bigger colony to mate, hibernate and begin the cycle anew.
    DNR wants to know if you see bats to help in population studies and preservation of the species, which is under fungal attack: https://tinyurl.com/DNR-bats.

Look up; they’re all around you

Drifting high across most landscapes this time of year, sometimes to altitudes of 16,000 feet or more, are airborne travelers that few people notice, though the fliers may number in the thousands.
    They are spiders seeking new ­territories.
    These ballooning or sailing spiders are generally the smaller of the many spider varieties and are borne aloft by winds on gossamer filaments, usually three, spun by the spider, forming a pyramid canopy that can carry them for miles, sometimes thousands of miles.
    Primarily a migratory activity, especially for young hatchlings, sailing or ballooning is a natural mode of transportation that disburses the spiders from their nesting or home site. When they are ready to travel, the spiders instinctually climb high in the trees or onto higher terrain and spin their webbing. Then, standing on tiptoes, they wait for the wind to bear them away.
    Because of their size they are difficult to see, but you can sometimes spot them on a sunny day by looking up for their long, silvery threads. On a recent fishing trip on the Chesapeake, we were rewarded by spotting a dozen or so of the travelers, a few of which found refuge on our skiff, disappearing into the nooks and crevices as soon as they landed.
    Aerial arachnids that come down on the Bay are not doomed, as they are so light that, with their naturally water-repellent feet, they can skate or scamper across the water’s surface, often to great distance, eventually reaching more hospitable territory. Or nature’s airborne rangers can spin new webs and wait to be carried aloft again.

Silt does not happen by itself

Farmers, homeowners and contractors are all responsible for making silt that clogs our streams, rivers and lakes and pollutes the Bay. Farmers who after harvesting their crops allow the soils to be fully exposed to the weather all fall, winter and spring are guilty. Homeowners who wash down their driveways and sidewalks in place of sweeping them are guilty. Contractors who bulldoze the earth to clear land for roads, homes, shopping centers and more are also guilty.
    Removing the vegetation allows exposed soil to be carried away by wind and water. The lowest point on land that water can travel is sea level. Thus, dust containing sand, silt and clay settles in the lowest points. Moving water carries soil and deposits sand as the flow of water decreases. The silt is carried farther to eventually settle to the bottom of slow-moving streams. Clay floats out into the Bay, clouding the waters and preventing bottom vegetation from growing, as well as carrying nutrients that feed algae that, when it dies, causes eutrophication.
    The early tobacco farmers were notorious for allowing their fields to remain barren after harvesting. Those farming on slopes lost tons of topsoil each year due to erosion. Most of the silt recently dredged from Rockhold Creek originated from old tobacco fields in the watershed. Even now when a sod farm starts to harvest sod, Rockhold Creek runs chocolate-brown following a heavy rain. Coloring the water is the silt in the topsoil that has washed into the creek. Most will settle to the bottom before it reaches the Bay. What enters the Bay are clay particles in suspension.
    The loss of topsoil and the siltation of our rivers and streams can be prevented by never allowing soil to stand exposed. As soon as a crop is harvested, the land should be planted either with another crop or a cover crop of wheat, rye, millet, Sudan grass or buckwheat. This rule applies to the home gardener as well as to farmers.
    When farming on slopes, contour-farming practices should be applied together with strip-crop farming. Strip-cropping plants wide strips of grass between plots of cultivated crops. The grass strips prevent the sand, silt and clay from washing away.
    Buffer zones or riparian strips of 125 to 150 feet wide of grasses or natural vegetation should be required between cultivated fields and open bodies of water. I encourage farmers to build berms of compost two feet high and two feet wide planted into tall fescue on the riparian strip. Compost is an ideal natural filter that will absorb clay and keep nutrients from flowing to the water during heavy rain.
    It should be unlawful to clean the driveway and sidewalks with water. That water carries dirt, oil, animal droppings, etc. into the storm drains. All storm drains empty into nearby streams that eventually flow into the Bay. A good push broom not only provides exercise but also pushes all of that crud onto the lawn or garden, where it becomes part of the soil. Oil will be degraded by the microorganisms in the soil.
    Before any construction begins, contractors should be required to establish a buffer zone around the construction site and install a silt fence with Filtrex filled with compost on the low side of the silt fence to capture the clays and nutrients. Compost has been proven to be an excellent filter of clays and nutrients. If the silt fence is to remain in place for more than a year, the Filtrex should be seeded with tall fescue to use the nutrients absorbed by the compost. Only clean water should be allowed to exit construction sites.
    If we all did out part in keeping soil where it belongs, our agricultural soils would be more productive, there would be less need to apply fertilizers and the water in our streams, rivers lakes and the Bay would be crystal clear and blue as it was meant to be. Progress should not be measured by polluted water or by polluted air.


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

This novice was hooked, even though her big fish got away

Her rod was bowed over with strain, the line hissing out against the drag and the muscles of her arms tensed with the force of a good fish running hard. Julie’s face, however, was bright with a smile. She was checking off a significant item on her life list and was enjoying every minute of it.
    Her fifth fish of the day would measure 31 inches. That was the closest we would get to landing a 35-inch keeper. But failing a keeper did not dampen her enthusiasm. “I’m hooked,” she said. “This is more fun than I could possibly imagine.”
    Julie Wheeler’s rockfish adventure started at a family gathering in the midst of one of last winter’s colder months. My wife’s cousin and the  same age, Julie was born in Baltimore but married and left Maryland with her husband for a New England life. For a time she skippered a 31-foot cruiser in the Atlantic, but she had never caught a striper.
    Having returned to Baltimore a few years ago to live closer to her family, Julie longed to catch a rockfish. I promised to help her as soon as the season opened.
    Our day on the water last week was one of the more beautiful so far this early season. The wind was a mere wisp, the water flat calm and the temperatures moving into the 80s. The trophy rockfish season is an ideal time to tangle with a larger class of fish.
    The bite was constant, with no more than 15 or 20 minutes between fish. While we waited we traded stories about relatives, the Chesapeake, rockfish in general and were entertained by the first of the season’s sailing spiders flying across the Bay, held aloft by long strands of silvery webbing that occasionally caught up our rod tips.
    We were chumming and chunking fresh alewife, and the four rods that we streamed aft southeast of Hackett’s green can were frequently hooked up, sometimes two at a time. The smallest fish we released that day was 24 inches. The largest we never got to measure.
    It was later in the day that Julie managed a straining rod out of its holder. “This is the big one. It’s really strong,” she said. She could hardly hold the rod vertical. Sitting down and planting the rod butt at her waist she began to slowly haul back, then wind the rod tip down, almost to the horizontal, then lift it again, stroking and gaining a little line each time.
    For a beginner, she was a fast learner who had quickly become comfortable with rod technique. “I’m not sure I can get this one” she said when all the line she had just gained went pouring back off the reel on another of the fish’s runs.
    “No, just take your time,” I assured her. “It’s not going to get away. Just keep the pressure on it.”
    It turned out that I was wrong. Just as she began another attempt to turn the fish back toward us, the rod sprang upright, “Oh, he’s gone!” she cried.
    “Keep reeling,” I said. “Maybe it’s coming to the boat.”
    But it wasn’t. It had somehow spit the hook.
    “Losing the big one is all part of fishing,” I assured her. “It wouldn’t be a sport if you got them all.”
    “Yeah, maybe,” she replied, unconvinced. “Let’s get that line back in the water. Maybe it will come back.”
    We finally pulled the plug after about seven hours of effort. All Julie could talk about on the ride to the ramp was how soon we could get back on the water for another try. She wanted to get some keepers, learn how to clean them and get them prepared for a meal. I’m guessing that the Bay has not seen the last her.

Fish in the Classroom goes to college

Whoever heard of taking fish back to the water?
    Trout Unlimited did, and that’s why my Anne Arundel Community College environmental studies class of 25 students is carrying buckets of trout to the Little Paxtuxent River near Savage Mill.
    Trout Unlimited believes that the best way to conserve and create more coldwater fisheries is to partner with local hatcheries and release trout into local rivers. The fingerlings we release are Kamloops rainbow trout, grown from some 9,000 embryos supplied by the Albert Powell State Hatchery to be raised in classrooms across the state.
    In the national Fish in the Classroom program, trout are raised in low-income schools by kids who might not have another opportunity to understand water ecology and stream preservation. Teachers can ask to have their classes included in the free program.
    Rainbow trout are not Maryland natives, but they do provide good fishing and eating. Maryland’s native brook trout, a key indicator species, are greatly reduced because of urbanization and rising temperatures.

Catching this rockfish was one great feeling

I hadn’t been set up long. Fishing big chunks of cut fresh alewife on the bottom in 40 feet of water, I saw the rod in its starboard holder quiver, then dip. I reached over and slid the reel’s clicker off so there would be no resistance on the line. The spool started up, then stopped, then started up again … ever so slowly.
    Picking up the bait-casting rig and thumbing the spool lightly just to be sure the movement wasn’t due to tidal current, I was rewarded by the feel of a fish moving off. I allowed a bit more time for my quarry to get the piece of alewife back in its jaws. Then I put the reel in gear and began to take up slack. Nothing.
    The fish had dropped my bait. Disappointed, I continued retrieving line until I realized it was moving back toward the boat faster than I was cranking. The rascal was still on. Lowering my rod tip, I gathered slack with the reel until the line was almost straight down at my skiff’s stern. Then it came tight. I lifted the rod firmly and felt good resistance. Then I lifted harder.
    This time it came really tight and a fish began to shake its head and move off deliberately. My drag, which was firmly set for the 20-pound mono, hissed as the fish ran about 100 feet, then stopped. More head shaking. I had fished the day before and got a couple of heavy throwbacks. This one felt larger, but I wasn’t sure it was going to be legal sized, over 35 inches.
    Having learned the hard way never to prejudge an unseen fish, I kept the pressure on, lifting and gaining line only to lose it as the fish bulldozed away. As I was alone and had three more rigs in the water, I didn’t put a lot of extra rod strain onto this guy as long as it stayed off to the side and away from the other rigs. The surest way to lose a good fish is getting lines crossed.
    At something past the 10-minute mark, I decided to challenge the fish with some significant effort. With my thumb locking the spool, I lifted until the rod was bent over, almost to the corks, trying to force it to the surface.
    The fish shook its head and ­headed out and away, again with no hesitation, pulling line steadily until my thumb was scorched. At this point, I decided that it was quite likely a keeper — if I could get it to the boat.
    Another long 10 minutes of tense back-and-forth action finally brought the fish near the surface and provided a first glimpse of my adversary. The size limit was definitely not going to be a problem.
    Grabbing the net, I watched the beast make another determined run. I bided my time and let it have its head. A patient fight has one definite advantage in the last moment of the battle. Though the longer the struggle the greater the chance of losing, at the moment of truth when the net is in the water, the fish is usually so exhausted that there is no last-minute explosion.
    Such was the case this time as I brought the brute to the surface again. Managing it into my skiff at last, I had quite a handsome trophy rockfish, my first of the season.


Light-Tackle Fishing
    I’ll be teaching a course on Chesapeake Bay Light-Tackle Fishing at Anne Arundel Community College Saturday, May 6, 9am-2:30pm (course AHC 36): 410-777-2222.

Others need warm soil to germinate

It just takes a few warm days for some gardeners to decide it’s time to plant the garden. Depending on what you plant, you may suffer for your haste.
    Some seeds will germinate in cool soils, but others will only germinate after the soil warms to 70 degrees. When those seeds are planted in cool soils, the seeds will often rot before they get the warmth they crave. Read seed packets for suggested germinating temperatures.
    Beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, parsnips, peas, radishes, rutabaga spinach and turnips can germinate in temperature as low as 55 degrees. However, beans, corn, okra, peppers, and tomatoes require soil temperatures of 70 to 75 degrees to assure uniform germination.
    To get an early start on warmth-loving seeds, some commercial producers pre-germinate the seed, priming them in a warm water bath of 80 degrees with air bubbles flowing through the water. As soon as the first root, called a radical, emerges from the seed, starch is added and the seeds sowed in soil. Once germination begins, growth continues. Growth is slow at first, but as the soil warms, the well-established plants have a jump start on seedlings that emerged from seeds sown after the soil warmed.
    You can prime your seeds in an open container with an inch or so of water. Place the container on top of the refrigerator, where the heat from the compressor will keep it warm, or on top of the hot water heater. Shake the container of water and seeds at least twice daily to add oxygen. When nearly all of the seeds have a small white root protruding through the seed coat, drain the water and place the seeds on a moist paper towel. Using a pair of tweezers, carefully transfer the germinated seeds into the prepared garden soil. Plant the seeds very shallow and only lightly cover them with soil. Do not allow the soil covering the seeds to dry. Keep the soil moist until the seedlings emerge.
    By pre-germinating seeds, you can gain at least two weeks in harvesting that first snap bean or ear of corn.
    Another method of obtaining an early ear of sweet corn is to sow the seeds in plug trays using a commercial potting mix. Many seed catalogs offer plug trays containing 60 to 100 cells. Each cell has a capacity of one-eighth to one-fourth cup of rooting medium. After filling the cells, press a single corn seed into each. Moisten the rooting media well and place the tray in a warm room or greenhouse. As soon as the seeds germinate, place the tray in full sun. The seedlings are ready to transplant into the garden when the plants are six to eight inches tall. Gently remove the seedling from the tray and transplant.
    Don’t try this with beans, as their roots cannot be disturbed once they are established.


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

Competitors in the Highland Games put brawn in their brag

You can wear a kilt, dance a jig or play a bagpipe to show the Celt in you. Or you can throw a tree, caber in Celtic parlance. You simply pick it up by the small end and run with it, then flip it end over end.
    You’ll see all those gradations and more this Saturday at the 39th Southern Maryland Celtic Festival and Highland Games.
    “There is too much to see in one day because with all the 23 event stations there is always something going on,” says organizer Mary Beth Dent. “Our goal is to entice folks to come again so they can see more.”
    Over athletic expressions of Celtic spirit, near-octogenarian Malcolm Doying rules. Doying’s enduring love for Celtic Highland Games has made him a fixture of Celtic communities near and far.
    “At almost 80 he is still training younger people coming up, encouraging them and helping perpetuate the traditions of the Highland Games and passing it down to the next generation,” Dent says.
    Tossing and throwing are key skills in the traditional heptathalon of feats of strength called Highland Games. The things you toss are weighty, and you must toss them all.
    “A caber weighs between 80 and 140 pounds,” Doying says.
    Stones used in Throwing the Stone, an early form of shot put, weigh only 16 to 22 pounds. The stone increases to 42 to 56 pounds with an overhead pole for brawny athletes Throwing the Weight — using only one hand.
    Tossing the Sheaf places the stone within a twine-stuffed bag weighing 16 pounds.
    “Competitors are Tossing the Sheaf close to 30 feet over the pole,” Doying says.
    Tossing the Hammer, Doying’s favorite sport, demands swinging a 16- to 22-pound hammer three times overhead before throwing.
    Throwing all these mighty weights, Doying traveled up and down the East Coast and all the way to Scotland.
    “The biggest and best competition was in Scotland,” said Doying. “The World’s Master’s Championship Competition for 40 and older was like the Olympics with a parade of guys from all over the world.”
    To fit into her husband’s competitive schedule, wife Patricia Shema adopted his passion. Shema started competing in her 50s, promoting a women’s class in the games. Between them, the couple has earned five world championships.
    “It’s so much fun,” Doying says.
    Want to step up?
    Start by watching the events to see how they’re done.
    “If you’re a reasonable athlete you can do it,” Doying says — next year with training.
    Forty-five athletes compete in three flights in the first games of the Mid-Atlantic season, said to be the best on the East Coast. One man is flying in from Germany. Fifteen athletes are women.


The 39th Southern Maryland Celtic Festival and Highland Games, Saturday, April 29, 10am-6pm. $20 admission includes heavyweight athletic events to testify to Celtic martial prowess and pride; music, dancing and instruction; living history to illuminate the culture, storytellers and genealogy seminars to strengthen cultural links — plus food and drink — all at Jefferson Patterson Park in St. Leonard: www.cssm.org.

Atlantic ribbed and hooked mussels are Chesapeake’s Brita filter

Mussels are more than a seafood dish in buttery broth. Unlike those delectable mussels, our Chesapeake Bay mussels are small and tough. Our two native species, the Atlantic ribbed mussel and the hooked mussel, serve environment rather than appetite. Both are believed to be key indicator species of the health of the Bay.
    These filter feeders have a leg up on oysters. Due to their smaller size, they can catch the smaller plankton Picoplankton.
    In doing that job, mussels have been credited with filtering out twice as much plankton as do our oysters, Crassostrea virginica. That’s according to research conducted in 2015 by Smithsonian Environmental Research Center scientists Denise Breitburg and Keryn Gedan and Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s Lisa Kellogg (www.vims.edu/newsandevents/topstories/mussels.php).
    “Hooked mussels were also twice as effective as oysters at filtering picoplankton,” says Breitburg. The tiny picoplankton are particularly abundant in the Bay in summer.
    Lifespans upward of 15 years mean our mussels have long careers. They do their work in the Bay’s most dynamic environments near the water’s edge, helping to reduce sediment. They are also part of the Bay food chain, feeding crabs, shorebirds and ducks.
    You might see these hard-working mussels on the roots of underwater grasses or on hard surfaces like oyster shells, pilings and boat bottoms.

Bloom is the best thing to come out of D.C in a long time

The demand for organically grown food continues to increase. Because chemical fertilizers cannot be used in its production, growers must depend on natural sources for nutrients, such as animal manures, compost and green manure crops. The demand for compost is so great that it exceeds the supply.
    The problem may soon be solved by recent developments in processing biosolids.
    Biosolids are the solid materials derived from wastewater processing facilities, also known as sewage-treatment plants. Yes, you know what I’m taking about.
    Yet wastewater treatment has advanced so far that 85 percent of the biosolids in the U.S. satisfy EPA Class A standards. Class A biosolids can safely be use in the production of agricultural crops.
    The Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington, D.C., is the largest plant of its kind in the world. The biosolids generated there are rich in Capital Hill bull @#!$. Now plant engineers have perfected a method of converting biosolids into Bloom, an organic matter rich in nutrients.
    First the biosolids undergo anaerobic digestion. Then excess water is removed, and the biosolids are dumped into a giant pressure cooker that is heated to more than 200 degrees. The pressure is released instantly, causing the tissues in the biosolids to rupture, thus releasing their nutrients. Anaerobic digestion degrades all organic compounds, including toxins. The pressure cooker treatment renders Bloom sterile. After the processed biosolid is removed from the pressure cooker, it is dried. The finished product looks black and has an earthy odor.
    I dedicated over 20 years of my career to research on composting. I have studied its value in nutrition and in controlling soil-borne disease. I have used compost on a great variety of plants, from growing garden vegetables to growing forests in abandoned gravel mines to blending rooting media for growing plants in containers.
    Compost has solved many problems, promoted recycling and has created new industries. Yet I have never achieved with any compost the results I am getting from Bloom.
    My method is blending Bloom with compost to combine the superior qualities of both products. I use a rooting medium containing equal parts by volume of peat moss and compost (made at Upakrik Farm) with 25 percent by volume Bloom. Because it contains seven mmhos/cm of soluble salts, it must be applied sparingly. My tests indicate that the maximum is 25 percent in combination with regular potting medium.
    I am testing it in growing broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, onions, peppers and spinach. I have also used it as mulch on half of the garlic plants growing in the garden. Garlic plants mulched with Bloom in late February are darker green and taller than garlic growing in the same bed without Bloom as mulch.

    Pictured above are cabbage and pepper plants growing for eight weeks with no additions but water as needed. The pepper plants that I have been growing are dark green while the cabbage and broccoli plants are a rich blue-green.
    We recently vertically mulched the large oak trees near my home by augering 320 six-diameter holes a foot deep, starting 10 inches from the trunk of each tree to the drip line of the branches. Each hole was filled with Bloom. Within two weeks, the grass surrounding each hole turned dark green and was growing rapidly. I can’t wait to see how the trees respond. I have vertically mulched these trees with compost every seven years with great results. I feel confident these mulching results will be even better.
        Bloom is not only producing excellent results but is also a consistent product day to day, month to month. What’s more, the Blue Plains process can be completed in days. In comparison, composting biosolids takes months from start to finished product.
        If every wastewater treatment plant that generates Class A biosolids were to include this new technology, growers would be better able to meet the demands for organically grown food. Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville is in the process of establishing facilities for drying and processing Bloom.


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