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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.

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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.”

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Crop rotation keeps you harvesting into winter

If you planted potatoes, you could already be harvesting. Since potatoes are grown in wide rows, the ground they occupied will be ideal for planting a fall crop of peas and snap beans.
    If you have harvested cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kohlrabi, use the space vacated for okra. If you planted a spring and early-summer crop of snap beans, the free space can be used for planting fall and winter crops of carrots, beets, kale, collards, turnips, rutabaga, radishes and ­lettuce.
    Please note that the replacement crops are different from those planted in the spring. This practice, known as crop rotation, is a very effective means of minimizing disease problems.
    As soon as the first crop of sweet corn is harvested, consider planting large Ford Hook lima beans. Leave the corn stalks in place, with the lima bean seeds planted between them so the emerging seedlings will use the stalks to climb on, making the harvesting of the lima beans easier on the back. Lima beans grow best during the warmest part of summer.
    If you are not a fan of lima beans, consider using the area for growing cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi or radishes after the corn stalks have been removed. In place of pulling out the corn stalks, cut them down as close to the ground as possible and push the lawnmower over the stumps. Transplant the seedlings between every third or fourth stalk.
    Fall and winter vegetable crops absorb residual nutrients from the soil. Plants do not utilize all of the nutrients applied at planting time and as side dressing. Unless these nutrients are absorbed by the roots of plants, they will leach down into the groundwater. If you don’t plant a fall crop to absorb those residual nutrients, you should sow a cover crop of winter rye at the rate of three pounds per 1,000 square feet.
    Fall crops tend to be sweeter than spring and summer crops. The combination of warm days and cool nights promotes the translocation of and accumulation of sugars in the edible portions.
    Fall-grown peas can be harvested until the first killing frost. Carrots and beets can remain in the garden all winter long and harvested as needed providing the ground is not frozen hard. If you plant three different varieties of Brussels sprouts — such as Churchill, Oliver and Diablo — you can enjoy eating fresh Brussels sprouts from early October until January.
    To maintain the organic matter concentration in my garden soil, I sow winter rye between the rows in late September, before mid-October. The late planting of winter rye minimizes competition for water and nutrients and does not shade the crop but protects the soil from erosion and allows you to walk in the garden when the soil is wet without getting mud on your shoes.

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One is American, the other speaks with a soft Scottish accent

When our expanding family moved from our small house in Annapolis proper to a larger abode in Cape St. Claire on the Broadneck Peninsula, we were greeted by one of the more garrulous and distinctive birds in America, the crow. A large flock of the all-black avians was ensconced in and around the many trees that abounded in our new neighborhood.
    They did not sound like the crows I had grown up with long ago in Pennsylvania. These Broadneck crows seemed to have a different call all together, a low-pitched, nasal caw quite unlike the brash, raspy caw-caw-caw I was accustomed to hearing. It was as if these birds were possessed of a strong but soft Scottish accent.
    I discovered that not only did they sound different from the crows of my youth, the American crow (Corvus branchyrynchos), they were an altogether different species: the fish crow (Corvus ossifragus). Their numbers are significantly less than the American crow, but they are common to the wetlands and river drainages throughout the eastern and southeastern United States.
    Smaller than the American crow but not by much, the fish crow is otherwise a very similar bird. They are all black, quite intelligent and dine omnivorously on anything edible, including crustaceans, fish (living and dead), fruits, small reptiles and mammals and, unfortunately, the nestlings of other birds.
    Those ebony rascals ranged through our Broadneck neighborhood for a number of years — until one spring I heard the additional calls of the American crow echoing around the houses. At first I thought it was a melding of sorts, but after a day or so I realized the truth. A battle for territory was going on.
    The fight — and it was a loud one — lasted for the better part of two weeks. After that the nasal, Scottish accent of the fish crows that we had become accustomed to was replaced with the raucous caw of the American crow. This species then dominated our neighborhood for the next 20 years.
    A few weeks ago, however, I began to hear that Scottish burr once more. Their calls seemed to be everywhere at once as they began flitting through almost every copse of trees in the area.
    I then realized I had not been hearing crows of any kind for some time, years perhaps. Doing a little digging, I discovered that the reason for this absence had been a dire episode for crow populations in general.
    West Nile Virus, first identified in 1937 in Uganda, showed up in the United States in 1999 and within three years was widespread across America. A mosquito-borne infection that hit about 20 percent of humans with flu-like symptoms (and worse), it proved particularly deadly to all species of crows in the Americas.
    Ultimately, the fish crow proved somewhat more resilient (50 percent mortality once exposed to the disease), than the American crow (over 90 percent mortality). The overall crow population across the nation collapsed to about half of its previous abundance. Now that precipitous decline appears to have leveled out if not reversed.
    There is hope and some scientific evidence that both species are increasing in resistance to West Nile, but the change is slow. In the meantime, the territory of the more disease-resistant fish crow is expending due to the relative absence of the once-abundant American species.
    Today, it is once again pleasurable to hear the understated voice of the fish crow echoing about the Tidewater. Though sometime in the future the species may be again challenged for territorial supremacy, I am delighted to be remaking its acquaintance.
    Note: The raven, the largest bird of the genus Corvus, is also seen in Maryland but much less commonly. Ravens are noticeably bigger than both American and fish crows. Many of those around the Chesapeake favor purple and black.

Conservation Note

    The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission made a decision in 2012 to manage Atlantic menhaden as a critical part of the ecosystem rather than a single species and reduced the allowable commercial harvest. The results were an improvement in species population.
    Now, at the first sign of success, the Commission is considering increasing the commercial harvest.
    Communicating your displeasure at this action could reinforce the Commission’s resolve to protect the species: ASMFC, Menhaden Management, 1050 N. Highland St., Suite 200 A-N, Arlington, VA 22201 or A personal written and mailed comment gets exponentially more consideration than an email.

Get cutting to ensure big-flowering mums and azaleas

With all the rain we have received this year, azaleas and chrysanthemums have produced an abundance of new growth. If you want those plants to produce an abundance of flowers — this fall for chrysanthemums and next year for azaleas — get out your shears this week.
    Chrysanthemums are short-day plants, which means that they will start initiating flower buds around mid-August. Prune any later than this week, and they will produce fewer flowers, which will be smaller in size and on shorter stems. Later pruning won’t give the plants adequate time to generate new branches for flower buds to develop. For chrysanthemums, flower buds are not only developed at the ends of each stem, but also in the axil of the uppermost leaves.
    Azaleas generally stop producing new vegetative growth in mid- to late- August. As soon as the tops of the plants stop growing, they begin generating flower buds at the ends of every branch. If you wait to sheer azaleas in August, the plants will not have adequate time to produce new branches upon which flower buds can be produced. Since woody plants such as azaleas are slow to recover from being sheered, there needs to be sufficient time for them to produce two to three inches of new growth before initiating buds.
    When you prune, do it right. When cutting azaleas, always allow at least one, preferably two, inches of new growth to remain on the plant. If you sheer the top of the plant back to its original height, the new growth will have to originate from last year’s growth, which will result in fewer new branches for flower bud initiation. With one to two inches of new growth remaining on the plants, new branches will emerge from the axils of the existing leaves, resulting in more dense foliage with many branches upon which flower buds can grow and flower next spring.

Footnote for Azaleas
    If your azaleas lost most of their lower leaves last winter, you may wish to apply ammonium sulfate fertilizer after the first killing frost this fall. The loss of lower leaves is a clear indication that the plants are not absorbing sufficient ammonium nitrogen. Pruning will result in a greater need for ammonium nitrogen because there will be many more branches and flower buds to feed. By fertilizing with ammonium sulfate after the first killing frost, you will have not only healthier looking plants in the spring but also a greater abundance of flowers.

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Yes, but do it at the grocery

Anne Arundel Countians are lucky to have their recycling picked up at the curb. With the county’s single-stream recycling program, you don’t even have to sort. Even so, 26 percent of what goes into the trash is recyclable, according to Anne Arundel County Recycling.
    Getting that quarter of our waste out of the trash stream depends not only on the will to recycle but also our knowledge.
    You can find a list that outlines most of what is and is not accepted for curbside recycling on the website
    How about plastic bags?
    Reading the website left me confused, so I asked direction from Rich Bowen, Recycling Program Manager for Anne Arundel County.
    Most plastic bags that stretch when pulled are recyclable. This includes grocery bags, bread bags, retail bags (even the thicker plastic retail bags) and newspaper bags. Also in this category are zip-top or roll-top food bags and cellophane plastic wrap.
    Not recyclable in Anne Arundel’s program are shiny metallic bags like chip bags.
    Gather recyclable bags together, please, Bowen asks.
    “For curbside pickup, we ask that residents bundle these bags together and tightly tie the bundle so that they don’t come apart during collection or sorting,” he told me.
    Still, curbside recycling is not the best solution for plastic bags.
    “The best thing to do with them,” Bowen advises, “is take them to the grocery store with you and deposit them in the collection bin at the front of the store.”
    The reason is what happens to the bags after you put them out for recycling.
    “The biggest buyer for bags right now is the company that makes Trex decking,” Bowen said. “The composite lumber material uses the plastic bags to make its product. They want clean bags and feel that when the bags are collected with other materials they get soiled by other recyclables so they can’t use them,” Bowen said.
    Also, if the bags come loose during sorting, they can get lodged in the gears of the mechanism that separates paper, metal, glass and plastics. Escaped bags gum up the works, causing the machine to slow down. This results in a slower processing time, which makes costs for recycling all single stream materials increase.
    Many — but not all — grocery stores have obviously located plastic bag collection bins.

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Fish favor a careful angler

We were drifting soft crab at the Bay Bridge for rockfish when I let my bait get too deep. It fouled on bottom debris. Gritting my teeth in frustration, I maxed my drag, froze my reel spool with my thumb and backed the skiff away. I had lost a number of rigs over past seasons on this particular support, so I assumed that this was just another dues payment.
    I felt my monofilament line stretch as I moved away until it finally broke free, and I reeled my line back. I was surprised to see my hook still attached. Checking its point to ensure it had not been dulled, I rebaited and we set up for another drift.
    When a short time later a good-sized rockfish took my bait, I realized two mistakes I had just made. The first was that I had maxed my drag setting when I snagged my line and had neglected to reset it. The second was that I had ignored the effect of putting so much strain on the line. When that big lunker headed away, the drag held fast. I desperately backed off the adjustment, but my line snapped before the effort could have enough effect. Slumping dejectedly as I retrieved the loose line, I felt like a fool. This was far from my first rodeo, and I had made these mistakes before. Together they spelled disaster.
    As you impart acute strain on a knot, as I did when trying to break off my snagged bait, it continues to tighten, stretching the line and causing it to cut into itself until the knot, or some other weak point in the line, eventually fails.
    Though in this case the knot had not broken and my bait had pulled free, the mono within the knot had already been critically weakened. Coupled with the subsequent stress of a big fish and an extreme drag setting, the knot failed — and a trophy-sized fish easily broke off.
    The lessons, of course, are that when you put high stress on knots, cut them off and retie them — or suffer the consequences. When you mess with your drag, always remember to adjust it back to the original setting.
    The next disaster due to detail happened just a few days later. My favorite hook for bait fishing is made by a quality manufacturer, but with one minor flaw. The shank gap where the hook eye was formed was just a little larger than I would have preferred.
    Early in the season, it made no difference because we were using 30-pound fluorocarbon leaders, more than adequate for our light tackle and thick and tough enough to withstand a questionable hook-eye gap. However, a few weeks later the bite changed. We went from fishing big baits deep with 30-pound leaders to live-lining small perch with sections of 20-pound leader.
    You can guess the rest. During a battle with a particularly large and powerful striper, I experienced a long-range release, inexplicably losing the big devil. When I retrieved my line, I discovered my knot was intact but had slipped through the gap in the hook eye. There’s an old Wall Street saying: To know and not to do is not to know. I had known of the flaw and had done nothing. Willfully, I remained stupid.
    I still use that hook as its other qualities are significant. But ­whenever I get a fresh pack, I anoint the gap on each hook eye with a touch of epoxy. I have not lost a fish to that defect since.
    Retying stressed knots … modifying or eliminating flaws in terminal tackle … always checking for nicks and abrasions in the your line … being sure that the ring inserts on your rod guides, particularly the tip top, are undamaged … continually checking your drag settings: All of these are small habits acquired by experienced anglers.
     The longer you fish, the more little stuff you remember. When that big fish is finally on the line, minor details can make all the difference.

What you’ll gain (and lose) — plus how to get started

Growing vegetables in raised beds is highly recommended when there is limited space, or if your soil does not drain well or is stony. But to be successful, the selected site needs at least eight to 10 hours of full sun if your intent is to grow tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, eggplants, squash, cucumbers and snap beans. With less than eight hours of direct sun, you will be limited to growing lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli and kale.
    Raised beds give you the advantages of good drainage, additional growing space and easier management because you have less bending. There are disadvantages, too: having to irrigate more frequently, higher summer soil temperature, colder fall and spring soil temperatures and problems using power equipment such as tillers.
    A common mistake in establishing raised beds is using commercial potting blends, which are engineered for growing plants in pots and small pans. These shallow containers allow water to accumulate at the bottom, in a perched water table, within reach of the roots. Because commercial potting blends are rich in organic matter and porous materials, they have a high air-filled pore space, which does not make for good water retention. This means having to irrigate and fertilize frequently to obtain a desirable crop. The combination of higher growing media temperatures and low water-holding capacity demands frequent irrigations. More frequent irrigations result in a greater loss of nutrients as water moves through the soil.
    You’ll do better by manufacturing your own soil by purchasing subsoil containing 50 to 60 percent sand. Do not purchase topsoil, for it will be full of weed seeds and live roots of perennial weeds. Subsoil, the layer beneath, the topsoil, is relatively free of weed seeds and roots. Blend the subsoil with one-third by volume of compost if your raised beds are a foot or less in height. If the raised beds are deeper than a foot, fill to within three inches of the top edge and cover the soil with a two-inch-thick layer of compost. Spade or rototill the compost into the upper six inches of soil.
    Regardless of which method you use to fill the raised bed, allow at least two weeks before taking soil samples for testing. Since most subsoils tend to be acidic, most likely it will be necessary to add limestone, but without soil test results, the exact amount cannot be estimated.
    If your interest is in organic gardening, top-dress each year with a one-inch-thick-layer of compost prior to spading or tilling in the spring. Compost has a mineralization rate between 10 and 12 percent, which is essential to maintain a proper nutrient level for the garden to be productive. The mineralization rate is highly dependent upon soil temperature, and raised beds have a higher soil temperature than gardens.
    For conventional gardeners, follow the recommendations on the fertilizer bag. Commercial fertilizers tend to be acidic, so your soil should be tested every three to four years. Apply additional compost at least once every three to four years when using conventional gardening practices. Organic particles in compost deteriorate with time, and you are seeking to maintain a three to five percent level of organic matter for carefree gardening.

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First, catch some small spot

As I flipped my live perch over the side, my son did the same. Hoping that we would not have to wait too long for action, I let the small baitfish swim down and away from the boat. The lines streamed aft and out to port as a light wind pushed our skiff over the calm water.
    Within a few seconds, my line was feeding out unusually fast. I glanced around for orientation to gauge just how fast the tide was moving. My son called, “Dad, your line is crossing over mine,” but when I tried to check its flow, I discovered it wasn’t the current that was pulling out my baitfish. It was something far stronger.
    “I’m getting a run already; something took my bait.” I said, “You’ll have to bring your line in.”
    “I can’t. I have a fish on,” he answered. His rod was bent to the corks, and line was pouring off of his spool.
    Throwing my reel in gear, I came tight to my fish to the same effect, my rod bent down and a strong rockfish headed out and away. I did my best to keep my line from crossing my son’s. For long moments it was a delightfully difficult situation.
    Laughing and dodging around each other as we finally got separation, I had to warn John to push his rod tip deep underwater to keep his line clear of our motor’s lower unit. His fish had turned and managed to angle his line under the hull. I thought about raising the motor in assistance, then decided my hands were full. It was every man for himself.
    The response had turned us optimistic. When we arrived, I had been alarmed to see more than 50 fishing craft clustered in the area. Fortunately, most of the others were trolling or anchored and fishing bait. Neither would interfere with our live-lining tactics.

Tips for Live-lining Success
    A number of details can make big differences in your rate of success. The bait must swim as naturally as possible; ideally no weight should be added to the line. Place the hook no deeper than one-quarter inch just in front of the dorsal.
    To maximize the bait’s freedom of movement, we use loop knots to secure a 6/0 live bait hook to the leader. Using at least 18 inches of no more than a 20-pound fluoro leader helps in the stealth department.
    When fishing open water, make your presentations to marked fish in drift mode to give you a definite advantage. Search until you have found good marks, move up current, then drift down over their location with your motor off. Your electronics will tell you how deep your quarry is and approximately when your bait will drift through them.
    Maintain constant but delicate contact with the baitfish through line tension. Knowing just how the bait is swimming — and lending pressure when it is to your advantage — will trigger strikes. When you feel the baitfish making evasive movements, snubbing it up briefly will make it move more frantically. The stripers are alerted to the bait’s distress and often respond with immediate attacks.
    A long pause, free of all line pressure, is almost always necessary after a rockfish grabs the bait. Unless you’ve got very small perch or spot, it’s difficult to get a hook set until the rockfish has really engulfed the bait. A long five count is the minimum.
    Strike with a firm, measured pull, not a hard strike. Particularly with bigger fish, if it has swallowed the bait, a forceful strike can rip the bait and the hook out of the soft tissue of the fish’s throat. During the fight, keep the pressure moderate for the same reason.
    Do not attempt to horse a fish in the last few feet nor snub a last-minute dash for the bottom. Be patient, set your drag on the light side, let them run and you’ll land ’em all — as we did that day.

Is the Bay full of sharks?

The teeth you find at beaches in Southern Anne Arundel and Calvert counties aren’t from sharks now living in the Bay. The teeth fall from the eroding cliffs around the Bay, where sharks lived during the Miocene Epoch, around 17 million years ago.
    At that time, Southern Maryland looked very different. We were a shallow, salty sea with a climate like North Carolina’s. Over millions of years, the sea receded and through erosion the land that was once the bottom of the ocean rose as Bayside cliffs. The fossils are remains of animals that once lived in the sea, from scallops to sharks.
    Shark teeth top off at seven inches, which means the Great White Shark that grew them was as big as a boxcar. But even an ancient tooth as tiny as a rose thorn can be a thrilling discovery. Learn about these treasures from Calvert Marine Museum, which has a fine collection and offers Fossil Field Experiences (the next is July 16), help in identification and the guidebook Fossils of Calvert Cliffs.
    In addition to shark teeth, a trip to Calvert Cliffs State Park, Flag Ponds or Chesapeake Beach Bayfront Park can yield finds of fossilized shells, whale bones and small sea creatures. The Maryland Geological Survey has a number of handy guides available on its website ( identifying the fossils you can find in the area.
    If you go fossil hunting, know that collecting fossils directly from the cliffs is prohibited. The regulation protects the cliffs and you: The cliffs are unstable, and a collapse can ruin your day. The best time to go searching for fossils is at low tide or just after a storm.

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