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Pros and cons of straw, paper, ­plastic and reflective mulches

It is a big mistake to mulch your tomato plants when you plant them. When organic mulches such as straw are applied at planting time on cool soil, the cool will linger. This will retard growth, flowering and fruiting. Wait to mulch vegetable gardens until soil temperatures are between 70 and 75 degrees.
    Straw, the most common organic mulch, is generally weed-free and relatively inexpensive. Never use hay if you wish to avoid major weed problems in the future. Hay is often harvested after the seed heads are well developed, and some bales of hay may contain other plants.
    Newspapers are another common mulch, but some people fear that inks may contain heavy metals and glossy paper might contain chemicals. Nearly all black inks used are made of soy. I wish printers were still using zinc-based inks because many of our soils are deficient in zinc, an essential plant nutrient. The colored inks are also organic in nature. The gloss on some papers is the result of the paper being treated with special clay that is harmless.
    It takes 12 to 14 sheets of newsprint to provide adequate depth for weed control. To keep it from being lifted by wind, soak the paper with water immediately after laying it on the ground. Laying sticks across the papers or sprinkling on soil before wetting is also helpful.
    The best paper mulch is made of shredded paper. A five- to eight-inch-thick layer of shredded paper will quickly mat down to a one-quarter-inch layer that will easily stay in place after being saturated with water. By fall, the paper will have disintegrated, leaving little to no residue.
    Mulching-grade black plastic not only controls weeds but also conserves moisture. It is best applied soon after tilling the soil and before trans­planting. When transplanting, simply cut an X with a sharp knife for plants. Where seeds are to be planted, the black plastic mulch must be applied after the seedlings have emerged. Anchor the edges of the plastic with soil immediately after it is laid.
    Reflective mulches do a three-fold job: preventing weeds, reducing water loss by evaporation and repelling insects. Aluminized paper or plastic mulches are used primarily in growing squash, cucumbers and melons to repel the stripped cucumber beetle. The light reflected by the aluminum is polarized, confusing the insects as many navigate using light waves of different length. Reflective light also increases the amount of chlorophyll on the underside of leaves it reflects on. An early study with reflective mulches on tomato plants reported a one-third increase in chlorophyll in leaves, with most of the increase on the under side nearest the reflective light source. Several gardening catalogs advertise red mulch for under tomato plants.

Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at Please include your name and address.

And thanks for keeping the dialogue going

Who wants to talk — or write — when nobody’s listening? Not me, regardless of what my husband might say. (He accuses me of happily talking to a void. Sometimes, that void is he.)
    So I’m thrilled when you make Bay Weekly a dialogue. On that score, this has been a very good week.
    In this space last week, I asked for stories of mid-20th century fathers. Reader Bonnie promptly sent hers, noting that traits pass down for better or worse. As she’s at a stage of writing her heart out, she’s sent more, and I’ve read with pleasure.
    Responding to the same request, Annapolitan and former St. Louisan Jack wrote, “I thought I knew most of the joints, but missed that one. Okay, I give! Where is/was, the Stymie Club?”
    Alas, it is no more, but from the mid-1940s through the mid-1960s the Stymie supper club and cocktail lounge stood at 7555 Olive Street Road in the St. Louis suburb of University City. My parents, Gene and Elsa Martin, owned it from 1948 until 1965.
    That Editor’s Letter included shout-outs to a half-dozen or so modern fathers who’ve showed me how it’s done. I’m delighted to have heard back from many of them. Bill Freivogel, the father so agile in diapering babies, reports that his son-in-law and daughter say good fathering models are still scarce:
    “Over a long, wonderful weekend with six grandchildren,” Freivogel wrote, “we read a lot of our old children’s books. Liz and her husband Gabe remarked at how few modern, progressive role models there are in those books and even in today’s children’s books. (Gabe has stayed home with their two kids the past three years and is about to go back to work as a Spanish teacher.) In the books, the mommas are doing almost all of the parenting. We’ve still got a long way to go before dads become full parents, I’m afraid.”
    Reader Greg flashed that issue at me from the cockpit of his sailboat, where he was reading as husband Bill and I returned from a fishless Father’s Day excursion. Greg had already accused Bill and me of combining two of Bay Weekly’s 101 Ways to have Fun into one as we picnicked waterside an evening earlier.
    Readers use Bay Weekly to plan their excursions, too. Reader Marilyn, a Coloradan who spends part of summer boating on Chesapeake Bay, thanks us for guiding her and her husband to Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, where they kayaked.
    Husband Bill may not always listen to me, but he always reads Bay Weekly. Having taken Sporting Life columnist Dennis Doyle’s advice to heart, he’d snatched as bait some of the soft-shell crabs meant for our dinner. Fortunately, I’d bought extra. Dennis, you’ll remember, had written that “One bait in particular will, likely as not, out-produce all others: the soft crab.”
    Reader Dave teased Bill for his garden, the subject of my June 2 Editor’s Letter. Dave retired from gardening by reason of too much work for too many tomatoes, but many other readers happily till the soil.
    Bay Gardener Dr. Frank Gouin tells me he has already filled nine requests for Gita beans, a tasty green bean that can grow to lengths of almost three feet on 10-foot-tall vines — better trellise them. He has more. For a dozen or more seeds, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to F.R. Gouin, 420 E. Bay Front Rd., Deale, MD. 20751.
    Whatever your reasons — from beanstalks Jack could envy to diversions, excursions and thoughtful provocations — thank you for reading Bay Weekly.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher;

An impressive troupe of young people takes on one of the most challenging races in theater

Producing a Shakespeare play is similar to running a marathon. It’s grueling, frustrating, thrilling and exhausting — and that’s just training.  Maintaining forward motion through the entire course is an accomplishment for any age.
    Twin Beach Players youth production of Much Ado About Nothing has taken on that challenge with great success. 
    Framed at the end of World War II, Twin Beach Players’ Much Ado is a largely festive story made even more spirited by the smart and snarky banter between the fiercely independent Beatrice (Neha Chawla) and the perpetual bachelor Benedick (Cameron Walker). There’s a shadier side as well involving a malicious scheme by the military leader’s illegitimate brother (reimagined here as a sister), Don Jon (Olivia McClung). The ne’er-do-well sets her plan into motion to spoil the wedding of young Claudio (Conor Reinold) and their host’s daughter Hero (Ashley Venier).
     Teeming with elements of trust and deceit within families, friends and romance, the storylines lead to both triumph and disaster. 
    While fondness for Shakespeare and familiarity with the story are helpful, they are not necessary to enjoying this aspiring production. Actors Chawla and Walker set the over-arching tone for the exuberant physicality that helps keep the plot moving when the language — at times challenging for even experienced actors — threatens to bog the performance down. The two offer laugh-out loud moments and engage the audience. The central romantic story is sweet and its actors expressive.
    Other notable performances come from Travis Lehnen as Leonato, E.J. Roach as Don Pedro, Olivia McClung as Don Jon, Aaliyah Roach as Friar Francis and Andrew Brinegar as Antonio. 
    The mood of the era is well set with the sounds of Glenn Miller-esque tunes on a tinny radio, complemented visually by military uniforms, Hepburn–style slacks and charming vintage dresses. Some of the best-staged scenes were teamed with excellent lighting choices, for instance when the entire backdrop glowed in twinkling lights as the full cast launched into a joyful swing dance.  All is supported well by a young tech staff who keep the show rolling at a decent clip.
    Without question this is a teen production and at moments the mark was missed. But those moments were, in a way, appreciated. Otherwise, we might forget we are watching an impressive group of young people taking on one of the most challenging races in theater.

Two and a half hours with an intermission. Thru June 26 FSa 7pm, Su 3pm, Boys and Girls Club, North Beach, $10 w/discounts, rsvp:

(For Friday performance, arrive very early to enjoy the North Beach Farmers Market to ensure decent parking.)

Once trees reach a certain size, roots cannot re-stabilize the plant

The combination of saturated soil and strong winds has tilted trees and tall shrubs. If the trunk of a tilted tree is thicker than four ­inches, it is unlikely that the tree can be straightened and remain upright without permanent support. This is also true of large shrubs. The problem lies with the inability of roots larger than two inches in diameter to regenerate and develop sufficient size to stabilize the plant.
    This spring I have seen several large arborvitae, spruce and maple trees that appeared to have been blown over now supported with ropes and cables in an effort to straighten them. In most instances this is futile without a permanent brace, especially if the plant is part of a hedge or screen. In this case the problem is not only the plant’s inability to generate new roots from the large roots but also root competition from surrounding plants.
    Another problem associated with trying to straighten a large tree or shrub is girdling. Wrapping a cable, chain or rope around the stem of a plant and leaving it for more than a year will strangulate it. As the diameter of the stem increases, the binding will prevent the stem from enlarging above the point of contact, resulting in death of the higher portions. Whenever wrapping anything around a growing stem, readjust the ties periodically and pad them with wide straps or slats of vinyl or wood to distribute the pressure on the stem.
    Where plants growing in a screen or hedge have been blown over, it is generally best to remove the plant and allow the adjoining plants to fill in the space. With competition removed, nearby branches will occupy the vacant space with surprising speed. A common practice in commercial nurseries is to dig every other plant, allowing the remaining ones to nearly double their size in half the normal time because of less competition for light, water and nutrients.
    The problems with replacing blown-over plants with new plants is matching the existing plants in size, shape and color. After new plants are in place, they must be kept properly irrigated because the roots of surrounding established plants have a greater capacity to absorb water.
    Narrow-leaf evergreen screens and hedges have another problem, especially if they are dense, in bottom branches with no live needles. Unlike deciduous trees and shrubs, narrow-leaf evergreens are not able to grow new branches after needles have fallen. The complete loss of live green needles means death to that branch. Thus, for trees like arborvitae, pine, spruce, juniper, fir and chamaecyparis, dead-looking brown, brittle branches will never turn green again.

Free Gita Bean Seeds

    Over the years, I have recommended growing Gita pole beans in your garden. Fully mature, Gita beans will grow to a length of almost three feet. However, harvested when they are about 12" to 18" long with a diameter of a pencil, they are tasty and tender. Gita perform best in the heat of summer in full sun. The plants will grow up to 10 feet in height and will flower and produce fruit simultaneously. For the past two years I have been collecting seeds and testing them.
    If you would like to try growing Gita beans, send me a self-addressed stamped envelope, and I will return to you a dozen or more seeds. Send your letter to F.R. Gouin, 420 E. Bay Front Rd., Deale, MD 20751.

Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at Please include your name and address.

The sequel to Pixar’s Finding Nemo is a less nuanced tale but no less enjoyable

A year after blue tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres: Ellen) helped clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks: Concussion) find his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence), Dory remains forgetful. She never remembers where she is or what she’s doing. Marlin finds her short-term memory loss annoying.
    When a trip to the migrating grounds of the Pacific triggers a memory, Dory becomes obsessed with finding her family. Now a vague idea of her parents’ whereabouts sets her off. Because Dory’s too forgetful to go alone, Nemo and an increasingly fed-up Marlin accompany her to a marine rehabilitation center in California.
    Of course the trio gets separated. Thus Dory must find both her parents and Marlin and Nemo. Helping is Hank (Ed O’Neill: Modern Family), a seven-tentacled rehabilitated octopus who is terrified of release.
    The sequel to Pixar’s Finding Nemo, Finding Dory is a less nuanced tale of aquatic families, but it is no less enjoyable. Directors Andrew Stanton (John Carter) and Angus MacLane (Toy Story of Terror) give us a story with no one too villainous. Marlin is a bit of a jerk, but then again Dory’s disability can be extremely frustrating and dangerous. It’s an interesting lesson about understanding and accepting differences.
    The film adds news characters in the ocean park excursion. Hank is a loveable curmudgeon of an octopus. His dream is to live in an aquarium in Cleveland, where little kids won’t poke him. With his camouflages, he keeps park staff on the constant hunt.
    Kaitlin Olson (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) stands out as a sweet but nearsighted whale shark who has trouble swimming. Wire fans will be delighted by daffy sea lions Fluke and Rudder, voiced by Idris Elba and Dominic West.
    Finding Dory sacrifices some of the emotional depth of Finding Nemo to make itself funny. Instead of delving into the hurt of cruel comments or the terror of Dory’s forgetfulness, the film focuses on jokes. It’s not a bad strategy for a kids’ movie, and the little ones with me in the theater were enraptured with Dory and her friends.
    Finding Dory is a great movie with a lot of heart. Adults and kids will find characters to root for, jokes to laugh at and understanding of how tolerance and patience help the world.

Great Animation • PG • 103 mins.

You’re not alone in loving soft crabs

In early morning, we were drifting bridge structure for rockfish on a slowly moving tide. I had already dropped down my bait, lightly weighted with just a quarter-ounce twist-on sinker, and fed out plenty of line. Thinking it finally near the rubble-strewn floor 30 feet below, I put my thumb on the spool and lifted the rod tip to give the bait a bit of motion. I may have waited too long. Apparently my rig was hung up on the bottom.
    Shifting the Yamaha into reverse, I crept back up-current to get a better angle to try to work it loose. But the line angled off in an unexpected direction into the water.
    Suddenly suspicious, I put the reel in gear, cranked in line to eliminate any slack and lifted the rod in a strike. Something powerful came immediately alive on the other end, unhappy with the sudden pressure. My spool blurred, and the drag hummed as a large and angry fish headed away. The king of baits had seduced another victim.
    Bait-fishing is about the oldest technique for catching fish on hook and line. It also remains the deadliest. From producing the most fish to securing the largest, it continues to be the ultimate method.
    However, not all baits are equal.
    Worms, baitfish of all types, clams, squid, shrimp and their ilk are all great producers at one time or another on the Chesapeake. But one bait in particular will outproduce all others: the soft crab.
    Like human epicureans, most of the fish in the Bay love soft crab. Its mere scent makes virtually every species of pan or game fish throw caution to the wind in their desire to find and consume it.
    Anglers determined to tempt larger rockfish from their lairs will often find that just a half or quarter of a soft crab is sufficient to get their attention. Many anglers prefer to present these baits on a treble hook, believing that the extra hook points mean a more solid purchase within the bait, so they can strike instantly upon noticing any degree of bite and be assured of a hook-up.
    The 34-incher below that bridge abutment was just the last of our limit that morning to fall victim to our supply of softies. The remainder of our baits we would use (in smaller pieces) to temp the lunker white perch that often populate the bases of the same bridge piers that larger rockfish like to frequent.
    Though rockfish consider most white perch legitimate prey, an 11- or 12-inch perch with big, needle-sharp spikes on its fins is usually safe from all but the largest rockfish. While these big perch are well experienced, having survived at least six or seven seasons and among the more difficult types to entice with the usual baits, they, too, cannot resist a piece of tasty soft crab.

Chesapeake Curiosities

Sonora Smart Dodd wanted a holiday to match Mother’s Day in honor of fathers because she and her five siblings were raised by a widower. She worked to gain — and found — community support. Her home state, Washington, was the first to have a recognized Father’s Day in 1910. In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday.
    In the intervening years, the idea drew some controversy. In the early years, opponents criticized Father’s Day as a commercial invention, requiring gifts for a made-up reason. In the 1920s and 1930s, a movement rose to scrap both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in favor of a unified Parent’s Day.
    The Depression and World War II cemented Father’s Day as retailers seized on the holiday to bolster business. During World War II, the holiday gained favor as another way to honor the men serving their country away from home.
    This year, consumers are anticipated to spend an average $125.92 on Father’s Day, according to the National Retail Foundation’s annual survey. That’s up $10 from last year’s $115.57. Total spending is expected to reach $14.3 billion, the highest in the survey’s 13-year history but still below this year’s Mother’s Day total of $21.4 billion.

Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to

Scientists refute their reputation as oyster bandits

The rays are back. Anglers and paddlers are already spotting schools — sometimes called fevers — of cownose rays in Bay waters.
    Perhaps this year they will be met with a warmer welcome than in years past thanks to a long-awaited acquittal for their impacts on wild oyster populations.
    These gentle gliders migrate up the Bay in May to give birth to their pups. They generally stay till October. A decade ago, cownose rays in the Atlantic were accused of gorging on oysters in the Bay at the time oyster populations were crashing. The rays became the villains.
    An ensuing campaign to “Save the Bay, Eat a Ray” encouraged ray fishing tournaments as well as creative efforts to promote cownose ray as a table fish.
    New research has cleared the big flappers of many charges of villainy.
    Rays eat oysters — as we do — when they can get them.
    “Both oyster restoration and aquaculture efforts placed large numbers of small single oysters out where rays could eat them like popcorn,” explains Smithsonian Environment Research Center scientist Matt Ogburn. “By modifying how oysters are planted on shellfish beds (i.e., oyster spat set on shell), predation has been minimized.”
    The historic decline of oysters in the Bay seems to have more to do with excessive harvesting and pollution than with rays.
    To get better answers, scientists are studying the creatures and have recorded the first full annual migration of a Chesapeake cownose ray.
    “We don’t know exactly what ecological role cownose rays play in the Bay,” says Simon Brown, biologist with Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources.
    “But we know that the Chesapeake Bay plays a huge role as the place where they come to give birth and mate, and we know that rays have always been here. Stingray Point is named for where Captain John Smith was stung by a ray,” Brown says. “I know they can be a nuisance to both watermen and restoration projects, but a restored Bay should be resilient enough to support both vibrant fisheries and the Bay’s native creatures.”

A very good play balancing good ­fortune with bad luck

“To live in poverty is to exist in a war zone,” award-winning Colonial Players director Edd Miller notes in the playbill for Good People. “Not necessarily with bullets and bombs but with situational choices of conscience.”
    Do choices pull people out of poverty? Determine our lot in life? Or is it luck? Or hard work? Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and Miller ask us not to decide but to ­consider.
    The 2011 drama is set in South Boston, or Southie, in 1998, but its questions are timeless and beyond boundary.
    To help us do that Lindsay-Abaire gives us Margie (with a hard “g”), a middle-aged single Southie mother who loses her job at a dollar store because she’s always late, usually because her adult handicapped daughter can’t be left alone. Margie doesn’t want a handout, just a job that will pay the rent. To find that, she sets aside her ego and reluctantly asks help from her years-ago boyfriend Mikey, an Irish lace doctor who escaped from the neighborhood and got rich because … luck? Hard work? Choices?
    Act I sets us up with the firing by young manager Stevie, with Margie and her friends Dottie and Jean urging her, sometimes hilariously, to look up Mikey. Turns out he has no work to offer. But he has an extravagant birthday party coming up, and Margie invites herself. When she hears by phone that the party is off because of a sick child she believes she is being disinvited lest she won’t embarrass Mikey in front of his non-Southie friends. She goes anyway and is mistaken by Kate, Mikey’s wife, for a caterer picking up dishes that weren’t used because the party was indeed canceled.
    Identities straightened out, Kate invites Margie to chat, much to Mikey’s dismay. Now fly the slings and arrows of good fortune versus bad luck.
    With Miller at the helm, this fine cast navigates the stream of comedy at the surface of much of this show while personifying the undercurrents of deception, despair and distrust. Shirley Panek gives us a Margie who shouldn’t be likeable, but is, thanks to Panek’s deft ability to deliver a stinging yet funny blow to the ego while allowing us to see the pain in her eyes. It is a riveting and emotional performance.
    Likewise, Ben Carr takes Mikey beyond a caricature of a local boy who made good to a finely crafted multidimensional character who relishes his success but, under Margie’s jealous glare, becomes so defensive that his own doubt about luck vs. work show through. Panek and Carr click, so for the audience Margie and Mikey do, too.
    As Kate, Ashley Spooner does some navigating as an elite African-American inexperienced in the past lives of Mikey and Margie. Her Act II performance in a long, yet riveting, three-person scene moves from elitist to understanding as flaws in her husband and their marriage are revealed.
    Karen Lambert’s Jean and Bernadette Arvidson’s Dottie are fine Southie friends, delivering hilarity that resonates with despair. As Stevie, the young store manager whose mother was the women’s friend, Glen Pearson displays the nervousness of a character appearing as the cause of despair.
    Director Miller’s multi-use set cleverly moves from a store alley to a Southie house to a bingo hall to a well-off doctor’s living room all with minimal movement — clear proof that in theater in the round, less is more. His cast keeps the pace moving, and each is clearly invested not only in what we see of their characters but also in what we can feel is so subtly moving under the surface.
    Good People is very, very good.

About two hours, 15 minutes with intermission. Stage manager: Herb Elkin. Costume designer: Dianne Smith. Sound designer: Theresa Riffle. Lighting designer: Frank Florentine.

Thru June 25: ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm, Colonial Players Theatre, Annapolis, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: ­

Modern fathering is new to me. But I like what I see

As it’s time once more to talk about fathers, let me ask you a question.
    Did you grow up in a patriarchy? Or a matriarchy?
    Matriarchy for me. Like elephant calves, I grew up surrounded by women. From the center out: my dominant, buzz-saw mother, Elsa; my doting paternal grandmother, Florence Martin; my godmothers Virginia Dalton and Kay King; the waitresses at our family restaurant and the cook, Lovie.
    Because we lived in or near our restaurant — the Stymie Club in St Louis — my father, Gene Martin, was always around, taking care of business and pleasure.
    When I was old enough to tag along, he introduced me to the world as he knew it: clubbing; St Louis Cardinals baseball; horseracing; motor boating on the Mississippi River; Chicago, his native city; and tales tall and true. Dad taught me how to have a good time, what to expect from a good date and the satisfaction of a well-told story. Not a bad role model, as I’ve enjoyed a husband with those same qualities for 43 years.
    Most schoolmates had seemingly more traditional families, with father who went to work and came home, so I imagined my matriarchal upbringing was odd. Now I’m not so sure. In the 1950s, when I grew up, raising kids was pretty much women’s work. How much, I wonder, did fathers of that era invest in their children? I’d like to hear your stories.
    When my sons came along, I raised them in a matriarchy. From the center out: me; their grandmother, Elsa; their godmother, Linda; and my amoebic circle of girlfriends, especially Janice, Judy and Sue.
    What they have taken from their father, who often lived many states away, is their story. As is their inheritance from Bill, their steadfast buddy and stepfather.
    Alex and Nat were well along before I saw the father who opened my eyes to the potential of the calling.
    Bill Freivogel, a colleague of Bill’s at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau, not only split one full-time journalism job and raising four kids with his wife, Margie. Bill could also change a wet diaper while holding the kid on his hip.
    That, I thought, is a serious father.
    Other D.C. cohorts of Bill showed me more tricks of the trade of fathering. Jon Sawyer, founding director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, put himself into raising his and Kem’s three girls and now a half-dozen grandchildren. Tim Poor, also from the Post-Dispatch, ran his miles with baby Elizabeth in a stroller. Donald Foley kept up with wife Louise Hilsen in raising their comingled family of five, and now three grandkids, while both kept moving ahead in high-level policy jobs.
    Around my neighborhood, Scott Smith, Jack Brumbaugh, Steve Smith, Mike Brewer showed the same dedication and delight in fathering. “Raising Eric was such a rich part of my life,” Scott Smith told me the other day, just before little Alex Groves, son of Wes, one of a new generation of dedicated fathers, raced into Scott’s arms. Steve Smith’s son John is our neighborhood’s other daddy-on-the spot with daughter Sienna.
    In my own family, I see fatherhood in action as Alex and Nat join their wives in raising Jack, Elsa and Ada, sharing work, joys and outrage.
    Of course daughters-in-law Lisa and Liz tell me theirs is still the lionesses’ share.
    And that’s a role I understand.

    While we’re on the subject, this week’s Chesapeake Curiosities reveals a famous — if little known — fact about Father’s Day. That we celebrate it at all is due to the tenacious efforts of a daddy’s girl named Sonora Smart Dodd. Read on to discover that story.
    For other role models, dads and mentors are all over our pages this week. Enjoy!

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher;