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Features (Good Living)

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.

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.

When you’ve found a Chesapeake beach, you’ve found a treasure

From shells to polished pebbles to driftwood to fossils, Bay beaches aren’t just for sunbathing and fishing.
    To dip into Bay waters in Anne Arundel County, start at 786-acre Sandy Point State Park. As well as the big beach (with lifeguards at prime hours) and great views, including Sandy Point Shoal Light House, there’s room to picnic, play, fish or crab and launch a boat. No camping — except June 27-28 for the Great American Campout. No dogs in summer. 6am-sunset; $4 to $7 per person: 410-974-2149; www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/sandypoint.asp.
    At the other extreme in Rose Haven is Anne Arundel’s smallest public beach, a stretch of Bay beauty on the corner of Albany and Walnut avenues. At the park, created under the county’s Open Space Program, you can sit on the beach, get into the water, launch your kayak or walk your dog. Parking, like the beach, is small. 877-620-8367.
    Other small beaches have very limited access because of open hours and parking (see aacounty.org/recparks/parks/community). Mayo Beach, for example, is open only one day a month, which happens to be Sunday, June 21, for a Watersports Fun Fest. See 8 Days a Week.
    In Calvert County, the North Beach boardwalk separates the Bay from Bay Avenue. Boardwalk is free for all, dogs as well as people. Beach and fishing pier are more restricted: people only with fees for out-of-towners, a high $15 a day. Kayaks, paddleboards, umbrellas and chairs rented. Season passes and Calvert resident discounts. 301-855-6681; ci.north-beach.md.us.
    Chesapeake Beach’s Bayfront Park offers a small beach, big boardwalk and Calvert Cliffs, so it’s a good place to hunt sharks teeth. Bring your dog — as long as you bring waste disposal bags. Free to townies; $7 to county residents; $16 for others. 6am-dusk: 410-257-2230; chesapeake-beach.md.us.
    At Breezy Point you’ll find a half-mile of sandy beach plus swimming in a netted area to reduce the risk of those pesky sea nettles, a 300-foot fishing and crabbing pier — plus picnicking, fishing and camping by tent and RV. 8am-8pm. Rt. 261. Beach admission: SaSu $10; M-F $6; season passes available: 410-535-0259; co.cal.md.us/residents/parks/getinvolved.
    Flag Ponds Nature Park has a fine beach, fishing pier, good fossiling, great Bay views, nature trails and picnicking, all with easy access for handicapped drivers. Leashed dogs welcome. SaSu 9am-8pm; M-F 9am-6pm; $6; season pass $20: 410-586-1477; calvertparks.org.
    It’s a 1.8 mile hike to the fossil-laden beach at Calvert Cliffs State Park in Lusby, but you can bring your dog for company. Don’t walk on or beneath the cliffs — they’re unstable but offer good fossiling. Also nature trails and picnicking. 301-743-7613; dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/calvertcliffs.asp.
    At Point Lookout State Park in St. Mary’s County you’ll find long sandy shores and great Bay views plus tall pines, fishing and picnicking areas, campsites and cabins, Civil War historic sites with powerful history and Point Lookout Lighthouse. Dogs allowed in some areas. dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/pointlookout.asp.
    Beaches belong to all of us up to median high tide line, so they’re yours to enter by water. Wherever you find it and however you arrive, treat your treasure with loving care. Leave no litter behind.

A fresh-cut Douglas fir is the safest tree you can buy

Believe me when I say that not all Christmas trees are created equal. I know because I was assigned to set fires under the five most popular Christmas species.
    In 1995, I was asked by the Maryland Christmas Tree Association and the State Fire Marshall’s office to research the most fire-resistant species. I tested white pine, Scots pine, blue spruce and both Douglas and Frazier firs. The State Fire Marshall set the rules. I rolled a single sheet of newspaper into a ball about 10 inches in diameter. I placed the ball against the lowest branches of the tree, then set it afire.

Ancient Ailing Oaks

Q    I live in the St. Margaret’s area near the Bay Bridge. In my neighborhood, many, if not most, of the old oak trees are dead or dying. These are original trees in an area that was never farmed; I’m sure many of them are well over 100 years old. It is so distressing since they are beautiful and I love them and because it costs $2,000 to $3,000 to have them cut down. Do you know why they are dying? Is there anything I can do to save them? I think they are red oaks, though my tree identification skills are poor.
    Thanks so much for your help. I read your column every week and thoroughly enjoy it.
    –Linda Williams, Annapolis

A    There is no way that I can determine the cause of death without seeing the conditions in which they are growing. I have cherry bark oak trees in my yard that are over 150 years old. I keep them healthy by vertical mulching every four to five years. When I moved here 22 years ago, they were in a severe state of decline, but after being vertically mulched, they revived. I suggest that you contact Mark Emmel at 301-345-2981. Mark is a good arborist and is familiar with vertical mulching.
Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

    Fresh-cut trees of each species were delivered to me at Upakrik Farm and stored — some with, others without water — at 70 degrees with lights on for eight hours. Trees were held in storage for three and six weeks prior to testing.
    We set the fires in the Fire/EMS Training Academy’s burn building at Cheltenham, with several Christmas tree growers watching. Each variant of the experiment was replicated three times and videotaped for evaluation by fire marshals from three counties and from the state office.
    White pines generated lots of smoke regardless of the amount of time in storage. They were immediately rejected by the fire marshals.
    Frazier firs were also rejected. Stored without water, they burned readily after three weeks of storage. After six weeks, they exploded into fire.
    Douglas fir was approved as the most fire-safe tree because even after six weeks of storage without water, it did not ignite. Scots pine and blue spruce were also approved.
    We repeated the experiment in 1996 with exactly the same results.
    As a Christmas tree grower, I attribute the Douglas fir’s fire-safe performance to its low resin content. My knives and pruners remain clean even after days of shearing. This is not true with the other species tested.
    As a result of this study, the State Fire Marshal established COMAR 12.03.04, allowing only Douglas fir, Scots pine and blue spruce in public buildings. Each tree must be accompanied with a tag identifying the farm where it was grown, date of harvest and species. Before the tree is moved indoors, two inches must be cut from the base. Tree stands must hold a minimum of two gallons of water. The tree must stay indoors no longer than four weeks.
    To keep your house fire-safe this Christmas season, follow these recommendations.

The interloper visits Spica and Mercury

Mercury is putting on its best pre-dawn show of 2013, more than doubling in brightness this week, from +1 magnitude to –0.5 (each order of magnitude is exponential, so an increase from +1 to 0 is a doubling). Monday marks the innermost planet’s greatest elongation — its farthest point away from the sun as seen from earth and its highest point above the horizon. Mercury rises a little before 6am and climbs nearly 15 degrees above the southeast horizon before the sun rises more than an hour later. Ten degrees above Mercury is blue-white Spica, but even this first-magnitude star pales compared to Mercury this week.
    First discovered last September, Comet ISON is heading into the inner solar system for the first time, coming within 700,000 miles of the sun November 27. If the comet survives that close encounter, it could live up to the comet of the century billing. If not, the next two weeks are your best chance to spot this long-distance traveler.
    With binoculars or a small telescope, look for ISON one degree to the west of Spica Sunday before dawn and less than one-half degree to the east of the star the next morning. By next Thursday and Friday, ISON will be within 10 degrees of Mercury — well within your binoculars’ field of view. Perhaps by then it will be bright enough to see with the unaided eye.
    Sunday marks the full moon, the Beaver Moon and the Frost Moon according to lore. The full moon floats just six degrees below the miniature dipper-shape of the Pleiades star cluster, while Monday night it is even closer to Aldebaran, the red eye of Taurus the bull.
    The full moon’s glow washes out all but the brightest meteors in this year’s Leonid shower, which peaks between the 16th and 18th. Still, the Leonids are active through the month, so patience or luck will likely reward you with a few of these shooting stars.

After three years in Chesapeake waters, Pride of Baltimore II resumes her voyages of goodwill

How long can you stay at home before the urge to get out of the house overwhelms you? That restless feeling also afflicts one of our local treasures: the sailing ship Pride of Baltimore II. This year she is finally escaping her home waters of the Chesapeake Bay, off on the high seas to do what she was built to do: travel afar to represent Maryland and foster friendships and economic relations.
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In a society dominated by technology and social media, what’s a 21st century father’s job?

Lance Garms and daughters Sofia, 15, Julia, 12

Lance, 46, of Annapolis, is an IT security ­consultant, sailor and single Dad.
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Sort through hundreds of sunscreens rated from best to worst

As a fair-skinned mutt of European descent, I depend on sunscreen as my summer best friend. However, sunscreen has been found to contain harmful chemicals that make it inefficient and much more of a foe than the friend I need.
    This year, I plan on winning the battle for sun protection. My weapon of choice is the Environmental Working Group’s extensively researched list of the most effective sunscreens.
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Shady Side fifth-graders saving the Bay one handful of spat at a time

Some Southern Anne Arundel County students are taking the adage bloom where you’re planted more than a few steps further. Fifth-graders at Shady Side Elementary are planting oysters to help restore the Bay’s oyster population.
    “We need oysters to clean the Bay,” said Lacey Wilde, 11, the daughter and granddaughter of working watermen.
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National Aquarium answers marine life SOS

Stepping inside the National Aquarium in Baltimore is like diving into the ocean depths: amazing creatures swim by your face inches away.
    In the Blacktip Reef exhibit, you meet Calypso, perhaps the aquarium’s most famous resident, a 500-pound green turtle with only three flippers.
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