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Design your vegetable garden for trickle irrigation

You can reduce the amount of water you use for your vegetable garden by 70 percent and count on a bountiful harvest. If you lay out your garden in rows, trickle irrigation can make a world of difference.
    Its virtues are many. You irrigate only the rows you plant — not between the rows where the weeds grow. The trickle of water also carries water-soluble fertilizer to the roots of desirable plants; again, the weeds get none. Because water is applied slowly in drops directly on the soil, there is no water loss to the atmosphere by evaporation. Because the foliage of plants remains dry, there are fewer problems with disease. Weeds are less a problem when the soil between the rows remains dry.
    Follow the rules and it will work for you.
    You’ll need a real trickle hose. A soaker hose isn’t good enough. Water weeps out from around the entire surface of the hose, which is made of recycled ground rubber tires. The trickle hose has pinholes every six to 12 inches, and they are laid face down so the water goes directly into the ground and does not evaporate.
    I recommend drip tape for your trickle hose. No working length can be longer than 300 feet. The rows in your garden need to be level or nearly level. Water must be clean and free of particles running at a minimum pressure of 10 PSI (pounds per square inch). Well water is safe to use, but surface water from ponds or streams must be filtered to remove solids.

Supplies First
    Trickle irrigation supplies are not available from local suppliers, garden centers or farm supply dealers. I buy mine from Farm Tek. As drip tape is sold only in 1,000-foot spools, you might consider encouraging friends or neighbors to join you in ordering.
    Streamline 636 drip tape (110742) is made of eight-millimeter black polyethylene with drip holes spaced 12 inches apart.
    For each row, you will also need a twist lock that attaches the drip tape to the water supply. I use the 110736 twist lock. Consider the 110740 twist lock with a valve should you wish to shut off lines not in use.
    To insert the twist lock into the water supply line, I recommend purchasing the 110746 8-mm punch. Purchase a small supply of 110738 twist lock couplings in case you damage a drip tape or wish to extend a line.
    You’ll also need a garden hose, three-quarter-inch black plastic pipe and adapters, all available at your local hardware store. To determine the amount of black plastic pipe needed, measure the length of the garden hose that will be supplying water. You’ll also need a three-quarter-inch garden hose, an H-adapter for every supply line, as well as one three-quarter-inch end plug and clamp.

Installation
    For uniform watering, lay your drip tape as level as you can in the rows soon after seeding or transplanting. I hand-water transplants first to firm the soil around the roots before installing the drip tape. The drip holes should be in contact with the soil.
    Cut the drip tape two feet longer than the row, knot it at the farther end and bury that end to prevent wind movement. If the drip tape is being laid on a warm, sunny day, allow slack because it will contract as it cools.
    The three-quarter-inch black pipe water supply line should first be laid in the sun to warm and make it straight since it comes in coils.
    While the black polyethylene pipe is warm, use the 8-mm punch to make a hole in the pipe and insert the twist lock. Unscrew the open end of the twist lock and insert it into the end of the drip tape. Insert the end plug and attach with a clamp at one end of the water supply line and the female hose adapter and clamp at the opposite hose end.
    To make a single drip tape line, you’ll need only one half-inch female hose adapter, which attaches to a length of drip tape with a pipe clamp. Additional rows and lines to irrigate them each need a twist lock. They should all be installed in a straight line on the water supply line.
    You may also need more than one water supply line, depending on the scope of your garden.
    I rotate crops every year, so I have three different water supply lines of different length. The water line that supplies water to my corn patch is designed with a row spacing of two and a half feet. For all other crops, I use three-foot row spacing.
    With proper care, both drip tape and water supply lines can be used for many years. Use care with cultivating and hoeing so as not to cut the drip tape. (Damaged Drip Tape can be mended by using twist lock coupling 110738.) Store the lines in a shed or garage when not in use.

Using Your System
    Water is applied in drops under the drip tape, but capillary action will eventually create a band of moist soil from 10 to 18 inches wide under the surface of the soil. Enough water must be applied to penetrate to a depth of six inches before the flow is turned off.
    With this system, the irrigation needs of most vegetable gardens vary from once to twice weekly, depending on heat and wind. Turn on the water before plants wilt.
    When starting to irrigate, turn water on at full capacity and operate the valve at full capacity until all of the drip tapes have been filled and are dripping water. Next, lower the volume of water until the drip tapes at the highest point on the water supply lines begin to have reduced pressure. At this point, if you gently press the drip tape near the water line, it will collapse. Wait a minute or so until all drip tapes appear to be less turgid before walking away.
    Operate the system for at least four hours in sandy soils and six hours in heavy soils.
    By lowering the volume of water entering the supply lines, you are essentially lowering the pressure. The pressure will vary if you are on well water, but the variation will not seriously affect the flow of water through the drip tape.
    To maximize space and use of water, I sow parsnips, carrots, beets and lettuce in double rows 12 inches apart with the drip tape between the rows. I grow my sweet corn in blocks of five rows two and a half feet apart, sowing seeds six to eight inches apart in short rows 10 to 12 feet long. I fold the drip tape at the end of each row immediately after sowing so I am not wasting water by irrigating ground that I have not sown. I use the same method when sowing snap beans.
    When lifting the Drip Tape after the crop has been harvested, try not to stretch it. For storage, I fold it like an accordion and tie with cotton string. When preparing to reuse the drip tape, remove an inch before attaching it to the water supply.

Trophy-size fish arriving daily

Very large migratory stripers are arriving in the mid-Bay, setting the scene for the opening of Trophy Rockfish Season in just two weeks. Big-fish anglers — sports who are willing to spend 10 frigid hours or more at a stretch jigging for a single photo op with just one enormous cow — are posting pics of multiple big fish caught and released from The Rips at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant up to the warm water discharge at the mouth of the Patapsco.
    Despite grim news last year from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission of a 25 percent decline in overall striped bass stocks, the Chesapeake, especially the mid-Bay, experienced a striper-fishing bonanza last season. Devoted fishers are hoping for a repeat this year.
    Scuttlebutt overheard from commercial netters over the winter indicates an unusually big population of larger-than-average fish holding on wintering grounds in the mid-Bay. We are all hoping these fish will remain with us, especially at the beginning of the season.
    Two weeks from now, we’ll get on the water officially and settle all the conjecture. Finally, the cold we’ve complained about the last two months will be working in our favor. There’s a better than good chance that the low temps have delayed this season’s spawn, which will in turn keep more big fish in the area longer.
    Early on, big trolling lures such as parachutes with nine- to 12-inch soft shad in the traditional colors of white, yellow and chartreuse, will compete with the more trendy hues like John Deere green, sparkle purple and jet black. Whatever the color, the big rigs should be dragged to tempt the giants.
    Umbrellas, chandeliers and other multiple-lure setups that create lots of water noise and disturbance to attract big fish remain popular — and work well. Big fish? Big bait. The old mantra is as true today as ever.
    The best areas to troll this time of year are the deep-water channels that the migrating stripers tend to use (the tides are stronger) to come up the Bay (usually on the eastern side) and to leave (usually on the western side). Of course, choosing which side to fish is not so simple when you also have to take into account wind direction, forage fish location, time of year, time of day and boat traffic. The only rules that don’t change are to fish the warmer top 15 feet of the water column (unless there’s heavy boat traffic, then fish deep) and always plot a zigzag course to cover more water.
    Chumming with bait fishing was once uncommon during the trophy season but is gaining adherents every year. One reason is that it lets anglers tangle with really big fish using lighter tackle. Another reason is it has been surprisingly effective
    Most boat anglers fish the channel edges and set their baits (fresh menhaden is best) on the bottom. Others will fish some of their baits shallow, under floats, or at intermediate depths with little weight. There is a strong belief that stripers found up off of the bottom in springtime are traveling and not eating. But you can never tell.
    Quite a fishery has also evolved over the last few years off of the beaches of Sandy Point and the pier at Matapeake State Park, where anglers using bloodworms and fishing long surf rods to get their baits out away from the shoreline have been scoring great catches (for release) from mid-March through mid-April, especially before dawn and after dark. The opening of trophy season means they’ll finally be able to keep one fish if it’s over 28 inches.
    The most important aspect of both chumming and bait fishing from shore is using circle hooks. The odds of catching a throwback (under 28 inches) are very great this time of year. Half of all released deep-hooked fish of any size die within two hours, an extensive DNR study has found. Every angler should use circle hooks to keep from gut-hooking these fish.

Shop New American Beagle ­Outfitters

Do you look like your dog?    
    Do you want to?
    French bulldogs, hairless Chinese cresteds, pugs and chugs may give their human companions second thoughts on cultivating the legendary cross-species resemblance.
    Dressing like your dog, and vice versa, may be a better option. That’s the apparent thinking behind American Beagle, the dress-alike campaign debuted this month by American Eagle Outfitters, the niche retailer of casual clothing for the 15- to 25-year-olds.
    “Your dog’s style is another form of expressing your own, and we are thrilled to bring American Eagle fashionable looks to our pups with the debut of American Beagle Outfitters,” American Eagle style director Preston Konrad was quoted as saying in a March 24 press release.
    American Beagle collection was released online modeled by 16 dogs in sizes small, medium and large. Styles are geared to men and women who are invited to “shop this look” to find matching human clothes.
    Beguiled shoppers awaiting the spring debut are invited “to sign up for the waitlist and receive 20 percent off American Eagle purchases, with $1 per order benefitting the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.”
    Viewers can also “show off your own #AEOstyle,” posting pictures of their dressed up dogs.
    An accompanying “dogumentary captures the inspiring journey of the doggy-human clothing line from ideation to creation.”
    See for yourself at www.ae.com/dogs.
    Or it is a mocumentary?
    Neither American Eagle nor American Beagle Outfitters returned Bay Weekly inquires about the new collection. Buzzfeed couldn’t get confirmation either.
    “New American Beagle Outfitters line is probably an April Fool’s joke,” reports The Consumerist, a blog overseen by Consumer Reports.
    Too bad for you, but your dog’s rejoicing.

Add soil-testing to your spring chores

High winds have cluttered lawns and gardens with branches and debris. Rake thoroughly to remove anything that might be propelled into the air by a fast-spinning lawnmower blade. Don’t add yourself, your pets or your windows to the statistics of lawnmower injuries.
    While you have the lawnmower in operation, raise its deck to four inches and push it through the flower garden. This is a great way of pruning the top of the perennials and annuals and pulverizing them into mulch. This natural mulch will not suffocate the roots. Leave the stems of annuals in place to help maintain the mulch. Both stems and roots of annuals will contribute organic matter to the soil.
    This is a great time of year to prune the buddleia to the ground. Don’t be afraid. Butterfly bush is nearly impossible to kill. I have seen it grow in thatch roof on houses in England.
    Spring is also time to divide perennials that are becoming crowded. I like using a Japanese gardeners’ knife or a hatchet with a hammer to divide perennials with crowns that are difficult to pull apart by hand. Use the knife or hatchet to divide the top of the crowns down to the roots, then pull the roots apart. This method helps you recover a greater portion of the roots. If you are dividing a large clump, discard the center portion, which is generally the oldest and the most susceptible to rot.
    Clumps of ornamental grasses also need dividing. The center of large ornamental grasses tends to die out, resulting in a donut appearance. Before digging the clump, use your power hedge clipper to prune back the top. You can make the top into mulch by cutting the stems into four- to six-inch lengths and letting them lie. Cut the stems as close to the ground as possible, and don’t worry about cutting a few new green shoots.
    Root-prune the clump close to the outer edge by sticking the blade of a sharp shovel perpendicular to the ground and pushing until its top is flush with the ground. Repeat this step around the entire clump. Dig a ditch around one-half the circumference of the clump before trying to wedge the root ball from the opposite side of the ditch. With the root-ball above ground, use an ax and a sledgehammer to divide the clump into smaller clumps four to six inches in diameter, saving only those divisions along the outer edge. Discard all crowns close to the center of the clump. These are the oldest crowns and prone to rot.
    If you are a friend of the Bay, want to save money and desire the best lawn and garden ever, have your soil tested. If you have been fertilizing your lawn and garden year after year and/or have not applied lime, there is a good possibility that you could have problems. Excess levels of phosphorus in the soil cause nutritional problems. Your soil may be too acid to grow plants efficiently. Or the organic matter in your garden soil could be too low.
    Only a soil test will give you the information to correct the problem and help you become a better gardener. Go to www.al-labs-eastern.com and follow the instructions. If you would like the Bay Gardener to review the test results, include my name and email, dr.frgouin@gmail.com, and they will send me your results.
    Do not include a crop on your form, which will save you a few dollars. But I will need to know what you are growing to make the proper recommendations, so e-mail me crop information separately. I do not charge Bay Weekly readers for my recommendations.

I went 1,000 miles for this catch

By the time I got the 20-pound-class rod out of its holder, our mate was urging me to reel and reel fast. A fish had just taken a live herring bait, throwing lots of slack into the line. Winding madly, I eventually felt some tension. When the line came tight, I set the hook hard. That might have been a mistake.
    My rod jerked down, and the spool blurred as something strong tore out line against a firmly set drag. The centrifugal force created by the whirling spool threw out a wet mist dense enough to cloud my sunglasses. Some 150 yards away, an iridescent royal blue and silver missile launched out across the water’s surface. Voices behind me yelled sailfish, sailfish!
    I could do little but watch my line disappear. Large ocean swells generated by stiff overnight winds rocked our 42-foot sportfisherman, and I wedged my feet into the deck and leaned into the gunnels for stability. It was a sunny 80-degree morning and we were already having an awesome day.

Miami, Yes!
    Florida in March has some great angling. The weather can be wet and windy, but temperatures are in the 80s.
    My oldest son and I were on the first day of a week-long adventure exploring Miami waters. This was our first stop, blue-water action for billfish and dolphinfish.
    We and another father-son team, Allen and Chris Young, had chartered a day with Captain Jim Thomas and his brother Rick on their classic 42-foot sportfisherman, the Thomas Flyer out of Bayside Marina in the heart of Miami.
    The Gulf Stream — that incredibly fertile warm ocean current that runs north from the Gulf of Mexico up along the Atlantic coast all the way to Newfoundland and then to Europe — comes within two miles of the Miami coast. With it comes one of the greatest densities of pelagic (off-shore, surface-dwelling) game fish in the world.

Back to That Sailfish    
    It took more than 20 minutes to persuade my sailfish to the side of the boat. Wrapping the leader in his gloved hand, Rick leaned over the side and planted a tag in the fish alongside its large, graceful fin, then clipped the line close to the hook. With a sweep of its scimitar tail, the handsome fish vanished back into the deep blue.
    That was the third sailfish of the day, with more to come including one big fella of over 60 pounds that had Allen down to bare spool twice before we chased it down. The smallest that day was maybe 40 pounds.
    Interspersed with the sailfish were schools of hungry dolphinfish (mahi mahi) to 15 pounds.
    With a final tally of some five sails, all tagged and released, and almost two dozen delicious mahi marked for some serious dinner parties, we headed for the marina.
    Later that week my son and I would hook up with a Florida legend, guide and author Steve Kantner, who came out of semi-retirement to acquaint us with Florida’s springtime spinner shark run. Fishing 10- and 12-foot surf rods with our feet in the warm, sandy beach, we tangled with over a dozen of the 90- to 120-pounders in a long afternoon of excitement.
    The last day was spent stalking Miami’s freshwater canals for their famed peacock bass with longtime guide Alan Zaremba from his 17-foot Florida flats boat. The fish were in spawning mode and attacking anything that approached their nesting sites. Sight casting and pitching small jigs, we lost count of the numbers that we battled.
    Two days later, arriving back at home, mild 50-degree temperatures greeted us. But as we awaited our baggage, a weather broadcast warned of another snowstorm coming to Maryland.

To recover from cold weather and salt, your landscape needs TLC

It’s been a hard winter for plants as well as for us. Damage to landscapes reminds me of the winter of 1976-’77, when the Bay froze as far south as Norfolk. Compounding problems are the tons of salt and chemicals used on roads, sidewalks and driveways. On state highways alone, 480,000 tons of salt were spread this winter, more than double average usage over the past four years.
    Everywhere you look, you’ll see symptoms of winter injury to plants. The foliage of many ground cover plants such as liriope, pachysandra, St. John’s wort and creeping junipers is brown and brittle.  Many azaleas, Japanese hollies and camellias have dead branches, and many small flowering trees have broken branches from the weight of the snow and ice.
    Most of the ornamental plants used in landscaping are survivors. With patience and time, they will recover and resume growth come spring — providing their roots were not killed by low temperatures.
    Roots are not as cold-hardy as the aboveground stems and leaves. If the majority of the roots are growing in mulch as a result of over-mulching, it is highly possible that the roots died in killing temperatures of –4 degrees. If the majority of the roots were killed, the entire foliage of the affected plants will gradually turn brown as daily temperatures rise. The only solution is to wait and see. If half or more of the plant dies, it means replacing and avoiding future over-mulching.
    For injured ground cover, the best solution is to adjust the cutting height of your lawn mower to about three inches and mow the tops down so they won’t look so conspicuous. Most likely the roots of these ground covers have survived and the new growth will emerge form the crowns or rhizomes. Dead branches in juniper ground cover will have to be pruned away one dead branch at a time. Junipers are conifers and cannot rejuvenate unless there are live green or gray-green needles firmly attached to the stems.  If the entire plant appears dead, then the only choice is to replace it.
    Dead branches on azaleas, rhododendrons and Japanese hollies need to be pruned back to a main stem or branch that is alive. If the entire stem is dead, cut it within a few inches of the ground. If the root system is alive, these plants can regenerate from the stumps on stems smaller than one inch in diameter.  Recovery will be slow, however, and it may be best to replace the plant.
    Do not try to bolt together broken branches on trees and large shrubs. This will only result in rot problems in the future because the sapwood has already been exposed to rot-causing organisms. Bolted together, they will rot from the inside out. Broken branches should be pruned to a healthy stem with the cut made perpendicular to the broken branch. Never make a flush cut with the stem. If the bark on the stem has been damaged, use a sharp knife or chisel to smooth the bark and exposed sapwood so as to promote the growth of callus tissue. Do not paint with tree-wound dressing.
    Damaged grass and plants along sidewalks or driveways may be dead. Do not fertilize as this will only contribute to the salt problem. The best solution is dilution. Spade a one-inch layer of peat moss with a dusting of limestone into the affected layer to dilute the salt concentration to a tolerable level. During the growing season, the sodium concentration will be further reduced by leaching.

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

Or two ... Or three.

The single best general-purpose fishing rod for Chesapeake perch is a six-foot-six-inch medium-power, medium-light-action spinning rod rated to cast one-eighth to one-half ounces of weight. Arm that with a light, good-quality spin reel that can carry approximately 100 to 125 yards of six-pound-test monofilament or an equal amount of eight- to 12-pound braid. That’s a great perch stick.
    This outfit can easily cast lip-hooked minnows or grass shrimp on a small shad dart suspended under a weighted bobber. This bobber and dart rig is right for the spring runs of both yellow and white perch. It’s also the traditional setup for most perch fishing in shallower Bay and tributary water the rest of the year.
    The tackle is likewise robust enough for deeper waters in the summer with a hi-lo rig with No. 2 or No. 4 hooks, a one-ounce sinker and blood worms, grass shrimp or — better yet — small pieces of peeler crab. Using the ultra-thin braided line to get deeper easier is the most productive technique in hot weather months when the fish are schooled in 15 to 30 feet of water throughout the Bay. In this deeper water, you’ll generally be fishing over shell bottom.
    That one setup will generally get the job done just about anywhere on the Chesapeake. Still, many dedicated perch anglers prefer very different tackle. One of my favorite outfits is designed for throwing small spinner baits around jetties and piers. It’s a short five-foot-four-inch extra-fast-action spin rod with an all-cork handle rather than a screw-type reel seat.
    The thick cork handle is especially comfortable to hold, even when wet, and the shorter rod allows me to shoot flat, underhand casts beneath docks and piers to reach the shaded areas that white perch love during the daytime.
    The setup is also ideal for working shoreline in the early morning when distinct shadows cast by overhanging trees tend to concentrate fish seeking shelter from the rising sun. In spring fishing on small creeks, the short rod also avoids overhead foliage and allows an angler to drop a bait precisely into very small openings.
    I fish strictly four-pound-test mono on this outfit for its stealth factor and the challenge of handling bigger fish. To tempt strikes, I rely on one-sixth- to one-quarter-ounce Super Rooster Tail spinner baits in Clown Coach Dog and Chartreuse Coach Dog colors. The short rod accentuates the stubborn fight perch give when the tackle is matched to their size. The extremely light setup makes an all-day casting marathon much easier on the arm.
    When I want to target citation-sized whities that hold on structure in the shallows starting in early June, I will often go to a seven-foot, light-action finesse casting rod with a Chronarch 50e reel spooled with 10-pound Super Slick Power Pro and a six-pound fluoro leader. With this rig, I can stand off at a distance to avoid spooking the older, smarter fish (a 12-inch perch is often 10 years old) and throw quarter-ounce Rat-L-Traps, Cordell Super Spots and No. 13 and even No. 14 Tony Accetta spoons.
    Larger perch like to key on bigger baitfish, such as young menhaden and yearling spot, so lipless crank baits like these and the Tony spoons are ideal imitations. The larger size of the lures also means you won’t waste a lot of time reeling in and releasing undersized perch because they can’t get the lure in their mouths.
    Coincidently, our Bay perch are a very under-rated fly-rod species. Try a four- to six-weight fly rod of from seven to nine feet, a floating line and throw a small Clouser Minnow in sizes 2 through 4 in just about any color, but especially chartreuse over white or olive over white. You can have a wonderful and productive day fishing the skinny water.
    Keeping a long-handled crab net on board during any of these sorties is a good idea. It’s perfect for scooping up any big perch that you hook. It also avoids the agony of losing a lunker trying to lift the fish into the boat with just the rod. It only takes the escape of one citation-sized fish to convince you of the value of this tip.
    White perch are the most numerous fish in the Bay, and Maryland anglers harvest more of them than any other species. They are superb on the table, and, if you use tackle matched to their size and strength, you can make each and every catch more memorable and a far richer sporting experience.

On lawn and garden; never in the compost pile

If you’re burning wood, you get ashes. A reader asked if he could dump his ashes in the compost pile. My answer was a resounding no.
    Wood ashes are basic in nature and contain high levels of oxides, making them very reactive in raising the pH. Composting systems perform at their best when the feedstocks — those materials that are undergoing decomposition — are slightly acid. So adding wood ashes to an active composting pile will delay and/or stop the composting process.
    Store wood ashes in covered metal containers and keep them dry. They should never be stored in an open container where they can absorb water. I can remember watching my grandmother pour dishwater over a bed of wood ashes to extract a lye solution she used to make lye-soap. (Remember the song “Grandma’s Lye Soap”?) I can also remember the strainer she used becoming very hot after the lye water had drained away.
    Wood ashes are best applied directly on the garden or on the lawn. Ashes must be cool and dry when they are applied. Ashes spread in a garden and covered with dry leaves can start fires. I know because I’ve seen it happen.
    When applying ashes on lawns with a fertilizer spreader, first screen them through a half-inch screen to remove pieces of charred or raw wood. Directly from the container, they should be spread as uniformly as possible; use a lawn rake to spread them around to avoid creating hot spots that can kill the roots of the grass. Spread the ashes on a calm day, avoid inhaling the dust and wear safety goggles to avoid eye contact.
    In general, I recommend spreading a five-gallon pail of wood ashes over 100 to 200 square feet, especially on lawns. Higher levels can be applied on garden soils that are to be rototilled.
    Wood ashes are a tremendous source of calcium, potassium and some phosphorus as well as essential trace elements. If you are using wood ashes to maintain the pH of your lawn or garden, have your soil tested to avoid excessive high soil pHs and to assure that your soils contain adequate amounts of magnesium (Mg). Wood ashes tend to be almost free of magnesium, which is essential for the manufacturing of chlorophyll in plants.
    Save some of your wood ashes to spread around the zucchini plants this summer to help in controlling the stem borer. Before the zucchini plant starts spreading, apply a thin layer about two-feet wide around each plant. It will not provide 100 percent protection, but it does reduce infections.

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

Are you listening?

If the unusually chill nights of February and early March 2014 kept you fireside, you may have missed the first peeping of spring. Last weekend’s warming temperatures opened human ears, frog throats — or both. The peepers are calling from a wetland near you. If you haven’t heard them yet, you soon will.
    Those tiny frogs are but one of our amphibian harbingers of spring. Wetlands are home to a host of frogs and toads, creatures that not only signal the welcome news of warming weather but also “act as environmental indicators for factors that could negatively impact ecosystem and human health.”
    Amphibian’s “important role in the health of ecosystems,” adds Rachel Gauza, is one good reason to join in the preservation of the creatures. For they are endangered, with “one third of the world’s amphibian species currently facing the largest mass extinction event since the dinosaurs,” said the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ education and outreach coordinator.
    As frogs and toads awaken from estivation, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ FrogWatch USA goes to work.
    With our abundant wetlands, we of Chesapeake Country are ideally positioned to join the Watch. As citizen scientists in the cause, we sharpen our ears, spend a few precious minutes listening near wetlands and report what we hear.
    You’ll register your observation site and enter data on a new web platform developed with the National Geographic Society where you can see your results alongside those of volunteers throughout the country.
    “Seeing your observations reflected online in real time and comparing them to others adds a whole new element to what was traditionally an outdoors-only program,” says Shelly Grow, the Association’s director of Conservation Programs.
    If you love what you hear, you can go further. Maryland has only three FrogWatch chapters — in Howard County, Ellicott City and Frostburg University. Anne Arundel and Calvert county are waiting for you.
    Start with learning more about FrogWatch USA at www.aza.org/frogwatch.
    Register for training at the Smithsonian National Zoo on Sunday March 16, April 6 or April 20. All training programs run from 3 to 6pm: neffm@si.edu.
    Get a preview of frog calls www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/Plants_Wildlife/herps/anura/fieldguide_OrderAnura.asp.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of fish

While it’s too cold and windy to fish, use your downtime to get ready to fish. Otherwise, you’re looking for trouble when you hit the water.
    Put fishing line first on your list. If you’re using monofilament, there is no question as to whether to replace the mono on your reel. Do it. Good monofilament can last two to three years, but even with the best of care it won’t retain 100 percent of its qualities.
    Sunlight, salt, friction and stress degrade mono beginning from the very first time you use it. Mono stretches before it breaks (often as much as 50 percent); after stretching, it does not return to the original length.

Fish-finder

Yellow perch have started up their run again after earlier efforts were halted by snow, ice and low temperatures. This time it should be for real. Try the upper Magothy, the Severn, the Choptank, Wye Mills and the mid-Patuxent. Small to medium bull minnows are the best bait, followed by grass shrimp and worms. Minimum size is nine inches; the limit is 10 fish.

    Consequently, 20-pound mono once stressed to its limits (by, say, breaking off on a snag) will no longer test full strength nor have the same shock-absorbing quality. Repeated episodes of extreme tension accumulate and can eventually cause significant degradation.
    Sunlight weakens mono, salt sucks the softening agents out and friction from the guides or dragging the line across underwater structure creates weak spots. Why risk the loss of a good fish or spoiling your first day on the water for such a minor investment? The average spin or casting reel can be respooled with fresh quality monofilament very inexpensively.
    More recently developed braided lines are much more resilient than mono and retain close to their full properties for a number of years. But they are not immune to wear. Strip off and discard the first 20 feet of braided line from each reel at the start of every year. Examine the spool closely. If you see any line fraying further down its length, consider replacing it.
    Braid is made from four to as many as eight strands of interwoven polyethylene. If any one of these strands has suffered abrasion in any particular place, your line test can be affected by as much as 25 percent, while two strands in different places reduces strength by 50 percent.
    Lines used for trolling suffer much more wear than lines on tackle used for casting, bait or bottom fishing. Dragging water-resistant bait setups such as parachutes, tandems, umbrella and chandelier rigs puts a lot of stress on the line over greater length. Add in the fact that the rods are continually flexing and the guides wearing back and forth in the same limited area over endless hours of fishing. Thus, annual replacement should be a minimum standard.
    The second show stopper for a new season is the condition of your hooks. Salt has a way of working its way into the most secure tackle box. Over the winter you may find that your hooks, especially (and perversely) those on your more expensive lures, have acquired a coating of rust.
    A rusted hook, even one lightly affected, requires exponentially more force to pierce a fish’s mouth because of its uneven surface. Removing the rust does not solve the problem; the corrosion has already pitted the steel. Unless you prefer near misses to hook-ups, replace any hook that has even a hint of rust.
    Finally, check your reel drags. Drags can freeze up if they’ve been exposed to saltwater or excessive dust and moisture, particularly if they’ve been put up without releasing the drag tension. Pull out a couple of handfuls of line against the drag to verify its functioning.
    If the drag is frozen or the line pulls out in uneven fits and starts, you need to disassemble the drag, clean out the components, grease, then reassemble them. It’s a relatively simple task and requires few tools. YouTube videos have tutorials on your brand or one similar to yours. If you don’t feel up to the task, seek a professional — promptly.
    We’re just about a month away from the start of rockfish season on April 19. There is no time to waste.