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Close as Mercury, far as Neptune

The moon waxes through our evening skies from a thin crescent at week’s end to first-quarter Tuesday September 2. Friday Luna shines just two degrees above the first-magnitude star Spica low in the southwest.
    Sunday the moon appears farther east at sunset, forming a tight triangle with Saturn to the west and Mars to the south. The two planets appear equally bright, shining at magnitude 0.6, but Saturn’s golden glow and Mars’ red hue make them easy to tell apart.
    Monday evening the moon shines at the head of Scorpius, which is marked by three slightly mis-aligned stars. The moon is just one degree above the northernmost of the three, Graffias, shining at magnitude 2.5. Ten degrees southeast of the moon is the red giant Antares, the heart of the scorpion.
    As the sun dips beneath the horizon around 7:40, look in its wake for Mercury low in the west. Binoculars may help you pinpoint this elusive planet. When most people spot Mercury, they are surprised by its brightness, shining around zero magnitude, brighter than most stars. But the innermost planet orbits so close to the sun that it never appears more than a dozen degrees above the horizon during dark hours.
    Mercury has been a fixture of our night sky since the dawn of civilization. The first telescopic observations of the planet were made by Galileo in 1610, but unlike his viewing of Saturn, there was no eureka moment. It was not until more than 350 years later with the fly-by of the Mariner 10 space probe that astronomers learned much more about this elusive planet.
    You may be able to see the farthest planet from the sun, Neptune, before dawn this week. On Friday the outermost planet reaches opposition, when earth is directly between it and the sun. Even with binoculars or a small telescope it will appear as little more than a small blue dot low in the west-southwest amid the dim stars of Aquarius.
    Venus and Jupiter will greet you in the east before dawn amid the glow of the coming sun.

It’s a little late to start seeds but just right to plant seedlings

The best sauerkraut is made from fall-grown cabbage. The best kale and collards have been frosted a few times, growing sweeter with each frost. Fall-grown spinach and lettuce are more tender. Carrots, beets, turnips, rutabaga and kohlrabi are at their best when grown in late summer and harvested in the fall. Both cauliflower and broccoli form tighter heads in fall than in spring. I also harvest many more fall peas than spring peas. If you love Brussels sprouts as much as I do, you must get them started now to harvest a bountiful supply.
    There is more gardening ahead, and now is the time to start sowing seeds. If you planted onions this past spring, they should all be harvested by now — as well as the cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and spinach. So you now have room to start planting your fall crops.
    I have stopped planting peas in the spring because I can make many more harvests from peas planted in August. The cooler fall temperatures promote continuous growth until the killing frost comes late in fall. Spring-planted peas stop producing pods as soon as the heat comes on.
    August is also a good time to make a planting or two of snap beans. If you make two consecutive plantings about two to three weeks apart, you will be harvesting snap beans until the frost kills the plants.
    If you sowed your seeds of broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts and cabbage the first week of August, the plants will be ready to be transplanted into rows by the end of the month. Seeds of spinach, lettuce, kale, collards, turnips and rutabaga should have been sown by mid August. To grow the sweetest carrots this side of heaven, the seeds should also have been planted before the middle of August, as should a row of beets for greens as well as for the sweetest roots.
    If you haven’t started your seeds, check the garden centers for seedlings of these cool-weather crops.
    Your soil most likely still holds a plentiful supply of nutrients not utilized by the remaining summer crops. Since the soil is warm, the compost you added to the garden is also releasing nutrients. A fall crop allows you to maximize the uptake of the nutrients already added as well as those released during the decomposition of organic matter.
    If you are not going to plant a fall crop, sow a cover crop of winter rye to absorb all of those free nutrients into their roots and stems. Next spring when you plow the rye back into the ground, the nutrients will be there for that crop.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

What kind of doublespeak is that?

Sometimes I feel heartfelt compassion for the very difficult job of Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Many citizens and not just a few commercial entities demand endless access to the resources of the Chesapeake, while the wise conservation and management of these resources are the sole responsibility of DNR.
    The blue crab is one such resource. One of the more desired, the more profitable and most celebrated of the Bay’s treasures, it has also been over the last 20 years or so one of the Bay’s species most often in trouble. I sympathize with the pressures the Department has to constantly endure in attempting to protect the crustacean from over harvest and depredation.
    Then, DNR destroys my empathy with pronouncements that seem to defy credibility, common sense and logic.
    On a recent occasion, officials stated for the record on a local radio program and in a subsequent newspaper article that any form of moratorium would cause the species more harm than good.
    That ranks up there with the Department’s earlier statement “crabbing harvests remain at a safe level for the sixth consecutive year,” while revealing the blue crab population had plunged 70 percent also during that period.
    Is that not doublespeak? DNR’s own safe harvest levels imply proper population protection that has obviously not been happening. In the case of “more harm than good,” how can not killing some 30,000 pounds of crabs hurt the overall population?
    Unlike the successful rockfish moratorium, a crab moratorium wouldn’t work for several reasons, according to DNR: the short life of crabs (three years or so); the diminishing fertility of females over time; and the increased natural mortality of cannabilistic crabs when the population is dense. DNR also cites the economic harm to Maryland’s blue crab industry.
    I can understand the Department’s reluctance. Every cutback affects the livelihoods of not only 4,000-plus watermen but also the bottom line of many restaurants and seafood markets. But don’t try to tell me that continuing to kill off a resource is really helping it.
    I can understand unpredictable natural mortality and how cold-weather kills and how poor recruitment causes unanticipated short-range population swings. But to continue to allow optimistically calculated harvest levels year after year while that population free falls defies common sense.
    The near future looks grim for the blue crab. Local crabbers report very difficult catches, fewer and smaller crabs and a continuing dearth of females, indicating more population trouble for the future. This assessment is not scientific, but it seems to reflect reality better than anything coming out of Annapolis.
    I respectfully request the Department reconsider its basic resource philosophy because whatever we have been doing is not working.
    Insisting on species health and abundance above all seems wiser and more realistic than any maximum-sustainable harvest policy by any name.
    Paying closer attention to the recommendations of scientists from Bay conservation foundations could also be wise, as they are free from most political and commercial manipulations.
    That is if Maryland officials are committed to the conservation of the blue crab and share the belief that a consistently large and healthy population will naturally result in a flourishing commercial fishery, a satisfied recreational sector and a happy consuming public.
    If, on the other hand, our representatives are primarily committed to short-term commercial-industry stability — fulfilling market and political demands — then we’re on the right track.

Policy for success takes more than good luck

Labor Day is just another day off — albeit the one that closes summer — unless we know our history. Our work-free first Monday of September is in fact “a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country,” according the U.S. Department of Labor.
    Dating back to 1882 when labor unions were gaining strength, the holiday was celebrated for many years with parades to demonstrate “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.” Festivities followed.
    You don’t see many Labor Day parades nowadays, so Bay Weekly stages our own annual Labor Day Parade of Working People.
    Work brings us our livelihood, supports for our families, endows our futures and defines our identities, I write introducing the story.
    That’s what we like to think.
    If you’re among the 3.3 million Americans earning minimum wage, your truth is likely closer to the James Brown line in “Living in America”: Everybody’s working overtime.
    Federal minimum wage is $7.25. Lots of workers earn less. The minimum wage for tipped workers, for example, is $2.13 an hour.
    States can choose to pay more. Washington pays the highest minimum wage: $9.32, with inflation adjustments.
    Starting in the new year, Maryland’s minimum wage of $7.25 rises to $8, with staged increases topping off at $10.10 on July 1, 2018.
    That’s a big deal — except in perspective. At 1968 levels, $10.77 would be 2014’s minimum wage.
    Work a full-time year at today’s minimum wage and you’ll earn just over $15,000.
    At that level, Labor Day is black comedy.
    A bell-shaped curve made the prosperity this day celebrates. People of enormous earnings are one end of the flat base from which the bell rises. People who earn little or nothing are the opposite end of that base. The bell is the middle class — producing, exporting and buying our way to a strong economy.
    “How do we expand the middle class?” Congressman Steny Hoyer asked at a Women’s Equality Day lunch this week honoring the 94th anniversary of women’s suffrage. “A ladder of opportunity from poverty to the middle class.”
    Each of the 13 people you’ll meet in Bay Weekly’s Labor Day Parade climbed an opportunity ladder. Many built their own. Of these fascinating stories, my favorites are the two men whose work in good, stable jobs bring them livelihood and identity, support for their families and their futures. A good company, good luck and good contacts built their ladders.
    We love success stories, but a problem as big as our deflating middle class takes success policies. An almost liveable minimum wage is one part, and it depends on employers.
    Workers have their responsibilities, too, gaining skills that make them employable.
    Schools are also part, filling our minds, training our hands, then showing us how to use what we know and do. Encouraging creativity is another part of the curriculum for success.
    Good luck is a great thing; it helped many — maybe all — of this year’s parade of people find their work. Skilled creativity fueled by ambition is your part.

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

Escape urban lights to see this sight

     Each August, as the kids head back to school, the galaxy is tilted  in such a way that the Milky Way stretches overhead in full glory. With Monday’s new moon, this may be the best week of summer to gaze on this river of stars. To fully appreciate it you’ll need dark skies away from any urban glow well after sunset. Give your eyes a few minutes to get accustomed to the darkness, tilt your head back and get lost in the glow.
    From Perseus and Cassiopeia in the north-northeast, the Milky Way flows down through Cygnus the swan onto Aquila the eagle. From the eagle’s tail, the glow of stars splits, one section continuing to Sagittarius, the other to Scorpius in the southwest; the dark space in between is called the Great Rift. But this patch of the heavens is not bereft of stars. Our view of them is blocked by masses of interstellar gas and dust. Of course it isn’t just the flowing river of stars that make up the Milky Way but almost every star we see with the unaided eye, including our own sun. All are part of the same spiral galaxy. Our solar system is at the end of one of the spiral’s arms. When we look at the river of stars, we are looking toward the center of the galaxy, through layers of light that combined form the glowing band that we see on a beautiful dark night.
    As evening twilight gives way to darkness, Mars and Saturn appear in the southwest. Mars has been inching toward the ringed planet night by night and will pass below it over the weekend, coming within three degrees. The two planets appear equally bright, but you should have no trouble telling Mars’ reddish hue from Saturn’s golden glow. While you’re comparing colors, look a few degrees to the north of the two planets for the star Zubeneschimali in the constellation Libra. This is the only star with a greenish glow visible to the unaided eye — at least to some. What about you?
    Venus and Jupiter rise in the east-northeast before dawn. Jupiter is first to crest the horizon, but once Venus appears a few minutes later you’ll have no trouble telling the two apart, as the morning star is six times brighter than old Jove. The two planets are joined by the ever-so-thin waning crescent moon early Saturday morning.
    The last of the naked-eye planets returns to view late this week. Look for Mercury Wednesday the 27th immediately in the wake of the setting sun and just a couple degrees from newly emerged waxing crescent moon.

Theater al fresco at Reynolds Tavern, where the humor is bawdy, the medicine primitive and the fun timeless

     Annapolis Shakespeare Company keeps the comedy in the courtyard coming. After a successful run with Molière’s The Schemings of Scapin, now on tap outdoors at Reynolds Tavern is a lively and very funny Imaginary Invalid. Molière’s final play was written by the tuberculosis-wracked playwright/actor to star himself and reflect his disdain for the medical mores. He indeed played the lead to great acclaim before succumbing to his malady soon after the curtain went down on a show for King Louis XIV.
    Adapted by Tim Mooney and directed by Kristen Clippard, Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Imaginary Invalid is three riveting acts of fast-paced fun, with a stellar cast reveling in every rhyming couplet. But don’t let the three acts worry you about a long night ahead; the 7:30pm start gets you out just a bit after 9pm.
    The imaginary invalid is Argan (Kim Curtis), a well-to-do hypochondriac who wants to marry his daughter Angelique (Ashlyn Thompson) off to a soon-to-be-doctor (Zachary Roberts), son of Diafoirus (John Stange), already a doctor, so one will always be around. Meanwhile, his second wife Beline (Amber Gibson) wants both her stepdaughters, Angelique and Louison (Roberts again), put into a nunnery so she can claim Argan’s riches when he dies. But Angelique is in love with the handsome, romantic and oh so dim Cleante (Keegan Cassady). Argan’s maidservant Toinette (Briana Manente) has no qualms about setting Argan straight on why a forced marriage is a bad idea, as does his brother Beralde (Stange again), who also is getting a little fed up with the whole ­hypochondria thing.
    Got all that? Thanks to a cast of actors who know how to deliver lines with their bodies as well as their voices, the action is easy to follow. Which brings up a personal nitpick: How many times have you gone to the theater and missed lines because the actors weren’t speaking up? Nine times out of 10 it’s not the volume that’s the problem, it’s the diction. Other local theaters would do well to emulate Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s focus on enunciation because nary a line was lost, even in this outside setting. Speak the speech, I pray thee.
    The other thing that often gets between the actor and the audience’s ability to follow what’s happening is the blocking — the placement and movement of the actors — a challenge especially in a round setting such as the Reynolds courtyard. Again, director Clippard’s focus on the details pays off. Despite the small space, the action does not feel limited or cramped, and no back is turned to any of us for more than a few seconds.
    In the less-is-more category, this is all done with a single chair and one chair-side table with a few apothecary bottles. That’s because the top-notch acting and efficient use of space eliminate the need for anything more than the very clever costumes. So, reserve a Tuesday evening and watch some very talented actors pull you away from Annapolis 2014 and into 1600s’ France, where the humor is bawdy, the medicine primitive and the fun timeless.


Costume coordinator: Maggie Cason. Stage manager: Sara K. Smith. Assistant stage management intern: Shannon McGovern.

Playing thru October 7 Tu at 7:30pm at Reynolds Tavern. 7 Church Circle, Annapolis. $20 w/advance discounts:
410-415-3513; www.annapolisshakespeare.org.

Grandpa, tell me about the good old days

    In the bygone era of 1980s’ movies, a hero’s worth was determined by the circumference of his biceps, the length of his cigars and the heft of his gun. It was a simple time of bloody shootouts, car chases and cheesy lines.
    Three decades later, these pumped-up monosyllabic heroes are well past their prime but determined to relive their glory days in the Expendables series. Most of the stars are too old for this stuff, but even action heroes have house payments. So every few years Sylvester Stallone (Grudge Match) writes a new Expendables script and trots out his buddies for a quick paycheck and a trip down memory lane.
    In the third geri-action installment, we follow Barney Ross (Stallone) and his mercenary team, the Expendables, on a seemingly routine interruption of an arms deal. The mission goes spectacularly wrong when Barney catches the arms dealer in the crosshairs. The dealer is Expendables’ co-founder Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson: Machete Kills), who Barney believed he’d killed decades ago.
    Stonebanks catches Barney and the rest of the Expendables off guard, wounding them and making off with the money. Obsessed with killing Stonebanks and terrified that his aging mercenaries will die on the mission, Barney fires his team to seek a new, younger crew.
    Young audiences may miss the appeal of seeing wrinkled men mutter lame jokes, hit on women 20 years younger and beat each other bloody. But for audiences who grew up watching Cobra, Commando and Masters of the Universe, there is a certain nostalgic fun to these mindless action throwbacks.
    Filled with hokey lines, a ridiculous plot and low-budget action sequences, The Expendables 3 rises with its cast. Or falls, as Stallone’s new team of young pretty boys are pretty dull.
    When the veterans get their chance, each delivers. Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Sabotage) are old hands at charming their way through terrible material. Dolph Lundgren (SAF3) entertains by vacillating between imposing psychotic and goofy weirdo. Wesley Snipes (Gallowwalkers) proves that he still has a magnetic screen presence. Jason Statham (Homefront), who deserves so much better than this dreck, is the odd man out, too young to fit in with the old guard, too grizzled to join the boys.
    The only acting tragedy among the old guys is the villain. Gibson’s legal and PR troubles have made him an ideal bad guy for movies, but his wild-eyed performance shows that this once-great star has fallen.
    With a horrid plot, spotty acting and odd casting, The Expendables 3 is a bad movie. Yet I enjoyed it. Seeing these stars pick up their guns and get back to work is a little like touring Jurassic Park. There’s something magical about watching these dinosaurs in their natural element.


Fair Action • PG-13 • 126 mins.
 

Disquise and foul odor protect this butterfly

    Caterpillar Survival Rule No. 1: Be disagreeable.
    Eurytides Marcellus, the Zebra Swallowtail, a striking butterfly in classic black and white, is Calvert County’s official butterfly. Whether chosen for its instantly recognizable good looks, for its clever defensive tactics or both, the Zebra’s admirers must decide; details of the mascotorial appointment are lost to history.
    Moving across the landscape in aerial scout fashion, the Zebra seldom settles for long. It lights near edges of puddles or ponds and favors zinnias, summer phlox and butterfly weed.
    The larva feed on foliage of the pawpaw, the American banana, a shrub or small tree once plentiful in the understory of hardwood forests. Smooth and light-green, the larva’s bulbous head and oversized eyespots imitate a snake. If disguise isn’t sufficient, when disturbed it flashes a bright orange, forked apparent tongue that emits a foul odor. This cunning caterpillar has Rule No. 1 covered.
    There is no chasing a scout on the wing, so I was pleased to snap this photo of the Zebra in refueling mode.
    Does anyone besides me see Lewis Carroll’s hookah-smoking caterpillar? Or a dark-coifed fairy in zebra-striped wings?
 

Gardening in bales of straw

     As I prepare my fall garden, I’m walking in the footsteps of an Ohio gardener with poor soil who planted in bales of straw rather than install raised beds. He found his solution in a British gardening magazine on growing vegetables. Now I’m trying it, starting with four bales of straw that I placed in full sun along the edge of my vegetable garden.
    To minimize weed problems, use straw rather than hay. Straw is the residue after the grain has been harvested. Select bales tied with plastic string and not sessile. Both sessile and jute string will decompose and the bales of straw will fall apart. Those tied with plastic string will remain whole because plastic does not decompose. Place the bales of straw on either black plastic or non-woven geotextile ground cloth.  
    Before planting, prime each bale to initiate the composting process. Spread two and a half cups of high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer — not mixed with herbicide — over each bale. For organic preparation, spread three pounds of organic fertilizer over each bale. Next wet the bales thoroughly and insert a long-shank thermometer to monitor temperature changes within the bales. The fertilizers will initiate composting in the center of each bale, raising the temperature. Sprinkle the bales with water daily to keep them moist so composting will take place. When temperatures again equal ambient air, the bales are ready to be planted.
    Within five days after I applied the fertilizer on each bale, temperatures within the bales fertilized with Holly Tone Organic reached 120 degrees. The bales treated with 10-6-4 fertilizer increased to only 100 degrees. It took nearly three weeks for these bales of straw to achieve the Holly Tone temperatures.
    By the end of the third week of priming, the bales treated with Holly Tone Organic started producing inky-cap mushrooms; the bales treated with chemical fertilizer followed one week later.
    At the end of the fourth week of priming, temperatures dropped to between 95 degrees and 100 degrees in all of the bales of straw.
    When the internal temperatures are the same as the ambient air, I will plant the bales with broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale and collards. My Ohio model claims to obtain at least two years of growth, sometimes three, from each bale.
    Regardless of the results, I will write about this new method of growing vegetables and share my results and photos. I write now in hopes that you will also try so that we can compare results.
    As my dad always said, “You will never know until you try.”

Outmaneuvering Stem Borers in Zucchini
    Every year, readers complain that stem borers have killed their zucchini plants only after a few weeks of production. I have had the same problem. To enjoy zucchini for most of the summer, I make repeated plantings.
    I’ve tried with no success spreading wood ashes around each hill as recommended by organic gardening magazines. I’ve had moderate success spraying under the foliage with the insecticide Sevin starting as soon as the leaves appeared and repeating weekly.
    This year I sprayed only the stems — not the leaves or petioles — with a jet stream of Sevin, starting under the flower bud farthest away from the roots. I am still harvesting zucchini squash from the original planting with no sign of borer injury. Protecting the stem with Sevin keeps the borer from gaining entry.  
    This year’s succession of plantings resulted in a surplus harvest, which I take to the SCAN food bank at St. James Episcopal Church on Rt. 2.

The popular back-to-school cocktail doesn’t suit quite every taste
 


“Cooler evenings with earlier sunsets adjust our biological clocks ever so slightly as we sense newness in the air,” writes educator and student Kathleen Murphy, introducing Bay Weekly’s August 21 album of back-to-school reflections.
    You feel it too, don’t you?
    Our animal senses revive, making us as alert as dogs or rabbits, our ears and noses twitching. As well as earlier sunsets and cool evenings, we smell afternoon’s baked sugar rising from field and flower and hear the cricket chorus.
    Were Rip van Winkle to wake about now, he’d know the month if not the year. Awakening with him, perhaps, would be the sense of possibility linked in so many of our minds to a new school year.
    Or maybe not.
    Maybe Rip was the Huck Finn of his era, as my son Nathaniel was of his.
    My older son — Alex, the one who runs Bay Weekly — was the schoolboy parents and teachers love. He went to school eagerly, did most of his homework, got in only manageable trouble and now and again caught the passion for ideas a good teacher inspired.
    The younger, Nathaniel, was the schoolboy who brought parents to tears and teachers to prayer.
    It was Miss Manders, his kindly first-grade teacher, who prayed every night over the challenge of teaching Nat to read. As a supplement to prayer, she tried masking tape. At least that’s the story told by Alex, who found his little brother taped to his little chair at the end of one school day. Some parents might be put out by Miss Manders’ last-resort strategy. Knowing Nat, I thought masking tape was a pretty good idea.
    Had Nat ever read The Adventures of Huck Finn, he’d have understood Huck’s final words: I reckon I got to light out for the territory … because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it.
    Schooling and sivilization went against Nat’s nature. His family learned that lesson long before he arrived in Miss Manders’ classroom at Blackhawk Elementary School in in Springfield, Illinois.
    Nat made his first escape in his second week in daycare, scaling the wall of his crib and up and out the screened window above it. The climb down the outer wall of Cookie Monster Cooperative Day Care must have been a long one for a 22-month-old who stood under 30 inches tall and was still wearing diapers. But he looked none the worse for the experience when I next saw him in the arms of the policeman who’d found him strolling down the sidewalk of the city’s major southbound artery.
    Escape was harder in his next daycare, run by a firm but loving director who set watch and locks on all the doors and windows. Getting him there was harder, too. Most mornings he’d cling like a starfish to bed, toy chest, doorframe, car door. No sooner would I pry his fingers and toes off one hold than he’d attach them to another. He was far too young to stay home alone the morning I left for work without him. Once I was gone, he climbed out of the toy chest, fixed himself a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, poured a glass of milk and settled down with toys and television. He still remembers that day as bliss.
    Elementary, middle and high school for him were 12 years of resistance. He even got asked to leave a do-your-own-thing free school. Somehow, he learned to spell better than Huck and to write a good story, though not quite as good as Mark Twain’s. He grudgingly made it through high school, then lit out for the territories.
    Lots of us feel hope and nostalgia in this back-to-school season. But not all of us. Here’s to the exceptions: the kids (including, it seems, Alex’s son Jack), their parents and their teachers.