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Crowded bulbs are smaller bulbs and produce smaller flowers

As the trumpets of daffodil petals herald spring, we see clumps growing in roadside banks as well as in gardens. Pretty as they are, the flowers in those large clumps are not as large as those of single plants or smaller clumps. Crowded bulbs are smaller bulbs and thus produce smaller flowers due to a lower reserve of food.
    Professional gardeners dig up and thin out clumps of daffodils every five or six years. This practice allows them to not only maintain flower size but to also expand plantings.
    If you would like to lift and thin your bulbs, now is the time to take the first step. First, use a large plant label or planting stake with a weatherproof tag to mark the location of each clump to be dug, and identify its flower color.    After the foliage dies down to the ground, give the blubs a couple of more weeks to mature. Foliage will die more slowly in clumps growing under partial shade than those growing in full sun.
    To minimize damage to the bulbs, use a fork spade for digging and lifting out the bulbs. Start digging at least three or four inches away from the ring of dead foliage. Lift the bulbs and spread them on the ground to dry in the full sun for an hour or so. After the soil on the bulbs has dried, remove it by rubbing gently with your hands. Avoid damaging the tunic, the thin papery covering on the bulbs. Do not attempt to separate the bulbs from each other at this time.
    After harvesting, spread the bulbs on a flat surface in a well-ventilated room under cover to finish drying for a few weeks. Then place them in mesh bags or screen storage trays, and store them in a cool, dry place protected from rodents.
    In September, plant the bulbs where you want them to bloom next spring.


Is salt damage reversable?

Q Is there any way to compensate for winter salt damage to trees and ­bushes? Also affected is the grass strip ­paralleling the road.

–Farley Peters, Fairhaven

A Most of the damage caused by salt is due to salinity, which kills plant roots. If the sodium level in the soil is equal to or higher than that of potassium, then the damage is more likely related to nutrition. Have the soil tested to see if there is sufficient potassium.


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

Whenever the weather lets you

When the reel spool began turning under my thumb, I knew it was no ordinary rockfish on the end of my line. Counting to seven, I threw the Abu reel into gear, and when the line came tight, set the hook. Then my rod bent over to the corks and a stiffly set drag howled as the fish really hit the gas. This one had to be trophy sized — if only I could get it to the boat.
    We were anchored up south of the Hackett’s can at the mouth of the Severn River in 35 feet of water on a morning that was glassy calm despite a small-craft warning from NOAA the day before. Not deterred, my fishing companion Ed Robinson checked another forecase, www.intellicast.com, which predicted light winds until almost noon.
    We agreed that if the winds were calm we would head out and fish until the weather turned. Launching my 17-foot skiff, we were on station by 8am. A half-hour later, our four rods were rigged and baited with large chunks of fresh menhaden.
 A chum bag over the stern was spewing small bits of ground fish into the falling tidal current as we guessed that we had only about three hours of ebb left before slack water.

    Then Ed had a run and landed a fat and healthy 23-incher, a good sign there were fish around.
    A few minutes later, my bruiser hit.

How to Fish Trophy Season
    Chumming during Trophy Rockfish Season is a long-odds affair. Because the big fish are spawning and moving alone or in small packs, it is impossible to determine patterns. They don’t stay in one place for very long, so catching reports are mostly useless. Locating legal fish is pretty much a matter of luck.
    With this year’s larger 35-inch minimum size, we guessed it would be even more difficult to find keepers by fishing bait.
    Trolling is the most productive technique during trophy season as you’re covering far more water and using big lures. But if you want to use light tackle you’ve got to fish bait.
    Our four outfits were medium-heavy, six-and-a-half-foot casting rods with Abu 5600 casting reels loaded with 150 yards of 20-pound fluoro-coated mono, with fish finder rigs, two-ounce sinkers and stout 9/0 hooks on 24-inch 30-pound fluoro leaders.

Reeling in a Runaway Train
    It was 20 minutes into the battle before I got a glimpse of the striper. It was definitely a good one. Calming myself and making sure not to force things, I eased it to the side of the boat. Ed got most of the fish into the net. It took both of us to lift it over the gunnel. The lunker’s big tail ran well past the deck-mounted 36-inch measuring tape, so we were sure it was legal. After a quick picture we eased the handsome giant into my fishbox and iced it down.
    Ed had pulled all of our rigs out of the water during the battle to avoid tangles, so it took another 20 minutes to get them cleared, baited and back in the water. After that we didn’t have long to wait.
    One of Ed’s rigs twitched, then the clicker on the reel started screaming as the fish picked up the bait and headed away at speed. It was another runaway train.
    The fight mirrored my own. Almost a twin of the first one, this burly rascal also hung half out of my net as we barely managed it up over the side. Two giants inside of half an hour.
    Done by 10am with two trophies in the box, their tails sticking out and the lid bulging open, we headed for the ramp grinning like fools. An hour later, a stiff north wind pushed up three-foot seas with shore-to-shore whitecaps.

All kinds of surprising things expire — car seats, makeup, fire extinguishers, bike helmets, bug spray. How about life jackets?
    Yes and no, depending on the type of life jacket and how much wear it has.
    Foam life jackets typically do not expire. You do need to be cautious about crushing them, however, so don’t use them for a kneepad, which can result in lower buoyancy. Also, ensure that they are not damaged as this could compromise their flotation or allow the floats to escape. If your life jacket has any rips, tears or the foam seems to be degraded, it’s time for a new one.
    If your life jacket is inflatable, you need to check the manufacturers recommendation about how frequently the CO2 cartridge needs to be changed. It varies from jacket to jacket, from every year to every few years. You also want to inspect inflatable components every few months for corrosion or dirt.
    As you return to the water, remember that a well-maintained and properly used life jacket can save your life. Almost 90 percent of people who drowned following a boating accident were not wearing life jackets.
    Take time to check out your life jackets prior to your maiden voyage this season to ensure you and your boating companions have dependable safety equipment.


Chesapeake Curiosities investigates regional oddities and landmarks to increase understanding of our unique local culture and history.

Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.
 

With this issue, we enter Chesapeake Country’s favorite season

How lucky are we?    
    Having lived the first half of my life landlocked in America’s great Midwest, I look at the Chesapeake each day with gratitude and awe.
    Now comes the time when fair days invite all of us children of the Chesapeake to do more than look.
    Of course some of us are heartier than others. The Chesapeake and its many rivers are always there. Beachcombers and dog walkers go out in all seasons, even when nor’easters blow their hair southwest and throw sand in their eyes. If you paddle your own kayak or canoe, you’ll find good boating weather all winter long.
    Anglers will abide most any weather, as Sporting Life columnist Dennis Doyle reminds us. With the opening of rockfish season April 16, the lure of trophy giants has fishermen and women biting just as they hope the fish will.
    From now through November, Chesapeake waters will be the best place to feel what life in this region is all about.
    So in this issue we take you there in ways we know best, words and pictures. Each of this week’s features takes us back to the water. A couple illuminate the lore and lure of sailing: Tom Hall’s story about high school sailing teams and the Annapolis Junior Keelboat Regatta; and Mike Rusinski’s first-person account of his midlife switch from power boating to sailing — Trading Our Combustion Engine for the Power of Wind is Rusinski’s Bay Weekly debut.
    Another, Nostalgia by Diane Knaus, recalls the thrill of driving your own boat — as well as the pitfalls.
    For safety’s sake on the water, our inquiring Chesapeake Curiosities columnist Christina Gardner reminds you to examine your life jacket.
    Two more stories invite you to our rivers this Saturday, April 30: The Southern Maryland Celtic Festival and Highland Gathering on the Patuxent at Jefferson-Patterson Park and the inaugural Pigs and Pearls event on the West River at Pirates Cove in Galesville.
    As getting you to the water is our goal, this issue also shines the spotlight on five Bay Weekly partners offering special opportunities on that element: the Wild Goose Chase bike tour at Blackwater Wildlife Refuge and Boaters Expo at Herrington Harbour North, both two weekends hence; plus the town of North Beach, Flag Harbor Marina and SUP2U Kayak Rental.
    See you on the water, the element of the season.

Hale and Farewell: Lee Boynton
    I cannot end My Back to the Water letter without paying tribute to Lee Boynton, the Annapolitan and American impressionist painter who died April 24 at the age of 62, taken by colon cancer. For I am one of hundreds taught by Lee to see the water as well as aspire to painting it.
    In the beginning, there was light. Those are the first of Lee’s words recorded in my journals of the half dozen watercolor classes where I was his student. The life is in the light; the life is in the paint.
    Lee radiated the light of life as he spoke those words. A religious man, he believed in the divinity of the light God had created.
    Light reflects as well as illuminates, Lee explained as he sought to teach us to paint lowlights as well as highlights, gradations, reflections and shadows. We caught some of the reflection of his light. He made us understand, believe and see with his life-inspired eyes.
    So I see the water now in the color it takes from light, sky and atmosphere. I search my vocabulary for the words for those colors and my palette for their pigments. With opened eyes, I see the atomic vitality of the dance of life. I am one scintilla of the legacy left by Lee Boynton on this earth.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

Managed right, planer boards are great for catching trophy rockfish

Fish on! Fish on!     
    The call rang out from the bridge, and we rushed out from the cabin to the stern to determine which of the 18 rods had hooked a trophy rockfish. Seizing a stout trolling outfit that was bent down by an obviously big striper, my friend Mike began to fight the fish to the boat.
    Managing to avoid any disastrous tangles, my buddy finally got the fat and healthy 37-incher on deck. It was the first of a number of catches made possible by planer boards.

Increasing the Odds
    The thrill of trophy rockfish season is getting control of a big ocean-running fish. Trolling many rods at once increases the odds of success. The challenge is avoiding tangling the active line with the many others still in the water. Because of the other rigs, the boat cannot stop lest there be even more disastrous tangles. So the victor has to overcome not only the rockfish’s strength but also the boat’s continued speed.
    A set of connected angled boards towed to either side of a craft as far back as 150 feet, planer boards let you tow multiple lines at various distances and depths without getting them tangled. The result has been an exponential increase in big fish caught, particularly during the trophy season when trolling is by far the most effective technique.

Between Ocean and Bay
    Most of the big striped bass that cruise the Atlantic Coast from Maine to South Carolina are born in our Chesapeake Bay (where we call them rockfish). They only live in the Bay for four or five years, then migrate to live in the Atlantic.
    The vast baitfish schools of the ocean feed our stripers to substantial size, often over 50 pounds and sometimes over 100 pounds. These migratory giants return to the Chesapeake once a year, during the early spring, to seek out their natal waters and reproduce. After they’ve spawned, they return to the ocean.
    Stripers begin spawning as early as February and, depending on water temperatures, can continue into May. But most are done by the third Saturday in April, when the trophy season is scheduled by Maryland law to open. Thus the season is scheduled to target fish that have already strewn their eggs.

On the Downside
    Planer-board fishing does have its downside. To rig and stream out so many outfits is a complicated affair requiring good teamwork and plenty of planning and preparation.
    Maneuvering a craft with a 300-foot-wide trolling footprint can be a big challenge. Despite the usual brightly colored flags marking a ­planer board setup, they can be hard for other boats to see, especially in choppy waters. Pleasure boaters not familiar with the fishing practice may not notice the devices in the water. The consequences of a collision with one of these towed arrays — even of an abruptly forced course change — can be costly in both time and money.
    Each individual trolling lure can include expensive, multi-lure umbrella and chandelier rigs. Multiply the individual lure cost by a dozen or more, and there is a significant investment in fishing gear. Plus a large mixup can take hours to untangle and re-deploy.
    Keep them out of trouble, though, and planer boards catch big fish.

Grow a patch of rhubarb

My old friend Bill Burton and I once discussed eating freshly harvested rhubarb as kids during hot summer days in New England, where every home had a rhubarb patch in the backyard. Bill raved about his mother’s rhubarb-custard pie, while I raved about my mother’s strawberry-rhubarb pie. I can still picture myself sitting on the back stairs of our home with a fist full of sugar in my left hand and a freshly harvested stalk of rhubarb in my right. Before each bite, I would dredge the base of the rhubarb stem in the sugar.
    Those were the days.
    Rhubarb is a vegetable, not a fruit, although we tend to limit its use to making desserts. One of the great features of rhubarb is that it can be blended with other fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, apples, pears and apricots as the rhubarb absorbs the taste of the fruit. In other words, you can make a tasty blueberry pie using only one cup of blueberries and two cups of chopped rhubarb.
    Rhubarb grows best in well-drained soil in full sun. It can tolerate partial shade, but it will produce spindly stems. Since you consume only the stem, the fleshier the stem the better. Never eat the leaves because they contain oxalic acid, which will cause swelling of the tongue.
    I have seldom seen rhubarb sold in a garden center, though it is commonly listed in seed catalogs. If you order rhubarb for your garden, you will receive in the mail what appears to be a dried-up brown stub. For best results, place it in a cup of water for five days before planting.
    There are various clones of rhubarb with stems ranging from green to various shades of green to red and red only. There is even a clone labeled Strawberry-rhubarb. I can assure you that it does not have a strawberry flavor.
    Rhubarb likes mildly acid soil with a moderate amount of organic matter. When planting rhubarb, I dig a hole the size of a half-bushel basket and add two to three shovels-full of compost and a handful of agricultural limestone, then mix thoroughly.
    Allow the rhubarb to grow without harvesting for at least two years before pulling your first stems. During your first harvest on the third year of growth, remove no more than half of the stems at any one time and allow one month between harvests.
    If you see a flower head develop in the center of the clump, remove it with a sharp knife two to three inches from the ground. Allowing the plant to produce seeds during the first three years of growth will weaken the clump.
    Never try growing rhubarb in a large container or in a raised bed. The roots are sensitive to high temperatures, which will cause the plant to die in mid-summer as rooting media rises in above-ground containers or beds.


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

Goshen Farm, powered by grassroots

“The grassroots is the source of power. With it you can do anything,” wrote Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson of the wattage behind his bright idea.
    Is it shining still?
    Take an Earth Day No. 47 visit to Goshen Farm, and you’ll see the light.
    From the grassroots, a community rose to save the last Colonial-era farm on the Broadneck Peninsula. Its work has created a hidden oasis of 22 undeveloped acres, surrounded by Cape St. Claire and Walnut Ridge on the Broadneck Peninsula.
    “I became slightly obsessed,” Barbara Morgan, told Bay Weekly of her discovery that a ramshackle neighborhood property was settled in the mid-17th century.
    From Morgan’s obsession, the Goshen Farm Preservation Society rose to save the old house from demolition by the Anne Arundel County School Board, which owns the property.
    It took four years, from 2006 to 2010, for the Society to gain its renewable lease. Then came a Sharing Garden, the offshoot of Nicole Neboshynsky’s dream. Like the Goshen Farm Preservation Society, the garden found many hands.
    More dreams and more hands followed. Volunteers and visitors range from neighbors to school children to scientists to Midshipmen.
    “We’re integrating the concept of environmental awareness into their daily life,” says Society president Lou Biondi. “It’s not just something they learn, it’s something they do.”
    Visit to see for yourself three gardens, a tunnel greenhouse, an orchard and apiary, all producing food for the Sharing Garden’s 60 families plus local food banks and Goshen Farm festivities. The Colonial Kitchen Garden and the Henson-Hall Slave Garden honors 12 slaves known to have lived and labored on the farm; namesakes, Jack Henson and Nace Hall, are recorded by surname in the Maryland State Archives.
    Four more preservation sites feature tobacco, cotton and a grove of white oaks, Maryland’s state tree. The oddest, the Goshen Farm Soil Health Pit, was dug by the U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen Action Group as a classroom on sustainable soil.

Celebrate Calvert Marine Museum’s favorite mammal

A trip to the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons is only complete once you have visited the resident river otter, Squeak.
    Squeak plays in an 8,000-gallon freshwater tank that features windows both indoors and outdoors. Since the death of his companion Bubbles, Squeak has been the only otter at the Marsh Walk exhibit. That’s about to change.
    Chessie Grace (top) has long whiskers, silky gray fur and chirps like a bird. The 10-week-old female river otter was abandoned by her mother in Ohio but now lives the good life in Solomons, bottle-fed every four hours and going home with her foster family at night.
    Gracie, as she is known to the aquarists behind the scenes, makes a public appearance next week but does not join the otter habitat until after the exhibit renovations are complete in May.
    To catch an early glimpse of Gracie, whose stage name is Bubbles per museum tradition, visit the museum for OtterMania.
    Museum-goers revel in all things otter during this annual event. Children can dance the Swim with otter mascots, discover where otters live throughout the world and learn what makes the species special.
    Visitors pretend to be biologists and learn what otters like to eat by examining stomach contents, then get tips on how to capture a photo of Squeak in action.
    Feel otter fur, discover why swimming outside all year is great for these water weasels and hear fascinating tails of otter adventures.
    Otters, like children, love to frolic and play with their favorite toys. The mammals are well suited for life in and around the Chesapeake Bay.
    Otter lovers are invited to use the hashtag #ISpyOtters to share ­wherever you find these elusive ­creatures in the wild.


OtterMania: Tues., Apil 26, 10am-4pm, Calvert Marine Museum, Solomons, $9, www.calvertmarinemuseum.com.

Their clock is set to the dogwoods

My first cast met with instant success and, as my slim rod bent down, a flashing, silver missile erupted vertically in the middle of the stream, arced over, splashed down and then grayhounded across the roiling current. Hickory shad had returned.
    I knew it was time earlier that morning when I saw the first signs of dogwood blooms in my front yard. With their emergence the hickories had to be on their way.
    Collecting some shad darts in bright colors and some small three-way swivels as well as a couple of bobbers, I chose my two favorite five-foot spin rods and a pair of warm neoprene boots and set off for the upper Choptank on the Eastern Shore.
    Hickory shad arrive each spring to spawn throughout the Bay’s tributaries, with some returning multiple times in their 10-year lifespan. The harvest of all shad and river herring (a close cousin) has been prohibited in Maryland since 1981, as their population has declined due to unwise agricultural practices, urban development and damming. Catch and release, however, is allowed, as cool water temperatures keep the mortality rates low.
    About an hour later I was rewarded by another good fish, and soon another. As the sun warmed the waters, the bite improved. By mid-afternoon I had notched a rewarding number. The best one, an estimated 20-incher, gave me six nice jumps before it came unbuttoned. Hickory shad is one of the more sporting fish that visits the Chesapeake.

Catching Them
    My technique of fishing a pair of shad darts linked by a three-way swivel 18 inches below my bobber is a site-specific rig, chosen to keep the darts just off of the rocky, shallow river bottom and to hold the lures free from snags. Generally it is best to fish the darts — two always seem to draw strikes much better than one — bobber free so you’re able to explore the deeper waters where these fish also lurk. The hook wire on the shad darts is pliable enough to bend back to the proper shape, so be sure you do, otherwise you’ll not be able to keep a fish on your line for more than a second or so.
    I prefer one-sixteenth- to one-eighth-ounce black-tipped orange or chartreuse shad darts, dressed with yellow or white calf tail. But a one-eighth-ounce curly tail jig in bright green is also popular on the Choptank.
    An 18-inch hickory shad is a big one. Four-pound test line is plenty, but six-pound allows the additional luxury of prying a rock-fouled dart off by pulling hard enough to bend the hook.
Spring Fishing Extra
    This time of year you may also encounter late-run white perch and early-run rockfish. The stripers must be released in all rivers, no matter what their size, until June 1. White perch, however, can be kept for the table and are absolutely delicious, with no minimum size or catch limit.

A successful harvest depends on the right bulbs for our hours of light

Onions are good for your health, and generally they are easy to grow. Let me give you some advice on growing them successfully.
    Plant onion sets and you’ll harvest only green onions. Most sets you buy are short-day onions, which produce bulbs only when grown during the winter months with 10 daylight hours or less. Planted in the spring, as daylight hours grow longer, they produce only onion tails, your green onions.
    To grow onion bulbs, you must buy either long-day or intermediate, aka day-neutral, onions. They are shipped in bundles of 75 or more seedlings. Unless you are familiar with a particular variety, I suggest planting two or more varieties. Harvesting will be easier if you keep each separate in the garden, as they’ll mature at different times.
    Onions perform best in high organic soils with a nearly neutral pH.
    The spacing between onion plants is based on the mature bulb size. The most desirable bulb size for kitchen use is one and a half to two and a half inches. For those sizes, use a four-by-four-inch spacing. Bermuda and Walla Walla-size onions need more space; plant them in six-by-six-inch spacing. Those spacings allow room for the bulbs to grow and for you to cultivate between the plants without damaging the bulbs.
    Fertilize two to three weeks after planting and monthly thereafter. Don’t let the soil dry out; onions have a very limited root system, and there is a high population of plants in a limited area.
    Neck rot of onions can be a serious storage problem. Avoid it by knocking the foliage to the ground just as the bulbs begin to mature in late July and August, depending on the variety. Do so as soon as the color of the foliage begins to fade and the tops of the onion tails start turning brown. I use the back of a garden rake.
    Leeks want four-by-four-inch spacing as they do not produce bulbs but do produce thick stems. They have the same growing requirements as onions.
    Garlic planted last fall is now in need of fertilizer. Like onions, garlic plants have a limited root system and respond well to fertilizer and water. Remove the flower buds as they begin to form, mid- to late June, depending on variety. If the garlic plants flower and produce seeds, both bulb and cloves will be smaller. For large cloves of elephant garlic, early removal of the flower stem is doubly important.


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