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It takes a lot of preying to make so big a bug

In summer’s abundance, praying mantises grow like corn.
    Emerging in spring warmth from their tan, papery egg masses, they are tiny, pale-green nymphs. By autumn, after several exoskeleton sheddings and many good meals, the tan, winged adults can be six or seven inches long.
    The habit of folding their long forearms gives the species the name praying mantis. They might better be called preying for they use those arms to grasp food, mostly other insects. Thus they’re good bugs for your garden. Their predation can include male mantises that, useless after mating, may be turned into food by the females making eggs for next year’s generation.
    Like corn, mantises mostly wait for their food to come to them, as they are ambush predators. With two protruding compound eyes and three small simple eyes, they see well. All the better as their flexible necks enable them to rotate their heads, almost 180 degrees in some species. Most of the members of the plentiful order are camouflage artists, with our praying mantises copying twigs. The unsuspecting bug that comes too close to this twig becomes dinner, held in those praying arms for devouring.
    Also like corn, mantises are ­annuals, productive for one season but doomed by cold weather.
    Corn has been harvested in most of our fields. But mantises are around a while longer.

Water now or expect poor fall color — and a killing winter

This year’s dry late summer and early fall will put a damper on foliage colors. Don’t expect a long, lingering colorful fall. Many trees are already dropping their leaves due to the drought conditions we are experiencing. There is even premature coloration in the foliage of red maple, dogwoods and sweet gum.
    Much of the early leaf drop can be attributed to the buckets of rain we had during the early parts of summer when trees generated an abundance of growth. Many deciduous tree species produced two and three flushes of growth, resulting in a super abundance of lush green leaves.
    Now that the water has been turned off, the roots are unable to meet the demands of so much foliage, and the trees drop their leaves. Leaves often turn brown just before dropping, but green leaves are also dropping. Sycamore and maple trees are often exhibiting marginal necrosis with the center of the leaves remaining green. Older leaves show the most symptoms.
    If you planted trees and shrubs in your landscape during the past two years, you should be irrigating them thoroughly each week this fall to assure their survival next spring. If they don’t absorb sufficient water this fall, they are likely to experience bark splitting or winter dieback in the spring.
    Woody plants absorb most of their water for winter survival during September and October. If there is insufficient water beneath the bark and near the roots, the bark facing south will likely split or flake off. You need to make certain that the soil surrounding the roots is moist before the ground freezes. Wet soils freeze slower than dry soils, and woody trees and shrubs can absorb water from the soil until the ground freezes. Wet soils don’t freeze as deep as dry soils. So don’t stop watering now.


What to Do When No Grass Grows

Q    Eight days ago, lawn thatched, I aerated, put down lime, fertilizer, fescue seed and straw on bare spots.
    Now, no sign of grass growth.
    Is it too late to scratch what seems to be impacted soil and reseed? We have some 70- to 80-degree weather coming up. But I will be gone next weekend, so watering each day would be a problem.
    I have worked hard and long. My stomach dropped at not seeing new grass come up! How can I save it? Or do I chalk it up, $200 down the drain, as another learning experience and do nothing until next fall?

–Ruth Gross, Bowie

A    If you can’t push a shovel into the soil to a depth of four inches, it means that the soil is too compacted to grow grass. If you can push a shovel into the soil, cover the area with an inch-thick layer of Leafgro and spade it lightly into the upper inch of soil. Then spread new seed evenly over the soil, and rake the seed into the compost-amended soil. Water well: until you see standing water on the surface. Now spread a thin layer of straw over the area. The compost blended with the soil will keep the soil moist for up to four days while you are gone, allowing the seeds to germinate and grass to grow.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Give your tackle a good cleaning

As much as we hate to admit it, this year’s fishing season is winding down. It’s suddenly colder, a lot colder than just a half-month ago. Fall’s remaining weeks will be punctuated by periods of frustrating, unfishable, windy weather. However this forced downtime can give the wise angler a head start on winterizing tackle.
    Looking about my study, cluttered haphazardly with an embarrassing number of rods and reels, I see that their once clean and glistening finishes have been overcome by the dull sheen of salt evaporation and fish slime. A few of the outfits have collected samples of amorphous unknown substances.
    Even rigs that I use until winter puts a full stop to fishing need a little maintenance during breezy periods. Renewing reel lubricants and checking drag smoothness can have critical impact in the remaining season, as the possibility of hooking a big fish that will test every aspect of your tackle is never better than at this time of year.
    Over my many seasons, I’ve discovered it’s best to begin the fall maintenance effort by giving everything an outside shower. I start by lining up every rod and reel I’ve used against my front porch and rinsing them with a soft spray from the garden hose, followed by a general soap-and-water scrubbing, then another gentle rinse.
    The rest of winterizing can be done in stages.
    After the general cleaning, use a stiff toothbrush or car-detailing brush dipped in a strong detergent (no abrasives, please) on the more stubborn areas of dirt accumulation.
    Next focus on each rod’s guide to ensure it is clean and has not been damaged. A cracked guide ring that can be hard to see will shred a line faster than a barnacle-coated piling.
    The best test for guide-ring integrity is pulling a short section of fabric cut from pantyhose through the ring. Any defect is snagged by its fine mesh. A damaged guide should be replaced ASAP; it cannot be repaired, and continuing to use a rod with a bad guide is a recipe for angling disaster.
    Then go over all of the rods’ reel seats, first removing the reel, then scrubbing the seat and its locking mechanism and giving it a good application of heavy-duty silicone. Don’t use grease; it will attract and hold dust and dirt.
    Wipe off each reel with a rag moistened with WD-40 as it’s a great solvent, then give it a light coat of silicone as well. Soak down the mono and braid on your reels with a line conditioner, a great antidote for the salt accumulated over the season. If you don’t use a conditioner, that salt will continue to suck the softeners and lubricants out of the line over winter.
    Next, scrub all cork rod handles with a wet sponge or rag (but never a brush) generously anointed with an abrasive cleanser. Rinse them well. When they are thoroughly dry, go over them with pure neatsfoot oil. That will repair the past season’s exposure damage and keep the cork young over the coming winter months.
    Finally, dress the male ferrules on any multi-piece rod by rubbing them with candle wax or paraffin. Thus treated, the sections will never stick together and won’t separate while fishing. Additionally, the thin wax coating will minimize ferrule wear.
    If you subsequently find that you have the need to use an outfit that you’ve already winterized, just think of it as a lucky break. You’re lucky to have another chance to fish again this season and lucky in the knowledge that your tackle is in first-rate condition and up to any challenge the fall finale might bring.

Reluctant osprey still have several weeks to enjoy Chesapeake fishing

“The osprey’s back again this morning,” wrote Ron Wolfe in early October. “This one, sometimes accompanied by another, apparently failed to receive the fall migration memo,” Wolfe, a fisherman, added. “I suspect it’s part of this year’s hatch and doesn’t want to leave the only home it knows.”
    Not to worry, advises Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Dave Brinker. “Birds are like people,” Brinker told Bay Weekly. “Some leave early, some leave late.
    “It really hasn’t gotten cool enough for most birds to start moving just yet,” he explained, noting that in the last week of September, “I saw osprey in New York, all the way up to Maine,” where he is banding saw-whet owls.
    “When the water temperature begins to cool, the fish are less active. Once the food source is hard to find, the birds will move on.
    So, Brinker concluded, “This bird hasn’t missed the boat just yet.”
    Compare previous years’ osprey migration patterns in ornithologist Rob Bierregaard’s long-term studies at www.opsreytrax.com.

So far, it’s just a surmise

Could it be pilot whales?    
    What was Clara Gouin’s surmise as she made quick assessment of the marine pod swimming beneath the Chesapeake Bay Bridge just as she and Bay Gardener Dr. Francis Gouin crossed by truck above.
    “Driving over the Bay Bridge at 50 miles an hour, you don’t have a lot of time,” she said. “But looking straight down, I saw these large, dark shapes, at least 10 feet long, maybe more, with big blunt heads like whales, very dark, all under water. I saw their outlines, their shadows.”
    One was particularly well defined. “It was quite large and had huge pectoral flippers on each side, and it was paddling, using them in synchrony, at right angles.”
    Awed at a sight “I’ve never been privileged to see,” Gouin checked out the possibilities.
    Researching whales, she learned that pilots are a type of dolphin, thus cousins to the bottlenose dolphins that frequented the Chesapeake this year. Just this weekend — two days after Gouin’s sighting — two separate dolphin sightings were reported in the Rhode River, reports West-Rhode Riverkeeper Jeff Holland.
    Pilot whales leap like the now familiar bottlenose dolphins. But Gouin saw no leaping or dorsal fin showing.
    “I thought it could be dolphins,” Gouin said, but the silhouette was wrong, “too big and too dark.
    “I thought it could be manatees,” she said, but they, too, are smaller and usually solitary when they visit the Chesapeake.
    Whales seemed to fit the bill.
    Nonetheless, Gouin doubted herself. “I didn’t recall any visits by pilot whales,” she said, “but I noted online that they occasional do go into shallow bays as far north as Cape Cod.”
    Gouin also knew that humpbacks may be seen into the mouth of the Chesapeake
    Turning to experts at Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network got Gouin no closer to a reliable identification. But her report has passed up the ladder to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, which manages live sighting reports, as a possible sighting.
    Could there be pilot whales in the Chesapeake?
    “It could be,” said the Network’s Amanda Weschler, but no sightings had been reported.
    Tell us your experiences at ­editor@bayweekly.com.

Sightings up in warmer weather

Chesapeake Bay sees many migratory visitors, among them Canada geese, tundra swans and rockfish. The list occasionally includes Florida manatees. Colder waters generally keep the species south of us; most venture no farther than South Carolina or Georgia. But some males looking to expand their range can end up as far north as New England.
    “They start their migration in early spring and generally return to Florida in the fall when falling temperatures bring them back,” says Katie Tripp, director of Science and Conservation at the Save the Manatee Club in Florida.
    Many manatees have preferred habitats and will return to the same places year after year.
    In 1994, Chessie the wandering manatee called in many local ports. Newspapers and television recorded Chessie’s amblings. But cooling waters sent chills down the spines of manatee watchers who, fearing the object of their affections might succumb to hypothermia, set out on a Bay-wide chase. An elusive Chessie was at last caught, tranquilized and flown to the warmer Florida waters manatees are supposed to frequent. Apparently the grasses were greener in the Chesapeake. Chessie returned, visiting briefly in 1995 and reportedly again in 1996.
    “Since the early 1990s, there have been over 25 manatee sightings in Maryland,” reports Amanda Weschler, Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Coordinator for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Sightings are typically made by boaters or citizens on land near the water with photographic confirmation.
    Many more may have visited unseen.
    “They’re large, slow-moving animals, and they don’t breach the water like dolphins or whales, so a lot of the time they don’t get noticed,” says Cindy Driscoll, Maryland Department of Natural Resources State Fish & Wildlife Veterinarian.
    Most visiting manatees are behaving normally, feeding and swimming, and don’t need help returning to Florida. Occasionally, a manatee that is injured, sick or a little lost needs help.
    “The best thing to do if you spot a manatee in the Bay is to call 800-628-9944. That’s the Natural Resources Police number, and they will direct your call to the best responder, depending on the situation,” Driscoll advises.
    The National Aquarium in Baltimore responds when a live marine mammal, including a manatee, needs rescue. Maryland Department of Natural Resources responds to dead marine mammals and sea turtles.


Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

For my youngest’s 24th, a hard-fighting false ­albacore

It has been quite a while since I heard a reel drag shriek. I had to go to Florida to hear it — not once but three times in minutes.
    My youngest son, Rob, was holding the protesting rig as a powerful fish departed at speed. Harrison, my next oldest at 27, was live-lining a small pilchard farther down the pier when his reel also began to wail as line ripped off the spool.
    Their friend Matt then joined in the cacophony. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his rod jerk down and the reel spool turn into a blur accompanied by another high-pitched drag howl.
    False albacore (average weight eight pounds) are one of the fastest fish in the sea at 40 knots. The boys were getting first-hand knowledge of just how speedy and powerful they can be. A first run in excess of 100 yards is about average on light tackle for this most numerous member of the tuna family.
    At the end of that run they’ve broken off, slipped the hook or paused, momentarily, to wonder where the rest of the school has gotten. That’s not the end of the fight, merely the beginning.
    The fact that all three of my party had hooked up, almost simultaneously, on that Florida fishing pier had nothing to do with my guidance, unless you count selecting the right mentor.
    The most convenient location to fish saltwater around Delray Beach, Florida — where my youngest is living and Harrison and I were visiting — was a long public fishing pier projecting into the ocean along the sandy eastern Florida shoreline.
    I had little firsthand knowledge of the local fishing. That was supplied by Vinny Keitt, a dedicated Florida pier angler who has been teaching the intricacies of that form for almost 30 years. Vinny is a giant of a man. Six and a half feet tall and broad, he presented an imposing figure strolling onto the pier, pulling a custom flatbed with rods, reels, gear and coolers.
    Greeting him was every person on the fairly crowded pier, from 12-year-olds fishing worn family spin tackle to everyday anglers to knowing sports wielding custom-made graphite rods rigged with Van Staals and high-end Shimanos. A well-dressed middle-aged woman proffered a sizeable king mackerel by its tail and exclaimed, “Look, Vinny, just like you taught me!”
    Soft-spoken and with a seasoned teacher’s manner, Vinny, selected a light spin rod rigged with a sabiki — six tiny hooks dressed with white feathers and a one-ounce sinker. Within a few seconds, he reeled back up the rig now wriggling with three or four small pilchard baitfish that had latched on below.
    He then placed a pilchard, nose-hooked and weightless, onto each of our medium spin rods, tossed the baits out and handed us the outfits with a few concise instructions. Within a very short time, each angler was struggling with a two- to three-pound blue runner, a hard-fighting fish of the jack family.
    The bite escalated from there, culminating an hour later in our hookups with the false albacore plus an awesome jump from a 60-pound tarpon before it spit Harrison’s hook.

You’ll enjoy the best flavor and pound out your aggression

The best sauerkraut is made from freshly harvested cabbage grown during the fall months. I make about 20 pounds of sauerkraut every two to three years and store it in canning jars.
    Choose cabbages that form tight dense heads and can be uniformly shredded into pieces approximately one-eighth of an inch thin. I prefer Flat Head Dutch be­cause the tight, dense heads can easily be shredded. Heads can weigh five pounds or more.
    For best flavor, pack and shred cabbage the day it’s harvested from your garden or at your farmers market.
    I make my sauerkraut in a stone crock because it can withstand the heavy pounding required to crush the cells of the shredded cabbage. Alternatives are stainless steel pails or food-grade five-gallon plastic buckets. For the latter, place a wooden disc the diameter of the bucket under it to prevent bouncing.
    A shredding board is a good tool because it has at least three cutting blades that shred the cabbage. For many years I shredded the cabbage with a very sharp chef’s knife, but I did not have the uniformity that I get from a shredding board.
    Peel away all loose leaves until the outer leaves are firmly attached to the head. Wash the cabbage under cold water and pat dry with a clean towel. Shred a three-inch layer of cabbage into the container and sprinkle with a tablespoon of salt. For every five pounds of shredded cabbage, add three tablespoon of canning salt. Kosher salt is ideal.
    With a clean sauerkraut pounder or a wooden dowel two to three inches in diameter, pound cabbage and salt until you start hearing a squishing sound. Add another layer of cabbage and salt and repeat the pounding. By the time you have pounded half of the shredded cabbage, you should have cabbage juice surfacing. If not, keep pounding until juice becomes visible.
    Continue until you have used all of the cabbage or your container is within four inches from the rim. Cabbage juice should cover the top layer of shredded cabbage.
    Place a dinner plate on the shredded cabbage and juice to direct the fermentation gasses to the outside edge of the container. Cover the dinner plate with a water lock made from a two- or three-gallon plastic zipper bag half filled with water. Seal the bag and place it over the plate; this will allow the fermenting gasses to escape but keep air out.
    Store in a cool dry place for six to eight weeks. The longer you allow it to ferment, the whiter the sauerkraut.
    On removing the water lock and plate, you will find a discolored surface layer. Using a large serving spoon, skim and discard this layer, rinsing the spoon in clean water after each scraping.
    Freeze your sauerkraut in plastic zipper bags or can it in in sterilized glass jars submerged in boiling water for 10 minutes.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

And how did it come to be?

And how did it come to be?
The Appalachian Trail, a 2,190-mile route that stretches from Georgia to Maine, was proposed in 1920 by Brenton MacKaye. Acquiring and protecting the land took decades of cooperation and political and private negotiations. The trail was mostly completed by 1937, but not federally protected until 1968. Only in 2014 was the last part of the route protected.
    The trail is part of the National Parks System and travels through many tracts of federal and state-controlled land, but many parts of the corridor cross over or near privately owned lands.
    “The process of completing the trail has relied on many factors, particularly when it comes to land usage rights,” explains Jordan Bowman of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
    Care of the Appalachian Trail falls under the National Parks System, but the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, located in Harpers Ferry, WV, oversees and coordinates maintenance, protection and promotion of the trail. Much of the day-to-day maintenance and construction is done by the 31 Appalachian Trail Communities. In addition to the trail itself, regional groups also maintain and rent the cabins and shelters that line the route.
    The Potomac Appalachian Trail Community oversees a portion of the trail that begins in central Pennsylvania at Pine Grove Furnace, continues through Maryland and West Virginia to Harpers Ferry and extends into the mid-point of Virginia, including Shenandoah National Park.
    The trail is visited by approximately three million people a year
    “In 2015, 916 individuals reported that they had completed the entire trail, including 158 who completed their hikes over multiple years,” Bowman says.
    The most popular parts of the trail coincide with the beginning, Springer Mountain in Georgia, and end, Katahdin in Maine, and portions that go through national or state parks.
    “The vast majority of visitors are not thru-hikers, but those who instead spend anywhere from an afternoon to a few weeks on the trail. That’s one of the great things about the trail,” Bowman says. “Since it crosses over or near many roads and connects with many other trails, it is easy to find a hike that is as short — or as long — as you want it to be.”


Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

Credit our summer rain

Composting is a science nature has been using since the earth was created. It has only been in the last five decades that we have begun to understand what it does and how. I remain constantly amazed that such a simple process can be so complex. Understanding the pro­cess is the key to producing a quality compost that will benefit the soil in your garden in numerous ways.
    If you make your compost in open bins, you have no doubt made your best compost ever. The compost bins that I filled with last fall’s leaves and on-going vegetable waste from the garden and the kitchen is ready to use. Vegetable kitchen waste added to the compost the last week in July decomposed in less than two weeks.
    Credit the abundance of rain in June and July.
    I make it a practice to wet down my compost bins weekly during the spring and summer, but the downpours did a better job of keeping the composting piles wet than we can.
    In mid-June, I shoveled the composting waste from a large bin into a medium bin, filling it to the brim. By the first week in August, the medium bin had already shrunk to half the volume.
    This rapid rate of decomposition is a prime example of the importance in keeping decomposing organic waste moist. While the composting piles were shrinking rapidly, I measured temperatures of 140 degrees and above. This is an ideal temperature for composting, generating a final product that is nearly free of weed seeds and disease-causing organisms. As the composting materials began to cool in late July, the beneficial organisms that are accumulated on the surface enter the pile.
    When temperatures in the compost are close to the temperature of ambient air, the compost is not capable of providing nutrients because they are being absorbed by organisms active in composting. Most of the nutrients from the compost are not released until those organisms start dying out.


Beware the Harlequin Beetle

    With temperatures in the 90s, weather conditions have been perfect for the harlequin beetle to reproduce and attack plants in the vegetable garden. Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and even horseradish plants have been its prime source of food. This hungry, colorful insect can vary in size from the head of a straight pin to slightly larger than a pencil eraser. It actively feeds all day and lays its eggs in the fold of leaves. Any insect that can devour the leaves of a healthy planting of horseradish in a matter of weeks demands immediate attention. Garden books recommend controlling them by hand-picking, but 39-plus days of 90-degree temperature must have shifted their reproductive capability into high gear, because large colonies of pin-sized hatchlings seem to appear daily.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.