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The very thirsty Silvery Checkerspot

     After being tethered and tightly wrapped since last autumn, checkerspots in the garden are like tiki bar openers, brightly dressed and very thirsty.
    I see the silvery checkerspot,  Charidryas nycteis, feeding in groups at everything: bee balm, summer phlox, Shasta daisies — blooming or not, even experimenting with the artificial woodgrain of vinyl siding on our house.
    Larvae feed on turtlehead, both Chelone glabra (white) and lyonii (pink). Turtlehead requires constant moisture, so populations of checkerspots tend to wet meadows.
    Checkers feed summer and fall, then lay eggs in clusters. The eggs hatch and partially develop as pupae, then hang suspended, literally and figuratively, in brown-speckled white cases over the winter. This period of suspended growth is called diapause, a useful tactic to survive inhospitable seasons whether cold or long and dry. Warm weather triggers full development and liberation.
    Silvery’s larger cousin is the ­Baltimore Checkerspot, Maryland’s official state butterfly, a rarer sight.

Organic matter adds ­hidden benefits to soil

Addition of organic matter does great things for soil. It works as a slow-release fertilizer and source of essential nutrients. It reduces the density of heavy silt and clay loam soils. It improves soil’s nutrient retention and increases water retention. All of these benefits redound to plant growth.

Retention of nutrients
    Adding organic matter to soils increases the retention of nutrients and makes them available to the roots of plants. This process is known as increasing the cation-exchange capacity of soils. You learned in the July 24 column how organic matter releases nutrients slowly through mineralization. In addition to supplying the major elements, compost supplies trace elements such as boron (B), iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), sulfur (S) and copper (Cu). These essential trace elements are important to the growth of healthy plants and to the quality of the crops they produce. But they’re not part of commercial fertilizer mixes.
    Increasing the cation exchange is especially important in sandy loams or loamy sands. Nutrients leach through these sandy soils quickly. Because sandy soils are well aerated, they do not retain organic matter. So to maintain productivity on sandy soils requires frequent applications compost or animal manure and the use of cover crops.
    On sandy loams or loamy sands, use no more compost or manure than six cubic yards per 1,000 square feet for the initial application. On silt or clay loam soils, make that four cubic yards as these soils are better able to retain nutrients than sandy loams or loamy sands. Repeated applications should be one-half or one-quarter.
Water-holding Capacity
    The addition of organic matter to sandy soils increases water-holding capacity.
    The addition of organic matter to heavy silt or clay loam soils increases water infiltration, thus increasing their ability to retain water while at the same time allowing excess water to drain.

Soil Density Reduction
    It won’t work to use sand to improve the drainage of heavy silt or clay loam soils. Short of 55 to 60 percent, the addition of sand will only result in making the soil like concrete.
    Adding 10 percent compost will increase both the organic matter concentration and the productivity of heavy silt or clay loam. Pine fines are one of the better organic materials to use to lighten heavy soils. Pine fines are a waste product from the manufacturing of pine bark mulches. Because pine fines contain high levels of lignins — a source of organic matter that resists decomposition — pine fines will persist in the soil for a long time.

Disease Control
    Another hidden benefit of amending soils with compost is its ability to control soil-borne diseases. Quality compost contains three naturally occurring fungicides and numerous beneficial microorganisms known to control common soil-borne diseases as fusarium, pythium and rhizoctinia. To get this bonus, use recently made compost. As the compost ages, these benefits are gradually lost as the biological activity of the compost decreases.

Lesson 3: Jumpstart your garden with compost tea

     Your organic garden will need a jumpstart. Organic gardening relies entirely on the release of nutrients from the decomposition of organic matter and the bodies of the microorganisms that digest the organic matter in the soil. In cold soils, nutrients are not readily available.
    Room temperature — a consistent 72 degrees — is the starting point for analyzing the situation. With 72-degree soil temperature, the rate of the mineralization of organic matter is approximately eight to 10 percent. If the soil contains three percent organic matter, it releases 24 to 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre per year. Producing a respectable crop takes between 80 and 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre.
    In summer, when soils are at room temperature and above, it takes a soil with five to 10 percent organic matter to produce a respectable crop. Even if soil temperatures increase above 72 degrees, the mineralization rate increases only a few percentage points. To grow a crop in soils containing less than five percent organic matter, you’ve got to add organic fertilizers, including compost. As the microorganisms that digest the carbon of the organic matter die, the minerals in their bodies and in the cells of the organic matter are released.
    The cooler the soil, the slower the process. Mineralization of nutrients from organic matter stops when the ground freezes. In spring, the mineralization rate of organic matter is not nearly up to summer’s eight percent. Even if the soil contained five to 10 percent organic matter, it would not supply sufficient nutrients to grow early spring crops such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, celery and lettuce.
    Traditional agriculture uses starter fertilizers with early spring transplants. Starter fertilizers are made of water-soluble minerals that are instantly available to the roots of plants, regardless of soil temperature. Applying these fertilizers near the roots of new transplants helps establish them quickly in the soil and resume normal growth. 
    Compost tea can be used as starter fertilizer. Brew the compost tea at room temperature three or four days prior to transplanting. Partially fill a five-gallon pail up to half capacity with mature compost. To assure maturity, I strongly recommend using commercial compost. Top with water and stir vigorously. Stir the compost three or four times daily to provide adequate aeration for nutrient release from the compost. Or you can aerate the compost using an aquarium air filer as a substitute.
    When you transplant three or four days later, irrigate each plant with one to two cups of compost tea.
    A second batch of tea can be made using the same compost by filling the pail again with water and repeating the process. The second batch will not be as concentrated as the first unless you allow a week or more for it to release its nutrients into the water.

Buying local? Try vinegar lulled for five months in a skipjack’s hull

     The taste of place is about the best translation English can give to the French word terroir. The idea comes from the vineyards of France, so it doesn’t have to jump far into the vinegar barrel.
    Still, it’s a bit of a leap into the hold of the skipjack Rosie Parks, a ­vintage Eastern Shore oyster boat.
    Rosie Parks was built in 1955 by legendary boat builder Bronza Parks of Dorchester County for his brother, Captain Orville Parks, and named for their mother. Her hold was framed to contain oysters, not vinegar. But in 1975 she changed careers to sailing ambassador for Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and the Bay’s dwindling skipjack fleet. In 39 years, she’s taught many a lesson of maritime terroir. But imparting the terroir of boat and Bay to a barrel of Italian vinegar is a brand new assignment.
    “The Rosie Parks has such rich history on the Chesapeake,” says Bill Acosta, owner of Olivins Aged and Infused Fine Olive Oils and Vinegars Tasting Shop in St. Michael’s, home of the museum and its historic skipjack. “We wanted to create a special balsamic vinegar that gives people a real sense of place, with an exceptional taste and to support the museum in a meaningful way.”
    To create a special vinegar with a real sense of place, on July 10 a five-gallon barrel of Balsamic Modena was loaded into the skipjack’s hull. There it will remain for the next five months, its aging accelerated by the gentle motion of the boat at its dock along the Miles River. And, this year, the not-so-gentle motion as Rosie Parks joins her kind for races in Deal Island on Memorial Day and Cambridge in September.

    “Aging barrels aboard boats started out in history as a necessity, as most trade occurred over waterways,” explains museum chief curator Pete Lesher. “A boat’s movement can speed up the process of aging, whether it’s spirits, vinegar, or another liquid. We’re very excited to taste the results of these efforts.”
    The wooden barrel is made of toasted oak, which will flavor the vinegar. “Even the temperature changes aboard Rosie Parks will influence the taste of this special blend,” said Acosta. “The barrel expands and contracts as the temperatures rise and fall, infusing the vinegar with undertones of toasted oak.”
    Rosie Parks Balsamic Vinegar should be ready for sale the day after Thanksgiving. The 60 six-ounce bottles will, Acosta says, “be antique and nautical looking, labeled with local artist Amy Ostrow’s painting of the Rosie Parks sails up at sunset.” Acosta expects each to be priced at $20 to $25 and sold at his St. Michael’s shop. A portion of each sale goes to the museum.

When fishing is good it is very good; When it is bad, it’s still pretty good

     I’ve suddenly run into a problem I haven’t had in quite some time. I’m having the devil’s own time catching good rockfish. During the long lulls between bites, an explanation has emerged for my difficulties and disappointments.
    I blame it all on last season. Last season was phenomenal. Big fish in quantities rarely seen around the mid-Bay remained all the way through the year. I could rise at 9am, get on the water by 10am and most always have my limit of 10-pounders by noon.
    Last year, the chum bite was astoundingly effective until late June, when live-lining took over and was even better. This year is developing much differently. The schools of big fish that settled all around the mid-Bay are gone.
    Chumming is already dropping off. Live-lining has not developed, what with the dearth of small spot and rockfish being both scarcer and more finicky.
    My attempts to find them where I did last season have wasted a lot of fishing time. Likewise, my insistence on behaving as if they would eventually show up has led more poor performances than I would like to admit.
    Sticking to my schedule of rising late and still expecting to find good fish is proving to be another major error. The summertime heat is apparently shutting down the bite after 10am. My unreasonable expectations (again, based on last season) are causing me unnecessary emotional trauma.
    A smaller quantity of rockfish and the many anglers searching for them means that to be successful one must achieve ideal conditions, fishing better times of day and night plus making it a priority to find where the fish are located. Wait for them to come to you, and they most likely won’t.
    The few rockfish frequenting last year’s traditional locations do not remain long once discovered. Avoid areas of high fishing pressure to get fish in the box.
    In other areas that have proven productive in the past, stripers gather during the dark, quiet hours to feed but flee as soon as the sun rises or boats arrive. Being the first to fish any particular structure or holding area counts.
    To catch fish consistently this year, you’ll want to start very early or very late. I’m talking about being on the water nearer 5am or starting at sundown and fishing into the night. You will encounter more fish at these times, and when you do find them they are much more likely to take your bait or lure.
    If you’re fishing structure by casting or drifting baits, sound discipline is critical, especially in shallow water. Consider electric power or turning off your engine while working an area. Another good tactic is to sit quietly and do nothing for a good five minutes after arriving at the location you intend to fish. You’ll be surprised at the results.
    Fewer fish are in residence this year. The stripers that are here are under heavy pressure, spooked and uncooperative. Anglers will have to be at the top of their game and using every trick in their arsenal when pursuing them.
    On the Chesapeake, when fishing is good it is very, very good, and when it is bad, it’s still pretty good.

Back then we had gardens; now we have Whole Foods

     Biggest problem in today’s society? I think electronics. Children watch too much TV. They have too many toys. They should be going outside, learning how to communicate, exercising.
    I grew up in Boston. We would play outside. Football, baseball, hiking. When you’re little, you don’t need video games. I just don’t think you need that. We had cartoons; watched them every once in a while. Not every day; just every once in a while.
    It’s too easy for children today. So when they’re older, they want everything. They expect everything. I think kids get greedy because they are given everything that they want from an early age. Back in the day, we’d fish, we’d get jobs cutting grass or working at the market. You have to work. You can’t expect your mother and father to take care of you. You agree, right?
    Kids have access to all of this information: the Internet, the iPhones, the iPads. You know what’s the best thing in the world? Libraries.
    Oh, and the music was so good back then! Dean Martin, Sinatra. You could understand everything! You can’t even hear a word with these rappers today. On Friday nights, there was a basketball game at the high school. We’d lie on our stomachs and look in through the window because we weren’t old enough to get in. And then there’d always be a big party afterward. That’s where I learned to dance, watching them.
    Back then we had gardens; now we have Whole Foods. We just used to call it nature! One time, my dad told his dad, “Pa, we’ve got green beans in cans now.” Pa said, “This will be the ruination of our country.” He was right. You know how much sodium is in canned foods? He was 89 and he knew that. They were so smart in everything they did, yet they didn’t have any college education.
    It’s such a fast pace in this life. We used to have such simple things to make us happy. We used to sit on the porch and wait for the ice cream truck once a week, you know the ones that play the music? Now that was fun.

Great Spangled Fritillary

     Fritillary butterflies may be the original social butterfly. Dozens appear in June when butterfly weed dazzles into bloom, affably sharing landing space and lunch with tiger swallowtails and clusters of bumblebees.
    Focused on the abundance of summer, the Great Spangled Fritillary — Speyeria cybele — is not unnerved by an amateur photographer. Its stained-glass wings glow bittersweet orange with ornate black tracings. Silvery-white oval spots on the underside inspire its name. The Great Spangled can be nearly four inches across and is seen in most of the United States and southern Canada. It manages two generations per season in the southern part of its range, the second overwintering as larvae. Caterpillars feed at night on violets and milkweed. Tufted wiry spines, set in rows of three, promise any hungry bird a serious case of indigestion.
    Fondness for pink coneflowers and any sort of mint will extend this beauty’s presence in your garden. Leave wild violets to spread and start a patch of milkweed to be your hatchlings’ bed and breakfast next spring.
    Pictured is Asclepias tuberosa, butterfly weed. Very popular with monarch butterflies is Asclepias incarnata, swamp milkweed, with pale pink flowers; it blooms a bit later.

Have fun even with a sizzling sun

1. Breezy Bay Fun: You can catch a crisp breeze on the water. Climb aboard The Tennison for a Historic Sunset Cruise out of Solomons July 19, Aug. 9 and Sept. 6 or the skipjack Dee of St. Mary’s July 26, Aug. 23 and Sept. 13 (www.calvertmarinemuseum.com). Lift a glass at the Wine in the Wind cruise out of Annapolis Aug. 24 (www.schoonerwoodwind.com).

2. Make Your Own Slip and Slide: You need a grassy surface (hills are the best), a hose and a tarp (www.tinyurl.com/kj55thb/). Attach pool noodles to the sides to contain the water and people and use soap to make the slide slipperier. Make a sprinkler by attaching a hose to a two-litter bottle with holes.

3. Become One with the Water: Learn to paddle board, which works every part of your body. Schedule a lesson with Stand Up Paddle Annapolis or rent a board on your own (www.supannapolis.com).
    Or take a seat for Kayak the Patuxent at Jug Bay on July 20 (www.aacounty.org/recparks). Explore the Chesapeake on Aug. 8 at Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michael’s (www.cbmm.org). Join in the Marsh Ecology Paddle Aug. 3 at Jug Bay (www.jugbay.org). Glide on Parkers Creek Aug. 9 (www.acltweb.org). Light up the night on a Full Moon Paddle Aug. 10 (annapolisboating.org).

4. Mid-summer Movies: Enjoy free movies on the beach at North Beach July 19 and Aug. 16 (www.northbeachmd.org). Go into the cool at Bow Tie Cinemas for the Kids Summer Film Series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays through Aug. 20 (www.bowtiecinemas.com/programs/kids-club/). For any movie showing at Bow Tie Cinemas, you can save with Super Tuesday deals: $6 tickets all day and $5 large tubs of popcorn (www.bowtie
cinemas.com/programs/super-tuesday/).

5. Skate away from the Sun: Escape the heat on skates. Cool down at the City of Bowie Ice Arena during a public skating sessions or sign up the kids for a summer camp (www.cityofbowie.org/icearena). Roller skate at Skate Zone in Crofton with deals on public skates every day (www.sk8zone.com).

Our flowering gardens are butterfly way-stations

     The butterflies nectaring around your garden took wing from the caterpillars nibbling there a few weeks back.
    Fewer black swallowtails are flashing their wings in my garden. Many summers, all the leaves are eaten down to the stalk by the hungry white, black and yellow-stripped caterpillars that pupate black swallowtails. This summer, I’ve seen only one such caterpillar.
    But I have hopes for other caterpillars, other butterflies.
    My yard is one of many in Chesapeake Country hosting monarch gardens, planted with butterfly weed, black-eyed-Susans, bee balm and boneset plus milkweed, ironweed and Joe Pye weed. Day by day, the plants have grown. The black-eyed-Susans are blooming; and all of us butterfly gardeners are hoping for monarchs.
    The plants will sustain the long-distance flyers with nectar. The caterpillars produced by those butterflies will eat the milkweed. Milkweed is their one and only food. I cheer their rise, for the caterpillars that eat this milkweed are like the generation that will fly all the way to Mexico to begin next year’s repetition of the ancient flight of the monarchs. The annual migration from Mexico to Canada and back takes four generations.
    Monarchs usually reach our latitude in September, when I’m hoping my spring plantings will be ready to welcome them with flowers. Together, we butterfly gardeners are hoping for big returns, a regular irruption.
    Once you see an irruption of monarchs you’ll never forget it. My thrill came in September, 1970, when a swarm — called a kaleidoscope in the colorful language of groupings — crashed a backyard picnic in Springfield, Illinois.
    Since then, lost habitat, less milkweed and climate change have pushed the species toward extinction. The current migrating monarch population is as low as two percent of original levels.
    If you see an irruption, let me know: editor@bayweekly.com.

Sign on for the DataBay Reclaim the Bay Innovation Challenge

     It’s the irony of our modern technological society. For most of history, we have craved more facts, more data. We had no problem putting these data to good use as fast as we gathered them.
     In the last couple of decades, that situation has reversed. We now have much more data than we can possibly use. This holds true for the Bay, where data ranges from water samples collected by citizens to reports from orbiting satellites. Just one example: We have water quality data for the entire Chesapeake. You can go online and find maps showing the daily water temperature and clarity.
    The challenge is figuring out how to use all this data for positive change.
    Can more brains help?
    Bring motivated people with the right set of skills and experience together for a weekend of intense collaboration to develop innovative ideas. That’s the plan behind the DataBay Reclaim the Bay Innovation Challenge.
    “We want to get environmental scientists collaborating with information technology people to foster new ideas,” explains Mike Powell, chief innovation officer for Gov. Martin O’Malley. “Most people are one or the other. This is an opportunity to get the best from both.”
    Similar plans have worked in other places on other problems. An event last year led to the creation of Baltimore Decoded, which provides citizens with user-friendly web access to all Baltimore city laws.
    The Reclaim the Bay Innovation Challenge runs from Friday, August 1 through Sunday, August 3 at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater. So far, some 50 IT pros and environmental scientists have signed on. There’s room for 50 more, including you.
    Bring a team or join one at the event. Together, you’ll generate ideas for using available data to restore the Bay and involve more people in that important work.
    On Sunday evening, teams will present their findings. Top-rated ideas win cash prizes and will be presented to O’Malley and a panel of entrepreneurs, investors and environmental scientists.
    Is this challenge for you? Learn more at: http://databay.splashthat.com.
    Curious about what types of Bay data are available? Answers at http://databay-data.splashthat.com.