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Articles by Dr. Francis Gouin

How I resurrected a 1971 sailboat

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

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

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

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Pet poop and chicken skat don’t fit in

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

Keeping Silt Out of Pond Waters

Re: Stopping Brown Bay Waters:

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

–Dave Bastian, via email

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

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Nurseries want to sell, and planting time is right

Many garden centers and nurseries have fall sales to reduce their inventory. What doesn’t sell, they have to spend money protecting in winter or suffer losses.
    These sales are timed right for you, too, because early fall is a great time for planting trees, shrubs and perennials, as the plants have time to establish roots in their new soils before winter sets in.
    Plants produce new roots faster when their tops are going dormant. In preparation for winter, most woody plants stop growing leaves and new shoots starting in mid-August when daylight hours grow shorter and evenings become cooler. Thus, all of the sugars being produced by the foliage are directed toward growing new roots. New roots this fall means more top growth next spring.
    Container-grown plants you buy now have been growing in that container all summer. Therefore, it is likely that the outer edge of the root balls are encircled by roots, a good indication that the plants are root-bound.  If you transplant such plants without disturbing the roots, it is unlikely that they will survive the winter because new roots cannot break through the mat into the surrounding soil.  
    When removing plants from their containers, examine the root balls carefully. If the roots have filled the container, pull them loose or slash them with a sharp knife.  I prefer slashing the outer edge of the root ball from the top to the bottom approximately one inch deep at three- or four-inch intervals. By slashing the outer roots, you will be forcing the fine roots to branch and form new roots in the new soil.  
    An alternative method is to crush the root ball until you see the roots loosen, and use your fingers to pull the loosened roots away from the ball. This method requires more time but achieves similar results.
    Never dig the transplant hole any deeper than the depth of the root ball. Ninety percent of the roots of trees and shrubs are in the upper six inches of soil. Plant with 10 percent of the root ball above grade. Back-fill with a mixture of one-third by volume compost blended with two-thirds by volume existing soil.
    The compost will provide not only the essential nutrients for good root growth but also a transition zone for roots that have been growing in a soilless mixture. If you are transplanting azaleas, blueberries and related species, blend one to two tablespoons of gypsum into the soil before backfilling. Acid soils are nearly always deficient in calcium, which is essential for good root growth.

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Move crowded azaleas this month

Perhaps you planted young azaleas close together to achieve instant effects. Within a few years, those young azaleas will be crowding each other. Unless you remove some of them, they will grow tall and spindly.
    September is the best time of the year to dig and transplant azaleas, rhododendrons, andromeda, mountain laurel, blueberry and related species. By early September, the plants have stopped growing and are setting flower buds. When plants stop producing stems and leaves, they start producing roots. Thus, transplanting in September gives the plants time to establish themselves and be ready to resume normal growth in the spring when they begin to flower.
    When transplanted in the spring, the plants will flower, but new growth will be limited because the plants have to grow new stems, leaves and roots at the same time.  
     Azaleas and related species are very particular about where they grow. Unless irrigated during drought, they are best grown in light shade. On the other hand, the more direct sun plants receive, the more flowers they produce. Under dense shade, they will produce good dark foliage but few flowers.
    It is always best to grow these  plants in deep organic-rich soils that are acid in nature so they can absorb nitrogen in the ammonium form. Ammonium nitrogen is more readily available in acid soils than in neutral soils such as those good for growing annual flowers and vegetable gardens.
    To avoid problems, have your soil tested before planting. A good soil test will provide the pH of the existing soil, the amount of calcium and magnesium present as well as other essential nutrients essential for good plant growth. Never fertilize these species with lawn fertilizers; they contain nitrogen in the nitrate form, which will cause stunting.
    Acid soils tend to lack calcium, which is essential for good growth. Calcium is as important in plants as it is in humans. Thus, to supply calcium without making the soil neutral or alkaline, blend a few tablespoons of gypsum (calcium sulfate), into the soil before planting. If the soil is low in magnesium, add a tablespoon of Epsom salts, which is magnesium sulfate.
    Successful transplanting also depends on careful watering. A newly transplanted shrub or tree should be watered thoroughly at three-day intervals. Light daily watering does more harm than good.

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These sensitive trees show you air pollution in action

If your Heritage birch is dropping yellow leaves, blame it on the Orange Alert of early August. Heritage birch is a clone of river birch, which is highly sensitive to both ozone and sulfur dioxide. Both of these gasses are present in an Orange Alert.
    An Orange Alert is announced to warn the elderly and people with pulmonary disorders to remain indoors in air-conditioning and minimize outdoor activities until the alert is lifted. Heritage birch, the deciduous trees most sensitive to air pollutants, have no choice but to remain in place and try to survive.
    Maple, oak, cherry, apple, dogwood and other tree species are not affected.
    Only older leaves are yellowing and dropping. Younger leaves closer to the ends of the branches are remaining green, and the trees are producing new leaves at the ends of the branches.
    Age is the cause of the leaf drop. The spongy layer of plant cells in leaves converts carbon dioxide into oxygen by absorbing air through small openings called stomata on the underside of birch tree leaves. These stomata are surrounded by guard cells that open and close depending on moisture, time of day and the presence of air pollutants.
    In younger leaves, the guard cells remain very flexible. As soon as they detect air pollutants entering the leaves they close, thus preventing damage to the spongy leaf tissues that absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. However, as leaves age, the guard cells become sluggish and sometimes stop functioning, thus allowing the polluted air to enter and kill the spongy leaf tissues. In other words, the guard cells are not as spry as they once were.
    Once the spongy leaf tissues are killed by the air pollutants, the older leaves react as if they had been damaged by an early frost.
    If the air pollution were to occur at night, it is unlikely the problem would be as severe because the guard cells close at about the same time the sun sets. The damage would be limited to only those leaves where the guard cells are stuck in the open position.

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We have the knowledge but not the will to fix the problem

In a recent fishing trip with residents of the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home, we could not help but notice how brown the water appeared even after several miles of boating into Herring Bay. One of the veterans asked why. I explained to him that what he was seeing was mostly clay in suspension.
    Where is it coming from?
    Clay comes from agricultural fields and home gardeners with exposed soils as well as from construction sites.
    “How can it come from construction sites,” he wanted to know, “as they are required to surround such sites with silt fences?”
    Silt fences remove only floating organic waste, sand and silt. They do not remove clay from water flowing through them or nutrients soluble in the water.
    Only two methods effectively remove nutrients and clay from waters penetrating silt fences. The water must be treated in a waste water treatment facility with tertiary water treatment or be passed through compost.
    Research has clearly demonstrated that water filtered through silt fences can be purified by passing the water through a berm of active compost. Because of the negative and positive charges in compost, clay particles are trapped along with nutrients. Growing winter rye in those berms of compost also helps in absorbing nutrients trapped in the compost.
    This information — common knowledge to us researchers — has been presented at many public meetings and published in trade magazines. One company manufactures Filtrex Sox, a mesh tube 12 to 18 inches in diameter and filled with compost. The tube has an apron that forces water to flow through it.
    This information has been presented to highway departments and at contractor meetings without much success. Rebuttals have been “we use bales of straw or mounds of wood-chips” to filter surface water. These methods do not solve the problem of trapping muddy water because neither has positive and negative changes attracting particles and nutrients.
    It’s an old familiar story: Research tells us what must be done, but great resistance rises against new and improved methods. Change comes slowly unless it is made mandatory.
    Enough said.

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Our four have assisted all in their own ways

Four dogs have helped us run Upakrik Farm.
    Our first farm dog was a black cocker spaniel. Dixie moved with us from College Park but adapted to farm life. She quickly learned the perimeter of the fields and the joy of riding on the tractor. The sound of its diesel engine made her stop what she was doing and make a beeline for the tractor. Despite her short legs, she would jump onto the platform and sit behind my legs, watching as we drove. She was a great companion during the many hours I spent on the tractor preparing the fields for planting.
    For some unknown reason, she needed help getting down from the platform to the ground. I often suspected that she would have preferred staying on the tractor. Dixie was good at chasing squirrels and rabbits but to my knowledge never caught any. One night when she was 14 years old, Dixie walked away from the farm never to be found.
    Several months after Dixie left us, we adopted an eight-month-old golden retriever. Dandy was not much of a farm dog and did not like riding in the tractor or even a car. But he was a great companion who loved to play fetch and follow me around the farm. He always stayed within eyesight of me, and whenever I stopped to rest, he would come to me wanting to be petted. I never saw him chase squirrels or rabbits, but one day I found him licking baby rabbits in a litter under a tree. I watched him nudge the baby rabbits with his long nose and wash a few with his tongue while holding them between his front paws. I had to pull Dandy away so mother rabbit could approach and feed the babies. He paid daily visits to those baby rabbits until they left the lay.
    For a short time after we adopted Dandy, T.J. joined the family. He appeared to be a cross between a cocker spaniel and a basset hound. We adopted him from our oldest daughter, who was having difficulty training him. Within days, T.J. and I became inseparable. He followed me wherever I went on the farm and would lie patiently by my desk when I had office duties to perform.
    Since T.J. was a rescue dog, we knew nothing of his background except that he had a stiff rear right leg, evident when he walked or ran. One day while following me in the field, he tripped and fell while chasing a rabbit. He was in pain and unable to stand. Since the accident occurred in the evening, I carried him to the house and laid him on the foot of the bed. The next morning I brought him to the veterinarian where X-rays reveled breaks in the shoulder joints of both front legs. The X-ray also reveled he had a metal pin in his right rear leg, which caused him to limp. Because damage was extensive and with an apparent history of broken bones, I decided to have him put down. Clara and I both missed T.J. because he was the only dog we could take for a canoe ride, as he sat motionless and seemed to enjoy the changing scenery.
    Our current dog, Lusby, is a Carolina dog, a breed related to dingoes. She is a rescue dog from Georgia, where she was on death row. Lusby is a real farm dog and knows the territory. She has reduced the squirrel, rabbit and groundhog population and even catches mice. She prefers being outdoors and running beside my golf cart instead of riding in it. Lusby follows me all over the farm and stays within eyesight. When I stop to rest, she comes to check on me but is not a dog that likes to be petted much. She is my back-seat companion when I drive the truck.
    Lusby is great with children whose parents come to cut Christmas trees. She shows off by running at great speed in circles and follows the children through the trees. She will even fetch sticks and balls for children, though she will not fetch for me.

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Fall gardens want compost

It is highly unlikely your garden has used up all the fertilizer you applied this spring. This is especially true if your garden soil is rich in organic matter and you used lots of compost.
    Compost raises soil temperatures, while its organic matter releases nutrients at a rate nearly equivalent to the needs of plants. The roots from the previous crop are also decomposing and releasing nutrients.
    If you used your own compost or one based on yard debris, your plants will benefit from an application of nitrogen. But if you used compost from lobster waste or crab waste, you’ve almost certainly got all the nitrogen your fall crops will need.
    If you are an organic gardener, blood meal, cottonseed meal and fish emulsion are good sources of nitrogen. Other sources of nitrogen include calcium nitrate, ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate and urea. Don’t apply slow-release formulas on fall vegetable gardens.
    Fall gardening is an excellent time to maximize your use of compost. If you are tilling the soil to control weeds, incorporate compost into that surface layer of soil. With soil temperatures into the upper 70s, the compost will instantly start releasing nutrients at just the correct rate to promote good steady growth of plants. As the soil begins to cool in mid-September, the release rate of nutrients from the compost will decrease. At the same time, the nutrient requirements of maturing plants will be less. After soil temperatures drop into the 30s, the compost will stop releasing nutrients, thus reducing nutrients lost to leaching. As soon as soil warms in the spring, the organic matter in the compost will start releasing nutrients.
    Another advantage of applying compost in the fall is that spring garden tilling will incorporate the residual compost more deeply into the soil, where it will help reduce the bulk density of the soil and improve its structure.
    Organic matter does so much good for soils. In addition to providing nutrients and reducing the density of soil, compost also has disease suppression properties most effective when applied in late summer. Soil-borne diseases are most prevalent when soil temperatures are high. Applying compost to your garden soil in time for planting the fall crop helps maximize all of the benefits compost has to offer.
    Only where you’re planting carrots do you want to skip the compost. Carrots grown in composted soil will look like clusters of fingers. That’s because high levels of organic matter tend to cause multiple roots to develop on tap-rooted plants. I reported these findings from studies I conducted in the mid 1970s on the use of compost in the production of black walnut trees. This effect was beneficial for producing walnut seedlings for transplanting but not good for growing carrots, where a single root is preferred.

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Cool-weather vegetables are ready to plant mid-summer

Now that spring-planted lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi and potatoes have been harvested, it’s time to prepare your fall garden. Many spring vegetables can be repeated. Beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots cauliflower, lettuce, peas and snap beans love the cool weather of fall. Most can be planted in the garden from late-July to mid-August.
    Unless your garden is heavily infested with weeds, there is no need to till or plow the soil.  If the weeds have taken over, mow them first with the lawnmower or weed-wacker. Then till as shallow as possible to destroy the weeds. Shallow or no tilling helps conserve soil moisture and delays the formation of plow pan.
    Seeds of fall beets, carrots, peas and snap beans can be sown in the garden during the last two weeks of July.
    If you are growing your own transplants of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage and kohlrabi, it’s also time to sow those seeds indoors in air-conditioning. As soon as the seeds germinate, move them outdoors to grow in full sun.
    Delay the sowing of lettuce seeds until the second week in August.
    To maximize production, I sow beets, carrots and peas in double rows six to eight inches apart. To reduce the need for thinning carrots, I mix equal parts by volume of carrot seeds with dry ground coffee. Ground coffee has approximately the same bulk density and size as carrot seeds.
    To minimize having to thin beets, I mix equal amounts of sawdust and beet seeds before sowing.
    Soon after sowing the peas, I install 48-inch-tall chicken wire supported by bamboo stakes for the peas to climb.
    Since I grow my own transplants, I direct seed using cell packs and commercial potting mix. Direct seeding means placing two seeds in each cell. This method reduces the need to transplant and results in larger plants because the growth of seedlings is not delayed. I sow the seeds at least one inch apart. If both seeds germinate, I save the larger seedling and either snip away the other seedling or carefully remove it to transplant into a cell where the seeds failed to germinate.
    If you are purchasing transplants, do so soon after they appear on the market, and plant them promptly in the garden. The longer you keep those plants in the cell packs, the longer they will take to become established in the garden soil. If the transplants are growing in peat pots, tear away the tops of the pots before planting them. If the top edge of the peat pots is allowed to remain above ground in the garden, the root balls are likely to dry out because the exposed peat will wick away water from the root balls.
    If you see a dense mat of roots on the outer edge of the root ball when you lift the plants from the cell pack, crush the root ball to force the root to grow into your garden soil. Root-bound plants establish slowly.