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Since plastic leaf bags aren’t biodegradable, their residue will remain in the soil for eternity

Use wet-strength paper bags in place of plastic bags for curbside yard debris collection: That’s the plea of the Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works.
    I wish the county would make that mandatory, as it has been for residents of Montgomery County since the yard-waste composting program started in the early 1980s. Paper bags compost, while plastic bags have to be ruptured and emptied before composting can begin. Furthermore, the emptied plastic bags — plus some of the contents — have to be dumped into landfills, thus adding to our critical landfill problems.
    Rupturing and emptying plastic bags in large quantities is costly, time consuming and results in shards of plastic becoming part of the finished compost. The equipment is costly and frequently becomes clogged with shredded plastic, requiring down time. Screening the finished compost removes much of the shredded plastic, but there’s always enough remaining in the compost to lower the quality of its appearance. Since black plastic bags are not biodegradable, the residue will remain in the soil for eternity.
    If you compare LeafGro made at the Dickerson composting facility in Montgomery County with the same product made at the Western Branch composting facility in Upper Marlboro, you’ll see the difference. The Montgomery County LeafGro has a uniform rich brown color and smooth texture, while that made in Prince George’s County has shredded black and sometimes white plastic scattered throughout.
    There are other advantages to using wet-strength paper bags. They cost less, are made from recycled paper and cardboard, fold flat, are easy to store and are environmentally friendly.
    Better yet, compost your leaves and put them to work for you as soon as they fall.

Use Leaves for Mulch and Compost
    If you have a leaf blower, use it to mulch by blowing fallen leaves under the branches of your shrubs, hedges and other woody plantings.
    I’ve just gotten my first leaf blower, from daughter Bonnie who thought all of this leaf raking was getting to be too much for old dad. At first, I felt insulted that she wanted to deprive me of good energy-burning exercise. However, on revving up the Stihl blower, I discovered that it was perfect for blowing leaves under my azaleas, hollies and red-top. In the past, I spent hours pushing leaves with a rake under these very same plants. With the blower, I moved twice as many leaves in minutes.
    Leaves are the perfect mulch. They cost nothing and neither alter the pH of the soil nor release toxic levels of manganese, as does hardwood bark mulch. A good deep layer of leaf mulch over the soil will delay its freezing, thus making more water available to the roots. Leaves provide essential plant nutrients upon decomposition, suffocate weeds because they can be piled higher and deeper than bark or wood mulches, do not compete with the roots of ornamentals for nutrients and are dependably available every fall. Mother Nature has been mulching her gardens with leaves for eons.
    I have never in my life purchased a bag of mulch. I have always depended on using the leaves that have fallen from my own trees and shrubs. I’ve also saved the county government money by collecting my neighbors’ leaves and using them. It has always bothered me to see homeowners place bags and bags of leaves at the curb each fall, then in spring bring home bales of peat moss, compost and mulch to use on their landscapes.

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

Scientific suppositions clash with religious superstitions at the United States Naval Academy

Bertolt Brecht’s key question in his play Galileo — whether society can stand on doubt and not on faith — refers to the astronomer’s trial by the Inquisition for his heretical theory of heliocentricity. The question had parallel relevance on Galileo’s opening night at the Naval Academy, just hours after terrorist attacks in Paris. Billed as an exploration of the scientist’s responsibility to the world, this show is an apt undertaking for the Masqueraders, a troupe of our nation’s future scientists and leaders in an age of technological progress and pandemic regress. The script sparkles with timely aphorisms, such as This is the millennium of doubt, and Truth is the daughter of time, not authority.
    Longtime director Christy Stanlake picked a supernova for her final Masqueraders production. Rich in spectacle and drama, with live musical interludes and supertitles summarizing each scene, this historical drama is engaging and understandable — despite a platoon of multicast actors in Mahan Hall’s grievous acoustics.
    From Padua to Venice, Florence and Rome, the play follows Galileo (Jett Watson) in his visionary orbit of honor and derision. Rather than presenting a straight-up hero, this post-World War II revision of the play shows a protagonist of nuanced ­character.
    There’s Galileo the brilliant astronomer and teacher to Ludovico (Tim Burnett), Sagredo (Leith Daghistani), Andrea (Megan Rausch) and Fulgonzio (Chris Hudson), a little monk of humble origin …
    Galileo the debater opposite University Curator Priuli (Orion Rollins), the Cardinal Inquisitor (Daghistani) and Pope Urban VIII (John Mendez), an enlightened scholar turned traitor to reason …
    Galileo the sycophant appealing to nine-year-old Prince Cosimo de Medici (Josh Ryan) …
    Galileo the egotist, glutton and opportunist, profiting from the telescope as if it were his own invention …
    Galileo the manipulator (the shortest distance between two points may be a crooked line) …
     Galileo the victim, who recants his revolutionary theory and is nevertheless sentenced to house-arrest for the final nine years of his life …
    Galileo, father to Virginia (Clara Navarro), a simple girl of simple aspirations whose engagement to Ludovico is broken on account of her father’s notoriety.
    The costumes are spectacular, most notably in the April Fool’s revelry, a fantastic parade of eye candy and garbled mayhem staged to illustrate public derision of Galileo for his outlandish theory. The sparse but majestic set is period save for a massive globe whose modern depiction of the world somehow slipped by a roomful of future navigators. As for the acting, this is a solid student production in which Watson impresses in the title role and Daghistani finesses opposing roles as his best friend and worst foe. There is even a delightful clique of children.
    In a clash of scientific suppositions and religious superstitions — a debate that continues to this day — it is good to be reminded that there’s no such thing as a book of science that only one man can write. We are not, as it turns out, the center the universe. Yet to see Brecht’s depiction of Galileo, one might almost think that he believed he was.

Two and a half hours with intermission. With Oliver Abraira, Will Ashby, Kennedy Bingham, Colin Bower, Shenandoah Daigle, Moises Diaz, Nick Hajek, Shannon Hill, John ‘JPK’ Kroon, Miguel LaPorte, Cody Oliphant, Matty Ryan, High and Alec Michalski-Cooper and Evan Wray. Technical director: Jason Henry. Set and costume design: Richard Montgomery. Lights and sound: Dave Johnson and Jacob Pittman.
Playing thru Nov. 21 FSa 8pm, at Mahan Hall, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, $12, rsvp: 410-293-8497;

Thanksgiving is coming, with Christmas right behind

Perfect Thanksgiving weather, don’t you think?    
Propelled by the gusty winds of autumn, fallen leaves dance the season. But not all have fallen, and trees glow with color, green and yellow yielding to scarlet, mahogany and umber, further gilded by long rays of the low sun. Cattails and reeds sway, and pine cones drop, all spreading their seed.
    Above us, Vs of honking geese and ducks fly, pulling our eyes skyward to dramatic vistas of cloud and color.
    In the fields, farmers are harvesting the last soybeans and bedding down the land for winter. Green still sprouts brilliantly in cover crops, winter wheat and rye, holding the earth this year and promise for next year’s harvest.
    The harvest is in, the scene set and Thanksgiving stirring in our minds and kitchens. Time to order the turkey, plan the feast, transform Halloween’s pumpkins into bread and pies. Farmers markets will be open this Saturday to bring the last of the year’s local harvests to your table. There are pie sales to shop, if easy as pie is not so easy for you.
    Most important on this national holiday of gratitude is recalling our blessings, in the spirit of George Washington, who on October 3, 1789 said:
    Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be — That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—
    for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—
    for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—
    for the great degree of tranquility, union and plenty which we have since enjoyed—
    for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—
    for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
    That’s a fine list of good bestowed upon us, don’t you think? Add them to your own list of personal blessings for which we give thanks once again this year on ­Thursday the 26th day of November.
The Christmas Holidays are Another Story
    We’ll still be eating Thanksgiving leftovers when the Christmas season begins in earnest the day after Thanksgiving.
    How shall we get into the spirit of that season?
    Bay Weekly has the answer. Tucked inside this week’s issue you’ll find Seasons Bounty, our annual guide to celebrations of Christmas and all our winter holidays.
    Peruse its pages and the spirit of the season will leap into your heart, as it has into mine. Make a list of your favorites and mark your calendar.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher;

Look to Taurus for Hyades, Pleiades

The stars of winter are gathering in the growing darkness, with Taurus rising in the east around 7pm. Its brightest star, Aldebaran, marks the bull’s eye. From there, look a few degrees higher for the Hyades star cluster, and from there look another 10 degrees up for the more renown Pleiades cluster. Orion trails the bull, rising around 8:30pm, followed by Pegasus. Far to the west, in a barren section of sky, is fall’s brightest star, Fomalhaut.
    By dawn, Orion and crew are high in the west, while to the east Venus blazes in all its glory. Ten or 15 degrees below the morning star is the second-brightest heavenly object, Jupiter; midway between the two is much fainter Mars, no brighter than any old star.
    The darkness between sunset Tuesday and sunrise Wednesday marks the peak of this year’s Leonids meteor shower. The byproduct of comet Tempel-Tuttle, the Leonids top out at around 15 meteors an hour. Traced back, they appear to emanate from the  constellation Leo.

Do your soil and yourself a favor; work easy

Don’t pull out those dead annual flowers; hit them down with the lawnmower.
    Don’t spade or rototill the flower garden, either, because you destroy precious organic matter and risk plow-pan, a compacted layer of soil formed by the plow or rototiller blade.  This compacted layer prevents roots from penetrating deeper into the soil and leads to poor drainage, thus making plants less drought-resistant.
    I have not spaded or rototilled my flower garden for at least 15 years, and it gets better every year. Organic matter accumulates in soil that is not disturbed, which is why more and more farmers are adopting no-till farming practices. No-till uses less energy and increases the organic matter concentration in the soil, reducing the amount of fertilizer needed to produce a crop. No-til also reduces problems associated with plow-pan. 
    Clean up your flower garden by setting your lawnmower to cut at the highest setting and mow the plants, covering the soil with a layer of natural mulch. The stubs of the mowed plants will catch leaves fallen from nearby trees. This natural layer of mulch will smother out winter weeds so that next spring, all you need to do is plant through the mulch. By not spading or rototilling every year, gardening becomes less time consuming, requiring less energy. And you will have fewer weeds to contend with.
    However, if you have a large vegetable garden and follow crop-rotation to minimize disease problems, spading and rototilling the soil is still necessary.
    After removing crop residue, till the soil as deeply as possible and immediately plant a cover crop of winter rye. Winter rye is an excellent scavenger crop that absorbs all available nutrients until the ground freezes. Winter rye also produces an abundance of lignins, organic fibers that resist decomposition, leave your soil friable and help in maintaining a healthy organic matter content.
    Come spring, mow the winter rye as close to the ground as possible before rototilling the soil to a depth no greater than three inches. Shallow tilling is all you need to kill the winter rye for preparing the seedbed. By shallow tilling, you will not only conserve soil moisture but you will also be reducing plow-pan and its problems.

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

Chilean miners fight for survival in this stirring drama based on a true story

Before descending into the bowels of the earth, workers at the San Jose gold and copper mine pause before a shrine to pray for protection. They need help from a higher power as the mining companies place profit above safety.
    Each time the miners enter the gaping maw, they know there is a chance they’ll never return.
    When the mountain collapses after 100 years of mining, it’s no surprise. Thirty-three miners are trapped. A rock twice the size of the Empire State Building stands between the men and fresh air. In their small refuge, they have a dozen cans of tuna, some stale cookies and milk. It’s barely enough to feed 33 men for a day, let alone the days it will take for help to reach them.
    The company response is to follow protocol: Ignore the collapse, try to contain news of the trapped miners and avoid terrified family members seeking answers. Infuriated that their husbands, brothers and sons are being left to die, the families riot, making the news.
    The president of Chile (Bob Gunton: Daredevil) sends his minister of mining (Rodrigo Santoro: Focus) to deal with the crisis. As the government races to drill to the miners, morale and food run low for the trapped men.
    Frustrating and gripping, The 33 is best underground, excelling at capturing the dynamics of the miners who spent 69 days trapped in a gold-and copper-laden tomb. Director Patricia Riggen (Girl in Progress) masterfully crafts the cave-in scene, escalating the tension as the miners scramble toward safety. Watching the group come together and fracture as starvation, exhaustion and depression infiltrate is riveting.
    As Mario, the leader of the miners, Antonio Banderas (The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water) carries the film well, even managing to sell some of the more heavy-handed dialogue. The other miners are all tertiary, but Riggen gives them all character action so that we care for the men.
    Above ground, Riggen has mixed success. She devotes a good deal of time to the miners’ families, but the characters are underdeveloped and boring compared to the miners. The notable exception is Juliette Binoche (7 Letters), who plays Maria, the fierce sister of a trapped miner. Binoche becomes the leader of the families, forcing the government to take accountability and refusing to give up hope.
    The greatest problem with The 33 is its scope. Riggen brings in so many plot threads and themes that they obscure the main story of survival while buried in the earth. Because the film is overcrowded, no character is fully developed. It’s also slightly uncomfortable to watch white actors, like Gunton who plays the president, pretend to be Chilean with ridiculous accents.
    Though flawed, The 33 is compelling whenever Riggen focuses on the subterranean drama. Buy your ticket to watch Banderas and his band of brothers fight for survival. When the film cuts to topside drama, take a bathroom break or get a popcorn refill.

Fair Drama • PG-13 • 120 mins.

They’re home to big thinkers, big ideas and new technologies

As an early reader of each issue of Bay Weekly, I’ve been thinking about Then & Now, staff writer Kathy Knotts’ story commemorating Annapolis Public Library’s half century on West Street.
    1410 West Street will be home to our capital city’s library for, perhaps, as many years to come. For that’s the spot where our Anne Arundel County Public Library system will build a new Annapolis library. Starting in 2017, the construction will cause a break in service at the library that’s always been the trunk of the county system, now spread wide to 15 branches. When construction finishes, the 2019 or 2020 Annapolis Library will be 55 percent larger and equipped for a fast-changing future.
    Technology is sure to be one great force driving a future far beyond my imagining.
    In researching her story, Kathy’s kids gave her some help. At the West Street Library anniversary event, seven-year-old Jordan headed for the Library Tech Then & Now exhibit. “Some objects, desktop computers and iPads, he immediately recognized,” Knotts writes.
    Jordan was only two years old when the iPad came into our lives, and his ease with the machine seems intuitive. Revolutionary as it is now, iPad technology is constantly changing; before long, some yet-to-be-named machine even more amazing will surpass it.
    How many cutting-edge-in-their-day computers we’ve used and junked at Bay Weekly, I can’t count. After our first wonderful Apple Macintosh 128K, I quickly took them — and the wonders they enabled — for granted. From 1993, when we bought those little Macs, I’d guess that a new computer — desktop, laptop, iMac or phone — entered my life roughly every three years. Each one in its time gave me so many powers I’d never had that I couldn’t imagine wanting or needing more. Now, when even my smallest computer connects me to the whole world and much of its accumulated knowledge, I load it up with multiple simultaneous commands and begrudge each second their realization takes.
    Older objects in the Tech Then & Now exhibit that “were foreign to” Jordan — like typewriters — had longer lives.
    For their first century in common use — 1860 to 1960 — typewriters’ core technology barely changed. Portables, as opposed to desk models, were a big innovation. And oh boy, when typewriters went electric even an average typist’s fingers could race. In 1961, the self-correcting IBM Selectric revolutionized typewriting. Buying my own was a life milestone. It cost about as much as our first Mac (the Macintosh 128K was originally priced at $2,495).
    All those technological wonders were, each in its day, instruments of my survival. I took each of them as mine, never stopping to think that someone had made them.
    Were it not for the bright ideas of big thinkers, I’d still be living in a cave — if I had the wits and luck to stay alive — telling my stories by firelight and using the embers to draw pictures on the cave walls.
    Libraries have guided me out of the cave — as they do each new generation — by bringing us the big thinkers, the big thoughts and the new technologies on which we all depend for the quality of our lives.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher;

The script is deader than the zombies

In a deserted strip club, teen Scouts Ben (Tye Sheridan: Dark Places) and Carter (Logan Miller: Take Me to the River) are slow to realize that the pole dancers are dead — make that undead.
    With zombies invading their hamlet, the boys make it their mission to save the hot senior girls. Along the way, they grope naked dead people, fight zombie housecats, stop for a few selfies and never much worry about the likelihood that everyone they know is dead and seeking their brains.
    Has Scout training prepared them to fight zombies? Can you watch this movie without severe mental anguish?
    Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is neither funny nor scary. Distilling every annoying piece of millennial culture, from electric dance music to selfies to painfully self-aware references, it is sure to make all viewers over 30 long for the good old days of Adam Sandler’s lazy yet coherent humor.
    With characters so vapid and unlikeable that we root for the zombies, it makes a good case for the extermination of the human race. Director Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) aims for the lowest common denominator. His jokes are dirty and overdone. Body humor is grotesque and uncomfortable. The one promising part — using Scouts training to fight zombies — is glossed over in 10 minutes.
    Lazy character work makes the leads not only predictable but also unenjoyable. We know Ben is the good guy because he gets shy around pretty girls. Carter is a horn dog, ogling and groping naked zombie women. It’s supposed to be the behavior of an irrepressible scamp, but sexual assault, even with zombies, is never funny.
    Even zombies will skip this movie.

Dismal Horror • R • 93 mins.

Clean up to improve next year’s crop

Tomato blight attacks your tomatoes by way of the leaves. The blight starts at the bottom of the plants and progresses upward. The lower leaves turn yellow-green, and oblong spots with concentric rings in the middle appear mid-leaf. Soon the leaves brown and fall. Plants are weakened and, without shade, fruit sunburned. So you don’t want to give the blight a foothold, for it will spread.
    If you have tomato plants still in the ground, destroy any that are contaminated; avoid composting unless  temperatures in the  pile exceed 140 degrees.
    If you have already placed your tomato cages and stakes in the garden shed, you may want to take them out of storage for treating.  The spores of tomato blight can overwinter on the wire cages or stakes that support plants during the growing season.
    A recent research study demonstrated that tomato plants grown with new cages and new stakes have far fewer incidences of blight than plants grown with previously used cages and stakes. Microbiologists were able to culture spores of the organisms that cause blight in tomatoes from cages and stakes in both fall and spring.
    But treating used cages and stakes with a diluted bleach solution prior to storage and before placing them around the tomato plants in the spring significantly reduced the blight problem, the researchers also reported.
    They recommend spraying the cages with a 10 percent bleach solution (one part by volume of bleach and nine parts by volume water). Spray the wires until they drip, making certain that the joints are thoroughly soaked. If you use stakes, dipping them in the same percent solution brings the bleach into all of the pores of the wood, plastic or steel. Vessels for dipping can be made from a large diameter piece of plastic pipe or a piece of gutter capped at one end. Wear latex gloves to avoid skin contact with the bleach.
    Growing tomatoes in the same soil where potatoes were grown the previous year also resulted in greater occurrence of blight in tomatoes, the researchers reported. The blight appears to be carried over on the unharvested small potatoes left in the ground. If you grow both tomatoes and potatoes in the same garden, let a full year lapse before rotating tomatoes to where you previously grew potatoes.

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

Moon, Venus, Jupiter and Mars beckon in the west

The moon wanes through morning skies until new moon on the 11th. Before dawn Friday you’ll find Luna barely two degrees north of bright Jupiter. Early Saturday the moon joins brilliant Venus and much dimmer Mars, forming a tight triangle easily within the view of binoculars. Use them to scan the eastern horizon a half-hour before sunrise for fleeting Mercury.
    Those binoculars will come in handy at dusk too, as Saturn appears very low in the southwest before setting from sight.
    In between dusk and dawn, keep a lookout for errant meteors from the Taurid shower. Peaking the nights of the 5th and 6th with five to 10 meteors an hour, the Taurids are active from September into December. What it doesn’t provide in quantity, the Taurids can make up for in quality, often producing extraordinarily bright meteors with long-lasting trails, including the occasional fireball.