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Summer sends these insects singing

Heat wave temperatures may not have us humans singing for the joy of life, but that’s not the case for several insect species that voice their appreciation of the heat this time of year.
    Late summer’s exceptionally warm days drive the cicadas (also called harvest flies) to start their singing early. The buzzing is the quintessential sound of summer and how this cicada earned its name. The hot and humid days of late July and August draw the males into the treetops to vibrate a drum-like abdominal membrane called a tymbal to call potential mates to their location.
    These black and green dog-day cicadas differ from the giant 13- and 17-year broods that emerge out of the ground by the billions every few years. The Brood V 17-year cicadas emerged this spring in Western Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Our portion of Chesapeake Country missed them.
    Periodical cicadas survive by sheer numbers, while the annual dog-day cicadas rely on camouflage and speed to avoid predation. They are a favorite snack for birds, snakes and the cicada-killer wasp.
    After mating, the female dog-day uses her ovipositor to cut open a twig and lay eggs inside. Six weeks later, the nymphs hatch and burrow into the ground where they will live for three years, sucking juice from tree roots.
    It’s summer’s musical finale, so enjoy it.

There may be a fungus in your soil

Every year, a number of readers complain that their garden did not produce as much as last year’s.
    If your garden is on poorly drained soil, you can blame some of the problem on wet feet. All vegetable-producing plants demand well-drained soils. Soils that tend to remain wet for several days after a hefty rain can cause roots to rot, thus reducing crop yields.
    Or your problem could be a fungus.
    If your garden is small and you are unable to rotate crops every year, there is a good possibility that certain fungi are accumulating, resulting in poor root growth. Four soil-borne diseases commonly affect roots: Fusarium, Pythium, Rhizoctinia and ­Phytophtora.
    The most effective method of preventing these diseases is to rotate where you plant crops each year. Crop rotation breaks the cycle.
    If your garden is too small to allow rotation, you can try any of three other methods of solving the problem of soil-borne diseases.
    One is to heat-sterilize the soil once every three years. In early July, rototill or spade the soil and moisten thoroughly before covering the area with a sheet of four-millimeter, clear plastic, sealing the edges to the ground. The clear plastic will create a greenhouse effect, causing a heat buildup sufficient to kill most of the disease-causing organisms. The plastic should remain in place well into early August. In addition to disease-causing organisms, most of the weed seeds and rhizomes will also be killed. However, this means that you will not be gardening on the third year.
    Another method of control is to incorporate, just before planting, a one-inch-thick layer of active compost like LeafGro, lobster compost or homemade compost from the previous year. Compost must be fresh for the naturally occurring beneficial organisms to neutralize the disease-causing organisms.
    The third method is to plant a cover crop of winter wheat or winter rye in late August, while tomatoes are still being harvested. The cover crop will also absorb residual nutrients, prevent soil erosion and improve the soil.
    Your cover crop must be actively decomposing before planting in the spring. The rapidly decomposing organic matter will promote the establishment of beneficial organisms that help control the disease-causing organisms.
    So next spring, you must keep the soil moist and rototill or spade the area two to three weeks before planting.
    Isn’t nature marvelous?

Harvest the Sweetest Corn
    If you like eating truly sweet, sweet corn, harvest the ears before the sun rises and refrigerate immediately. Better yet, dunk the ears in ice-cold water before placing them in the refrigerator.
    If you harvest sweet corn in the heat of the day, the kernels will be filled mostly with starch. During the heat of the day, the sugars in the kernels are converted to starch. The sugars produced in the leaves during the day are translocated to the kernels during the cool of the night.


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

Chesapeake Curiosities: Battle Creek Cypress Swamp is the northernmost of its kind

A habitat unique in Maryland flourishes just south of Prince Frederick. Battle Creek Cypress Swamp is one of the nation’s northernmost naturally occurring stands of bald cypress trees.
    “It’s actually a bit of a mystery why the swamp is here, as we don’t see similar stands of trees in other low-lying swampy areas of the county,” says Shannon Steele, Calvert County naturalist.
    In 1957, the Nature Conservancy purchased 100 acres of land to protect the unusual ecosystem. Today, a boardwalk brings you into the habitat, crossing about 10 acres of the swamp. The park encompasses most of the remaining cypress stand, but some trees remain on nearby private property.
    Delaware has another stand of cypress trees on the Eastern Shore in Trap Pond State Park.
    Some of ­Battle Creek’s cypress are ex­tremely old. “The oldest tree we know of is around 500 years old,” Steele says. This tree can’t be seen from the main boardwalk, but you can visit it on an annual guided hike (calvertparks.org).
    Bald cypress trees are interesting in that they are deciduous conifers, meaning that they have needles like an evergreen but drop those needles in the fall just as oaks and maples lose their leaves. Cypress also grow knees, root system knobs that grow up out of the soil rather than staying underground.
    “The function of these growths is something of a mystery,” according to the Arbor Day Foundation, “although some believe it is a way to help the roots get oxygen.”
    Cypress provide valuable habitat to many creatures, especially the prothonotary warbler, a small yellow bird that likes to nest in the trees’ knees.
    As for the name, Battle Creek is the small stream that flows through the park, named in honor of the town of Battle, England, the ancestral home of the original owners of the land.


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.
 

The story of the Chessie

 

The Chesapeake retriever originated in Maryland, developed to suit the climate and the waters of the Bay.
    In 1807, a British ship wrecked off the coast of Maryland. Among the crew and cargo saved by another ship were two Newfoundland puppies. These pups turned out to be great retrievers and were bred with flat- and curly-coated retrievers as well as other dogs to create our Chessies.
    “They love the water and can swim in the coldest conditions,” says Dawn Logan, statistician and historian for the American Chesapeake Club. “They have been bred to have the ability to hunt many hours in the icy waters of the Bay. Today, they maintain the coat, structure and determination to do what their ancestors did.”
    Today’s Chesapeake Bay retrievers are much the same as the first Chessies.
    “When you look back in breed history, photos and drawings of the first Chesapeake Bay dogs, you see they look very much like today’s Chesapeake Bay retrievers,” Logan says.
    The Chesapeake Bay retriever is a relatively rare breed, with only some 2,000 registered with the American Kennel Club.
    “Because of its intelligence and loyalty, it is not a dog for everyone,” Logan explains. “They do not have the love-everyone attitude of a Labrador retriever or golden retriever. They are known to be stubborn and to think for themselves, which can be a challenge in training. Also, they tend to be more protective than other retriever breeds.
    “They were bred to hunt for hours on end, and that is maintained today, so they do best with a job, whether it be hunting, obedience, agility, daily walks — they need something to do,” Logan says. “We want to maintain the heritage and original capabilities of this unique breed.”


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

A small building in the Rhode River is built up over the water like a duck blind. But it doesn’t quite look like one, and it’s surrounded by Smithsonian Environmental Research Center land. What is it?
    The structure, an instrument shed, was built in the 1970s, according to Kristen Minogue of Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. Initially it was one of a series of similar stations that monitored the Rhode River. The stations provided data on water chemistry as well as the flow of sediments, nutrients and water. This location is no longer a monitoring station, but others in the network still provide long-term data on the health of the river.
    While it was a monitoring site, the shed housed equipment that operated automatically. Scientists picked up samples weekly. In the 1980s, Smithsonian scientist Tom Jordan spent 24 hours conducting a study from a boat tied to the shed.
    The shed now holds equipment for other projects. It’s recently been used to house hydrophones — underwater microphones — that track fish movement.
    “We use hydrophones in our tagging projects to track how different animals in the Bay move. We attach ultrasonic tags to fish and crabs, and the hydrophones enable us to listen and record the signals those tags emit. One of our postdocs is also using them to listen to the sounds animals make underwater,” said Minogue.
    “The little shed is a testament to almost 40 years of tracking the health of a single river,” Minogue added. “ And the fact that it’s now used by osprey is a symbol of hope. Back when it was built in the 1970s, osprey in the Chesapeake had just hit an all-time low, and now we see them all over.”


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.

Just passing through

A big mother of a terrapin the size of our cast-iron frying pan lumbers from the swamp beyond the small garage, up the stones and through the poison ivy and, without stretching her long neck for a glance backward over her carapace, heads non-stop across our lawn toward the far woods to lay her eggs.
    She is my first sighting of this summer, already August, and in recent years all turtles have been scarce.
    She will dig a hole in the lawn or by the swamp at the edge of the locust trees, maybe two or three holes to confuse us, then pump out eggs like ping pong balls.
    No foxes seen this year, and, oddly, no raccoon or possum has yet to show. So this year none might dig the eggs, and within a couple of months, while waving off the bald eagles, I can escort the hatchlings to the cove.
    For a minute I turn away; when I look again, no sign of her.

Crop rotation keeps you harvesting into winter

If you planted potatoes, you could already be harvesting. Since potatoes are grown in wide rows, the ground they occupied will be ideal for planting a fall crop of peas and snap beans.
    If you have harvested cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kohlrabi, use the space vacated for okra. If you planted a spring and early-summer crop of snap beans, the free space can be used for planting fall and winter crops of carrots, beets, kale, collards, turnips, rutabaga, radishes and ­lettuce.
    Please note that the replacement crops are different from those planted in the spring. This practice, known as crop rotation, is a very effective means of minimizing disease problems.
    As soon as the first crop of sweet corn is harvested, consider planting large Ford Hook lima beans. Leave the corn stalks in place, with the lima bean seeds planted between them so the emerging seedlings will use the stalks to climb on, making the harvesting of the lima beans easier on the back. Lima beans grow best during the warmest part of summer.
    If you are not a fan of lima beans, consider using the area for growing cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi or radishes after the corn stalks have been removed. In place of pulling out the corn stalks, cut them down as close to the ground as possible and push the lawnmower over the stumps. Transplant the seedlings between every third or fourth stalk.
    Fall and winter vegetable crops absorb residual nutrients from the soil. Plants do not utilize all of the nutrients applied at planting time and as side dressing. Unless these nutrients are absorbed by the roots of plants, they will leach down into the groundwater. If you don’t plant a fall crop to absorb those residual nutrients, you should sow a cover crop of winter rye at the rate of three pounds per 1,000 square feet.
    Fall crops tend to be sweeter than spring and summer crops. The combination of warm days and cool nights promotes the translocation of and accumulation of sugars in the edible portions.
    Fall-grown peas can be harvested until the first killing frost. Carrots and beets can remain in the garden all winter long and harvested as needed providing the ground is not frozen hard. If you plant three different varieties of Brussels sprouts — such as Churchill, Oliver and Diablo — you can enjoy eating fresh Brussels sprouts from early October until January.
    To maintain the organic matter concentration in my garden soil, I sow winter rye between the rows in late September, before mid-October. The late planting of winter rye minimizes competition for water and nutrients and does not shade the crop but protects the soil from erosion and allows you to walk in the garden when the soil is wet without getting mud on your shoes.


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

Get cutting to ensure big-flowering mums and azaleas

With all the rain we have received this year, azaleas and chrysanthemums have produced an abundance of new growth. If you want those plants to produce an abundance of flowers — this fall for chrysanthemums and next year for azaleas — get out your shears this week.
    Chrysanthemums are short-day plants, which means that they will start initiating flower buds around mid-August. Prune any later than this week, and they will produce fewer flowers, which will be smaller in size and on shorter stems. Later pruning won’t give the plants adequate time to generate new branches for flower buds to develop. For chrysanthemums, flower buds are not only developed at the ends of each stem, but also in the axil of the uppermost leaves.
    Azaleas generally stop producing new vegetative growth in mid- to late- August. As soon as the tops of the plants stop growing, they begin generating flower buds at the ends of every branch. If you wait to sheer azaleas in August, the plants will not have adequate time to produce new branches upon which flower buds can be produced. Since woody plants such as azaleas are slow to recover from being sheered, there needs to be sufficient time for them to produce two to three inches of new growth before initiating buds.
    When you prune, do it right. When cutting azaleas, always allow at least one, preferably two, inches of new growth to remain on the plant. If you sheer the top of the plant back to its original height, the new growth will have to originate from last year’s growth, which will result in fewer new branches for flower bud initiation. With one to two inches of new growth remaining on the plants, new branches will emerge from the axils of the existing leaves, resulting in more dense foliage with many branches upon which flower buds can grow and flower next spring.

Footnote for Azaleas
    If your azaleas lost most of their lower leaves last winter, you may wish to apply ammonium sulfate fertilizer after the first killing frost this fall. The loss of lower leaves is a clear indication that the plants are not absorbing sufficient ammonium nitrogen. Pruning will result in a greater need for ammonium nitrogen because there will be many more branches and flower buds to feed. By fertilizing with ammonium sulfate after the first killing frost, you will have not only healthier looking plants in the spring but also a greater abundance of flowers.


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

Turn on a light to observe National Moth Week

In the midst of National Moth Week, turn on your porch light any summer night and see who you see.
    Summer because moths get their wings in warm weather. Over winter, they are caterpillars. In spring they pupate, emerging winged from their cocoons to create new generations of moths.
    Night because drawn to light in perhaps some moonstruck phenomenon, most moths are nocturnal.
    Like butterflies, moths are members of the Lepidoptera family, with between 150,000 and 500,000 species, according to National Moth Week founders David Moskowitz and Liti Haramaty. In the United States, there are upward of 11,000 moth species, 15 times more than butterflies.
    As caterpillars, moths are familiar nuisances: in our fields, cutworms and cornworms; in forests, gypsy moths, webworms and tent caterpillars; in our closets, clothing moths; and in pantries, the Indian meal moth, Plodia interpunctella. Yet the hairy-bodied creatures are great pollinators, especially for night-blooming and white flowers.
    Moths come in big and small, from the size of small flies to as wide as large songbirds. They are dull, striking and extraordinarily beautiful.
    Beautiful like the pink, green and purple Pandora sphinx that flew into my still-lighted bedroom late on the night of June 29, 2014, lingering for photographs and drawings.
    Striking like the yellow Clymene haploa moth perched aside my front door on the evening of June 28, 2016. Was its yellow lemon, or butter or butterscotch? I couldn’t tell, and as the light faded, I tried all three, in colored pencil, watercolor pencil and watercolors. The color of its distinctive centered marking, something like an elongated fleur de lis, was clearly black.
    “The Clymene haploa moth looks like a Star Trek communicator badge as it boldly goes everywhere both day and night,” reports insectidentification.org, where I identified this visitor.
    Perhaps National Moth Week will bring a beautiful translucent green luna moth.


Join National Moth Week observers from 8pm Sa July 30 to 9am Su July 31 at Glendening Nature Preserve, free, rsvp (ages 18+): 410-741-9330.

Yes, but do it at the grocery

Anne Arundel Countians are lucky to have their recycling picked up at the curb. With the county’s single-stream recycling program, you don’t even have to sort. Even so, 26 percent of what goes into the trash is recyclable, according to Anne Arundel County Recycling.
    Getting that quarter of our waste out of the trash stream depends not only on the will to recycle but also our knowledge.
    You can find a list that outlines most of what is and is not accepted for curbside recycling on the website www.recyclemoreoften.com.
    How about plastic bags?
    Reading the website left me confused, so I asked direction from Rich Bowen, Recycling Program Manager for Anne Arundel County.
    Most plastic bags that stretch when pulled are recyclable. This includes grocery bags, bread bags, retail bags (even the thicker plastic retail bags) and newspaper bags. Also in this category are zip-top or roll-top food bags and cellophane plastic wrap.
    Not recyclable in Anne Arundel’s program are shiny metallic bags like chip bags.
    Gather recyclable bags together, please, Bowen asks.
    “For curbside pickup, we ask that residents bundle these bags together and tightly tie the bundle so that they don’t come apart during collection or sorting,” he told me.
    Still, curbside recycling is not the best solution for plastic bags.
    “The best thing to do with them,” Bowen advises, “is take them to the grocery store with you and deposit them in the collection bin at the front of the store.”
    The reason is what happens to the bags after you put them out for recycling.
    “The biggest buyer for bags right now is the company that makes Trex decking,” Bowen said. “The composite lumber material uses the plastic bags to make its product. They want clean bags and feel that when the bags are collected with other materials they get soiled by other recyclables so they can’t use them,” Bowen said.
    Also, if the bags come loose during sorting, they can get lodged in the gears of the mechanism that separates paper, metal, glass and plastics. Escaped bags gum up the works, causing the machine to slow down. This results in a slower processing time, which makes costs for recycling all single stream materials increase.
    Many — but not all — grocery stores have obviously located plastic bag collection bins.


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.