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The interloper visits Spica and Mercury

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

Here’s your recipe for making them into rich compost

Don’t bag those leaves for the county to collect. Use them in making your own compost. It takes about a bushel of leaves to make a gallon of quality compost, which contains more nutrients and fiber than peat moss and is less acetic.
    Yard debris compost is made by blending grass clippings with fall-harvested leaves. The compost is rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium and lots of important trace elements. Because the nitrogen from the leaves drains back into the stems of the branches from which they fell, yard debris compost contains less than one percent nitrogen, which is contributed mostly by the grass clipping.

Ancient Ailing Oaks

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

A There is no way that I can determine the cause of death without seeing the conditions in which they are growing. I have cherry bark oak trees in my yard that are over 150 years old. I keep them healthy by vertical mulching every four to five years. When I moved here 22 years ago, they were in a sever state of decline, but after being vertically mulched, they revived. I suggest that you contact Mark Emmel at 301-345-2981. Mark is a good arborist and is familiar with vertical mulching.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

    Since grass clippings are not readily available in the fall, use this recipe to hasten the composting of leaves so that you will have compost ready for next spring:
    1. Build a compost bin that is at least five feet in diameter using snow fencing, turkey wire, pallets or such. The larger the bin, the better. Place the bin where it will not accumulate water.
    2. Fill a five-gallon pail with a shovel full of garden soil, one-half cup dish detergent and a cup of urea or ammonium nitrate fertilizer; top off with water. Stir thoroughly to create a soupy mud. The detergent helps wet the leaves, and the nitrogen-containing fertilizer replaces the grass clippings in providing the nitrogen microorganisms needed to build their bodies and digest the carbon in the leaves. The garden soil provides the necessary microorganisms, and the mud also helps wet the leaves.
    3. Place 12 to 18 inches of leaves on the bottom of the bin. First, pass the lawnmower through the leaves to chop them up and hasten the composting process.
    4. Use an empty coffee can or the like to wet the leaves with the muddy water. Before dipping into the muddy water, stir thoroughly to maintain a suspension.
    5. With a garden hose misting nozzle, wet the leaves thoroughly, washing some of the muddy water down through the layer.
    6. Repeat steps 3, 4 and 5 until the bin is full.
    7. Check the bin weekly. The composting process can be hastened by dumping your dirty dishwater over the surface of the compost pile. The detergent and grease will help wet the leaves.
    If you need exercise to stay in shape, mix the compost pile by turning it inside-out. Turning the pile in late January or February provides additional aeration, chopping the leaves and eliminating dry pockets that can occur in the initial building.

Three months of The Bay Gardener’s advice on planting, pruning and lawn care

   ~ April ~   

 

Grow a No-Till Garden
    Start your garden as soon as you can work the soil, certainly in April if not already in March.
    Do not spade. Save your back and your soil by planting no-till.
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Please don’t crape murder it

I find crape myrtle 10 times more attractive than white birch trees, which we in New Hampshire consider a weed but Marylanders insist on trying to grow against the odds. It is a waste of time and money to plant white birch in southern Maryland because the summers are too hot and the winters do not provide sufficient cold to satisfy the tree’s dormancy needs. We have the ideal climate to grow crape myrtle, a tree (or shrub) that adds so much to any landscape.
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Hunting these game birds is only half the fun

The pheasant erupted through the standing corn like a Poseidon missile. This rocket was sheathed in psychedelic feathers of blue, green, red, white and ochre. Announcing itself with a raucous, crowing scream, it forced itself up on thundering wings through the seven-foot-tall stalks and into a clear blue South Dakota sky.
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In creating her business, Krista ­Sermon broke more than one ­tradition

Krista Sermon’s desire to cook simmered all through law school and beyond. She wanted to further her culinary skills, but she felt pressured to practice law. So for three years she kept at it, working one year in debt collection, a second in family law and a third in social services in Baltimore.
    During her first pregnancy, she decided to listen to her heart.
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Fall’s the time to get to work

Warm days and cool nights, combined with shorter daylight hours, are what the doctor ordered for the favorite grasses of Chesapeake Country: bluegrass and fescues. They’re called cool-season grasses because they germinate, produce roots and lap up nutrients once summer’s heat shuts down. So now’s the time to get to work on next year’s perfect lawn.

Test Your Soil
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Often our best learning comes from questions rather than from answers, from wondering about seemingly small details or great mysteries …

The Bay. When said and heard that way, the words mean more than a dictionary’s definition, more than a body of water, sheltered somehow from a larger lake or sea. The Bay means that a person knows about a special place.
    This awareness is a gift to the people who have it, a relationship to the place and to other people who share the knowledge. The more we learn, from the Bay and from Bay people, the more valuable the gift becomes.
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She saw Annapolis’s potential as a center of art

When Cynthia McBride was a kid driving a tractor on her family’s Minnesota farm, art was not on her mind or in her future. At her father’s right hand, she watched as he managed the farm, purchased seed and equipment, planned for future crops. The seed of art that flourishes in the largest art gallery in historic Annapolis sprouted with her mother, a painter with a home studio.
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They’re delicious, but what’s their story?

Maryland is renowned for its blue crabs. For many in Chesapeake Country, summer means feasting on the crustaceans in as many forms as possible with a favorite being softshell crabs. Our watermen somehow get the soft crabs to us. But how?
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