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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.


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

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.

Help Bailey find his way home

Oh where, oh where has this giant dog gone? Oh where, oh where can he be?
    Five-year-old Bailey, a 120-plus-pound all white Great Pyrenees, ought to be hard to lose. But in the month since Bailey wandered away from his West River home, owners Janet and Bennett Crandell have found not a clue to his whereabouts.
    “People from Edgewater to Waldorf are saying, I could swear that I’d seen that dog,” Janet Crandell says. “But the sightings have not been Bailey.”
    Bailey and the family’s second dog, golden retriever Bella, went missing July 4. A door was left ajar, and both dogs slipped out. Bella soon turned up rolling in a nearby horse field. Bailey has not been seen since.    
    Family members, friends, neighbors and strangers have joined in the search. Crandell has contacted Anne Arundel County Animal Control, the SPCA and rescue organization Dogs Finding Dogs. The Anne Arundel County Police Department is keeping an eye out for the big dog.
    The area has been blanketed with flyers. One volunteer used his boat for a shoreline search. Drones are in on the hunt. Social media are buzzing with 25,000 hits and hundreds of shares on the Facebook page Bringmybaileyhome. Phone calls at all hours report possible sightings.
    “I am so overwhelmingly blessed to have such an outpouring of support,” Crandell says. “I feel as though I have 20,000 new friends. But I feel someone out there has him.”
    A reward is offered for the safe return of this laid-back dog, so agreeable that the Crandell’s seven-month-old grandchild happily crawled over him.
    “I’m begging for his safe return,” Crandell says. “No questions asked.”
    Bailey was last seen in the area of Crandell Road, off Muddy Creek Road. Friendly as he is, he’ll evade a chase. Should you see him, call him by name.
    If you believe you’ve see him or know where he is, the Crandell family wants to hear from you: 443-994-9339; on Twitter at #bringmybaileyhome; Facebook at Bringmybaileyhome.

Recreational anglers deserve their fair share of the catch

Our white perch have long waited for Maryland Department of Natural Resources to give them a formal management program. A plan proposed in 1990 stalled over opposition from commercial fishermen. A 2005 effort failed again.
    Finally, an updated management program is under way and a draft released for comment. In reading the 2015 Review of the Maryland White Perch Fishery Management Plan, I was pleased and only a little disappointed.
    The good news is that DNR officials thought enough of the species for another attempt at implementing a management plan. Disappointing, however, are text and the tone, which indicate that all is well so nothing needs to be done: “Restrictive measures on either the commercial or recreational fishery does not appear necessary at this time.”
    One of the management plan’s goals is to “Provide for fair allocation of allowable harvest, consistent with traditional uses, among components of the fishery.” Yet no specific allocations have ever been established for either commercial or recreational fishing. Essentially, the white perch fishery remains a free for all.
    I fish for white perch a great deal, and over recent years the number of 10-inchers I catch has fallen significantly. My experience is confirmed in conversations with fellow anglers. There seem to be a lot fewer nice perch in the western mid-Bay.
    In updating white perch management, I wish DNR would note the imbalance between approximately 500,000 saltwater recreational anglers in Maryland and fewer than 500 commercial watermen fishing for white perch. Yet the commercials take is two to three times the recreational harvest.
    Springtime white perch is one of the most popular of the early-season recreational fisheries on the Bay. Yet as soon as commercial white perch nets go up each spring, the majority of the tributary sportfishing dies for good-sized white perch.
    Once commercial operators have removed their desired take (estimated at 1.5 million to 2 million pounds annually), the remaining white perch may very well not be worth the effort of fishing for them.
    Since Maryland’s recreational fishery generates about 10 times the income to the state (per NOAA studies) as the commercial fishery, and the dollars generated from the sale of recreational fishing licenses make up the majority of DNR’s operating ­budget, should not a priority be placed on more equitable scheduling aimed at providing a better quality experience for the sporting angler?
    Also problematic is by-catch, including the by-catch of perch during the rockfish gill netting season and the by-catch of rockfish, spot, croaker and young menhaden via perch netting. The waste of valuable marine life is lamentable and avoidable with proper planning, scheduling and the proper gear.
    The 2015 White Perch Management Plan has every potential for affecting all of these issues. I wish the plan all possible success.

Big Eye keeps the birds away

For years I have covered my blueberry plants with bird netting just before the berries start turning blue. The netting was suspended from wires stretched on top of eight-foot-tall piles.  After harvest, the netting had to be removed and returned to storage. This was a demanding job that required most of a day. Despite my best efforts, mocking birds and robins always managed to eat the berries. They entered the cage on their own, but once in they were stuck until I freed them. Occasionally, a black snake would become tangled in the bird netting, and I had to spend time cutting it loose without being bitten.
    The bird netting could survive only four or five growing seasons, so purchasing replacement netting was a regular expense. Then I’d have to hand-sew several sheets together to match the measurements of my blueberry patch. Sewing bird netting is quite tedious because it is always catching on something and the material is very flimsy. The job wasn’t over yet because to make certain that the netting was properly positioned each season, I sewed a three-quarter-inch-thick rope at one end. I used the rope to roll the netting for storage and tagged it at one end with the word south to indicate the direction of placement.
    Never again.
    Last year a friend gave me five bright yellow and one black inflatable polyethylene balloons, each measuring 18 inches in diameter when inflated. Each balloon has five large painted eyes, each with bright aluminum centers. Dangling below each balloon is an aluminized plastic strip a foot long and an inch wide. Tied loosely to wires above plants, the balloons move with the wind.  
    Since these balloons have been hanging above the blueberry plants, I have not seen one bird come within 50 feet of them. I only wish the Japanese beetles, which are feeding on my nearby raspberry plants, were as afraid of those balloons as the birds are.


Share the Bounty
    Remember to contribute your surplus fresh produce to local food banks or pantries to avoid waste and allow others to benefit from your gardening skills.


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

Net a Crab

Our beautiful swimmers are starting to run

Dennis Doyle’s cautious Sporting Life report that crabbing finally “may be improving” is seconded by commercial crabbers, who are notorious pessimists. Better still, we’ve seen chicken-neckers pulling in crabs at local piers.
    Chicken-necking for Chesapeake Bay blue crabs requires you spend a quiet morning or afternoon alongside the Bay or one of its rivers. It gives you the fun of catching wily crustaceans. Then you get to eat them.
    You don’t need any fancy equipment or permits. Maryland allows catching up to two dozen crabs per angler per day without a license, and a dozen crabs is a generous meal for just about anyone.
    What you do need is a ball of cotton twine for your hand lines, a package of chicken necks (easily acquired at most grocery or bait stores), an inexpensive, wire crabbing net, a ruler to measure your crabs and a basket to hold your catch. A pair of tongs or some thick gloves are also helpful for handling your feisty catch; their claws can pinch hard.
    For each of your hand lines, strip off about 15 feet of string and tie a chicken neck securely to one end. Tie the other end to the pier or on some shoreline structure. Throw the neck into the water. You can use any number of baited lines.
    When a crab happens upon your chicken neck, it will immediately attempt to swim off with it, and your line will straighten out. Gently take the string in your fingers and slowly pull it back. If you’re careful, the crab will hold on until it nears the surface of the water. You or a companion must be ready with the net at that point.
    Position the net in the water a foot or two down below where you believe the crab will appear. Note that a crab will always flee downward. Pull the crab up until you can see it. Then scoop from below as quickly as you can.
    If you’ve been successful, measure the crab before you put it in your basket to be sure he’s legal size, at least 51⁄4 inches from tip to tip. All females, distinguished by their triangle-shaped apron on the underside, must be returned to the water.
    In Anne Arundel County, Sandy Point State Park has a nice crabbing pier, as does Carr’s Wharf in Mayo, the latter with no fee. There is also good free crabbing at Jonas Green Park at the Severn River Bridge. In Calvert, chicken neck free from piers at Solomons and at Kings Landing Park in Huntingtown.
    Find information on where to crab, regulations on sizes and seasons at Maryland Department of Natural Resources website: dnr.state.md.us/fisheries.

My guests were not who I expected

At Ivy Neck Farm in Cumberstone on the shores of Rhode River, we have a dock and a very nice boat with a swim platform. We also have a considerable number of river otters who catch fish and oysters and seem to enjoy the swim platform on the boat as a convenient place to eat dinner. They leave an awful mess.
    To see who came to dinner, I set up my game camera on the dock. My bait was an old rockfish carcass nailed to the pier to keep the river otters from carrying it off.
    The next morning, the fish was gone and the camera had fired a number of photos. What they showed was no river otter but a pair of magnificent eagles. They look to me like one of the well-established pair of eagles I often see on Rhode River and in our farm fields where they hunt for small mammals.
    What amazed me was how polite they were to each other in sharing the food. I think that the very large eagle is the male, and that the smaller eagle is his mate.  
    So much for trying to get pictures of river otters.

A waterspout may get you if you don’t watch out

I focused on drifting the edges of a Bay Bridge pier, where I was hoping a big rockfish would inhale the chunk of soft crab I was presenting below. Conditions ­couldn’t have been much better, with overcast skies and a slack tide. Then my cell phone buzzed.
    I cleared my line and fumbled with my shirt pocket. Finally, freeing the phone, I heard a familiar voice, my neighbor Capt. Frank Tuma, who was fishing a party just to the north of me.
    “Did you see the big waterspout behind you, just south of the bridge?” he queried. “It’s gone now, but for a few minutes I was afraid it was going to get you.”
    I turned and eyeballed the large, dark and menacing cumulus clouds poised low and close to my position.
    “I wasn’t looking in that direction.” I replied. “Maybe I should have been. Those clouds look like they could make bad things happen.”
    It turned out that some nine waterspouts had been sighted in the middle-Bay that morning. Though I had no close calls with a waterborne whirlwind, Candy Thomson, spokeswoman for Maryland Natural Resources Police, had been caught up in that nearby spout while on board a patrol boat.
    It is fortunate that nothing more serious than some brief, brisk winds and a short burst of intense rain descended on the police crew. That is sometimes not the case with these mini-tornados.

Their Rise; Your Retreat
    Waterspouts — dark, whirling funnel clouds descending from stormy skies — form in the Florida Keys more than any place in the world. But the spouts are fairly common from the Gulf of Mexico all the way up Chesapeake Bay.
    Fair-weather waterspouts, such as we experienced that day, are spawned by dark, flat-bottomed storm clouds traveling at low altitude. Typically these waterspouts dissipate before causing damage or injury. Tornadic waterspouts borne of severe weather conditions can be more violent.
    During the hot days of summer, fierce late-afternoon and evening squalls often erupt across the Bay. These small, violent storms are capable of producing more intense waterspouts. Winds have been clocked above 150 mph in ocean-borne tornadic versions, often accompanied by heavy seas, torrential rain, hail and intense lightning. They have sunk or damaged watercraft of all sizes. Violent water spouts are suspected to be the source of some of the mysterious accidents in the Devil’s Triangle off the Keys.
    The primary defense while on Bay waters is keeping an active weather channel open on your marine radio. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard broadcast alert warnings whenever and wherever waterspouts are sighted.
    Avoid a spout by heading at a 90-degree angle away from the direction of the funnel. Evasion might not be possible in poor visibility or if a water spout descends from overhead, as apparently happened to the Natural Resources Police crew. So it is wise to steer clear of any area where the mini-tornados are reported.

Highway medians become home to the birds, bees, butterflies

The tiniest employees of the Maryland State Highway Administration are hard at work while we sit in traffic. Glance out the window to see them buzzing about their daily routines. In exchange for their work, MSHA provides room and board — in the medians of state highways.
    Important work is happening in these often overlooked parcels of land: over 100 acres along Maryland highways are now wildlife habitat for pollinators.
    Medians along interstates and rural roads — places historically mowed and manicured — are now meadows of wildflowers, native grasses and perennials.
    “If we go back 20 years ago, we looked like golf courses,” says Highway spokesman Charlie Gischlar. Now, the medians provide beauty and habitat while fulfilling their original purpose of creating restful driving conditions and screening out oncoming headlight glare at night.
    In 2008, with the economy tanking and state agencies looking to tighten their budgets, highway planners asked biologists and landscapers for ideas. The Statewide Native Plants Establishment Program was born.
    “This program is a win-win situation between the built and the natural environment,” Gischlar says.
    “We realized we could stop mowing and save money.”
    The number of acres mowed went from 110,684 in 2005 to 51,751 in 2013, saving the cost of rising fuel.
    The second benefit is habitat for birds, bees, butterflies.
    Pollinators help the reproduction of 85 percent of the world’s flowering plants. And, according to the Xerces Society, nuts and seeds feed “25 percent of all birds and of mammals ranging from red-backed voles to grizzly bears.”
    Habitat loss is one of the top threats to our nation’s pollinators. The loss of bees and butterflies has a direct and dire impact on agriculture.
    “It’s actually pretty scary what’s happening to our honeybee population,” Gischlar says. “Colony collapse is a very serious issue.”
    While scientists study this mysterious disorder, bee populations continue to decline. Without a good mix of native plants, bees miss out on the proper nutrition from a variety of pollens. Restoring meadows with plants like butterfly weed, sunflowers, asters, coreopsis and black-eyed Susans is a vital component to giving honeybee colonies a chance to recover.
    Highway plantings make conditions favorable for these insects by reducing roadside mowing, using insects for vegetation control and creating meadows of nectar and pollen-producing native species.
    Invasive plants edging out the wildflowers that pollinators need are attacked along highways with a careful strategy of mowing and herbicide application. Two of those invasives, Canada thistle and Tree of Heaven, are notorious for choking out the natives.
    Elmer Dengler of Bowie has been following the plight of the monarch butterfly since he was 12 years old.
    “We need more Joe Pye weed and native goldenrods for these butterflies to survive,” Dengler says. “We need to encourage private landowners to work along with the highway departments to promote these native plants.”
    When monarchs find plants, egg-laying remains a risky business, Dengler says, due to a lot of unnecessary mowing.
    Along highways, however, some mowing is necessary “First and foremost,” Gischlar says, we have to maintain sight distance in critical areas, to protect drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.”
    Are efforts to bring back pollinators working?
    The outlook still looks grim, according to Chip Taylor, founder and director of MonarchWatch and an insect ecology professor at the University of Kansas.
    “Unfortunately,” he writes, “as of late July, it appears that the fall migration and the overwintering numbers will be similar to those seen last year. A substantial increase in the number of migrants and the area of the forests in Mexico occupied by overwintering monarchs is highly unlikely. I was expecting much better.”

When water replaces air in the soil, plants die

If plants are wilting in your gardens despite all of the rain we have been having, it is due to a lack of oxygen in the soil. This is a bigger problem in heavy-loam soils than in sandy loam or loamy sands. Heavy soils become saturated with water faster than sandy soils because the pores are smaller and thus exclude all the air.
    The roots of plants need oxygen to function. We have received so much rain that air in the soil has been replaced by water. If the problem persists for more than a couple of weeks, there is a good possibility that root rot will kill plants. Under these conditions, it is not uncommon to harvest carrots with rotted taproots. Or to see tomato plants developing roots near the base of stems to replace the dying roots killed by excess water in the soil.
    The problem is worse in gardens that have been plowed and/or rototilled at the same depth year after year. Working the soil to the same depth once or twice each year causes a plow pan to form below the tilled or plowed layer. Plow pans are a compacted layer of soil that prevents the downward movement of both water and roots.
    Plow pan can occur in both sandy and heavy loam soil but happens more rapidly in heavy soils. To determine if your soil has plow pan, try pushing a half-inch-diameter piece of pipe or dowel into the soil. If you have plow-pan, you will most likely be able to force the pipe only six inches deep. In many instances, I have uncovered plow pans so dense that I was not able to penetrate them with my stainless steel auger.
    The problem can be solved by sub-soiling with a special tractor-mounted attachment, by double digging or by varying the depth of plowing or rototilling season to season.
    Sub-soilers are plow-like attachments that penetrate the soil to a depth of 18 to 24 inches, forcing the soil upward and fracturing the pan layer. Sub-soiling should be done when the soil is as dry as possible to maximize fracturing of the pan layer.
    If you spade the garden by hand, double digging means that when you first press your spade in the ground, you remove a spade full of soil and place it to one side, followed by removing another spade full of soil from the same hole. In other words, you are digging into the sub-soil, thus removing the pan layer, then blending it with the surface layer of soil.
    You can delay the formation of the plow pan by varying the depth that you plow or rototill. One year you plow or rototill at a depth of three inches, the next four inches, the next five inches and the next six inches before returning to a depth of three inches.


Share the Bounty

    Let others benefit from your gardening skills by contributing surplus fresh produce to local food banks or pantries. The Bay Gardener donates his surplus vegetables to SCAN Food Bank at St. James Episcopal Church on Rt. 2, which is open for those in need on Thursday and Saturday from 8am until noon.


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