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Organic matter adds ­hidden benefits to soil

Addition of organic matter does great things for soil. It works as a slow-release fertilizer and source of essential nutrients. It reduces the density of heavy silt and clay loam soils. It improves soil’s nutrient retention and increases water retention. All of these benefits redound to plant growth.

Retention of nutrients
    Adding organic matter to soils increases the retention of nutrients and makes them available to the roots of plants. This process is known as increasing the cation-exchange capacity of soils. You learned in the July 24 column how organic matter releases nutrients slowly through mineralization. In addition to supplying the major elements, compost supplies trace elements such as boron (B), iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), sulfur (S) and copper (Cu). These essential trace elements are important to the growth of healthy plants and to the quality of the crops they produce. But they’re not part of commercial fertilizer mixes.
    Increasing the cation exchange is especially important in sandy loams or loamy sands. Nutrients leach through these sandy soils quickly. Because sandy soils are well aerated, they do not retain organic matter. So to maintain productivity on sandy soils requires frequent applications compost or animal manure and the use of cover crops.
    On sandy loams or loamy sands, use no more compost or manure than six cubic yards per 1,000 square feet for the initial application. On silt or clay loam soils, make that four cubic yards as these soils are better able to retain nutrients than sandy loams or loamy sands. Repeated applications should be one-half or one-quarter.
Water-holding Capacity
    The addition of organic matter to sandy soils increases water-holding capacity.
    The addition of organic matter to heavy silt or clay loam soils increases water infiltration, thus increasing their ability to retain water while at the same time allowing excess water to drain.

Soil Density Reduction
    It won’t work to use sand to improve the drainage of heavy silt or clay loam soils. Short of 55 to 60 percent, the addition of sand will only result in making the soil like concrete.
    Adding 10 percent compost will increase both the organic matter concentration and the productivity of heavy silt or clay loam. Pine fines are one of the better organic materials to use to lighten heavy soils. Pine fines are a waste product from the manufacturing of pine bark mulches. Because pine fines contain high levels of lignins — a source of organic matter that resists decomposition — pine fines will persist in the soil for a long time.

Disease Control
    Another hidden benefit of amending soils with compost is its ability to control soil-borne diseases. Quality compost contains three naturally occurring fungicides and numerous beneficial microorganisms known to control common soil-borne diseases as fusarium, pythium and rhizoctinia. To get this bonus, use recently made compost. As the compost ages, these benefits are gradually lost as the biological activity of the compost decreases.

Sweet fish swim in sweetwater

     Rockfish, bluefish, perch, spot and croaker dominate the summertime fishing news when it comes to recreational species in Maryland. But almost half of all the fishing licenses sold by Maryland Department of Natural Resources are purchased by sweet-water anglers.
    We have at least as many largemouth bass anglers as any other group of devotees. They have a considerable number of bass-specific waters to choose from. The lakes, ponds and impoundments harboring bucketmouths in Maryland number over 100. Most host good populations of sizable bass plus their numerous cousins: the bluegill, crappie, perch and pickerel.
    The headwaters of the Chesapeake and up into the Susquehanna River also provide great bass fishing, as do the higher reaches of the notable big tribs such as the Choptank, the Monocacy, the Potomac and the Pocomoke among at least 25 others listed in DNR inventories. All are prime, non-tidal, large-mouth destinations.
    Trout fishers also swell the ranks of freshwater habitués. Their opportunities are considerable as well. The upper Gunpowder is a blue-ribbon tailwater trout stream. The low temperatures from the regulated water flow of the Prettyboy Dam have resulted in a self-sustaining native trout stream that provides excellent fishing.
    Other trout waters, such as the Savage River (excellent), the Youghiogheny River (almost as good) and the well-rated Casselman as well as another 50 recognized trout streams provide considerable stretches of fishable streamside.
    Jabez Branch off Severn Run is the only self-sustaining native brook-trout fishery in the state, though these gorgeous fish are also released in the Gunpowder and Savage.
    Surprisingly, Baltimore’s Patapsco River births two great trout fishing locations, a three-mile stretch below the Daniels Dam and the Avalon area in Elkridge.
    Over 200 publicly accessible sweet-water environs provide excellent habitat for a multitude of species including brown trout, brook trout and rainbows as well as largemouth, smallmouth and rock bass, walleye pike, chain pickerel, muskellunge, northern pike, yellow perch, black crappie, white crappie, warmouth, bluegill and red-ear sunfish plus flathead and channel catfish.
    Now we can add to that considerable list the infamous and storied snakehead. This invasive reputedly has an excellent table quality. It fights, too, taking top-water lures (especially frog imitations fished among the lily pads) with an extreme violence that has to be experienced to be appreciated. The Potomac River offers the best chances of tangling with these guys.
    Another introduced species — long available just about everywhere there is a body of water — is the common carp. A food staple of Asia, this fish has an established fan base including, most recently, fly anglers. Maryland has also recently added the blue catfish to their list of piscatorial interlopers. Both the carp and the blue cat can approach 100 pounds, which translates into some epic battles. Those who know how to prepare them for the table harvest quantities of excellent eating.
    So if saltwater fishing on the Chesapeake is becoming discouraging there are other options. To loosely paraphrase Bill Waterson’s Calvin character in his memorable last installment, “It’s a wonderful sweetwater world out there. Maybe it’s time to go exploring.”

Part 2: How to supply nutrients organically

     In organic gardening, all nutrients are supplied through the process of mineralization. As organic matter is decomposed by the microorganisms that digest the cellulose and hemi-cellulose, minerals contained within the cells of the animal or plant tissues are released into the soil. After the microorganisms have digested all digestible cells, they die. Since their bodies consist mostly of proteins, the proteins are broken down by enzymes, releasing more nutrients, mostly nitrogen (N), into the soil. 
    The rate of mineralization is dependent on temperatures in the soil.
    Under laboratory conditions, mineralization rates are measured at room temperature, 72 degrees. Moist soil samples are held in temperature-controlled containers for several days, then the amount of available nitrogen in the soil is measured. This process is repeated until the figures are stable. Mineralization rates are faster at temperatures above room temperature and significantly slower at temperatures below room temperature. At 72 degrees, the mineralization of compost is between eight and 10 percent. Mineralization of organic matter stops when soil temperatures approach the freezing point.
    The rate of mineralization has a major effect on plant growth.
    Because soils are cooler in the early spring, the rate of growth is often reduced for early spring crops such as peas, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and spinach. Cooler soils mean fewer nutrients becoming available. This problem can be minimized by selecting south-facing slopes for early spring and late fall crops. Planting the crops on ridges is another method of encouraging early warming of soils. A soil raised above a natural grade warms faster than a soil that is level on grade. Covering the area to be planted with a sheet of clear polyethylene several weeks before planting, followed by ridging and covering the ridges with black plastic mulch, is labor intensive but will stimulate early mineralization. Soils warm very rapidly under clear plastic due to the greenhouse effect. However, anticipate early growth of spring weeds, requiring light cultivation or spraying with horticultural vinegar. Ridging and mulching with black plastic will also provide weed control.
    Apply no more than four cubic yards of compost or animal manure per 1,000 square feet in any one year. Five percent is one year’s limit for organic matter added to the soil. Excessive applications of either can stimulate excessive vegetative growth and weak spindly plants. With the mineralization rate eight to 10 percent, 90 to 92 percent of the minerals remain in the soil’s organic matter. So repeated applications of compost and organic matter should be based on soil test results.
    If existing soils contain less than three percent organic matter, an initial application of four cubic yards of compost or animal manure the first year followed by repeated applications at two cubic yards in successive years (or on alternate years for sandy soils) can be adequate. In silt or clay loam soils, these levels may be excessive, requiring greater dependency on soil test results.
    Initially, compost or animal manure should be incorporated to a depth of six to eight inches, deeper if possible. Because organic matter reduces the bulk density of soils, deep incorporation promotes deep rooting, making crops more tolerant to drought. As deep incorporation of organic matter promotes deep rooting, the roots that penetrate this region will continue to maintain the organic matter concentration in that region.
    Repeated applications of compost or animal manure should be incorporated only in the upper three inches of soil. This results in concentrating the nutrients in the region where seed germination occurs and where roots of new transplants initiate growth. Leaching will move nutrients deeper into the soil as the growing season progresses.

When fishing is good it is very good; When it is bad, it’s still pretty good

     I’ve suddenly run into a problem I haven’t had in quite some time. I’m having the devil’s own time catching good rockfish. During the long lulls between bites, an explanation has emerged for my difficulties and disappointments.
    I blame it all on last season. Last season was phenomenal. Big fish in quantities rarely seen around the mid-Bay remained all the way through the year. I could rise at 9am, get on the water by 10am and most always have my limit of 10-pounders by noon.
    Last year, the chum bite was astoundingly effective until late June, when live-lining took over and was even better. This year is developing much differently. The schools of big fish that settled all around the mid-Bay are gone.
    Chumming is already dropping off. Live-lining has not developed, what with the dearth of small spot and rockfish being both scarcer and more finicky.
    My attempts to find them where I did last season have wasted a lot of fishing time. Likewise, my insistence on behaving as if they would eventually show up has led more poor performances than I would like to admit.
    Sticking to my schedule of rising late and still expecting to find good fish is proving to be another major error. The summertime heat is apparently shutting down the bite after 10am. My unreasonable expectations (again, based on last season) are causing me unnecessary emotional trauma.
    A smaller quantity of rockfish and the many anglers searching for them means that to be successful one must achieve ideal conditions, fishing better times of day and night plus making it a priority to find where the fish are located. Wait for them to come to you, and they most likely won’t.
    The few rockfish frequenting last year’s traditional locations do not remain long once discovered. Avoid areas of high fishing pressure to get fish in the box.
    In other areas that have proven productive in the past, stripers gather during the dark, quiet hours to feed but flee as soon as the sun rises or boats arrive. Being the first to fish any particular structure or holding area counts.
    To catch fish consistently this year, you’ll want to start very early or very late. I’m talking about being on the water nearer 5am or starting at sundown and fishing into the night. You will encounter more fish at these times, and when you do find them they are much more likely to take your bait or lure.
    If you’re fishing structure by casting or drifting baits, sound discipline is critical, especially in shallow water. Consider electric power or turning off your engine while working an area. Another good tactic is to sit quietly and do nothing for a good five minutes after arriving at the location you intend to fish. You’ll be surprised at the results.
    Fewer fish are in residence this year. The stripers that are here are under heavy pressure, spooked and uncooperative. Anglers will have to be at the top of their game and using every trick in their arsenal when pursuing them.
    On the Chesapeake, when fishing is good it is very, very good, and when it is bad, it’s still pretty good.

Lesson 1: From the ground up

     Organic gardening is a science based on being able to supply nutrient needs and ideal growing conditions that will produce healthy plants that can resist diseases and pests. Fruit and vegetables free of pesticides are considered healthier because they are untouched by man-made chemicals with the potential to cause health problems.
    Success in growing plants organically begins with selecting land that can generate ideal growing conditions. Site and soil are of utmost importance. Establishing an organic garden on a slight slope facing south gives you soil that warms more rapidly in the spring and stays warmer in the fall than soil on a northern slope. A warmer soil will release nutrients from organic soil matter faster. Sandy soil will warm faster than silt or clay soil because there is less water present and the soil is denser. However, during drought, sandy soils will need supplemental irrigation and/or mulch to satisfy the water needs of the plants.
    Full sun also helps warm the soil, enabling the release of nutrients from organic matter and maximizing ­photosynthesis.
    Well-drained soils are essential to promote deep rooting of plants and early warming of soils. Avoid poorly drained soils. Good air drainage is essential for the rapid drying of foliage to minimize disease problems.
    Since the organic content of the soil is the primary source of nutrients for plants, the pH measurement of soil acidity should be monitored by regular soil testing at three-to-five-year intervals. Soil testing is also a guide to maintaining optimum levels of nutrients such as calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) and to prevent phosphorus (P) and manganese (Mn) from accumulating in excessive amounts.
    The organic garden thrives on organic matter. To be successful, you need to increase the organic matter of the soil to five percent and above. For every percent of organic matter present in soils, 10 pounds of nitrogen (N) is generated per acre per year through a biological process known as mineralization. To obtain optimum yield, you must maintain the organic matter content of the soil at between five and 10 percent. Maintaining levels of organic matter concentration above five percent requires yearly applications of organic matter. Good sources include compost, animal manure and organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion, cotton seed meal, bone meal and compost tea.
    In choosing seeds, the organic gardener seeks varieties with vigorous growth characteristics and disease resistance. In planting, avoid over-crowding, which increases competition among plants for sunlight and moisture. Crowded plants are more susceptible to diseases because they tend to be weak and their foliage is likely to remain wet for prolonged periods of time.
    Healthy plants are more resistant to diseases than weak plants. However, healthy plants are equally susceptible to insect damage, though they are better able to tolerate limited plant damage before significantly reducing yields.

Blue crabs at quarter-century low

     The 2013 Chesapeake Bay blue crab harvest was the lowest in 25 years. The 2014 numbers look to be at least as bad, perhaps worse.
    How could this happen?
    Maryland Department of Natural Resources has had some of its best scientists and managers working to conserve this keystone species, one of the most revered (and consumed) in Maryland.
    Despite this concentration of talent and effort, the female blue crab population has decreased by 80 percent within the last decade. Thus, the overall population of blue crabs has fallen to the edge of collapse once again.
    Officially the crisis has been blamed on unforeseen environmental factors such as severe cold, natural predators, parasites, unusual weather and unpredictable ocean currents. Those forces do inevitably impact the overall population of our blue crab.
    But there is one reliable and utterly controllable tool available to resource managers that can ultimately protect the population levels: varying female crab harvests and, in particular, the commercial female crab harvest, as the recreational harvest of females is already prohibited.
    Almost 20 years ago, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation began a vigorous campaign to reduce the female blue crab harvest, arguing that females were critical to the health of the species. The immediate results were death threats to some of the staff and the burning of a Foundation education center.
    When decisions have to be made that can affect the commercial fishing industry and the livelihoods of individuals, emotions can run high. Nothing came of the campaign to protect the female crabs. The harvest continued unabated.
    The blue crab population subsequently collapsed to a declared federal crisis level by 2008. DNR finally had to acknowledge that the female crab harvest levels were based on flawed science: Female Chesapeake blue crabs do not spawn just once in their lifetimes; many spawn multiple times.
    The ecological emergency had one positive effect: Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia began cooperating to rebuild the depleted species. Unprecedented protection for the females was put in place by all. The result was an extraordinary and rapid resurgence in blue crab numbers. Within two or three years, the population rebounded to pre-crisis levels.
    Unfortunately, so then did the resumption of the commercial female crab harvest — with predictable results.
    We are in crisis again. This recurring situation is a strong clue that officials charged with the management of the blue crab have failed to account for unanticipated and uncontrollable mortality events that inevitably happen in a large, open ecosystem like the Chesapeake. We have continued to harvest too many crabs, especially females.
    Recently, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation issued a 2014 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report urging minimizing risks to crab populations by immediately protecting juvenile female blue crabs while state agencies consider future changes to regulations to rebuild the population.
    The Foundation also called for creating sanctuaries in different parts of the Bay to further protect females; improving on the accountability and reporting of both commercial and recreational harvests; and moving agency management review cycles to better (and more promptly) respond to natural population fluctuations.
    Part of the problem remains unaddressed: How to rebuild blue crab numbers and maintain the population of both males and females at a healthy level without hurting the incomes of the many hard-working watermen that bring them to market.
    Assuming Maryland intends to continue the unofficial policy of providing stability to the commercial crabbing industry, some mechanism other than the exploitation of the blue crab had better be devised.

Fish recipes from the Chesapeake

Catching a fish from the Chesapeake leads to a seafood dinner beyond the reach of most mortals. The fish has come directly from your own hand. It is fresher than anything available to those not thus connected to the water. Freshness is really the defining quality, the gold standard, of seafood cuisine: same-day catch to table. Buying fish from even the best seafood markets will net a catch that is at its freshest three days old: a day from catch to the dock; another day from wholesaler to retailer, then a day (at the least) to the purchaser and to home. As to later than three days, keep in mind the old Benjamin Franklin dictum: “After three days, a fish and a house guest begin to smell.” Rockfish, the most treasured fish of the Bay, is not at all difficult to prepare. It is a dense, white-fleshed creature that responds exceptionally to herbs and spices, assuming they are not overdone. The distinctly fine flavor of striped bass can be easily overwhelmed, which is why my favorite recipe is simplicity itself. Starting with a boneless, skinless fillet, dry it with paper towels, slather with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place it in a hot cast-iron skillet until it is well browned on one side. Then turn the fillet over and slide the skillet into a 350-degree preheated oven for 15 minutes. Test with a fork to be sure it’s done all the way through and serve. A simple lemon butter sauce with fresh-chopped dill or fennel is enough to lend rockfish all the sophistication that a fine palate could demand. My favorite accompaniments are Eastern Shore Silver Queen sweet corn and some thickly sliced fresh tomato from the same locale, dressed with olive oil, salt, ground pepper and fresh basil. A bottle of chilled champagne would not be gilding the lily. White perch is another seafood treasure from the Bay. Seldom encountered in area markets, white perch caught commercially in Maryland are mostly sent out of state. Apparently the Maryland markets are skewed toward rockfish. However, if you are even a modest angler you can secure yourself some of the finest frying fish in existence. The perch are small; a 10-incher is a big one. However, they are found in great numbers in the Bay and tributaries and, allowing for three fish per person, the average angler usually can secure a fine dinner in no time at all. Carefully fillet and skin the fish, cutting each fillet into two equal-sized portions. Blot the fish pieces dry with paper towels and dip in a mixture of two beaten eggs, two tablespoons flour, salt, pepper and a bit of beer (enough to create a syrupy mixture). Then roll the coated pieces in a shallow dish heaped with Japanese panko crumbs. Accumulate the prepared fish pieces on a large plate. Then heat a heavy skillet — again I prefer cast-iron — with about an inch of peanut oil (corn oil works almost as well) to about 350 to 400 degrees. With tongs settle the pieces of fish in the hot oil, turning them when they are golden brown. Hold the completed fish in a warm oven while you make a simple tartar sauce from chopped cornichons (about eight or nine), olive oil mayo (I like Hellman’s) and the juice of one-quarter lemon. You can also provide some dipping sauces. Texas Pete Buffalo Wing Sauce is a good one if you like it spicy, lemony vinaigrette if you’re of a gentler palate. I prefer an India pale ale to accompany the meal, but ice tea or a good, chilled white wine will go well. Provide plenty of napkins as this feast invites hands-on dining.

Can the Bay Gardener solve it?

About 30 years ago, I began to build up my garden with compost and leaves. Every few years, I would gather and put down about three feet of leaves to rot and be tilled into the 50-by-50-foot garden space. The garden now has a beautiful loamy soil. I have been planting with wonderful results for about 20 years.
    About six years ago, I collected the leaves and put them down but did not plant for two years. I gather the bags of leaves, mostly oak, from neighboring houses. Several mulched bags of grass were in the mix this time.
    When I next planted my garden in a six-by-30-foot area, all the plants, tomatoes and cucumbers withered and died over a 12-hour period. The plants had been in the ground for about three weeks and had begun to produce small vegetables.
    I immediately removed them. The University of Maryland Extension Service recommended I plant buckwheat and oats. This I did for two years in a row. It grew beautifully, and so did the weeds.
    This year I have once again planted the garden. In the very same area, all the vegetables withered and died over 12 hours.
    The garden has been tilled many, many times. This is the only area that has the problem. It has not spread to another section of the garden.
    Could I have gotten some chemical like Roundup in the collected bags? If that is the case, why has it not moved with all the tilling?
    I might add that the dead plants have perfectly healthy root systems, and there are no tunnels or holes from moles or voles.
    I am totally at a loss as to what is happening and as to what I can do to fix the problem. Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.
–Pat Fessler, Crownsville

The Bay Gardener’s Solution


    The problem is not Roundup. Glyphosate, as the Monsanto weed-killer is called, deteriorates into phosphorus once it enters the soil. It does not have weed control properties when it becomes a soil component.
    I suspect that the soil is infested with fusarium, which is a fungus, or possibly sodium or soluble salts. I suggest that you have the soil tested by A&L Eastern Agricultural Laboratories. Request the S3 test to include soluble salts and sodium. Submit one sample of soil from the affected area and a second soil sample from the surrounding area. Do not indicate crop or request recommendations. Each soil sample should include at least five core samples from each area. Air-dry the samples overnight before mailing them for fast results. Print submission form and instructions from the web page: www.al-labs-eastern.com.
    Have the lab send me the results at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. We’ll get to the bottom of this.

White perch are ready to bite

White perch are ready to bite

The day had turned ideal, overcast with virtually no wind and a full flood tide. I was busy tying on a bright-colored, one-sixth-ounce spinner bait and, while I couldn’t see my buddy Moe in the bow, I could hear him grunt, “Another one … bigger than the last.” I hurried to pull my knot tight. Of course in my haste I botched the operation and had to cut the lure off and start over.
    After getting the knot right, I was soon tight to a spunky white perch, the most delicious fish in the Chesapeake. The day had instantly become much brighter in spite of that thick cloud cover and our earlier experience.
    The trip we had planned, chumming for rockfish, had become impossibly difficult despite a good start. We had a nice fish in the box in the first 15 minutes; then the bite had died. For a long while we were patient. Then the tide went weird.
    Three hours after the turn was scheduled, the current continued to come in at a dead crawl. Our anchored skiff wandered. Meager, gusting winds sent us first one way, then another. The lines tangled and our baits went unmolested. We tried to persevere, but the awful conditions persisted.
    “Welcome to the Chesapeake Bay, home of the impossible tides,” I said as we separated the intertwined lines of a couple of outfits. Most other boats had gone.
    “You suppose they know something we don’t?” I asked.
    “You mean, like this is a total waste of time?” Moe answered.
    He suggested heading for a more southern shore, a place where we had in previous seasons enjoyed some good fishing for white perch.
    “I’m not sure they are in the shallows there yet,” I said. “The frigid winter made everything so late this year.”
    “So how could that be worse than this?” he asked, as we pulled our Danforth and put our chumming gear away.
    The couple of perch rods we had packed now looked like our salvation.
    After a bit of a run we moved, as quietly as we could go, within casting distance of a rocky, tree-shrouded shoreline studded with stone jetties. I spiked my Power Pole shallow-water anchor into the bottom, and our skiff skidded to a stop. My partner had his rod already rigged so he was quick into action. His first cast answered the big question: The perch are here.
    Just about all white perch feel big for the first few seconds after hooking up, but after that it’s only the larger, thicker, black-backed perch that can keep a sustained bend in a light rod and make the battle a test of wills. With the perch’s delicate mouth structure, an educated hand becomes very helpful in getting a big one into the boat.
    There were lots of throwbacks but among them enough 10-inchers along the shoreline to accumulate a decent-sized fish fry.
    We ate well the next afternoon.

The sun stands still for just a day before again heading south

In the early morning Saturday, at 6:51am EDT, the sun reaches its northernmost point in the sky for the year, with its center hovering directly above the Tropic of Cancer somewhere in Africa. On solstice, the sun appears to pause in place, holding steady for several days directly overhead at high noon — solstice in fact means sun standing still. You can see proof of the sun standing still in this week’s times of sunrise and sunset, listed below, which barely change.
    This solstice marks the Northern Hemisphere’s longest day of the year, with 14 hours 54 minutes of sunlight here along Chesapeake Bay. And while there is no universal body that dictates the start of the seasons, this celestial phenomenon is universally seen as the start of summer for the Northern Hemisphere and the start of winter for those below the equator.
    The earth spins at a 231⁄2-degree tilt, causing the north side of the planet to more directly face the sun for half the year and the south side to more directly face the sun the other half of the year. At the time of the June solstice, the North Pole points almost directly at the sun, while December’s solstice has the South Pole pointing sunward. Right now, we’re enjoying that sunward tilt, and all those extra hours of daylight add up to the season’s much warmer temperatures.
    While it is only the start of summer and the days will continue to grow warmer for some time to come, it is also the beginning of summer’s end. The very next day after solstice, the sun begins its southward march, albeit ever so slightly at first, and the length of daylight wanes.
    For millenia, cultures have tracked the sun’s path across the sky, measuring the length of daylight and the location of the sunrise and sunset throughout the year. The ancient Celts built Stonehenge, built at least 5,000 years ago in alignment with the solstices and sunrise. Around the same time, the Egyptians were building their own monuments to the sun and the passing seasons. From a vantage atop the Great Sphinx on the day of June’s solstice, the sun set directly between the oldest of the Great Pyramids.
    The sun may be the star this week, but the waning crescent moon makes good showings with Venus low in the east before dawn Monday and Tuesday, when only two degrees separate the two. Early Wednesday the moon is just above of the bright star Aldebaran in Taurus.