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A cover crop of winter rye is the ultimate in nutrient recycling

Planting a cover crop in your garden is good for the soil. It also contributes to improving the quality of Bay waters. Soil should never be exposed to rain and wind. Most of the brown, muddy water you see while boating on the Bay is colored by soil that has washed from adjoining lands or streams.
    As soon as you finish gardening in late summer and fall, plant winter rye in your garden. Winter rye is a great scavenger plant because it absorbs all available nutrients and stores them in roots and stems. Since it is deep-rooted, it absorbs nutrients that have leached down in the deeper soil, and its roots help to fracture the hardpan soils created by repeated plowing or rototilling. Its roots are rich in lignins, fibers that are slow to decompose and that improve soils making them more friable, thus more suitable for growing plants. Then, when the roots, stems and leaves of rye plants are plowed or rototilled into the ground, they decompose, providing nutrients to the plants in your garden next season. In other words, cover crops, often called green manure crops, are the ultimate in nutrient recycling and the best in preventing the loss of soil and nutrients by wind and rain.
    The complaint that I hear most often from gardeners who have tried winter rye as a cover crop is that it is difficult to turn under in the spring because it makes very dense vegetation. This is a self-inflicted problem because those gardeners have applied too much seed. The application rate of winter rye seed to establish an effective cover crop is one to one and a half pounds per 1,000 square feet. This information is often printed on the package, but who reads directions?
    Mow the winter rye before plowing or rototilling the garden, and you’ll achieve good incorporation of the chopped stems and roots with one or two tries. 
    It takes approximately two weeks for the decomposition to start releasing nutrients, so I advise preparing the soil two to three weeks in advance of planting. The soil will be exposed during this short period, but the roots will help retain it. What’s more, microorganisms will actively be fixing any available nutrients in their effort to decompose the new organic matter.
    Topsoil is a precious commodity and natural resource. Keep the soil where it belongs and out of Bay waters.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

Perfect your cast to battle with autumn’s big fellas of the Bay

Our skiff was slowly drifting off of the Western Shore, just below the Bay Bridge, pushed by a light northwesterly wind along with the beginnings of a falling tide. My eyes were glued to some strong arches on the fish-finder indicating we were passing over a pod of good fish holding close to the bottom in about 20 feet of water. Bending on a 3/0 Half and Half (a Deceiver-style fly with a Clouser-type head) in chartreuse and white, I lifted my stiff nine-foot rod and started to cast.
    Beginning with a roll cast directed to our rear and about 60 degrees off the line of drift, I worked a short length of the 350-grain, sink-tip fly line out. Just as it touched the water I cast again, working a bit more line out, and yet again, until I had the full 30 feet of black, high-density line extended. Then, as that heavy line touched the water one last time, I made a hauling, sidearm backcast, shooting the dark tip and about 25 feet of running line to the rear.
    As the cast straightened out behind me, I changed the plane of my forward cast to almost straight overhead and began a strong forward haul. As the line leapt out in front of me forming a narrow loop, I made a circle with the index finger and thumb of my left hand and guided the rest of the pile of line (about 40 feet of it) laying on the deck, sizzling through the guides and out over the water.
    The weight of the sink tip took the fly deep as I stripped off another 10 feet of line from my reel and fed it into the drift. Allowing a full 10 count to let the line get close to the bottom, I began a slow strip-jerk retrieve to impart the motions of an injured baitfish on my streamer. About the time I imagined the fly was reaching the area behind us where we had marked the pod, the line came tight. I cinched the fish up hard, and another autumn fly rod battle was on.
    Usually, the long rod is associated with sweetwater and the more pleasant months of the year. Casting a tiny Adams upstream in May to tempt a dimpling trout or working a small popper in June along the spawning beds for bull bluegills are more usual pursuits.
    But the less comfortable chill of autumn sends another signal to the long-rod enthusiast of Chesapeake Bay. This is just the time to break out the eight- and nine-weight saltwater rods, tie on a 20-pound leader and do some serious battle with the big fellas of the Bay, our rockfish.

How to Do the Chuck ’n’ Duck
    Casting a heavy-taper floating line over shallow water (six feet or less) with big, bright streamers and poppers can be a relaxing and especially enjoyable saltwater tactic. But the window of opportunity is inconveniently short, usually lasting only an hour or so after first light. As the sun climbs, the light-sensitive stripers tend to move to a deeper stratum until evening. Unless a fly angler can find large stripers actively feeding and breaking on the surface, fishing a floating line is no longer an option.
    If you want the bigger rockfish you’ve got to follow ’em deep, and that means using a high-density sinking line. Sink-tips, as they are called because only the first 20 feet is heavily weighted, can work depths of 15 to 25 feet.
    Sink-tip lines come in various weights, usually measured in grains (1,000 grains to an ounce). A 350-grain line is intended for eight- and nine-weight rods, 450 grains for 10- and 11-weight rods, etc. The heavier the rod and the heavier the line, the deeper you can reach and the larger the fly you can throw. Keep in mind the axiom, bigger fish want bigger baits.
    Casting these lines requires some adjustments to your normal casting stroke. It is wise to prepare by lawn casting before taking your show on the water. The technique of throwing sink-tips is sometimes called the chuck ’n’ duck, you’ll understand why the first time you try it.

Here’s the one way to kill kudzu and bamboo

These very invasive species cannot be killed by spray during the summer months. They grow so rapidly that the week killers knock back only the top of the plants and not the roots.
    To kill the roots of perennial plants, the weed killer must translocate downward into the roots and rhizomes. For kudzu, you need only to kill the roots. For bamboo, you must kill both the roots and the rhizomes, the underground stems from which new bamboo canes appear.
    Only during the later part of October and early November does the food produced by the foliage of both these invasives translocate down into the roots and rhizomes. The combination of shortened daylight hours, warm days and cool nights sets the stage. In early fall, these plants build up a food supply in their roots so that they can generate strong growth the following spring when soils warm and daylight grows longer.
    Spray when foliage on the plants is abundant. Choose a bright sunny day when the soil is moist so that the foliage to be sprayed can absorb the weed killer.
    Follow the recommendations provided by the manufacturer for mixing glyphosate (Roundup) with water. To assure greater penetration, add one teaspoon of ammonium sulfate to each gallon of spray to be applied. Wear protective clothing and rubber boots to thoroughly wet the foliage. Use low pressure and a coarse spray to avoid drift. Cover nearby desirable plants with plastic sheeting. Repeat the spray treatment in seven to 10 days. 
    The kudzu vines will die back to the ground as usual, and if you do a thorough job of spraying, they will not be resuming growth next spring. The bamboo will show signs of dying in about one month following the second application. If you followed the directions, you should not observe any new growth of bamboo next spring, except perhaps at the outer edge of the planting. This can be a problem when there is not adequate bamboo foliage that can be sprayed. If this occurs, allow that bamboo to grow uninterrupted next summer and repeat the treatment that fall.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

Dress warmly if you want to get in on the nighttime bite

Darkness had fallen. The scattered fishing boats had headed home with little success. I was alone on the water, and it was a good deal colder than a few minutes earlier, when the sun was shining its last.
    But I had dressed well. Zipping up the neck of my fleece turtleneck under a flannel-lined shirt and closing my foul weather coat around me, I settled down to wait.
    Arriving just as everyone else was leaving was a little chancy. If the fish had shown up earlier, the commotion of anglers hooking, battling and landing them would have driven them off. But I was counting on the school of rock’s delayed arrival. This area had been fished hard the last few days, and I was guessing the bass were finally getting a little weary of all the attention.
    About a half-hour after full dark, I began to cast. Working a half-ounce Rat-L-Trap-type bait over submerged structure, I started to search. Feeling the plug occasionally banging off of sunken rocks below gave me focus. I couldn’t allow the bait to get so deep that it would hang up, but caroming it off the scattered remains of old riprap was a strike trigger.
    Pausing the retrieve for just a second after the initial contact just might emulate a fleeing baitfish that had stunned itself in its panic to escape. Could any nearby striper resist such an easy meal?
    A quarter of an hour passed as I concentrated on casting and retrieving. Then at the pause, my lure hung up. Reflexively I set the hook but felt only the solid resistance of failure. Then came a healthy headshake, and my rod bent down as an unseen torpedo headed away and out toward the channel. The drag sang, and I relaxed.
    Patiently waiting out the fish’s powerful didoes for escape and holding the rod tip high to minimize line contact with the rocks below, I let the fish exhaust itself. Slipping my net into the water, I eventually guided the striper into its folds and lifted it on board. My first night fight of the season had been a success.

Nighttime Primer
    One of the difficulties in fall fishing, especially in shallow water, is that the sweet spots become well known almost at once. It is first-light and last-light action, so the window for success is usually little more than an hour or so on either end. If a few boats gather, it can be even shorter.
    The evening bite usually dies as darkness falls. Wait about a half-hour longer, and the feed often starts again. Fishing after dark is usually not as frenetic as at sunset, but it can be very productive and the fish can get substantially larger.
    I use a Rat-L-Trap-type bait as a searching tool because I can cast it farther and cover more water. As it’s a noisemaker, it tends to draw the fish from farther away.
    If the bite slows after the first few fish on the Trap, I’ll then go to a swimming crank bait such as a Yozuri Crystal Minnow, a Bomber Long A or a jointed Rebel. If that’s not successful, I will change again to a BKD or a Bass Assassin and work it deep and slow. One of them usually does the trick.
    The only cautions about this type of angling are that you should never fish an area or run a water route you haven’t gotten to know in daylight. Always wear some kind of life jacket, have a good waterproof radio or phone and let someone know where you are fishing and what time you‘ll be back. Dress warmly and bring a lot of lures. The rocks below, as well as the stripers, are famous for eating them up in the dark.

The bulbs grow fat when the days grow short

I have a favorite treat in June: going into the garden and lifting out a big bulb of elephant garlic for roasting. Eat a few crackers smeared with fresh roasted elephant garlic and you will think you’ve died and gone to heaven. If you wish to enjoy that heavenly food, now is the time for planting.  
    Garlic thrives in full sun in well-drained soil rich in organic matter. To prepare for planting, spread a layer of compost about an inch thick over the garden soil, add a dusting of agricultural limestone over the compost and spade or rototil to a depth of at least six inches.
    To grow large bulbs of elephant garlic, space the cloves at six-inch intervals in rows six inches apart. Using a dibble or a narrow trowel, dig holes three to four inches deep with at least one inch of soil over the top of each clove. Plant the cloves with the blunt side down and the pointed side up.
    In about three to four weeks, young, yellow-green leaves will emerge from the soil. Keep the garlic plot free of weeds. Do not apply any herbicides.  
    If your interest is in growing standard-sized garlic — Italian, German red or greater white, for example — prepare the soil as described above but space the cloves four inches apart in the row with rows six inches apart.
    Garlic is a short-day plant, forming its bulb during less than 12 hours of daylight. If you were to plant garlic cloves in the spring, the plants would only produce leaves and no bulbs.
    With mid-October planting, leaves should be four to six inches tall by mid to late November.
    Just before the ground freezes, spread a two-inch thick layer of compost over the soil and water into place. The compost will serve as a mulch, and next spring it will supply the nutrients the garlic plants will need to grow large bulbs. The nutrients contained in the compost will leach out of the compost with each watering.
    Garlic is a rather coarse feeder, meaning that its limited root system depends on a readily available supply of nutrients.  
    If the foliage develops a yellow-green color in mid May, this is an indication that the plants lack nitrogen. Apply one-fourth to one-half teaspoon of calcium nitrate, ammonium sulfate, urea or bloodmeal per plant over the mulch and water it in. A healthy green color should return in a week or two.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

You’re missing out on the fun if you don’t have a boat

It’s almost impossible to look out over our Chesapeake Bay without also gazing at a graceful waterman’s workboat or anglers in a skiff speeding to the next honey hole, a family in a cuddy or cabin cruiser slowly trolling for trophy rockfish or heading for dinner at a waterfront restaurant. Sometimes all of them at the same time.
    The plain fact is that if you live in our area and don’t have a boat, you are missing out on enjoying one of our nation’s largest maritime playgrounds.
    At 4,500 square miles with 11,000 miles of shoreline and hundreds of tributary rivers and streams, the Bay is the biggest and most complex estuary on the North American continent. It is also home to 300 species of fish, 170 species of crabs and shellfish and visited by more than a million migrating waterfowl each year. Our Bay is a recreational heaven and a naturalists’ wonderland. A boat is the key to experiencing it fully.
    It isn’t necessarily true that owning a watercraft is a seasonal, expensive, time-intensive and dangerous pastime. Today’s marine craft are safe and robust. The motors, once the bugaboo of seafaring, have become models of reliability and efficiency. Modern materials and refined technologies have much reduced maintenance requirements and breakdowns.
    Today’s boater can expect to enjoy almost eight months of comfortable use in an average season on the Chesapeake. Stalwarts willing to endure more uncomfortable conditions (sometimes including myself) often log in full 12-month calendars.
    While there is no upper limit on the size or expense of a craft that will allow you to enjoy our maritime cornucopia, a boat of 21 feet or slightly larger with outboard power is a good starting point. Such a boat will get just about any adventure under way from a crabbing excursion to sightseeing, bird watching, visiting waterfront restaurants, catching a rockfish or filling a cooler with perch and spot.

My Requirements and Desires
    My own boating usually involves just me and sometimes a friend. My wife, a high school art teacher and successful sculptor, generally has a full schedule. Our three sons have mostly flown the nest.
    Spending at least three or four days a week on the water in fulfilling my duties as a sporting columnist for Bay Weekly, I have chosen a simple 17-foot center console skiff. It is easy to tow, launch and handle solo or with a friend. Powered by a 50-horsepower Yamaha four-stroke motor, the relatively light and slender craft (800-pound hull, six-foot beam) can max out at 30 mph, cruise easily in the mid 20s and fish all day on about three gallons of gas. Its modified V-hull with a wide, flared bow runs dry in a chop and handles just about any kind of weather I’m apt to fish in.
    I’ve equipped the skiff with a stern Power Pole or shallow water anchor, an electric trolling motor for stealthy shoreline running, a good quality GPS/fishfinder combo and a handheld compact VHF marine radio. This setup excels for shallow-water plugging and fly fishing and is quite satisfactory for deeper water tactics such as chumming, live-lining, jigging or just bottom fishing with bait.
    I’ve come to prefer keeping the craft ready on its trailer, having found that one of the keys to angling success on the Bay is getting promptly to where the fish are — even if that entails a road trip to a distant public boat ramp.

Try It!
    Whatever your requirements and desires, being on the water is a life-expanding experience.

Some days it takes perseverance to fill your cooler

It was nearly noon. My skiff was getting low on gas, a chop was building and my cooler was still empty. Having started in the early hours, searching and fishing from Sandy Point to Hackett’s and Tolley’s then up to Podickery and over to Love Point, I was now on my way back to the ramp without a single rockfish.
    My eyes ached from looking for feeding sea birds. The only ones that I had spotted appeared as baffled as I was. My bucket of chum was back on ice, as was my supply of menhaden. My casting rods, rigged with top-water plugs and deeper water jigs, remained unused.
    It was decision time. Either I quit, pull the boat and head home for a warm meal, a shower and a nap, or I mount a serious second effort. I was tired and hungry, but I knew the forecast ruled out fishing for the next few days. A large foul-weather system was approaching; even now the wind was building.
    Deciding to go on, I secured my center console on the trailer, then drove toward more sheltered waters. Days ago I had located a few schools of particularly chunky white perch. Hoping that they were still there, I launched at a convenient ramp and headed back out.
    Slowly cruising the channel edge, I saw what looked like a nice school of perch on my sonar screen. I motored back up-current, dropped a hi-lo rig baited with pieces of bloodworm and let out line. Feeling the one-ounce sinker skipping over the shell bottom below, I held my thumb on the spool and drifted along.
    Thump, thump, bang! My light rod tip bent down, and the spool turned against the drag. I felt the surges of a good fish below. Then the rod really bent over, telling me a second fish had jumped on. Two nice perch eventually flashed in the sun as I lifted them up and over the side.
    I let the smaller guy go, iced the other, over 10 inches, and decided, perhaps impulsively, that 10 inches would be my minimum. Rebaiting, I dropped the rig back down and resumed the quest. The next school lit up my screen, and the fight was on again.
    But by 3pm, I had accumulated only two more 10-inch keepers in my box, though I had caught and released dozens of perch. Conditions were now deteriorating. The wind had begun pushing one way, the tide another. My drifts had become hesitant and were resulting in fewer strikes.
    I was again considering calling it a day when I noticed a nice school on my fish-finder. Casting back up-current, past where the fish had been marked, I retrieved with sweeps of my rod. Bam, bam: Two fish slammed the baits. The biggest was 11 inches, his buddy a hair smaller.
    That simple change turned the key. Drifting or slowly motoring until marking a school, then casting back over them and retrieving the baits with pronounced sweeps resulted in hard, prompt strikes and, almost invariably, nice big perch.
    Within another hour I had more than a dozen big, thick black-backed perch in the box.

How I resurrected a 1971 sailboat

Making old things new again is part of my family history. When I was a boy, my mother furnished our home with used furniture purchased at auction. I would often help her strip the paint or varnish from the wood and apply a new finish.
    So I wasn’t daunted by the challenge of restoring a 1971 24-foot Ventura MacGregor sailboat. Wife Clara has long had a desire to own a sailboat. When we were offered this one, with trailer, for $1,400, I tested the hull for soundness and purchased it.
    After hauling the boat to Upakrik Farm, I backed it into the barn, where I used car jacks to lift the boat from the trailer; then I supported it three feet above the floor with beams attached to barn supports. Using putty knives and scrapers, I removed a five-gallon pail full of barnacles from the hull. From the cockpit we removed several bushels of leaves as well as several more of composted leaves.
    I tried to lower the swing keel by loosening the cable, but it was wedged in the housing. The keel is made with 100 pounds of steel and 400 pounds of lead with wood filling the voids, and the whole thing is covered with fiberglass. Inspecting the keel with a powerful light, I saw that the fiberglass had split open and barnacles had attached themselves to it.
    Removing the swing keel from the housing took me several years: Farm work occupied most of my time during spring, summer and fall, and in the winter it was often too cold to work in the barn. Finally, I extracted the keel in pieces. Then I fit it back together and made an accurate outline of the original. Using one-inch band steel welded to the steel shank and conforming to the original outline, I made a new swing keel. With the guidance of Garry Williams, owner of Osprey Composites of Deale, I covered the reconstructed keel with several layers of fiberglass.
    Once the keel was resurrected, I spent months sanding the hull, deck and cabin. Cracks in the fiberglass had to be ground down to a solid surface and filled with new fiberglass. I did so much sanding that I wore out a DeWalt orbital sander as well as countless pads of sandpaper. All of the fiberglass work was done under Garry’s guidance, and I hired his painters to spray paint the boat. Most of the chrome fixtures had to be ­factory refinished.
    The tabernacle that holds the base of the mast had been ripped from the top of the cabin, demanding major repair. The interior of the cabin also needed major refinishing and refurbishing; I installed ceiling lights, ship-to-shore radio and wood moldings.
    Clara had the task of naming our boat. After much research on boat names, she chose The Happy Heron.
    Nine years after purchase, The Happy Heron was launched at Herrington Harbour North in Tracys Landing and navigated to Paradise Marina, where it has been berthed on a lift when not in use.
    Since its launching, I have sailed it at least five times with a friend and twice with Clara.
    In the spring of 2013, I had a serious accident the day after Thanksgiving followed by a second worse accident resulting in permanent damage to my left leg. I have difficulty getting in and out of the boat and can no longer stand on the cabin to hoist the sails. Clara also has developed bad knees, so it appears that the time has come to sell The Happy Heron.
    That’s all right. Restoring that boat was a challenge that I enjoyed probably more than sailing it. Making something new again is in my blood.

Next year’s flowers and vegetables thrive on what you do now

The leaves of herbaceous perennials are turning yellow with their margins already crisp-brown. Trees and shrubs have stopped growing leaves; winter bud scales are well developed over the buds in the axils of their leaves. Perennial plants are getting ready for winter.
    Annuals, too, are dying. When your annual flower garden is at the point of no return, set your lawn mower to its highest level and mow down those dead and dying plants. Mowing creates a mulch and keeps stems in place to catch and hold leaves. The roots of those dead plants will decompose in place and create tunnels for the roots of next year’s annuals to follow. Leaving those tunnels is one more reason not to spade the garden next spring. Another? Spading allows weed seeds to germinate by exposing them to light.
    Turning to the vegetable garden, cover the earth over winter by planting a cover crop of winter rye at the rate of seven to eight pounds of seeds per 1,000 square feet. The rye will capture nutrients not absorbed by this year’s crop. As well as preventing nutrients from entering the Bay, the cover crop crowds out winter weeds and holds the soil in place. When you plow the cover crop under next spring, it will release those nutrients back into the soil. The decomposing cover crop will also improve both the nutrient- and water-holding capacity of your soil and reduce its density, which will result in improved root growth.
    If your day lilies, peonies and hosta are crowded, fall is a great time to divide them and extend your garden or share them with neighbors and friends. For showy flowers in May, transplant peonies shallow, making certain that the eyes, the flower buds, are at grade and not covered with more than one inch of soil.
    To assure a bumper crop of asparagus spears next spring, neglect the bed until all of the stems have turned straw color. That’s the sign all of the nitrogen that has accumulated in the stems and leaves has drained down to the roots.  Next spring when the buds start growing, there will be a readily available source of nitrogen for that first burst of spears.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

Pet poop and chicken skat don’t fit in

If you’re making compost for your vegetable garden, don’t add manure from pets or backyard hens. There is always the possibility that dog manure may contain hookworms. Chicken manure contains high levels of salmonella organisms. Unless temperatures in your compost pile remain at 150 degrees or higher for five days running, neither of these disease-causing organisms will be killed.
    The standard of 150 degrees or higher for five days was based on research conducted on composting bio-solids from wastewater treatment plants and chicken manure from broiler farms. These standards are called PFRP — Processed Further to Reduce Pathogens.
    Such high composting temperatures cannot be reached or maintained under home composting systems. PFRP requirements can be achieved only when large volumes of organic waste are composting under controlled conditions as in certified commercial composting facilities.
    We’ve given serious consideration to pet waste in efforts to keep it from polluting creeks, rivers and the Bay.
    With laying hens in many backyards, chicken sanitation is an issue needing equal attention. If you were to visit a chicken farm, you would be required to wear rubber boots and walk through a shallow pan of sterilizing solution before entering and exiting the poultry house. The sterilization solution works to prevent diseases from being carried into the poultry house and salmonella from being carried out.  
    Children should not be allowed to play in areas where chickens are foraging, and safe disposal methods for their waste must be devised flock by flock. 
    One way is direct composting chicken waste in flower gardens or in landscaping. In those uses, the only health risk is from handling the manure.

Keeping Silt Out of Pond Waters

Re: Stopping Brown Bay Waters:

Q Thanks for your great Aug. 20 article on Stopping Brown Bay Waters. I live on a four-acre tidal pond. Several of the properties have steep slopes, and there are two ravines that cascade heavy rains into the lake.
    Whether we have rain or not, the water is always murky brown. From your article it appears that the Filtrex Sox would help in the wooded ravines. Would it help to line the shoreline with it as well?

–Dave Bastian, via email

A The Filtrex Sox is being used to line the sides of creeks and shores of lakes and ponds. I recently saw it being used in Maine in highway construction.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.