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The SPCA wants to make your pet a star

Certainly your dog — even your cat — has the makings of a supermodel. With the help of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Anne Arundel County, your best friend’s full glory can be revealed.
    Through July, the SPCA is searching for 13 pets to be featured in the monthly pages of the SPCA’s 2016 Posh Pets calendar, out this October.
    Getting your cat or dog into the picture starts with a phone call. Linda McCarthy of Visual Concepts Photography will set up an appointment for a 15- to 20-minute photo session with your pet. The fee is a $100 donation to further the good work of the SPCA. You can, of course, buy prints.
    To win your pet a place in this prestigous calendar you will have to dig and dig deep.
    The 13 pets featured on the monthly pages are chosen by ballot at $5 a vote, with the animal garnering the most votes earning the front cover. The second-place winner gets January, third place February and so on.
    Last year’s calendar raised $6,000 for animals in need. This year your animal companion — and friends and family — can help SPCA do more.
    Schedule your session today. Contact Linda McCarthy at 410-626-7474; www.aacspca.org/programs/calling-all-feline-canine-models.

Bernie Fowler’s Sneaker Index measured 44 inches — the best in the annual Wade-In’s 28-year ­history but a long way from the days of his youth

Ninety-one-year-old river warrior Bernie Fowler added some new followers at his 28th annual Wade-In to measure his beloved Patuxent River’s clarity by Sneaker Index.
    Chesapeake chronicler Tom Horton flew in on water taxi. The Patuxent Voices sang a tribute, adding a capella artistry to Island Girl Deanna Dove’s folk hymns and bridging the gap opened by the 2010 death of Chesapeake bard Tom Wisner, Fowler’s inspiration in the now-famed ritual.
    Gov. Larry Hogan was not among Fowler’s followers, though governors Bob Ehrlich and Martin O’Malley have joined Fowler’s past Wade-Ins.
    For this year’s walk, Fowler wore brand new white tennis shoes. His battered original pair was retired last year and now belongs to history, preserved at Calvert Marine Museum.
    His bright white shoes faded from view, obscured by murk, at 44 inches, as measured by long-time followers, powers in their own rights, Congressman Steny Hoyer and Maryland Senate President Thomas V. ‘Mike’ Miller, both representing Fowler’s district.
    Forty-four inches is the highest in Wade-In history, though far short of the 63 inches of Fowler’s boyhood, the gold standard of his Index and quest.
    Don’t go believing, however, that high visibility represents improved river quality.
    The Patuxent has been studied every day for 90 of Fowler’s 91 years by the Chesapeake Biological Lab at the river’s mouth at Solomons, Lab director Tom Miller told this year’s gathering. “We know what the temperature and clarity of the river were on the day of the bombing of Pearl Harbor … on the day the planes struck the Twin Towers. Even on the evening the Beetles sung on the Ed Sullivan show,” he said.
    By such scientific measures, the Patuxent is not a healthy river. It earned the low mark of D on the most recent Chesapeake Bay Report Card.
    “We’re not sure Bernie will ever see his feet again,” his son Bernie Jr. said. But, he added, the goal “is worth continuing to fight for.”
    Thus, the tradition continues, in hope of recruiting the next generation of warriors to fight for the river.

With only one flounder in the cooler, it’s a good thing we could count on it for four fillets

Feeling the undulations of the sandy bottom telegraph up my graphite casting rod, I kept a cautious thumb on the reel spool. Our day drifting live bull minnows for summer flounder was starting slow. My son Harrison, his girlfriend Jerica and I had hoped to score enough fish for a family dinner. We hadn’t yet risen to the challenge.
    The fishing boats we had encountered had all given us the thumbs down when we inquired as to their luck, so we had redoubled our efforts. Jerica was particularly focused on hooking one. She had never caught a fish, nor even been fishing, and today she intended to rectify that void in her life.
    There is nothing on board luckier than a beginning angler, and a new woman angler is double lucky; it isn’t by accident luck is called a lady.
    I was ruminating on that thought when I saw Jerica’s rod dart down.
    She expertly lowered her rod (it’s always amazing when someone does something right the very first time) to allow the flounder to get the bait well back into its mouth. Then she raised the rod slowly and, when she felt resistance, pulled back hard. Fish on!

Floundering Again
    We have been going to a beach house in Bethany every summer for more than 30 years. In the earliest days I fished frequently, but that was during the time of the big trout, bluefish and flounder runs. Fishing slowed down after that, mostly from commercial overharvest, and so did my oceanside efforts. With my wife and me, three kids and many of their friends, the amount of gear got to be too much. It had been a long time since I fished the back bays of Ocean City.
    This year turned out to be different. The boys had grown and were coming down on their own, so my wife and I had to pack only for ourselves. Life had become simpler.
    I decided to fish again, particularly for flounder, for there are mighty few fish that can compare on the dinner plate. The flounder is also an interesting fish. A member of the flatfish family, it is born looking quite like every other fingerling with an eye on each side of its head and swimming upright. But soon it turns to swimming on its right side. That side of the fish becomes its bottom, and the right eye gradually migrates next to the left, now top, side of its head. Its new belly becomes stark white while the upper side takes on a mottled, dark green hue that the fish can modify at will to match the surrounding terrain.
    On our bait-fishing rods were flounder rigs composed of an in-line sinker, three feet of No. 20 fluorocarbon leader, a 4/0 Kahle flounder hook and brightly colored bucktail attractors. Then we lip-hooked a bull minnow on each rig, lowered it to the bottom and drifted on a smartly running tide.

Jerica’s Fish
    I didn’t want to be remembered as the guy who lost Jerica’s first fish, so I took great care in netting that flounder, especially since they can also swim backwards. Once safely on the deck, it measured well over the 16-inch minimum and went quickly into our cooler.
    A few minutes later Harrison and I hooked up with skates that had us both fooled for big flounder right up until they were at the net. We threw them back, then caught a few shorts. Then the brief bite died.
    Lucky thing a flounder has four fillets.

When you’ve found a Chesapeake beach, you’ve found a treasure

From shells to polished pebbles to driftwood to fossils, Bay beaches aren’t just for sunbathing and fishing.
    To dip into Bay waters in Anne Arundel County, start at 786-acre Sandy Point State Park. As well as the big beach (with lifeguards at prime hours) and great views, including Sandy Point Shoal Light House, there’s room to picnic, play, fish or crab and launch a boat. No camping — except June 27-28 for the Great American Campout. No dogs in summer. 6am-sunset; $4 to $7 per person: 410-974-2149; www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/sandypoint.asp.
    At the other extreme in Rose Haven is Anne Arundel’s smallest public beach, a stretch of Bay beauty on the corner of Albany and Walnut avenues. At the park, created under the county’s Open Space Program, you can sit on the beach, get into the water, launch your kayak or walk your dog. Parking, like the beach, is small. 877-620-8367.
    Other small beaches have very limited access because of open hours and parking (see aacounty.org/recparks/parks/community). Mayo Beach, for example, is open only one day a month, which happens to be Sunday, June 21, for a Watersports Fun Fest. See 8 Days a Week.
    In Calvert County, the North Beach boardwalk separates the Bay from Bay Avenue. Boardwalk is free for all, dogs as well as people. Beach and fishing pier are more restricted: people only with fees for out-of-towners, a high $15 a day. Kayaks, paddleboards, umbrellas and chairs rented. Season passes and Calvert resident discounts. 301-855-6681; ci.north-beach.md.us.
    Chesapeake Beach’s Bayfront Park offers a small beach, big boardwalk and Calvert Cliffs, so it’s a good place to hunt sharks teeth. Bring your dog — as long as you bring waste disposal bags. Free to townies; $7 to county residents; $16 for others. 6am-dusk: 410-257-2230; chesapeake-beach.md.us.
    At Breezy Point you’ll find a half-mile of sandy beach plus swimming in a netted area to reduce the risk of those pesky sea nettles, a 300-foot fishing and crabbing pier — plus picnicking, fishing and camping by tent and RV. 8am-8pm. Rt. 261. Beach admission: SaSu $10; M-F $6; season passes available: 410-535-0259; co.cal.md.us/residents/parks/getinvolved.
    Flag Ponds Nature Park has a fine beach, fishing pier, good fossiling, great Bay views, nature trails and picnicking, all with easy access for handicapped drivers. Leashed dogs welcome. SaSu 9am-8pm; M-F 9am-6pm; $6; season pass $20: 410-586-1477; calvertparks.org.
    It’s a 1.8 mile hike to the fossil-laden beach at Calvert Cliffs State Park in Lusby, but you can bring your dog for company. Don’t walk on or beneath the cliffs — they’re unstable but offer good fossiling. Also nature trails and picnicking. 301-743-7613; dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/calvertcliffs.asp.
    At Point Lookout State Park in St. Mary’s County you’ll find long sandy shores and great Bay views plus tall pines, fishing and picnicking areas, campsites and cabins, Civil War historic sites with powerful history and Point Lookout Lighthouse. Dogs allowed in some areas. dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/pointlookout.asp.
    Beaches belong to all of us up to median high tide line, so they’re yours to enter by water. Wherever you find it and however you arrive, treat your treasure with loving care. Leave no litter behind.

What’s good and bad for what

Never use colored mulches near annuals, shallow-rooted trees and shrubs or herbaceous perennials. These mulches are made using raw wood that serve as a source of food for microorganisms once it comes in contact with the ground. Microorganisms are better able to absorb nutrients in wood than are the roots of plants. As a result of the competition, plants — including weeds — starve and die. 
    Use colored mulches only around well-established deep-rooted trees and shrubs, for making pathways, sitting areas and playgrounds.
    Use hardwood bark mulches with caution.
    Unlike pine mulches, hardwood bark mulches contain up to 60 percent cellulose, which means they will decompose and rob nutrients from plants. They will also raise the pH of soils, making them less acidic. Repeated applications of hardwood bark can also result in the accumulation of manganese. When this occurs, the roots of the plants lose their ability to absorb iron and plant growth declines. Over the years I have seen numerous instances where the manganese and pH levels in the soil were so high that the only solution was total replacement of the soil.
    As you shop for pine bark mulch, be aware that not all bark mulches contain 100 percent bark. Some are made by blending one part pine bark and two parts wood chips. These blends are kept moist and turned periodically until the entire mass turns brown like bark.
    The truth is revealed if a piece of its wood reveals a yellow to light-brown center when broken. Once applied, fake bark mulches are more easily identified: After they have weathered a few weeks, the tannin-treated raw wood begins to lose its dark brown color.
    If that’s what you’ve got, the brown-colored raw wood will feed microorganisms, not plants.
    I was once called to investigate problems resulting from a mulch sale sponsored by a grocery chain. A large trailer load of double-shredded hardwood bark mulch had been trucked in and sold at cost. Buyers were immediately returning the mulch, complaining that it was killing their plants instantly.  Inspecting the load of mulch remaining in the trailer, I found it contained wood alcohol. I proved the presence of alcohol by cutting open a bag and throwing in a lighted match. The mulch immediately caught on fire. The mulch had been bagged while it was composting under anaerobic conditions, resulting in the formation of wood alcohol.
    Marble chips should not be used around plants that require acid soils. Marble chips are essentially chunks of limestone rich in calcium oxide, which will result in making the soil less acidic and eventually alkaline. That will be the death of acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, mountain laurels, andromeda, skimmia and Japanese hollies.
    Marble chips are safe around alkaline-preferring plants such as junipers, yews, pines, spruce and cherry laurel.
    Avoid using bluestone. I have seen numerous cases where plants have been killed after bluestone mulching. Like marble chips, bluestone contains high levels of calcium oxide. It may also contain metal contaminants, including nickel. The symptoms often go undetected for several years, by which time the damage is irreversible.


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

The mystery of a great white’s whereabouts

Is the Bay becoming a haven for great whites?
    Great white sharks are huge flesh-eating machines that swim at speeds up to 35mph and travel the oceans of the world to satisfy their appetites.
    On May 29, a great white known as Mary Lee was reportedly detected in central Chesapeake Bay between North Beach and Tilghman Island. The predator would normally prefer the salty waters of the Atlantic Ocean. So what would make Mary Lee swim more than 100 miles up into the brackish waters of the Chesapeake?
    Mary Lee is part of a global shark-tracking program led by the non-profit company OCEARCH, which aims to increase our knowledge of sharks while benefiting public safety and awareness.
    Mary Lee’s whereabouts are monitored by a transmitor attached to one of her fins. The transmitor has to be above water for a certain amount of time to give the satellites a precise location and register a ping. The longer it’s above the water, the better the ping.
    In addition to the ping from the Bay that weekend, four additional pings were received placing Mary Lee in the ocean off the coast of New Jersey. Four pings trump one.
    A good ping can correspond very closely to the shark’s actual location — within 250 meters. But a bad ping can be miles off, or even indicate that the shark is on land.
    It’s unlikely that Mary Lee visited the waters off of North Beach. But it’s not impossible. We still have a lot to learn about the migration patterns of great white sharks. Learn more at www.ocearch.org.

It’s not there just to look pretty

Good mulch should be dark brown, persist for at least one growing season, be compatible with all the plants in the landscape and control weeds by suffocation only. Superb mulch does all that plus providing slow-release nutrients to feed the plants it is mulching.
    Mother Nature provides us with an abundance of mulches every fall. Fallen leaves and pine needles are excellent mulches satisfying every standard except being dark brown.  I have never purchased a bag of mulch in my life. Leaves are my mulch. When they decompose, nutrients are released into the soil, thus feeding the roots of mulched plants.
    Bark mulches do not contain any of the major nutrients used by plants except for calcium. But bark can contain essential trace elements, such as manganese, that can accumulate in the soil and cause problems. Thus it is important to choose mulch that is compatible with the species of plants being mulched.
     If you insist on purchasing brown mulch, I recommend pure pine, spruce or fir bark mulches. These contain 90 to 100 percent lignins, a source of carbon not easily digested by microorganisms. Thus they do not decompose readily and last on the surface of the ground one to two growing seasons. These mulches also contain polyflavanoids, which are beneficial because they help make essential trace elements available to the roots.
    Pine bark is available as nuggets, ground or as pine fines. The nuggets and ground mulches are the most preferred. Pine fines are generally only recommended as a soil amendment to increase the organic matter and help in lowering the pH of soils. Pine mulches are acidic in nature.
    Pine needles can be used as mulch but have a limited life, lasting only two to three months.
    Pea stone makes good mulch providing it is laid over landscape fabric. Brick chips, volcano slag or crushed granite are also usable mulches. But because of their density, they will sink into the soil unless they are placed over landscape fabric. 
    In the vegetable garden, straw — not hay — works as mulch. Even newspapers can be used, applied in 10 to 15 layers and soaked with water immediately to stop them from being blown away. I use shredded paper because it is easier to spread and, once soaked with water, remains in place better than sheets of newspaper. You need not worry about the ink because most black ink is made from soy while the colored inks are organic. I would prefer the old zinc ink because most of our soils here in the East are low to deficient in zinc, a mineral important in our diet.
    Shredded cardboard also makes good mulch. The advantage of using straw, newspapers, shredded paper and cardboard is rapid decomposition without creating nutrient stress. As they are opaque, they control weeds by the shade they create.
    Black plastic and landscape fabric also make good mulch. Black plastic mulches prevent the loss of water by evaporation. But these must be removed at the end of the growing season. Landscape fabric has another drawback in that weeds such as Bermuda grass, pig weed and nut sedge can grow through the fabric, making it impossible to pull them without damaging the fabric. Removing the fabric at the end of the season is also harder because of weeds that have grown through it.
    Next week, I’ll give you more reasons to avoid other mulches.


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

So many variables are at play it can sometimes be baffling

We arrived at our fishing spot at 9am, two hours after the predicted low tide. Consultations with tide and current charts told us that at our location about a quarter-mile below the Bay Bridge, the incoming tide would just be starting. It ­wasn’t; the current was still going out.
    Anchoring and expecting the change at any moment, we set out our chum bag and flipped our baits over the side. After an hour with no tidal change and no action, we headed farther south, reasoning that the outgoing tide would be starting earlier there. Again we were wrong.
    We debated going down the Bay farther still but decided to stick it out. Our fish finder was showing a substantial population in the waters around us. Logically, we concluded that all that we needed was a tidal change and an increase in current to get the stripers feeding. After all, the tide sooner or later would have to change, right?
    Undoubtedly that was true. Yet four hours later it became clear that it was not going to change while we were there. With the tide still inching out and our baits going untouched, we headed home.
    Tides are the result of the gravitational pull of the moon as it orbits the earth. Ocean tides are regular and predictable. It seemed inconceivable that in the Bay an outgoing tide could continue for over 12 hours.
    I decided to renew my acquaintance with how the tidal functions in our great estuary can behave so erratically. The Chesapeake, I was reminded, has a unique and vastly more complex tidal operation than the ocean.
    The moon sets up the basic tidal rhythm of two high tides and two low tides during a typical 24-hour period. But those tidal surges have to travel the length of the Bay, 200 miles. Much can happen in that distance, and many variables can impact the flow of tidal water.
    One of the more important variables is caused by density differences between heavier saltwater coming up from the ocean colliding with lighter freshwater from the Bay’s tributaries. Because of the Coriolis Effect, generated by the turning of the earth on its axis, the incoming tide is always stronger (and saltier) on the eastern side. The fresher water exits the Bay on the western side’s stronger outgoing tides.
    This difference between salt and fresh creates a stratification of Bay waters and generates a secondary circulatory current with the heavier saltwater tending to sink to the bottom as it moves up the Bay and the lighter freshwater tending to float on top and moving south to exit the estuary.
    There are also secondary currents and eddies created as the water moves over different depths. More than 25 percent of the Bay is less than six feet deep, but the channels coursing down its length often average 50 to 60 feet deep.
    Wind is another factor. Sustained high winds can delay, accelerate or even cancel tidal phases. Northwest winds associated with high-pressure areas can push water away from the Atlantic Coast, resulting in very low tides. Northeast winds and high pressure can create exceptionally high tides.
    The interactions of these many variables can also generate seemingly impossible effects. Occasionally currents flow in one direction on the bottom of the Bay and the opposite direction on the top. An outgoing tide that seems to continue for 12 hours can be caused by conditions some distance away and invisible to those experiencing the phenomenon.
    Considering all these forces, the overall accuracy achieved by our tide and current charts is remarkable. It wouldn’t surprise me if the old saying Just go with the flow was coined on the Chesapeake.

Whenever you can

Everything conspired against my going fishing. When I had the time the weather went bad, high winds or rain, sometimes both. When weather was right, my schedule turned on me: guests from out of town, family gatherings and, of course, work.
    When finally I got a break, it wasn’t until the afternoon that I could get away. The worst part of the fishing day is the high-sun, high-heat of the day from noon until at least 4pm. Then again, everyone knows that the best time to go fishing is whenever you can, so I did.
    On the water by 2pm and supplied with some nice, fresh menhaden and a bucket of frozen foul-smelling chum of the same species, a cooler full of ice and a couple of cold bottles of water, I made my way to a spot just off of the mouth of the Severn in 25 feet of water.
    Anchoring and getting set up took about 20 minutes. I had to re-rig my four rods, as the leaders were kinked and scarred from use and the hooks were not particularly sharp. Cutting off about 10 feet of line, I retied it to the swivels, clipped in some new live-lining sleeves and knotted on a two-foot section of 25-pound fluorocarbon for the leader. I finished with fresh and very sharp 7/0 short-shanked bait hooks.
    Setting my chum bag out about halfway to the bottom, I baited up and set out my rods to begin the wait. Wrong time of day, but the tide was making up and in the same direction as the wind, so my lines streamed out nicely from the stern. All I needed was a little cooperation from the fish.
    Three boats were nearby, and the one I had queried earlier indicated that the bite had been dead, so I prepared for a slow afternoon. Then, almost immediately, one of my rod tips twitched. Retrieving the rod from the holder, I released the reel’s clicker so there would be no resistance on the line.
    The spool began to turn, slowly at first, then more rapidly as a fish swam off with my bait. I counted slowly to six. Then put the reel in gear. When the line came tight, I set the hook.
    As I fought this fish, one of my other outfits had a run, the clicker chattering away. I reached over and threw the reel in gear. The fish hooked itself. I threw the other two outfits in gear as well, still struggling with the first fish.
    It was a long battle. By the time I finally netted the muscular devil, all the remaining rods in the holders had bent over double. Laying the gleaming 31-inch striper, still in the net, on the deck, I attended to the three straining rigs.
    The next outfit had a plump 19-incher, which went immediately back over the side. The second rod proved a disappointment as the fish slipped the hook the moment I picked up the outfit. The last rod, though, after another lengthy fight, resulted in a husky 27-inch fish, almost as fat as the first.
    I considered continuing, given the suddenly red-hot bite. But the thought of deep-hooking a beauty that would only have to be released dampened that urge. Looking around at the other boats nearby, I also saw that my good fortune had apparently gone unshared.
    I gave thanks to the fish gods and put my remaining bait and chum back on ice for another day.

Oh the harm it causes!

In 1976, I wrote “Over-Mulching, A National Disaster” for a national trade journal. Nasty letters came from as far as Oregon and California. Forty years later, over-mulching has become a monkey-see-monkey-do calamity.
     Earlier this spring, I spent several days diagnosing plant problems for several landscape architects. In all but one, the problems were caused by excessive use of nutrient-robbing mulches.
    In several instances, well-established plantings of pachysandra were being suffocated by excessive mulch or starved by mulches containing raw wood. Where raw wood was applied around pachysandra, the plants were yellow green and the vegetation sparse. In the areas where four inches or more of mulch was applied, the pachysandra was dead and the stems rotten. 
    In one landscape, several hundreds of square feet of what was once a well established planting of English ivy was killed after having been mulched with Big Red. About three inches had been applied last year, follow by another application this year. I am frequently asked to recommend an herbicide for killing English ivy; from now on I will recommend a heavy mulching with Big Red. Guaranteed to give 100 percent control, organically.
    I saw azaleas with sparse distribution of small purple leaves and struggling in what appeared to be two to four inches of shredded hardwood bark. Soil tests indicated in excess of 300 pounds of manganese. Any level in excess of 80 pounds per acre is considered toxic to the roots of plants. It’s clear from the soil test results that shredded hardwood bark had been applied repeatedly for several years. Since the property owner had hired several yard maintenance firms over the years, she was not aware of what kind of mulch had been applied.
    In one yard I examined a large planting of boxwood with severe symptoms of decline. Digging around the base of the plants, I saw that they had been mulched several times. Over the years I have seen numerous once-healthy and hardy boxwoods killed by mulch. Boxwoods are shallow-rooted plants and should never be mulched. They are drought tolerant, and enzymes emitted by the roots and leaves prevent many weed species from growing around them.
    Most of the landscape maintenance companies were blaming poor drainage for decline or death. However, as I walked on the lawns adjoining these plantings and in the plantings, I saw and felt no symptoms of poor drainage. I augured holes in these areas and found the soil to be well drained.
    The only landscape where I did not see mulch problems was in a yard where water coming from a newly installed copper roof had flowed. Here, the decline in growth and the loss of plants was due to copper toxicity. I could easily follow the flow of water from the downspouts and areas where the water pooled. The solution to this problem was to divert the water away from the plants until the surface of the copper sheeting oxidizes to a brown or gray-green color.
    More on mulch next week …


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