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Why is this the state sport?

Maryland is the first state to have a designated state sport. Jousting became our sport in 1962, when State Sen. Henry J. Fowler Sr., a jouster from Southern Maryland, proposed the bill. The General Assembly passed the bill, and Gov. Millard Tawes signed it into law. Jousting became Maryland’s seventh state symbol, following the state flag, flower, song, tree, bird and seal.
    In 2004, Lacrosse became our official team sport. We now have 26 state symbols. The most recent, our state dessert, Smith Island Cake, and state exercise, walking, were approved in 2008.
    Jousting is the oldest equestrian sport, dating back to medieval times, when jousters tried to knock an opponent off a horse. The jousting practiced in Maryland is called ring jousting, with jousters trying to lance a series of ever-smaller rings hanging from arches down the field. The rings range from one-and-three-quarters inches to one-quarter inch in diameter.
    Jousters range in age from kids to seniors, many trying out the sport after seeing a tournament.
    “There are about 85 to 100 jousters in Maryland, living in all areas of the state, says Vicki Betts, president of the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association.
    She cites four prominent clubs: Maryland Jousting Tournament Association, The Western Maryland Jousting Club, The Amateur Club and The Eastern Shore Jousting Club.
    August 27 marks the 150th anniversary of the Calvert County Jousting Tournament, started in 1866 just after the Civil War. The sport is also part of the Maryland Renaissance Festival, opening this weekend. See 8 Days a Week.


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.

If you use this powerful herbicide, be sure you use it right

Roundup has its uses, but before you consider spraying the herbicide, you should know what it’s good for — how damaging it can be and where it does no good, even ill.
    Roundup kills plants by degrading the mitochondria in the roots. I began studying Roundup in 1976, when it was called glyphosate. Our research established rates of application, best time of application, plant response and phytotoxicity on desirable plants. Since then, we have learned a great deal more about Roundup and the care you should exercise when using it.
    • Never spray when the target weeds are under drought stress. To achieve effective control of weeds, the foliage should be mature. Leaves give a good indication of maturity. If 50 percent or more of the leaves on the weeds are fully grown, the Roundup will be absorbed and migrate down toward the roots. If fewer than half the leaves are mature, the Roundup will only burn the top growth. The weeds will generate new top growth from the crown or roots.
    • Never spray on smooth-barked tree trunks. Smooth bark can absorb the glyphosate, resulting in severe yellowing of the foliage, even death to the young tree
    • Avoid using Roundup to spray around raspberries, figs and other desirable plants that generate rhizomes. Roundup will travel through rhizomes to plants that have not been sprayed. This is why Roundup is so effective in controlling Bermuda grass or wiregrass.
    • Roundup should never come in contact with the roots of plants, including roots extending from the bottom of plant containers. Aggressively growing plants often send roots out through the drainage holes. The spray may affect and kill visible roots.
    • Roundup is not effective in controlling waxy foliage plants such as English ivy and vinca — unless fortified with either ammonium sulfate or household ammonia. The wax covering the leaves keeps the spray from penetrating into the leaf tissues. A teaspoon of ammonium sulfate or one tablespoon of household ammonia per gallon of spray enables the Roundup to penetrate into the leaf tissues and migrate down the vines to the roots. For best results, spray both English ivy and vinca in September.
    • Kudzu and bamboo are best controlled by spraying Roundup amended with ammonia or ammonium sulfate in mid- to late October before the first frost.
    • Brambles, honeysuckle and other weeds can be killed by using half to one-quarter the package-recommended concentration of Roundup in late September and early October. When sprayed late in the growing season, all the Roundup migrates down to the roots.


Share Your Harvest
    Vegetable gardens are feast or famine. Don’t let those zucchinis grow to baseball bat size or green or yellow beans form seeds in the pods, only to be discarded. Your local food pantry will gladly accept fresh fruit and vegetables. Food pantries as well as food banks are an excellent point of distribution that will benefit many. Many local churches operate food pantries. I give my surplus to the South County Assistant Network (SCAN), which operates a food bank every Thursday and Saturday from 8am to noon at St. James Episcopal Church on Rt. 2 near the intersection with Rt. 258 in Lothian.


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

Trotline your way to a pickin’ party

Heading out from the ramp in a late morning sortie for white perch, I encountered a solo crabber’s boat at the edge of the channel. He was pulling in his trotline from the stern and looked up as my skiff approached.
    Seeking info on the crab catch, I gave him the sign language gesture asking how he was doing (arms open and a questioning look on my face). Shaking his head. he indicated problems. I killed my engine and drifted closer.
    “My line got tangled first thing; It took almost an hour to get it cleared. Then the side of my basket broke open,” he indicated with a flip of his head toward the shattered pieces of a wooden bushel in the bow. “The crabs got out and they’re crawling all over the boat. I’m going home.”
    “Bad day then,” I answered.
    “No, a great day,” he replied. “I got almost a bushel already. I’m just tired of them trying to crawl up my legs.”
    I gave him a thumbs-up as I restarted my motor. He flashed a big grin and resumed retrieving his line.

Do It Yourself    
    Finally, a good year for crabbing. After three years of Maryland Department of Natural Resources promising that crab numbers were improving, they are. Bouncing back from the slow recovery of a female population once again driven into near collapse by commercial over-harvest, the recreational crabbing season is proving a good one.
    Recreational crabbers can once again expect to get a family crab dinner with their own hands in a reasonable day’s effort, though DNR continues to add constraints on recreational crabbers: no female harvest, reduced trot line length and delayed starting time (all to favor the commercial sector). There’s no better crab than what you yourself provide.
    Feasting on succulent blue crabs a mere two or three hours out of the water is one of the finest epicurean experiences a Marylander can have. Just about anyone can catch their own, with a minimum of equipment, although a boat of some kind (even a borrowed kayak) is required to get the job done with a trotline.
    The trotline is the best, most effective device for catching crabs in any quantity. Six hundred feet is the current legal maximum for one crabber. If you fix a chicken neck bait every four feet on your line, that’s 125 baits (about 10 pounds of necks).
    Motoring, paddling or quietly pulling yourself down the crab line and netting each crab as it lifts up from the bottom, you can now expect to fill a basket in under a day. Starting early is the key as the crabs will usually stop moving to feed by about 11am and won’t start up again until later in the afternoon. On cloudy days, the bite may stay steady.
    Anchored on either end and marked by identical buoys, the trotline is kept on the bottom by about three feet of galvanized chain on each end. Constantly running the line with a wire-basket net will maximize the catch you will accumulate in the traditional split-wood bushel basket. The current minimum size for a male crab is 5¼ inches.
    Choose a day with a good tide running right from the start, for crabs move with the tidal current, and you need a steadily moving crab population to keep your trot line producing.
    If you’re not catching and the tidal current is moving, try another location. The one you’re at is probably not going to work.
    Area sports stores or crabbing stores offer the most affordable supply of line for crabbing and can fill in the details of just how to set it up, how to tie the slip knot for the chicken necks and the current depth where crabs are being found (right now it’s between six and 10 feet). They’ll also have a ready supply of chicken necks and the proper nets, anchors and floats.
    Crabs inhabit just about every body of water that feeds the Chesapeake. As long as you’ve got a good run of water (i.e., 600 feet) of the proper depth you have an excellent likelihood of catching Mr. (but not Mrs.) Blue Crab.

Chesapeake Curiosities: Battle Creek Cypress Swamp is the northernmost of its kind

A habitat unique in Maryland flourishes just south of Prince Frederick. Battle Creek Cypress Swamp is one of the nation’s northernmost naturally occurring stands of bald cypress trees.
    “It’s actually a bit of a mystery why the swamp is here, as we don’t see similar stands of trees in other low-lying swampy areas of the county,” says Shannon Steele, Calvert County naturalist.
    In 1957, the Nature Conservancy purchased 100 acres of land to protect the unusual ecosystem. Today, a boardwalk brings you into the habitat, crossing about 10 acres of the swamp. The park encompasses most of the remaining cypress stand, but some trees remain on nearby private property.
    Delaware has another stand of cypress trees on the Eastern Shore in Trap Pond State Park.
    Some of ­Battle Creek’s cypress are ex­tremely old. “The oldest tree we know of is around 500 years old,” Steele says. This tree can’t be seen from the main boardwalk, but you can visit it on an annual guided hike (calvertparks.org).
    Bald cypress trees are interesting in that they are deciduous conifers, meaning that they have needles like an evergreen but drop those needles in the fall just as oaks and maples lose their leaves. Cypress also grow knees, root system knobs that grow up out of the soil rather than staying underground.
    “The function of these growths is something of a mystery,” according to the Arbor Day Foundation, “although some believe it is a way to help the roots get oxygen.”
    Cypress provide valuable habitat to many creatures, especially the prothonotary warbler, a small yellow bird that likes to nest in the trees’ knees.
    As for the name, Battle Creek is the small stream that flows through the park, named in honor of the town of Battle, England, the ancestral home of the original owners of the land.


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.
 

Plan B might be your score

I lifted my rod tip to strike and felt a solid resistance. The small rod bowed. About 30 feet from the boat, I saw the swirl of a fish breaching just under the surface. Then my drag started to sing. We were in the skinny water just off of a rocky Bay shoreline and throwing Capt. Bert’s Perch Pounders.
    There was either a really big white perch at the end of my line — or a lurking rockfish had fallen victim to my black-and-orange spinner bait. After about 50 yards of line had sizzled off of my small spin reel, I was guessing rockfish. It headed into open water and had my thin six-pound mono stretched tight and singing with tension.
    It was becoming a long run, even for a striper. Since less than half my line remained on the spool, I raised the Power Pole anchor to chase the speedy devil. Starting up the Yamaha, I eased out from shore and followed the fleeing fish. It finally slowed and allowed me to put some line back on my reel.
    Lifting and reeling, I brought the fish nearer until it decided it didn’t like that development and took off running again. Within a few short seconds, my line supply was again reduced. I put the motor back in gear and resumed pursuit.
    That I was enjoying the situation was an understatement. I hadn’t had such a tussle in weeks, and the fact that it was on a light five-foot rod didn’t diminish the experience. Determined not to lose this torpedo, I kept the rod pressure moderate, constant and off to the side.

Fishing Against the Tide
    This had turned out to be a fine day.
    Low tide was to have been at 5am on the charts, so when we splashed the boat at 7:30am we felt the current should be on the point of reversal, if not solidly incoming. However, the water at the Sandy Point boat ramp was just under the finger piers, hardly low-tide conditions.
    Arriving at one of our favorite Bay Bridge supports, we found no current. The water was flat calm, and my finder was blank of any fish marks. In anticipation of the imminent arrival of the current along with Mr. Rockfish, we began to live-line small spot down around the supports
    An hour into our efforts the water was still as dead as the bite, not surprising since rockfish are always reticent to actively feed unless there is current. The Bay, unfortunately, often runs its own tide schedule regardless of the printed versions. This was just another incidence of its fickleness.
    Should we continue live-lining and hope — or resort to Plan B? Having been at the mercy of tideless days on the Chesapeake, we had included in our tackle arsenal a couple of perch rigs, a supply of Bert’s Perch Pounders and some of our favorite Rooster Tails. Thus we voted for Plan B.
    After a quick run to shallow water, our fortunes improved. Thick and hungry white perch were hanging on almost every rocky erosion jetty that came out from the shoreline. They attacked our lures with gratifying vigor regardless of the lack of tidal current. There were a lot of nine-inch fish, but there were also some heavy-shouldered black-backs that passed the ten-inch mark.
    Then along came that Olympic-level rockfish. Eventually, I managed the marathon sprinter into my net. Surprisingly it measured just barely 20 inches; I had assumed it to be larger from the way it had resisted capture.
    Once on ice, it might shrink below the minimum size. I decided this particular fish’s fighting genes should be passed on to as many offspring as it might manage, so I eased it back over the side.
    By 10:30, the sun was getting oppressive, and we had enough big perch on ice to supply dinner for six.

There may be a fungus in your soil

Every year, a number of readers complain that their garden did not produce as much as last year’s.
    If your garden is on poorly drained soil, you can blame some of the problem on wet feet. All vegetable-producing plants demand well-drained soils. Soils that tend to remain wet for several days after a hefty rain can cause roots to rot, thus reducing crop yields.
    Or your problem could be a fungus.
    If your garden is small and you are unable to rotate crops every year, there is a good possibility that certain fungi are accumulating, resulting in poor root growth. Four soil-borne diseases commonly affect roots: Fusarium, Pythium, Rhizoctinia and ­Phytophtora.
    The most effective method of preventing these diseases is to rotate where you plant crops each year. Crop rotation breaks the cycle.
    If your garden is too small to allow rotation, you can try any of three other methods of solving the problem of soil-borne diseases.
    One is to heat-sterilize the soil once every three years. In early July, rototill or spade the soil and moisten thoroughly before covering the area with a sheet of four-millimeter, clear plastic, sealing the edges to the ground. The clear plastic will create a greenhouse effect, causing a heat buildup sufficient to kill most of the disease-causing organisms. The plastic should remain in place well into early August. In addition to disease-causing organisms, most of the weed seeds and rhizomes will also be killed. However, this means that you will not be gardening on the third year.
    Another method of control is to incorporate, just before planting, a one-inch-thick layer of active compost like LeafGro, lobster compost or homemade compost from the previous year. Compost must be fresh for the naturally occurring beneficial organisms to neutralize the disease-causing organisms.
    The third method is to plant a cover crop of winter wheat or winter rye in late August, while tomatoes are still being harvested. The cover crop will also absorb residual nutrients, prevent soil erosion and improve the soil.
    Your cover crop must be actively decomposing before planting in the spring. The rapidly decomposing organic matter will promote the establishment of beneficial organisms that help control the disease-causing organisms.
    So next spring, you must keep the soil moist and rototill or spade the area two to three weeks before planting.
    Isn’t nature marvelous?

Harvest the Sweetest Corn
    If you like eating truly sweet, sweet corn, harvest the ears before the sun rises and refrigerate immediately. Better yet, dunk the ears in ice-cold water before placing them in the refrigerator.
    If you harvest sweet corn in the heat of the day, the kernels will be filled mostly with starch. During the heat of the day, the sugars in the kernels are converted to starch. The sugars produced in the leaves during the day are translocated to the kernels during the cool of the night.


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

The story of the Chessie

 

The Chesapeake retriever originated in Maryland, developed to suit the climate and the waters of the Bay.
    In 1807, a British ship wrecked off the coast of Maryland. Among the crew and cargo saved by another ship were two Newfoundland puppies. These pups turned out to be great retrievers and were bred with flat- and curly-coated retrievers as well as other dogs to create our Chessies.
    “They love the water and can swim in the coldest conditions,” says Dawn Logan, statistician and historian for the American Chesapeake Club. “They have been bred to have the ability to hunt many hours in the icy waters of the Bay. Today, they maintain the coat, structure and determination to do what their ancestors did.”
    Today’s Chesapeake Bay retrievers are much the same as the first Chessies.
    “When you look back in breed history, photos and drawings of the first Chesapeake Bay dogs, you see they look very much like today’s Chesapeake Bay retrievers,” Logan says.
    The Chesapeake Bay retriever is a relatively rare breed, with only some 2,000 registered with the American Kennel Club.
    “Because of its intelligence and loyalty, it is not a dog for everyone,” Logan explains. “They do not have the love-everyone attitude of a Labrador retriever or golden retriever. They are known to be stubborn and to think for themselves, which can be a challenge in training. Also, they tend to be more protective than other retriever breeds.
    “They were bred to hunt for hours on end, and that is maintained today, so they do best with a job, whether it be hunting, obedience, agility, daily walks — they need something to do,” Logan says. “We want to maintain the heritage and original capabilities of this unique breed.”


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.

Their lifespan is just too short

My German shorthair pointer, Sophie, passed away this past winter after 13 years of memorable companionship. Her absence is almost as imposing as was her presence. A flicker of movement off to the side still makes me turn my head, expecting her to bound up to my side. Returning home, I can’t help but look for her bright eyes shining in a front window as she somehow anticipates my arrival once again.
    “A dog’s lifespan is too short,” author Agnes Turnbull once said, “their only fault, really.” I’ve had the good fortune to know a number of dogs, and almost every one was so special and their passing so painful that right now I can’t bear the thought of going through it again. Of course, I will eventually weaken.
    The variety of dogs to choose from is more diverse than ever. Hunting dogs, or the sporting dog group according to the American Kennel Club, are my preference for both a pet and a field companion, for we share a similar inclination. This group of dogs includes Labrador and golden retrievers, Brittany and springer spaniels, pointers, setters and similar breeds.
    These animals are also more likely to be well behaved and intelligent as those traits are critical to their purpose in the field. They are easily trained as well, and most quickly acclimate to a family setting, ­especially if introduced while young. They do, however, expect to be exercised and taken afield.
    I also like working dogs, bred to perform tasks such as guarding property and persons, pulling sleds, water rescue and such. The more common breeds are the Rottweiler, the Doberman pinscher, the Siberian husky and the Great Dane. All are generally quite intelligent and purposeful, but all require intense obedience training; some are aggressive and need thorough socializing.
    The herding group is attractive as well in that it includes probably the most intelligent and readily trainable breeds. That includes the border collie, the Belgian Malinois, the German shepherd and Belgian sheepdog, as well the Welsh corgi.
    Herding dogs need plenty of exercise — plus opportunity for herding. Actual herding duties are their greatest joy, but gently gathering, directing and ensuring the safety of a family and its young children is a challenge these animals generally find fulfilling.
    The hound group is bred for hunting of a special type. Afghans, wolfhounds, bloodhounds, coonhounds and beagles, among many others, generally do well in more rural or open settings (and not particularly well in urban environments). Their instincts are to track and pursue other animals, relentlessly. Some of these breeds have a distinctive beauty but are particularly single-minded, and this does not always translate well into proper urban behavior.
    Some breeds in the hound group have the instinct to signal their location by howling or baying, something to consider when deciding to acquire one.
    Then there is the terrier group, breeds that originated for vermin control, hunting and (unfortunately) fighting. Today they are known for their energy, alertness and high ­spirits. Most possess individualistic personalities and require firm obedience training and, especially for the larger types, plenty of exercise.
    The toy group is composed of particularly small dogs, or selectively bred smaller versions of larger breeds (the toy poodle, the pug, the toy terriers and the Chihuahua, among others). They are particularly popular in urban environments. Exclusively intended as pets, some are even referred to as purse dogs. They are more easily cared for than the larger breeds and are known for being long-lived and loving animals.
    Non-sporting dogs comprise the largest, most populous and diverse group, including breeds like French poodle, Dalmatian, shar-pei, chow and the bichon frise, types that have evolved from many different roles to become pets and companions. Most have a singular appearance. Few generalities can be made of them because each is so unique. They do, however, share the same virtues as all dogs: loyalty, mirth, innocence, courage, curiosity and unconditional love.
    Now I’ve got myself thinking.

Lusby and Spooks

Lusby was so full of energy when we acquired her that I concluded she was nuclear-powered. Thus the name Lusby, for the location of the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant. The one thing she does not do much of is lie around doing nothing.
    Her breed has been identified as a North Carolina dog, a species with ties to the dingoes that crossed the Bering Strait with migrating humans, and she is very independent. She will not fetch for my wife Clara or me but will fetch for children who visit the farm to cut their own Christmas trees. If she remembers visitors from previous visits, she will show off by running at high speed in circles. She loves to ride in the back seat of my pick-up truck but will not ride with me in the golf cart.  
    A rescue dog from death row in Georgia, Lusby has become a true farm dog. She considers herself the guard of the farm. She has nearly eliminated the ground hogs and has helped reduce the rabbits that occasionally invade the garden. When large birds fly above the farm, she will run beneath them barking, which is her effort at keeping them airborne.
    She guards the farm by staying outside all night but lets us know by around 6am that it’s time for us to let her in so she can take a rest.

•   •   •
 
Spooks was a Norwegian forest cat who arrived at Upakrik Farm on Halloween night in 1995.  He scared Clara that night when he jumped seven feet two inches from the ground to the window ledge of the bathroom and his two green eyes stared at her as she brushed her hair.  He then jumped five feet from the bathroom window ledge  to the window ledge of our bedroom, where I fed him cat treats. As he was a stray, we did not allow him to enter the house that night. We fed him outdoors for several days until Clara let him inside. Upon entering the kitchen, he sat in front of the refrigerator, where my wife swears she heard him say milk.
    After spending several weeks searching for his owner without success, we adopted him. Soon Spooks became my cat and followed me around the farm, becoming a great mouser. He was also an acrobat. He climbed a tree every day, then came down head first like a squirrel.
    While I was replacing barn siding, Spooks studied the beam-and-rafter arrangements. The next thing I knew, he was meowing from a beam feet in front of me. I laid a plank between the roof, where I stood, and his beam so he could join me.  He then climbed to the peak of the barn roof, where he enjoyed the scenery.
    While I was cleaning gutters on the house, Spooks climbed the ladder and joined me on the roof.  As he stayed after I climbed down, I waited to see how he would come down. He came down the ladder one rung at a time, head first. We later learned that squirrel-like descent is a characteristic of a Norwegian forest cat.


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

Chesapeake Curiosities

A small building in the Rhode River is built up over the water like a duck blind. But it doesn’t quite look like one, and it’s surrounded by Smithsonian Environmental Research Center land. What is it?
    The structure, an instrument shed, was built in the 1970s, according to Kristen Minogue of Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. Initially it was one of a series of similar stations that monitored the Rhode River. The stations provided data on water chemistry as well as the flow of sediments, nutrients and water. This location is no longer a monitoring station, but others in the network still provide long-term data on the health of the river.
    While it was a monitoring site, the shed housed equipment that operated automatically. Scientists picked up samples weekly. In the 1980s, Smithsonian scientist Tom Jordan spent 24 hours conducting a study from a boat tied to the shed.
    The shed now holds equipment for other projects. It’s recently been used to house hydrophones — underwater microphones — that track fish movement.
    “We use hydrophones in our tagging projects to track how different animals in the Bay move. We attach ultrasonic tags to fish and crabs, and the hydrophones enable us to listen and record the signals those tags emit. One of our postdocs is also using them to listen to the sounds animals make underwater,” said Minogue.
    “The little shed is a testament to almost 40 years of tracking the health of a single river,” Minogue added. “ And the fact that it’s now used by osprey is a symbol of hope. Back when it was built in the 1970s, osprey in the Chesapeake had just hit an all-time low, and now we see them all over.”


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.