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The moon visits the Beehive Cluster and more

The waxing moon reaches first-quarter phase Saturday, shining below and to the left of Jupiter. The moon is near the center of the constellation Cancer.
    Were the crab not on the ecliptic, it’s doubtful it would hold its place in the zodiac, as none of its stars are brighter than 3rd magnitude. (The ecliptic is the path of the sun, moon and planets as they circle through our skies.) But what it lacks in bright stars it makes up for in sheer quantity, as it hosts the Beehive Cluster. The Beehive is near the center of Cancer, about halfway between Regulus in Leo and Pollux in Gemini. Seen with the unaided eye, it appears as a dull smudge of light. However, binoculars or a small telescope reveal dozens of individual stars. But there’s even more to the Beehive than that, as it is a stellar incubator with thousands of infant stars.
    With binoculars at hand late Saturday and early Sunday, see if you can spot the ninth-magnitude asteroid Juno just above the moon. Your best chance is around 2am when the moon is about to set and the two appear above the west-northwest horizon.
    Sunday the moon is to the lower left of Jupiter, while above and to the left of the moon is the first-magnitude star Regulus, the three forming a near-perfect triangle. By Monday the moon lies just four degrees below Regulus.
    The five naked-eye planets are visible this week. Venus blazes in the west in evening twilight and sets in the west-northwest nearly two hours after dark. Scour the horizon below Venus for Mercury, appearing 30 minutes after sunset. The innermost planet is surprisingly bright, unlike Mars, which is just a few degrees to Mercury’s upper left. Jupiter shines high in the south as darkness falls and sets a little after 2am. Saturn rises with Scorpius around 10pm and is high in the south come dawn.

Hungry trophy stripers will strike any number of lures

If you’re a Chesapeake Bay angler, the most important day of 2015 came on Saturday, April 18, the opening day of fishing for rockfish and the start of the trophy season.
    Rockfish, or striped bass to the world outside of the Bay, are a migratory fish. Most of the linesides that swim the Atlantic seaboard originate here in the Chesapeake, but the females and a fair portion of the males don’t reside in the Bay for long.
    At about age four these fish leave for a migratory life in the Atlantic, where they grow to much larger sizes. Once in the ocean they swim the coast, sometimes as far north as Nova Scotia and as far south as South Carolina.
    They return to the Bay only once each year, in spring, to spawn. Catches of striped bass over 100 pounds have been recorded in the distant past by commercial netters; today a 60-pounder is big news — and a mighty big fish.
    Trolling big lures through Bay waters gives boat anglers the best chance of scoring on the giant fish. Since arriving in the Bay from the ocean and heading for their natal waters, they are constantly on the move, never staying in one place for long until they at last arrive at the headwaters of their birth. After spawning, the big females return to the ocean. The big males stick around until the females stop arriving. Then they too return to the ocean, the last of them departing by early May.

Lures to Catch Big Fish
    Big lead-headed jigs are the most popular lure to troll in the Bay, especially when nine- to 12-inch soft-bodied plastic shad are added.
    Included in this category are variations like parachute jigs with flaring skirts of nylon hair, the original natural bucktail hair jigs and simple nylon hair-skirted jigs. Often rigged in tandem, they are included in just about all trolling setups.
    These ersatz baitfish are crafted to emulate in both size and color the menhaden, a favorite food of striped bass. Also called bunker, mossbunker, alewife and pogy, these baitfish reach sizes of up to three pounds. Generally found in schools, the swimming baitfish can appear silver, chartreuse, gold, yellow, purple, green and lavender.
    Big spoons are also popular. Available in more colors and sizes than you can imagine, they are also known for producing a significant portion of the really big stripers boated during this springtime season.
    Arrays intended to represent whole schools of baitfish also attract big stripers. These include umbrella rigs, displaying as many as 10 lures (without hooks, by law) on wire arms like an umbrella. One lure with hooks is tied in the center and a bit more distant. Chandeliers are similar but have additional rings of lures and resemble (of course) a chandelier. Daisy chains are in-line attractors that have any number of sequenced lures, usually soft-bodied shad, spinner blades, tufts of hair or shiny tinsel arrayed on one central line with the last lure in the series bearing the hook.
    All of these lures have but one objective: to trigger a strike from a giant ocean-running rockfish.
    This year the limit is one fish. It can be either from 28 to 36 inches or over 40 inches.
    This regulation was put in place to protect the population of big females of a particular age class. Females of this size can carry upward of a half-million eggs and are critical to the rebuilding of rockfish stocks oceanwide.


Conservation Note

    With the opening of rockfish season, Maryland Department of Natural Resources urges anglers to use a new website and smartphone app — www.chesapeakecatch.com —
to record their catch and share data about Chesapeake Bay sport fish needed to make informed management decisions.

This New England transplant finds our warm summers and mild winters great for growing a wide variety of plants

From where I come from, I wonder if you properly appreciate all of your Maryland gardening advantages. I lived and gardened in central New Hampshire, where summer includes the last two weeks in July and the first two weeks in August, and where winter temperatures can drop to 30. So I know that gardening in middle and southern Maryland is heavenly.
    The long colorful springs months, warm summers, long falls and relatively mild winters all are conducive to growing a wide variety of plant species. Our winters are cold enough to allow us to grow a large number of northern species yet mild enough to grow many southern species. Plus, we get a long vegetable gardening season.

    New Hampshire, the granite state, is true to name. The soil is mostly acid and stony. Piles of stones are common near many home gardens. The large stones were used to build stone walls, while the small stones filled the voids between the large ones.
    We were grateful for paper-white birch, balsam fir, red, white and black spruce and especially sugar maples. My brother and I made maple syrup from the sap of sugar maple trees growing in nearby woods and along country roads.
    For shrubs, we had witchhazel, hills of snow and PeeGee hydrangea — plus mountain laurel in very sheltered areas. Only the branches of forsythia that were covered by snow for most of the winter could flower. But every home had a lilac.
    Of beautiful crape myrtle, colorful hydrangea, camellias, pyracantha, photinia, nandina or Japanese, Chinese and English hollies, we were deprived. We never had dogwoods or purple-flowering redbuds growing wild in the woodlands. I managed to grow a star magnolia in a very sheltered area but it seldom flowered.
    On the other hand, the cold climate was conducive to growing many cultivars of apples and pears, high- and low-bush blueberries, cranberries and many different cultivars of raspberries. Every home had a rhubarb patch. But it was impossible to grow figs or peaches.
    We did not dare to plant the vegetable garden until late May except for peas and potatoes. Asparagus were not ready to harvest until early June.
    We could grow cold-loving crops — broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, celeriac, kohlrabi, parsnips, rutabaga and turnips — all summer long. But I could never grow okra, peppers or large watermelons.
    Tomatoes could not be transplanted into the garden until early June, and by early September they had to be harvested for either ripening behind the kitchen stove or for making pickle-lily. All my fall crops had to be harvested by late September.
    March and April were known as the mud months because the snow melted dirty brown and left mud puddles along roads and sidewalks.

    Turn to Maryland and spring is a continuous blast of color starting with serviceberry, dogwood, redbud, spice bush and mountain laurel. In home landscapes, camellia, flowering quince, cornelian cherry, forsythia, flowering dogwood, Korean dogwood, rhododendrons, azaleas, Andromeda, mountain laurel, cherry laurel, leucothoe and skimia all flower in succession.
    In Deale, which I consider Southern Maryland, I  enjoy gardening from early March until just before Christmas. The first crop to be harvested in the spring is sweet and delicious parsnips.
    As soon as the soil can be tilled, in late March, while soil temperatures are below 60 degrees, I start planting potatoes, bulbing onions and peas. By mid-April, the asparagus is producing shoots that are harvested two to three times each week.
    Seeds of carrots, beets, radishes and parsnips can be sown in cool soils as well. So can broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, kohlrabi, lettuce and spinach plants that have been properly conditioned in early April.
    As soon as soil temperatures rise above 60 degrees in early to mid-May, seeds of sweet corn and snap beans can be sown. Thus, we can eat freshly harvested sweet corn on the Fourth of July.
    By late May to early June, seeds of melons, squash and cucumbers will sprout within days of being planted. Soon after night temperatures stop dropping below 50 degrees, tomato and pepper plants can be transplanted and seeds of okra can be sown. 
    In late July or early August, the cold-loving crops of the cabbage family can be planted for harvesting from mid-October until Christmas. Nothing like eating freshly picked Brussels sprouts at Thanksgiving dinner and at the Christmas banquet.
    Peas also do best planted in early August, giving me seven or eight harvests before a hard freeze kills the plants. However, spring-planted peas in Maryland can be harvested only twice before the weather becomes too warm for the plants to continue flowering.
    Short-day onions can even be grown in a cold frame or tunnel during winter.
    I still miss the fun of ice fishing, snowshoeing and skating in New Hampshire. But the joy of being able to grow a wide variety of flowering plant species and harvest from my garden eight months each year makes it all worthwhile.


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

It’s been a long roller coaster ride for conservation

We have experienced a wild conservation roller coaster ride during the 22 years since Bay Weekly newspaper first burst upon the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. Our enormous watershed, once considered an inexhaustible source of seafood and wildlife, has discovered itself not so limitless after all.
    Maryland’s rockfish, rescued from the edge of collapse by a complete federal and state moratorium on their harvest in 1985, had been lifted for only two years when Bay Weekly began publication as New Bay Times. That extreme protection effort was an unqualified victory, with fish stocks rebounding to an abundance not seen on the Chesapeake for some time.
    Following that success, however, we soon fell into our old habits of harvesting as many fish as we felt sustainable. It turned out that over the last decade — in part because of commercial poaching — we found ourselves in trouble once again.
    Rockfish numbers have fallen by over 30 percent ocean-wide. Last year, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission lowered catch limits and increased legal fish sizes for the foreseeable future. Once again, the hope is that our favorite fish to catch and to eat will bounce back.
    Bay oysters are another story. Close to extinction for more than two decades, oysters continue to struggle from commercial over-harvest, poaching, disease and pollution caused by agricultural and population expansion.
    It would take almost all of the 22 years from the birth of this newspaper to see the kind of effort and regulation from the state that could result in a chance for that keystone resource’s recovery. Today, with commercial excess possibly reigned in by new and more stringent regulations and the expenditure of funds increased to the levels necessary to provide a chance of success, the first signs of an oyster stock recovery are beginning to show. Lets hope the trend continues.
    The blue crab continues on a roller coaster ride. At times we have had good numbers for this species, celebrated on the table and in print as wildly as the rockfish. But we have also had almost regular population crises.
    The key, it seems, has been the number of females surviving winter and escaping relentless commercial harvest. Maryland Department of Natural Resources has put female crab harvest off limits for recreational crabbers but not for watermen.
    Commercial limits continue to be set optimistically high for female harvest, and the crab population is once again headed back toward the danger zone. Perhaps Maryland officials will wake up.
    The Canada goose, which fills our autumn skies with sound as skeins of these far-traveling waterfowl come our way, has also experienced its ups and downs. Pressured by hunting to the point of collapse by 1991, it too went through a long moratorium, finally lifted in 2001. With more sensible regulations, the species seems to be holding its numbers.
    Chesapeake Bay itself has had its own travails, principally from pollution, but here too is much hope for the future. The necessary laws and regulations to protect the Bay from two major sources of degradation, agricultural and stormwater runoff, are finally being put in place.
    Population growth continues, but that is not entirely bad. Many of the people coming here are drawn by the beauty and the recreation provided by the Bay and its tributaries. These are fresh eyes and fresh expectations that the care and nurturing of the environment and all of its wild creatures should have very high priorities in the coming years. I am all for that.

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Fishing College

    Learn to fish with light tackle on May 9 (filling fast) or June 5, when I teach Chesapeake Bay fishing (AHC 362) at Anne Arundel Community College: www.aacc.edu/noncredit; 410-777-2222.

With white and yellow perch running, you want a rig that works

Casting my rig up underneath the big tree leaning out from the opposite bank of the river, I paused to give my lures time to settle near the bottom. I then began a slow retrieve, starting with a small twitch. Detecting a sudden resistance, I set the hook, and my rod tip surged down. Fish on!
    Actually there were two fish on. The occasion marked my discovery of a new springtime yellow perch hangout, one that would deliver big fish reliably over the next several seasons.
    We were using a two-lure, tandem rig with a yellow-feathered gold Tony Accetta spoon in size 12 on the long leg and a one-eighth-ounce shad dart in chartreuse on the short one. A small three-way swivel joined everything together. Adding a lip-hooked minnow to the spoon and a grass shrimp to the shad dart gave the lures the added scent that pretty much ensured their success, assuming fish were present.
    This rig is the one we use when exploring new water or starting the day from our skiff. Navigating quietly along a shoreline, one of us casts while the other steers to likely looking laydowns and brushy edges. When a fish strikes, we anchor and work the area thoroughly, since perch are a schooling fish.
    The setup also fished well from shore, especially with the addition of a small bobber to keep the lures from fouling the bottom. The only downside  was that the rig is tedious to replace if lost in a snag. But it is so productive that we usually spend the time to retie it.
    The Tony with the minnow moved through the water with a pronounced flashing, undulating action that really drew the strikes. It was the lure the big fish usually hit. The shad dart with the grass shrimp on the shorter section had multiple aspects. If the water was deeper than we anticipated or the current stiffer, we could substitute a heavier dart to get the rig nearer the bottom where the perch always were. Besides being activated by the action of the spoon, the brightly colored lure proved irresistible to any fish drawn to the struggle of a perch hooked on the spoon, resulting in a double hookup. It also worked for those days when the perch (white or yellow) would eat nothing but grass shrimp.
    White perch tend to cruise the shallow river or stream edges during high tide and when they are spawning. Yellow perch seek out flooded shoreline brush or downed tree limbs to hang their accordion-like tubes of roe.
    During low tide, perch tend to hold in the deeper holes or travel the channels. Then, too, the setup works. We simply anchor up in the center of the cuts or up-current of large pools. The current alone induces the spoon’s serpentine action, so we can often set our rods down and wait for strikes.
    The next most productive setup for fishing shallows less than five feet of water is simply one-eighth ounce shad dart under a small weighted bobber rigged so the dart is suspended just off of the bottom. The rig can be retrieved or still-fished. This is one of the most commonly used perch rigs along the Chesapeake and for good reason: It works.
    When a lot of fish are present and competing for food, the setup can be used with just the shad dart. But when prospecting or if the perch are reticent to bite, adding a grass shrimp, a piece of worm or a small minnow can make it instantly more attractive.
    When searching for fish, work your casts out in a fan pattern to explore all around your position. After throwing the rig, let it sit until the water calms. Then twitch it back methodically. Vary the count that you let the lure sit between movements until you find the rhythm that draws the most bites.

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Conservation Alert: Blue Crab Management Strategy

    The blue crab population has been in a nosedive the last few years with numbers indicating another crisis may be at hand. Add your voice to Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Blue Crab Management Strategy Plan: http://tinyurl.com/ntebjb3.
    DNR has set female crab harvest limits for the commercial sector this season at about the same as last year except there will be no season closures. Harvesting female crabs remains illegal for recreational fishermen. Read more at dnr2.maryland.gov/Fisheries/Pages/notices.aspx.

Make a bed or make way for stalks now pushing up

Time to turn your attention to asparagus. One of spring’s earliest crops, asparagus is typically ready for cutting in Maryland between April 25 and June 15.
    If your bed is already planted, it needs prepping. Winter weeds have most likely covered the beds, and the old asparagus stems are still sticking above ground. While the soil is still cool, asparagus roots are not yet energized. As soon as the soil dries sufficiently so it will not clump on the hoe or tiller, adjust the cultivator or tiller so that the blades will not penetrate the soil more that two inches. Cultivate or till weeds and those old asparagus stems into the soil. Allow the soil to dry for at least a week, then repeat. Cultivating the soil will hasten its warming, which will hasten the sprouting of asparagus stems.
    If you wish to delay the emergence of asparagus spears, cover the cultivated beds with four to six inches of straw. The straw mulch will shade the soil, retarding warming.
    Under normal conditions, asparagus beds should not be fertilized or mulched with compost until after harvesting. But they should be kept weed-free. Hand weed with a hoe immediately after making a harvest of spears.
    If you’re starting a new asparagus bed, now is the time. Choose a full-sun spot with well-drained soil. Dig a trench 10 to 12 inches wide and eight to 10 inches deep. Place one to two inches of compost in the bottom of the trench, and spade the compost into the soil to a depth of four inches.
    Place the asparagus crowns over the spaded soil at eight-inch intervals, spreading the roots uniformly flat. Cover with about two inches of soil amended 1-to-1 with compost. As the asparagus spears begin to grow, continue adding amended soil to the trench until it is full.
    Do not harvest any asparagus spears for at least two years. Allow the foliage to grow to its maximum height, cutting the stems to the ground in late fall when they have completely turned golden-brown. By delaying cutting, you allow residual nutrients in the stems and leaves to return to the roots.
    After you have cut the asparagus back to the ground in the fall, mulch the bed with a two-inch-thick layer of compost. This not only helps to insulate the bed, it also supplies all the nutrients for next year.
    In the third year, you may start harvesting asparagus spears in the spring. During the first year of harvesting, you should limit your harvests to two. For maximum recovery, cut the asparagus spears just below the surface of the soil using a sharp knife.
    If you prefer eating French-style asparagus, white spears, build a low frame, 10 inches to a foot high above a section of your asparagus bed and cover it with black plastic. The same wire hoops used for building small tunnels can be used to support the black plastic. To prevent heat build-up, leave both ends of the tunnel partially open. Asparagus that develops in total darkness will be white and tends to be tenderer than green asparagus.


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

Clip right to force branches of flowers

Now is the time to force forsythia, quince, magnolia, crabapple, lilac and weigela branches into flower. Select heavily budded branches from the center of the plants so as not to distract from the natural appearance of the plant when it flowers later in the spring. Flower buds are easily distinguished this time of year because they tend to be plump as compared to vegetative buds. In many species, the ends of the flowering buds are rounded.
    If the container for your arrangement is large like a crock, you will achieve a better effect if you first make a large loose ball with chicken wire. The holes in the chicken wire enable you to stand the branches upright or at any angle. Fill the container two-thirds full with 100-degree water.  
    Cut the branches longer than needed so that when you bring them indoors you can make a second cut just before arranging them in the container. Using sharp pruners, cut the stems at a slight angle and quickly immerse them in the warm water. Freshly cut woody stems will absorb more water when placed in warm water than if placed in cold. Cutting the stem at a slight angle also makes larger openings in the stem’s sieve cells, which absorb the water.
    Don’t bother misting the branches and buds. Misting actually delays flowering because as the water evaporates, it causes cooling.
    To maintain a succession of flowering branches, wait 10 to 12 days before harvesting more branches for forcing. Put them in warm water in an out-of-the-way place, adding these just-flowering branches to your arrangement when the first batch starts dropping petals. As outdoor temperatures become warmer, it will take less and less time to force branches into flower.
    Try mixing forsythia branches with saucer or star magnolia branches. The magnolia will be slower in forcing but will add additional color to your arrangement.


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

Dress warm to catch ’em by the shore

Rockfish season is still four weeks away, but already a small crowd of dedicated anglers is breaking out gear. Their tackle is rather odd for the coming trophy season. They don’t favor the short, stout-as-a-broomstick trolling outfits used by Bay skippers. These specialized anglers prefer equipment more common among coastal surf fishermen.
    Their rods are nine to 12 feet long with lengthy butts, and they are hung with big spinning or casting reels capable of 300 or more yards of 20- to 30-pound mono or 30- to 65-pound braid. Their terminal setups are 30- to 50-pound leaders and big circle hooks rigged with three- to six-ounce sinkers. Their bait of choice: bloodworms, as big as they can find.
    A hard winter has delayed these early birds, but now they are shore-bound. The first couple of weeks, fishing is catch and release only. But by the season opener, they will have sussed the tempo of the striper migration and will be ready to slide some rockfish giants into their big coolers.
    Sandy Point, Fort Smallwood and Matapeake State Parks as well as Anne Arundel County’s Thomas Point Park are frequented by the cognoscenti. Further south, Point Lookout at the mouth of the Potomac has been drawing larger and larger numbers of anglers willing to suffer the wind, chill and rain.
    This tactic, strangely enough, has developed in only the last half-dozen years or so. Big migratory fish surely have been cruising the shoreline looking for a snack as long as they’ve been returning from the ocean to spawn. Yet most anglers have traditionally pursued them by dragging big lures behind big boats.
    Perhaps it was the economic downturn that forced some to remain shore-bound. Perhaps the successes of a small number of dedicated fishers were finally noted. Whatever the reason, more and more anglers have been showing up in the spring to soak a big, whole bloodworm on the bottom and hope for a 40-plus-incher to discover it.
    When fresh menhaden become available, many anglers will switch to them. Some fanatics will even search out herring or shad that have been legally harvested elsewhere (it’s prohibited to take either in any part of the Chesapeake). But the bottom line is that these guys catch fish, and often regularly.
    Many anglers prefer night fishing, when the big rockfish are more apt to frequent the shallows. But I have also interviewed those who maintain banker’s hours and arrive about 9am and fish through to the afternoon. Their theory is that, as the majority of the fish are unpredictable, one might as well be as comfortable as possible when pursuing them. All of these guys catch fish, sometimes lots of them.
    Enduring the weather is a major part of the early spring fishing experience. Warm boots, woolen socks, windproof, insulated coats, snug hats with ear covering, thick gloves, handwarmers and a thermos full of a hot beverage are almost a necessity, especially at night.
    Many anglers fish multiple rigs. Two or more outfits increase the odds of hooking up and ensure that at least one line is available while changing baits or clearing a fouled line.
    When shoreline fishing, sand spikes firmly set into the ground are a necessity. Casually propping your rod against a cooler risks it being dragged into deep water when a strong fish takes the bait.
    A beach chair is another mark of an experienced angler. Shoreline fishing is characterized by long periods of inactivity interrupted by moments of adrenalin-soaked, fish-fighting panic. Being comfortable during the slower moments makes the wait much more tolerable.

Equinox divides not only day and night but the seasons, too

The new moon winks from sight Friday, obscuring the sun in a total eclipse as seen in a narrow strip over northern oceans. Only residents of a few scattered islands between northern Great Britain and Greenland will see the full eclipse, but viewers across Europe and parts of Asia and Africa will see a partial eclipse.
    The nascent crescent moon returns just after sunset Saturday low against the western horizon. Look just above the crescent’s right tip for Mars, so faint you might need binoculars to see it. In contrast, Venus blazes a dozen degrees above the moon and puny Mars.
    The moon is much easier to spot Sunday evening, now to the left of Venus. About a fist-width to the upper right of the Evening Star, look for the second-magnitude star Hamal, the brightest in the minimalist constellation Aries.
    Monday, the waxing crescent moon shines well above Venus and below the Pleiades star cluster. Venus is so bright you can see it before the sun sets, but you’ll need full darkness to see the stars of the Pleiades, which make up the shoulder of the constellation Taurus. With the unaided eye, most people can see only six of the Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters. With binoculars, however, there are far more stars than sisters. The Pleiades is an interstellar incubator of gas and dust with thousands of stars dating back 100 million years. A mere 430 light-years from earth, the Pleiades is one of the nearest star clusters.
    Tuesday, the moon passes close to Aldebaran, the red eye of Taurus the bull, and the constellation’s other star cluster, the V-shaped Hyades. In Greek myth, these were nine sisters, daughters to Atlas and half-sisters to the Pleiades, which are off to the right. The Hyades mark the face of the bull.
    Friday’s vernal equinox ushers in spring for us in the Northern Hemisphere. At 6:45pm EDT, the sun hovers directly above the equator. High above the equator extending into space is another equally imaginary line, the celestial equator, which divides the heavens into a northern and a southern hemisphere. For the past six months, the sun has been in the southern celestial hemisphere, robbing us of more daylight the farther south it dips.
    Since winter solstice the sun has inched away from its southern nadir, and our days have grown longer. On the vernal equinox, the day is divided more or less equally between light and darkness.
    For the next three months, the sun climbs higher and higher into the northern celestial hemisphere before reaching its northern apex above the Tropic of Cancer on the day of summer solstice. Then it spends another three months slowly dipping southward to the second point of balance, the autumnal equinox.

Hard-working pods make fat peas

March 17 is the day many gardeners plant peas. So it’s time to know a little about them.
    Did you know that the green pea pod generates most of the energy needed to swell the peas in the pod? It would seem that the leaves on the vine would be contributing. However, research shows that only the leaves immediately adjacent to the pod contribute to the formation of the flowers and the pod itself. Once the pea pod has formed, it generates the energy that causes the peas within to expand. 
    This discovery was made after a researcher wrapped up a newly formed pea pod. At that stage of growth, the pod was flat. Covered with opaque tape, the pods did not produce peas. Covering one-half of the pod produced small peas. Different colored opaque materials gave similar results.
    To study the energy source that produced the pod, he removed one, two or three leaves above and below the flower on the vine. Removing leaves adjacent to the flower reduced the size of the pod. Removing leaves from the vine above the flower had no effect. Removing two of the leaves below the flower had the greatest effect on reducing the size of the pod. Removing the third leaf below the flower had little effect. Thus, the leaves closest to and below the flower had the greatest effect on the growth of the pea pod.
    This is more than an idle-hands study. It proves the importance of proper spacing of seeds and of growing peas where they will receive maximum sunlight. If you use too many seeds, the plants will be crowded, causing more vine and fewer pods and peas because both the pods and the adjacent leaves will most likely be shaded.
    Peaches, plums and apples have similar leaf and fruit association. Only the leaves adjacent to the fruit generate the energy to cause the fruit to grow and sweeten. All of the other leaves on the tree provide energy for the tree to grow new leaves and branches. This is another good reason for pruning because pruning allows the sun to penetrate to the regions of the tree where fruit is growing.
    The knowledge gained from such studies has resulted in the development of new pruning and training practices. If you visit a newly planted orchard, you will see apple, plum and peach trees being trained on trellises to minimize the growth of the tree and to maximize fruit production. 
    This knowledge has helped us understand partitioning. Partitioning means that plants have evolved systems for diverting energy for specific purposes. Most of the leaves on pea vines and fruit trees are designated to grow the plant. Only those leaves nearest the flower and fruit produce the energy to grow the fruit. In the case of the pea, the photosynthesis of the pod produces the energy to grow the peas within.


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