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The black, white (blond, tan) and gray of it

Dennis Doyle’s piece regarding black squirrels was very interesting.” … So said reader after reader.

•   •   •

Been seeing them in Londontown by the Pub, yesterday and last week. Not sure if it’s the same one or different ones. Cute.

–Ernie Kleppin

I was somewhat surprised at the statement that black squirrels are so rare these days (1 in 10,000), as we see them with some frequency here in the Apple Greene neighborhood in Dunkirk. Our most recent backyard sighting took place in late November of 2016. Before departing for parts unknown (hopefully not a tragic encounter with one of the several hawks patrolling the woods behind our house), Mr. Black Squirrel frequently dined at our “squirrel-proof” bird feeders.

–Gary Schmidt

We often see black squirrels on Germantown Road in Edgewater.  There seems to be a herd(?), family, group, gathering of them living in the woods at the corner of Carrs Wharf Road and Germantown Road. Thank you for sharing your observations of them.

–Linda Hines

For the last five years or so I have watched black squirrels near the intersection of Carrs Wharf Road and Cadle Creek Road in Mayo
    Keep up the great paper.

–Gordon Reynolds
 

I liked Dennis Doyle’s column on black squirrels and was intrigued with his explanation of their existence. Somewhere I heard that the black color was a genetic mutation triggered by being in an area of ample food ­supply; the canopy/camouflage angle was a new one.
    All our squirrels are a treat. We have two blacks in the yard; only one will come to the door. Several friends do a double take on seeing the black squirrels. One visitor was sincerely freaked out; kept saying it was “evil.”  Go figure.
    At any rate, we live downtown on Market Street and think Cerný is a marvelous addition to the neighborhood.

–Ed & B.J. Skinner

Ed and B.J. Skinner have named their black squirrel Černý (black in Czech). They report that he has become progressively bolder over the last few months and now will readily take the peanuts directly that we used to leave outside. “Yes, I’m pretty sure a committed naturalist would be appalled at hand-feeding, but it’s really hard to resist that smile,” says B.J.


When I was a teenager in the late 1970s, my family lived in Landover Hills. We had a hickory nut tree in our yard that a black squirrel used to drop nuts and shells down on the two Dachshunds we had at the time. We would watch him and the other squirrels all the time from our porch. We really missed him and the other squirrels when we moved to Marlton.

–John Jones

My husband and I live in a wooded area in Dunkirk, and we almost always have a black squirrel or two around. In fact, we’ve had black squirrels here for many years. Sometimes, especially in summer, they’ll take off for parts unknown, but they make sure to return for free food (birdseed) in the winter.
    Thank you for putting out a great newspaper every week.

–Faye Graff

My wife feeds two black squirrels in our back yard in Apple Greene in Dunkirk for the last six months. They show up everyday.

–Martin Burless

I enjoyed your article on black squirrels. This was often a topic of discussion at the dinner table. My dad, who grew up in Wisconsin, would say it was a sign of good luck if  you saw a black squirrel. We considered ourselves very lucky to live in Kensington.
     In my high school years, we had many black squirrels running in the Rock Creek Hills neighborhood. I was in the area recently and saw two black squirrels on Beach Drive along the bike path. I made a mental note of this because I have only seen a few black squirrels while living in Pasadena the last 10 years.
    I currently reside in Riva and have not observed any black squirrels.
    I have had many fox and deer sightings in the back yard. I purchased a seed bell to hang outside for the  furry friends. Maybe I will be fortunate to have a black squirrel sighting and bring good luck to my new dwelling.
    May the new year bring you good health and a special vision of a black squirrel gathering.

–Catherine Schaaf

I live in the neighborhood behind Heroes Pub in West Annapolis, and there are probably a half-dozen black squirrels  around our house. I’ve noticed them the four years that I’ve lived here.
    I enjoy reading your newspaper each week.

–Dave

I live on the Eastport peninsula and have seen one black squirrel three times or three black squirrels once each. Each time, the squirrel was alone, once in my little backyard, where I feed birds and, thereby, squirrels; once in a large lot where boats park in sailing weather closer to the Maritime Museum; once in a large yard around the corner from my house. Each one looked healthy and had a very shiny black coat.

–Elliot Abhau

I enjoyed your article on black squirrels in the January 12 issue of the magazine. I thought it might interest you to know that the town of Cheverly has a large and apparently thriving population of black squirrels. In fact, it is rare to see a gray squirrel in the township. Cheverly is close to D.C. and College Park; perhaps this population is descendant from those introduced at the zoo from Canada. It would be interesting to do some genetic tests to determine if in fact these populations spread from that initial introduction or if they are naturally occurring populations that have somehow survived in spite of the general dominance of our common gray squirrel.
    Thank you for your magazine. I remain a loyal reader.

–Egan O’Brien

You want to see black squirrels come up to my house in Fairhaven. I feed them. I’ve got about 10.

–Barbi Shields

Seen Any White Squirrels?

What do you make of this critter I ­spotted in Minneapolis in December?

–Sal Lauria

White and black squirrels have one thing in common, they are both color phases of the American gray squirrel.
    They are rare genetic color variations, though just how rare is open to interpretation. The black variety is reported at 1:10,000. The white even more unusual, though that may be because of predation since they are so much more visible to hawks, owls and foxes.
    There are two types of white squirrels. Leucistic types occur because of a mutated gene (like the black squirrel) and can include blond and tan-colored squirrels. These have dark eyes. Albino squirrels are white with pink eyes because they lack any kind of color pigmentation.
    A number of cities in the U.S. boast populations of white squirrels: Olney, IL; Brevard, NC; Marionville, MO; and Kenton, TN among others. Most populations number up to 100 or so, but Brevard claims to have more than 1,000 within its three square miles of city limits.
    All of these concentrated populations of the color mutations are protected and encouraged by the citizens and have become tourist attractions in many cases.
    I have only seen a few blacks and one white in Maryland, though there may well be more in specific locations.

–Dennis Doyle

Three decades in the making, three (boring) hours in the watching

In the 17th century, Japanese governors forestalled the growth of Catholicism in their country by rounding up priests and converts. Those who recanted were released. The faithful were tortured.
    Word reaches the Jesuits of Portugal that Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson: A Monster Calls) has foresworn his faith and is living among the Japanese. Horrified, Fathers Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield: Hacksaw Ridge) and Garrpe (Andrew Driver: Patterson) volunteer to go learn the truth.
    After a harrowing journey, the priests reach Japan. Instead of Ferreira, they find desperate Catholics who see their arrival as a sign from God. Rodrigues and Garrpe realize their parishioners have a deep and powerful faith — that is getting them killed.
    Questions evolve.
    Is it moral to ask people to martyr themselves? What business did white Christians have going to Japan trying to alter centuries of religious beliefs? Will they ever find the truth of what happened to Father Ferreira?
    A ponderous movie on the strength of faith and the needs of people to believe, Silence is a passion project. Legendary director Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) has been trying to bring Japanese author Shusaku Endoto’s book to the screen for nearly 28 years. The long-awaited movie is beautifully shot, thought-provoking and far too long.
    Cinematically it’s breathtaking, with many nods to Japanese cinema and directors. But the story fails to make emotional connections. By trying to be fair to both sides, Scorsese leaves you ambivalent to both the Japanese who want to preserve their culture and the priests who believe salvation is possible only to Catholics.
    Performances are another weakness. Scorsese needs a strong lead to sell a nearly three-hour movie. At the heart of the film is Garfield, who is acceptable but not compelling, so Father Rodrigues’ struggles with faith are not keenly felt. It’s also odd that Scorsese forces both Garfield and Driver to speak in slightly stereotypical Portuguese accents, while Neeson speaks in his usual Irish brogue.
    Long, slow and inconsistently acted, Silence is not a film to win your heart. If you buy a ticket hoping for lively storytelling and engrossing action, enjoying this film will be a miracle.

Fair Drama • R • 161 mins.

Put those seed catalogs to good use

Perhaps you have received seed catalogs for the coming spring planting season. On the the front and back cover you will likely be encouraged to order early to receive bonuses or discounts. Many seed companies also offer free shipping for early orders. You can save quite a bit if you take advantage of these special offers.
    My method for ordering seeds begins with selecting at least three different catalogs that I have purchased from in recent years. After I have made an inventory of the leftover seeds from 2016 season, I go through each catalog selecting the seeds I need to purchase for this coming season. Expect to substitute some favorite varieties that are not available. Initially I complete three or more order forms. This is a good task after you have cleared the dinner table.
    After I total the cost from each order form, I compare prices, including shipping and handling and the specials that each catalog offers. Since I am always testing new varieties, I make it a point to review all of the information provided on each variety, especially when my time-tested varieties are not available.
    Before I make my final decision on which catalog I will order from, I check the total cost of the seeds with the shipping and handling charges. Most catalogs have a shipping charge based on the total cost of seeds. I base my final selection of seeds by either subtracting or adding from my wish list seeds to minimize the shipping and handling charge. You can save more money by following this procedure.
    Consider these factors as you plan your order.
    1. Expect to pay more for hybrid seeds because of the labor and technology involved in producing them.
    2. Order only what you expect to use in one season. Not all seeds have the same shelf life. The longer you store unused seeds, the lower the germination rate and the longer the germination time. So pay attention to the number of seeds included in each package. I find that many gardeners order more seeds than needed, thinking that seeds can be stored forever.
    3. Organically grown seeds may not be worth the price you pay. What determines if the fruit or vegetable is organically grown is the method of culture. With chemical fertilizers and pesticides or with compost, animal manures or organic fertilizers and without pesticides?
    Fruits and vegetables grown using conventional methods have the same nutritional value as those grown organically. I recently listened to a discussion between dietitians confirming what a graduate student of mine found in the 1980s in an extensive study comparing the nutritional value of snap beans grown organically versus those grown conventionally. The results clearly indicated that the fiber content and nutritional value were similar. The only difference was harvested yields. Bean beetles and the bean weevils caused a 20 percent loss in beans grown organically.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Thick and blue is tried and true; thin and crispy is way too risky

Shivering, I resettled my stool, a plastic five-gallon pail, and reached for the skimming spoon. Easing over to the two holes we had spudded in the six-inch-thick ice an hour earlier, I scooped the already thickening slush threatening to close them. Meanwhile, I hoped that my mother hadn’t noticed her favorite slotted spoon missing from its peg in the kitchen.
    That long ago late January, temperatures were in the low teens as a friend and I perched, cold and uncomfortable, on the middle of the solidly frozen Presque Isle Bay. The sheltered piece of water is formed by a sandy 3,200-acre peninsula about halfway between Cleveland and Buffalo on Lake Erie.
    We were keeping a close eye on the tiny ice fishing poles perched at the edge of the two ice holes. Around us were scattered the trophies of our angling efforts: yellow perch, crappie and a few bluegills, frozen rigid within minutes on the ice.
    It takes at least four inches of the hard stuff before it is safe to venture forth. (Thick and blue is tried and true; thin and crispy is way too risky). When that happens, you are in a mesmerizing environment.
    The problem with Maryland winter, from my perspective, is that temperatures usually don’t remain low enough for long enough to support winter sports, like ice fishing.
    Except for one spot: Deep Creek Lake State Park. The largest lake in the state with 69 miles of shoreline and an average depth of 25 feet, Deep Creek is in Garrett County at the southern edge of Meadow Mountain in the Allegheny Highlands, where it frequently gets cold enough, long enough, to fish through the ice.
    Yellow perch are one of the more common catches there, fat and muscular in readiness for their impending spawn. Big crappie, too, often over 12 inches, plus large bluegills and occasionally some walleye, pickerel and northern pike.
    Garrett Hoffman is a recognized ice-fishing expert there, fishing the area since he was nine years old. A DNR-certified guide, Hoffman also has the specialized equipment to enjoy the sport to its fullest.
    Tip-ups are small ice fishing outfits designed to be placed right in your 10-inch diameter fishing hole. A small attached flag springs up smartly when you get a bite. The springing action also produces enough tension to set the hook, so all you have to do is reel in your catch.
    Small (24-inch) specialized spin rods are also available for jigging, one of the more productive methods of enticing the slow-moving fish, swimming in 33-degree water, to bite. Fathead minnows are the best bait, but wax worms and maggots work too.
    From a comfort standpoint, the most important gear for ice fishing is the fishing shanty, a pop-up shelter comfortably seating two or three anglers, keeping them warm if not toasty and protecting them from all but the wildest windstorms.
    Hoffman also has the proper ice auger to drill fish holes and strainer spoons to keep the holes ice-free. He is also the only ice guide in the area — if not the state: 301-616-6232.

Taking on the rise and fall of your political ideals

It’s always good to make an audience think. In The City of Conversation, Colonial Players makes us do just that with a story that is well told, emotional and often laugh-out-loud funny — as well as relevant, with its look at how politics can split families.
    Novelist and playwright Anthony Giardina’s script is set in the elegant Georgetown townhouse of Hester Ferris, a left-leaning socialite whose legendary dinner parties are modeled after those of real-life doyenne and former ambassador Perle Mesta. At her soirees, the upper crust from both political stripes discussed, debated and drank with passion but without rancor.
    We begin in 1979. Jimmy Carter is in the White House, but Ronald Reagan is rising. Next we come to the fight over Robert Bork’s Supreme Court nomination, finally to President Obama’s 2009 inauguration.
    Making his Colonial Players directing debut, Ruben Vellekoop, keeps the action moving through it all — and through Colonial’s theater in the round.
    As Ferris, Kathleen Ruttum anchors the production with authority yet vulnerability. She is a well-regarded woman who can feel her power and effectiveness, and the civility of debate, slipping. The liberal political world that once revolved around her dining room table is falling to neoconservatism. Finally partisanship supersedes civil conversation.
    As Ferris’s liberalism was once the sun around which political Washington revolved, Ruttum’s performance is the one around which the others revolve. Politics turns personal when her son Colin (Josh Mooney) introduces a fiancée (Rebecca Gift). The younger woman is ambitious, conservative and not afraid to challenge Hester’s status quo.
    Mooney is an excellent comic actor known for his superior performances in musical comedies at Annapolis Summer Garden Theater. It is good to see him acting with more depth. He does so successfully, in two roles. First he is Colin, whose politics aligns more closely with his fiancée’s than his mother’s. (When he said, “The President gets to choose his Supreme Court,” the audience laughed in recognition.) Later he plays Colin’s son Ethan, who returns with his boyfriend to visit his grandmother.
    Gift’s Anna, the fiancée, is suitably ambitious and cynical, belittling Hester’s once-lofty position as well as her ideas. Her repartee with Hester takes on the acidity that reflects the changing mores.
    A fine supporting cast is led by a droll Karen Kellner as Jean, Hester’s sister, who also runs the house. Paul Banville is Chandler, a liberal senator and Hester’s longtime partner. Jeff Sprague and Carlotta Capuano make the most of a brief appearance as a senator from Kentucky and his wife. David Foster plays Ethan’s friend Donald late in the play, and young Ian Brown nicely plays six-year-old Ethan (a role he splits with Henry MacDonald).
    Yes, it’s always good to make the audience think. But not so good to make us guess.
    Vellekoop uses empty picture frames to delineate Hester’s home. Nice and effective, until, during their exits throughout the production, the actors each remove a frame and take it offstage. The audience murmurs, wondering — guessing — what it all means and why Hester’s guests are stealing her paintings.
    A letter to reviewers — unseen by the audience and not explained in the program — explains something about the frames representing the masks that characters hide behind. The audience didn’t get it. One playgoer who asked an usher got a word with the stage ­manager. There is no need for this kind of device when a fine cast is telling a good story.
    The music, too, was off. Songs from the 1960s and ’70s seem out of place in a show that begins in 1979. If there is some meaning in the lyrics, it does not come across. The choice to interrupt, with an obscene rap song no less, the very tender final moment of the show, is again, questionable.
    Less is more. Let the moment speak for itself.
    Quibbles aside, The City of Conversation is an enjoyable experience. Funny, emotional and sparked with debate, it received a standing ovation the night I attended.


About two hours with one intermission. Stage manager: Atticus Cooper Boidy. Lighting: Alex Brady. Costumes: Carrie Brady. Set: Mary Butcher.

Thru Jan. 28: FSa 8pm, Su 2pm, plus 8pm Jan. 26, 108 East St., Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.

Read on for winter relief in food forests, seed catalogs and squirrely tales

January seems the grayest of times. But nature is at work, nurturing new life in often-invisible ways.
    In this week’s paper, we turn to some of those ways. You’ll read about a new frontier in local eating, a food forest. Planted last spring at American Chestnut Land Trust in Calvert County, it is taking root in earth’s magical soils in preparation for its first burst of growth this spring.
    More visible are the seed catalogs filling gardeners’ mailboxes. This week the Bay Gardener explains the benefits — beyond the beautiful pictures — of ordering early.
    Squirrels are also keeping the juices flowing.
    In response to Dennis Doyle’s January 12 Sporting Life column, Bay Weekly readers are reporting back on black squirrels and their antics throughout Chesapeake Country.
    Your everyday squirrel is an acrobat, flying through the air from branch to twig with the greatest of ease, racing along electrical tightropes and hanging upside down to eat from your bird feeders.
    For many a year, outdoors writer Bill Burton roused the empathy of Bay Weekly readers with his love-hate relationship with squirrels. Plain old gray squirrels, as Burton reported no blacks among his Riviera Beach bushytails.
    As Burton died in 2009, we’ve long been in deprivation from his squirrely tales. So here, for more January entertainment, is a sample from February 28, 2002.

Matching Wits with Squirrels
When you’ve tried and have not won, never stop for crying.
All that’s great and good that’s done is just by patient trying.
    Among the two score or more bushytails that romp on my side lawn up here on the shores of Stoney Creek in North County, there is one quite familiar with that advice.
    This particular squirrel took the message to heart, practiced it and made a fool of me.
    Almost daily, friend Alan Doelp of Linthicum and I update each other on the latest maneuvers bushytails have taken to outwit our attempts to keep them out of bird feeders — at least to make it difficult for them to feed.
    Alan shares with me a reputation for trying time and again, only to be outsmarted by persistent creatures that could fit in our pockets if we dared put them there. I cringe at the thought. Ouch!
    It’s not that we don’t like squirrels or that we don’t want them feeding on our lawns. It’s just that they fascinate us. We like the challenge, and we’ve learned time and again they will eventually have the last laugh — also a bellyful of bird feed. And peanuts.
    As well as trying to keep the thick-tailed rodents from getting the lion’s share of birdseed, we also work on squirrel feeders — but with a built-in hitch. Whether it’s corn on the cob on a propeller-type device, peanuts and sunflower seeds secreted in a homemade feeder with a maze of baffles within or some other contraption we devise in our workshops, we challenge squirrels to get their breakfast, lunch or dinner.
    We get much enjoyment watching them work out our puzzles, and obviously they get as much pleasure out of this game as we do. Probably they get more pleasure because they usually win. And long as it takes them to claim the prize the first time, from then on it’s easy.
    So much for the old claim among squirrel hunters that the creatures have poor memories. They well remember the route to a snack. And use it.
    For us, it’s back to the drawing boards.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com

Ben Affleck writes a love letter to pulp filmmaking in this epic drama

Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck: Suicide Squad) is an outlaw. A veteran of The Great War, Coughlin returns home to Boston swearing to never follow orders again. He turns to armed robbery, vexes his police chief father and gets the interest of the city’s warring Italian and Irish mobs.
    Coughlin isn’t interested in joining a gang, but he is interested in the head Irish mobster’s girl, Emma (Sienna Miller: The Lost City of Z). Joe gets out with a smashed face and a few years in jail. Emma doesn’t fair so well.
    Bent on revenge, Coughlin signs up with the Italian mob.
    He sets up a comfortable life on the outskirts of Tampa, building a small empire as he outsmarts the law and rival criminal concerns.
    Just as he assembles the life he wants, it’s challenged. The Italians fret over an Irishman running such a large chunk of their business. The Ku Klux Klan chapter despises Joe for his Cuban girlfriend and association with minority groups. The holy rollers of Tampa want to cleanse the city.
    Based on an epic Prohibition novel by Dennis Lehane, Live by Night isn’t as beautifully detailed or steeped in history as the novel, but it’s a decent CliffsNotes. Affleck also directed and wrote the screenplay, paring down a story that spans decades and two very different cities and focusing almost solely on Coughlin.
    Though it keeps the running time down, this choice also knocks some of the nuance out of Joe, turning him from a morally ambiguous gangster into a tough-guy hero.
    Coughlin is interesting, and Affleck’s performance fine, but he gains primacy at the expense of other performers. Chris Messina (The Mindy Project), as Coughlin’s right-hand man, for one.
    Lavish sets, attractive people and enough action to keep your blood pumping, Live by Night is a tribute to the pulpy crime dramas of the 1930s and ’40s. If you like a plot-heavy tale with quippy dialogue, sexy dames and steel-jawed toughs, you’ll enjoy this film.

Good Drama • R • 128 mins.

We hope (with compliments to Yogi Berra) it’s better than déjà vu

The Maryland General Assembly isn’t the only big thing beginning anew this month.
    (Does beginning anew agree with you? Strictly speaking, anew is a tautology in the phrase as beginning is beginning. Still, in the spiral of life, renewal is a great force, giving us second, third and more chances, if we’re lucky. There! I’ve reasoned myself into beginning anew. How about you?)
    I’ve tried not to bore you in writing about the General Assembly. Important as it is to your life and mine, it’s a subject that quickly runs into technicalities. So I’m telling you only the least you need to know, with leads on where to go for more if you find an area interesting.
    If you’re a wonk, you’ll know most of this. But I bet not all, as some surprises are tucked in. The best is your introduction to the man to whom everyone in the House of Delegates listens, Reading Clerk C. Rhoades Whitehill.
    Second, third and more chances are regular business in the General Assembly, where a tussle over a Renewable Energy law passed — and vetoed — last year is likely to get the session rolling. Also back this year are lots more ideas that didn’t quite make it last year. On Gov. Larry Hogan’s side, a big one is his second try to get lawmakers to approve giving manufacturers a tax-free decade for setting up shop in areas of high unemployment. Sick leave for employees will be back, too. A bill passed the Senate last year but failed in the House. This year, Hogan has his own proposal, so there’ll be wrangling over that, too.
    Wrangling is not such a bad thing. In my book, it’s a very good thing. In the General Assembly, as opposed to on the ranch, it means that people championing different ideas are talking to each other, maybe even listening, maybe even working toward consensus. In the General Assembly, a consensus bill is negotiated between both chambers, the House and the Senate, until most everybody sort of agrees on it. Because it depends on give and take, nobody is ever 100 percent happy. But it’s the best that can be done at the moment; thus, it will do.
    Making a law is like getting a very big family to agree on what to watch on television. It’s the best compromise that can be reached among people who, as people do, think differently.
    That’s one reason they say lawmaking, like sausage making, doesn’t bear close scrutiny.
    I promise you not too much sausage making in this story, and just a little as the Assembly continues its 90-day session.
    Here at Bay Weekly, as in the General Assembly, we’re tooling up for a new year. At this moment in time, making only the second of 52 editions of Volume XXV, the year ahead looks like a mountain to climb. But as we’re doing so for our 24th time, we know the ropes. Already many stories, some far into the future, are taking shape. As are some big new ideas I’ll soon be telling you about.
    Our own calendars are filling out, too, as we feel that surge of new year’s energy. We’ll celebrate three birthdays this month, on top of the one birth we’re already celebrating. Henry Mika Gardner couldn’t wait until the new year, surprising Chesapeake Curiosities columnist Christine Gardner three weeks early. So she begins this year on maternity leave.
    I hope you, too, are swept up in the spiral of beginning anew.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com; www.sandraolivettimartin.com

Anne Arundel County offers just the right raw ingredients

Anne Arundel County has more horses than any other county in the nation. It follows that we also have more horse manure. Some of that horse manure occupies precious landfill space or is dumped near streams, thus contributing to Bay pollution.
    Anne Arundel County landfills also have too much of another organic waste, nitrogen-rich food waste produced by an abundance of restaurants. Like yard debris, neither of these organic wastes should be occupying landfill space. Landfills are costly to construct and maintain. Both food waste and horse manure can easily be converted into compost.
    In the early 1980s, the Bay Gardener was involved in writing the state law that prohibited the dumping of yard debris into landfills and established yard debris composting facilities. One such facility is located near Upper Marlboro, just a mile from the Anne Arundel County line, near the intersection of Route 4 and Route 301. Operated by Maryland Environmental Services, it is one of the locations that manufactures LeafGro.
    Last month, the Anne Arundel County Council and the County Executive approved the composting of horse manure and restaurant waste on South County farms in facilities between five and 10 acres. The legislation has established strict standards that limit the area for compost to 25 percent of total acreage. Prohibited from composting are dead animals or waste from processing facilities. The new legislation also limits proximity of composting pads to adjacent properties, occupied dwellings and streams. The composting must be done on a non-porous pad, and the facility must be managed by an operator certified in the science of composting. The location of any such facility must be pre-approved. Also considered in the legislation is road access to the facility.
    The Maryland Department of Agriculture is responsible for certifying managers of composting facilities. Certification requires a training program and rigorous written exam. As Maryland was the first in the nation to establish a commercial composting training program, I prepared many of the questions that are included in the certification exam. Managers must be knowledgeable in the biological processes, monitoring equipment, standards and management procedures.
    The Maryland Department of the Environment is responsible for inspecting and assuring that the facilities are properly managed and that sanitary conditions are maintained. Maryland’s composting facilities have been operating for the past 30 years without creating problems while producing such compost products as LeafGro, Orgro and Veterans Compost. Many municipalities compost their own yard debris, making it available to residents at a minimal charge, following standards established within their jurisdictions without creating odors. Near Exit 1 on the Baltimore Beltway, a composting facility processes 180 to 200 tons of Baltimore sewage sludge each day without creating an odor problem, producing compost called Orgro.
    Composting is an exact science. It requires blending the proper amount of feedstocks; in this case horse manure with restaurant waste. The amount of carbon and nitrogen in each are determined by established laboratory testing methods. After these two materials are blended properly in the correct amounts and placed in windrows, moisture levels are maintained between 50 and 60 percent and oxygen levels are maintained above five percent. Temperatures within the piles will average between 140 and 160 degrees within 24 to 36 hours. When oxygen levels drop below five percent, the windrows are turned with specialized equipment to introduce more oxygen into the mixture. Some composting facilities draw air, using fans, through the composting piles to maintain oxygen at the proper level. Only when the temperatures within the piles achieve those near ambient air is the compost ready. The process will generally require 80 to 100 days, depending on the time of year and the volume being composted. The resulting compost has a rich earthy smell.
    The microorganisms that digest the carbon in the horse manure, while using the nitrogen from the restaurant waste, are the same microbes found in garden soils. The same process occurs on the forest floor. Science has discovered that under ideal conditions, these microorganisms will gladly work overtime.
    The only by-products of composting are water vapor, heat and carbon dioxide. There are no toxic gasses released during composting.
    Gardening has become the most popular hobby in the nation. Ornamental horticulture is the second largest income-producing agricultural industry in Maryland, second to poultry. Potted plants are all grown in soil-less blends containing one-third to one-half by volume compost. With more people demanding organically grown food, the need for compost far exceeds the supply. Compost is a great soil amendment and a good source of slow-release nutrients.
    I have spent more than 30 years conducting research on using compost made from sewage sludge, animal manures, yard debris, crab waste, garbage, paper-mill sludge and more. Composting is the ultimate in recycling, and it can be done safely and efficiently. Although composting is an old agricultural practice, today’s composting technology is as different as the Model A Ford is to today’s hybrid cars.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Black squirrels once were common in America before European migration

Peering out the front window with my first cup of coffee this morning, I was rewarded with the sight of at least a half dozen squirrels cavorting on my snow-covered lawn, running up and down the trees, chasing each other and creating a maelstrom of snow powder and furry activity.
    One of the frisking rascals, I noticed with surprise, was melanistic, a black phase of our common gray squirrel. Though fairly rare (one in 10,000) these days, the jet-black variety is a handsome mutation and jogged some interesting facts loose in my memory.
    Winter storm warnings of about two inches of snow had been choking the airwaves. Despite having been born and raised around the snow-bound Great Lakes and immunized to such hysterics, I did begin to feel concern for the neighborhood critters. Which is why I had piled an ample supply of corn and seeds under the sheltering hull of my trailered skiff for the squirrels and birds.
    This, of course, made my yard quite a gathering place for local wildlife, including the black squirrel (which, I later found, regularly lives about a block away). Black squirrels, I also discovered, were much more common in America and perhaps even dominant in many large areas before Europeans began migrating to North America.
    Heavily forested with mature hardwoods, the dense canopy of the pre-settlement forests was not readily penetrated by sunlight. Dim light provided an advantage to the darker coloration of the melanistic squirrel variety. They were not as visible as the grays were to the many owls and hawks that were their principle predators.
    Agricultural, however, soon changed that. Clearing the forests to provide for shelter, fuel, farming and livestock likely left the darker-colored squirrels more visible in the now semi-forested areas. Since black offspring are common only when both parent squirrels are black (the black gene being recessive), the black variant began to give way to the gray as the dominant squirrel variety.
    Today the gray is far more common throughout their ranges. But exceptions remain. When I arrived in this area to work for the Department of Agriculture, I lived in Washington, D.C., where I was surprised to note a large number of black squirrels in the parks surrounding DuPont Circle and the Executive Office Building grounds. I distinctly recall one female, quite friendly, that lived near my apartment and sported a tiny rhinestone collar.
    It turned out that the National Zoo had imported 18 black squirrels from Canada (where they remained relatively common) during Teddy Roosevelt’s administration (1901-1909). They were released on zoo grounds, quickly became acclimated, then spread throughout the city, which had previously lacked any appreciable squirrel population.
    Today, Maryland (at College Park and Joppatowne), Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, among other states, are noted as having populations or concentrations of black squirrels. Their exact source is undetermined or at least undocumented. More I don’t know, just as I don’t know how this one came to my yard.


Seen any black squirrels? Tell us where and when: editor@bayweekly.com.