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Fall gardens want compost

It is highly unlikely your garden has used up all the fertilizer you applied this spring. This is especially true if your garden soil is rich in organic matter and you used lots of compost.
    Compost raises soil temperatures, while its organic matter releases nutrients at a rate nearly equivalent to the needs of plants. The roots from the previous crop are also decomposing and releasing nutrients.
    If you used your own compost or one based on yard debris, your plants will benefit from an application of nitrogen. But if you used compost from lobster waste or crab waste, you’ve almost certainly got all the nitrogen your fall crops will need.
    If you are an organic gardener, blood meal, cottonseed meal and fish emulsion are good sources of nitrogen. Other sources of nitrogen include calcium nitrate, ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate and urea. Don’t apply slow-release formulas on fall vegetable gardens.
    Fall gardening is an excellent time to maximize your use of compost. If you are tilling the soil to control weeds, incorporate compost into that surface layer of soil. With soil temperatures into the upper 70s, the compost will instantly start releasing nutrients at just the correct rate to promote good steady growth of plants. As the soil begins to cool in mid-September, the release rate of nutrients from the compost will decrease. At the same time, the nutrient requirements of maturing plants will be less. After soil temperatures drop into the 30s, the compost will stop releasing nutrients, thus reducing nutrients lost to leaching. As soon as soil warms in the spring, the organic matter in the compost will start releasing nutrients.
    Another advantage of applying compost in the fall is that spring garden tilling will incorporate the residual compost more deeply into the soil, where it will help reduce the bulk density of the soil and improve its structure.
    Organic matter does so much good for soils. In addition to providing nutrients and reducing the density of soil, compost also has disease suppression properties most effective when applied in late summer. Soil-borne diseases are most prevalent when soil temperatures are high. Applying compost to your garden soil in time for planting the fall crop helps maximize all of the benefits compost has to offer.
    Only where you’re planting carrots do you want to skip the compost. Carrots grown in composted soil will look like clusters of fingers. That’s because high levels of organic matter tend to cause multiple roots to develop on tap-rooted plants. I reported these findings from studies I conducted in the mid 1970s on the use of compost in the production of black walnut trees. This effect was beneficial for producing walnut seedlings for transplanting but not good for growing carrots, where a single root is preferred.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

Cool-weather vegetables are ready to plant mid-summer

Now that spring-planted lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi and potatoes have been harvested, it’s time to prepare your fall garden. Many spring vegetables can be repeated. Beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots cauliflower, lettuce, peas and snap beans love the cool weather of fall. Most can be planted in the garden from late-July to mid-August.
    Unless your garden is heavily infested with weeds, there is no need to till or plow the soil.  If the weeds have taken over, mow them first with the lawnmower or weed-wacker. Then till as shallow as possible to destroy the weeds. Shallow or no tilling helps conserve soil moisture and delays the formation of plow pan.
    Seeds of fall beets, carrots, peas and snap beans can be sown in the garden during the last two weeks of July.
    If you are growing your own transplants of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage and kohlrabi, it’s also time to sow those seeds indoors in air-conditioning. As soon as the seeds germinate, move them outdoors to grow in full sun.
    Delay the sowing of lettuce seeds until the second week in August.
    To maximize production, I sow beets, carrots and peas in double rows six to eight inches apart. To reduce the need for thinning carrots, I mix equal parts by volume of carrot seeds with dry ground coffee. Ground coffee has approximately the same bulk density and size as carrot seeds.
    To minimize having to thin beets, I mix equal amounts of sawdust and beet seeds before sowing.
    Soon after sowing the peas, I install 48-inch-tall chicken wire supported by bamboo stakes for the peas to climb.
    Since I grow my own transplants, I direct seed using cell packs and commercial potting mix. Direct seeding means placing two seeds in each cell. This method reduces the need to transplant and results in larger plants because the growth of seedlings is not delayed. I sow the seeds at least one inch apart. If both seeds germinate, I save the larger seedling and either snip away the other seedling or carefully remove it to transplant into a cell where the seeds failed to germinate.
    If you are purchasing transplants, do so soon after they appear on the market, and plant them promptly in the garden. The longer you keep those plants in the cell packs, the longer they will take to become established in the garden soil. If the transplants are growing in peat pots, tear away the tops of the pots before planting them. If the top edge of the peat pots is allowed to remain above ground in the garden, the root balls are likely to dry out because the exposed peat will wick away water from the root balls.
    If you see a dense mat of roots on the outer edge of the root ball when you lift the plants from the cell pack, crush the root ball to force the root to grow into your garden soil. Root-bound plants establish slowly.

Recreational anglers deserve their fair share of the catch

Our white perch have long waited for Maryland Department of Natural Resources to give them a formal management program. A plan proposed in 1990 stalled over opposition from commercial fishermen. A 2005 effort failed again.
    Finally, an updated management program is under way and a draft released for comment. In reading the 2015 Review of the Maryland White Perch Fishery Management Plan, I was pleased and only a little disappointed.
    The good news is that DNR officials thought enough of the species for another attempt at implementing a management plan. Disappointing, however, are text and the tone, which indicate that all is well so nothing needs to be done: “Restrictive measures on either the commercial or recreational fishery does not appear necessary at this time.”
    One of the management plan’s goals is to “Provide for fair allocation of allowable harvest, consistent with traditional uses, among components of the fishery.” Yet no specific allocations have ever been established for either commercial or recreational fishing. Essentially, the white perch fishery remains a free for all.
    I fish for white perch a great deal, and over recent years the number of 10-inchers I catch has fallen significantly. My experience is confirmed in conversations with fellow anglers. There seem to be a lot fewer nice perch in the western mid-Bay.
    In updating white perch management, I wish DNR would note the imbalance between approximately 500,000 saltwater recreational anglers in Maryland and fewer than 500 commercial watermen fishing for white perch. Yet the commercials take is two to three times the recreational harvest.
    Springtime white perch is one of the most popular of the early-season recreational fisheries on the Bay. Yet as soon as commercial white perch nets go up each spring, the majority of the tributary sportfishing dies for good-sized white perch.
    Once commercial operators have removed their desired take (estimated at 1.5 million to 2 million pounds annually), the remaining white perch may very well not be worth the effort of fishing for them.
    Since Maryland’s recreational fishery generates about 10 times the income to the state (per NOAA studies) as the commercial fishery, and the dollars generated from the sale of recreational fishing licenses make up the majority of DNR’s operating ­budget, should not a priority be placed on more equitable scheduling aimed at providing a better quality experience for the sporting angler?
    Also problematic is by-catch, including the by-catch of perch during the rockfish gill netting season and the by-catch of rockfish, spot, croaker and young menhaden via perch netting. The waste of valuable marine life is lamentable and avoidable with proper planning, scheduling and the proper gear.
    The 2015 White Perch Management Plan has every potential for affecting all of these issues. I wish the plan all possible success.

Just how rare are two full moons in one month?

The full moon lights up the night Friday, the second full moon of the month, a Blue Moon.
    The history of the phrase Blue Moon dates back several hundred years, but the meaning has evolved. As far back as the 16th century, it was an expression of absurdity. I’ll believe that when the moon is blue would have the same effect as saying I’ll believe that when hell freezes over.
    Atmospheric conditions can affect the color of the moon. Volcanic eruptions, dust storms and forest fires have filled the skies with enough airborne particulates to turn the moon blue. An 1883 eruption of the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa caused green sunsets and a blue moon for almost two years. So over time, the phrase became an expression of rarity, as in once in a blue moon.
    Perhaps it is this off-chance, ever-so-slight possibility that lent a dose of melancholy and longing, immortalized in Elvis’ ballad, Blue Moon. “You saw me standing alone, without a love of my own …” But just maybe that Blue Moon would deliver love and happiness.
    Then, in the 1980s, the meaning as a single month with two full moons went viral. In a 2012 column for Sky & Telescope Magazine, Philip Hiscock traces the Blue Moon phrase to a 1946 Sky & Telescope Magazine article that was then quoted in a 1980 radio broadcast of the NPR program Stardate. Read the story at
    By today’s definition, a Blue Moon isn’t all that rare. The moon travels through its phases from one full moon to the next over a period of 281⁄2 days. Whenever a full moon falls in the first few days of a month, it’s likely a second Blue Moon will follow at the end of the month. In fact, during leap year a blue moon can even fall in February. A Blue Moon happens on average once every two to three years. But every now and then you might have two Blue Moons within three months, when a typical 28-day February has no full moon; That would leave January with two full moons followed by March with two full moons itself. This will next occur in 2018.
    Blue Moons are in fact as predictable as clockwork. Every 19 years, in what’s called a Metonic cycle, the solar calendar and the lunar calendar are in synch. The ancient Greeks used this as the basis for their calendar, which stood until 46BC with the advent of the Julian calendar. Based on the Metonic cycle, 19 years from this Friday — or 235 lunar months — a Blue Moon will again fall on July 31.
    The next day, August 1, marks another calendar milestone — Midsummer, third of the four cross-quarter days midway between solstice and equinox. The actual midpoint of summer falls on August 7 this year. The day of midsummer, once a pagan holiday called Lughnasadh in honor of the waning, post-solstice sun god, was co-opted by the Church during the early spread of Christianity, becoming Lammas Day, the festival of the wheat harvest, celebrated August 1.
    Look to the west just after sunset for Venus and Jupiter. They’re still only six degrees apart and the two brightest star-like objects in the heavens. But they set within 45 minutes of the sun, and soon they will be lost in its glare.
    That leaves Saturn ruling the night sky. As bright as an average star, the ringed planet appears high in the south at sunset and doesn’t set until after midnight.

Can you spot the International Space Station?

As darkness deepens Thursday, you’ll find the first-quarter moon high in the south-southwest with the bright star Spica seven degrees to its lower right.
    Friday night the moon has pulled eastward and is equidistant from Spica to its right and Saturn to its left. Even closer to the left of the moon is the faint star Zubenelgenubi, which marks the fulcrum of the celestial scales Libra. Train binoculars on this star, however, and you’ll see that it is actually a double.
    Saturday the waxing gibbous moon is just a few degrees above and to the right of golden Saturn with the red star Antares, whose name translates to Rival of Mars, a little beyond the ringed planet. Sunday the moon, Saturn and Antares form a tight triangle, with Saturn a few degrees to the right of the moon and Antares about the same distance below the moon.
    Venus and Jupiter are the only other planets visible this week. They appear low in the west at twilight and are still within 10 degrees of one another this week. Regulus, the eye of Taurus the bull, is a little higher than the two planets, but they all creep a little lower each night.
    The near-full moon will limit the display from the Delta Aquarids meteor shower, which peaks in the wee hours between Tuesday and Wednesday, July 28 and 29. But with a little luck, you might still catch a few brighter meteors streaking across the sky. Best viewing is after midnight. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but tracing their path backward they all appear to radiate from the constellation Aquarius.
    If you’re up before dawn Wednesday or Thursday, you might catch a fleeting glimpse of the International Space Station, which shines brighter than any star and moves as fast as a jet. Wednesday it is visible for six minutes, popping into view at 4:55am, 40 degrees above the northwest horizon and blinking out of sight just as quickly at 5:01am, 10 degrees above the east-southeast horizon. Thursday it appears 24 degrees above the north-northwest horizon at 4:02am and disappears five minutes later, 11 degrees above the east horizon. Learn more at

Big Eye keeps the birds away

For years I have covered my blueberry plants with bird netting just before the berries start turning blue. The netting was suspended from wires stretched on top of eight-foot-tall piles.  After harvest, the netting had to be removed and returned to storage. This was a demanding job that required most of a day. Despite my best efforts, mocking birds and robins always managed to eat the berries. They entered the cage on their own, but once in they were stuck until I freed them. Occasionally, a black snake would become tangled in the bird netting, and I had to spend time cutting it loose without being bitten.
    The bird netting could survive only four or five growing seasons, so purchasing replacement netting was a regular expense. Then I’d have to hand-sew several sheets together to match the measurements of my blueberry patch. Sewing bird netting is quite tedious because it is always catching on something and the material is very flimsy. The job wasn’t over yet because to make certain that the netting was properly positioned each season, I sewed a three-quarter-inch-thick rope at one end. I used the rope to roll the netting for storage and tagged it at one end with the word south to indicate the direction of placement.
    Never again.
    Last year a friend gave me five bright yellow and one black inflatable polyethylene balloons, each measuring 18 inches in diameter when inflated. Each balloon has five large painted eyes, each with bright aluminum centers. Dangling below each balloon is an aluminized plastic strip a foot long and an inch wide. Tied loosely to wires above plants, the balloons move with the wind.  
    Since these balloons have been hanging above the blueberry plants, I have not seen one bird come within 50 feet of them. I only wish the Japanese beetles, which are feeding on my nearby raspberry plants, were as afraid of those balloons as the birds are.

Share the Bounty
    Remember to contribute your surplus fresh produce to local food banks or pantries to avoid waste and allow others to benefit from your gardening skills.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

A waterspout may get you if you don’t watch out

I focused on drifting the edges of a Bay Bridge pier, where I was hoping a big rockfish would inhale the chunk of soft crab I was presenting below. Conditions ­couldn’t have been much better, with overcast skies and a slack tide. Then my cell phone buzzed.
    I cleared my line and fumbled with my shirt pocket. Finally, freeing the phone, I heard a familiar voice, my neighbor Capt. Frank Tuma, who was fishing a party just to the north of me.
    “Did you see the big waterspout behind you, just south of the bridge?” he queried. “It’s gone now, but for a few minutes I was afraid it was going to get you.”
    I turned and eyeballed the large, dark and menacing cumulus clouds poised low and close to my position.
    “I wasn’t looking in that direction.” I replied. “Maybe I should have been. Those clouds look like they could make bad things happen.”
    It turned out that some nine waterspouts had been sighted in the middle-Bay that morning. Though I had no close calls with a waterborne whirlwind, Candy Thomson, spokeswoman for Maryland Natural Resources Police, had been caught up in that nearby spout while on board a patrol boat.
    It is fortunate that nothing more serious than some brief, brisk winds and a short burst of intense rain descended on the police crew. That is sometimes not the case with these mini-tornados.

Their Rise; Your Retreat
    Waterspouts — dark, whirling funnel clouds descending from stormy skies — form in the Florida Keys more than any place in the world. But the spouts are fairly common from the Gulf of Mexico all the way up Chesapeake Bay.
    Fair-weather waterspouts, such as we experienced that day, are spawned by dark, flat-bottomed storm clouds traveling at low altitude. Typically these waterspouts dissipate before causing damage or injury. Tornadic waterspouts borne of severe weather conditions can be more violent.
    During the hot days of summer, fierce late-afternoon and evening squalls often erupt across the Bay. These small, violent storms are capable of producing more intense waterspouts. Winds have been clocked above 150 mph in ocean-borne tornadic versions, often accompanied by heavy seas, torrential rain, hail and intense lightning. They have sunk or damaged watercraft of all sizes. Violent water spouts are suspected to be the source of some of the mysterious accidents in the Devil’s Triangle off the Keys.
    The primary defense while on Bay waters is keeping an active weather channel open on your marine radio. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard broadcast alert warnings whenever and wherever waterspouts are sighted.
    Avoid a spout by heading at a 90-degree angle away from the direction of the funnel. Evasion might not be possible in poor visibility or if a water spout descends from overhead, as apparently happened to the Natural Resources Police crew. So it is wise to steer clear of any area where the mini-tornados are reported.

When water replaces air in the soil, plants die

If plants are wilting in your gardens despite all of the rain we have been having, it is due to a lack of oxygen in the soil. This is a bigger problem in heavy-loam soils than in sandy loam or loamy sands. Heavy soils become saturated with water faster than sandy soils because the pores are smaller and thus exclude all the air.
    The roots of plants need oxygen to function. We have received so much rain that air in the soil has been replaced by water. If the problem persists for more than a couple of weeks, there is a good possibility that root rot will kill plants. Under these conditions, it is not uncommon to harvest carrots with rotted taproots. Or to see tomato plants developing roots near the base of stems to replace the dying roots killed by excess water in the soil.
    The problem is worse in gardens that have been plowed and/or rototilled at the same depth year after year. Working the soil to the same depth once or twice each year causes a plow pan to form below the tilled or plowed layer. Plow pans are a compacted layer of soil that prevents the downward movement of both water and roots.
    Plow pan can occur in both sandy and heavy loam soil but happens more rapidly in heavy soils. To determine if your soil has plow pan, try pushing a half-inch-diameter piece of pipe or dowel into the soil. If you have plow-pan, you will most likely be able to force the pipe only six inches deep. In many instances, I have uncovered plow pans so dense that I was not able to penetrate them with my stainless steel auger.
    The problem can be solved by sub-soiling with a special tractor-mounted attachment, by double digging or by varying the depth of plowing or rototilling season to season.
    Sub-soilers are plow-like attachments that penetrate the soil to a depth of 18 to 24 inches, forcing the soil upward and fracturing the pan layer. Sub-soiling should be done when the soil is as dry as possible to maximize fracturing of the pan layer.
    If you spade the garden by hand, double digging means that when you first press your spade in the ground, you remove a spade full of soil and place it to one side, followed by removing another spade full of soil from the same hole. In other words, you are digging into the sub-soil, thus removing the pan layer, then blending it with the surface layer of soil.
    You can delay the formation of the plow pan by varying the depth that you plow or rototill. One year you plow or rototill at a depth of three inches, the next four inches, the next five inches and the next six inches before returning to a depth of three inches.

Share the Bounty

    Let others benefit from your gardening skills by contributing surplus fresh produce to local food banks or pantries. The Bay Gardener donates his surplus vegetables to SCAN Food Bank at St. James Episcopal Church on Rt. 2, which is open for those in need on Thursday and Saturday from 8am until noon.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

Rockfish crave spot, but in a pinch white perch will satisfy

I strained to keep my severely arced rod from touching the gunnel as I plunged the tip deep into the water. A large and powerful fish about 20 feet down was intent on crossing under my skiff. Had the line, humming from the tension, contacted the hull it would likely have snapped. On the other hand, if the stressed graphite rod banged the gunnel, it could shatter. I was doing my best to avoid either catastrophe.
    My partner in the bow was handling his own critical situation. He had also hung a big fish that was running deep, equally out of control. Things would soon get worse.

Our Shared Affliction
    Mike Fiore and I often planned to fish together, but either the weather or our work schedules had cancelled out each attempt. This time we hoped it would be different. It was, and in more ways than we had imagined.
    Mike and I work together at Angler’s and often exchange information on where the rockfish are hottest, the best new baits and the hangouts for white perch. I knew the 18-year-old was a skilled angler for his age and that he fished the same kind of gear I did, bait-casting tackle, an affliction not shared widely in the Chesapeake. We wanted to compare techniques.
    Finally we were both free on the same day. Meeting in the early morning, we acquired ice and a bag of bloodworms. We’d agreed that we wanted to live-line for stripers, a technique special to the tackle we both favored.
    The problem with our plan was the scarcity of small Norfolk spot, the number-one bait to live-line for stripers. Once on the water we ­couldn’t find spot the right size anywhere. But we did find some smaller white perch.
    We reasoned that if the rockfish had as much trouble as we did finding spot, the spikey white perch just might work. A sharp-spined, thick-scaled perch is a distant second choice, compared to spot, for predatory striped bass. But if they were hungry enough they should eat them.

Bait in the Water
    With barely enough whities for bait, we headed for the Eastern Shore around the area of the Sewer Pipe. Running well out into the Bay a few hundred yards north of the Bay Bridge,  the pipe is the outflow from a sewage processing plant on Kent Island. Protected by steeply piled rock for the entirety of its length, it creates underwater structure that is a magnet for marine life. That marine life often includes big rockfish.
    A small, tight school of fish below produced marks on my fish-finder that strongly indicated striped bass below. Dropping down a couple of wriggling perch, we lightly thumbed our spools, feeding out line and feeling the actions of the baitfish as they strained for the bottom.
    Within seconds, we’d had that double hookup. We kept the big rock separated as long as we could, but as we drew them close the inevitable happened: Our lines crossed. Mike was fishing braid and I mono, so the situation was dire. Under tension, the ultra-thin braid will slice through mono like soft butter.
    Luckily for us the fish were played out and docile. Though we had a line tangle to undo, both stripers (twins at 34 inches) were quickly netted and in the cooler. Over the next hour we then enjoyed another double header (both released as too big) and then two 26-inch singles to manage our last two keepers. (The daily individual limit for rockfish is two fish over 20 inches, only one of which can exceed 28 inches.)
    That day, white perch were on the rockfish menu and rockfish were on our own.

Okra, for beauty and taste

Okra likes it hot.  Soon the cool-loving cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kohlrabi will have been harvested, leaving a large empty space in the garden. Lots of nutrients still in the garden can be used for growing a crop of okra.
    To get a jump, start young okra plants in three-inch pots.  After filling the pots with potting soil, place two okra seeds in each. I prefer Clemson Spineless, but there are many varieties available. The seeds will germinate in five to eight days, especially if the pots are outdoors in full sun. Keep them well watered. After the seedlings are about three inches tall, take a sharp knife or nail clippers and cut out the smallest.
    As soon as the area in the garden is cleared, transplant the young okra two feet apart in rows at least three feet apart. Or plant them in your flower bed. Purple varieties produce very attractive foliage. As they can grow to a height of four feet, they are best used as a background plant. But make certain they are accessible for harvesting the pods.
    Okra is a member of the hibiscus family. The plants will start producing beautiful pale yellow hibiscus flowers with purple or red centers within three to four weeks after transplant­ing. Within two to three days after the flowers have wilted, some of the pods will be ready to harvest.
    To assure quality and tenderness, okra pods should be harvested three to four times weekly, especially during hot muggy days when the plants are flowering daily and growing rapidly. Pods longer than five inches will be woody and not palatable. But with some imagination, they can be dried and used in floral arrangements or Christmas tree decorations. Pods can grow to eight to 10 inches long.
    Okra plants will continue to produce pods into mid to late September. However, the later pods tend to become warty looking and are generally not tender.
    Okra can be breaded and fried, brushed with olive oil and baked for about 15 to 20 minutes in a 400-degree oven and sprinkled with salt, used in making gumbo, pickled or added to a tomato, hamburger and onion sauce. When using okra in sauces, always add the cut okra just before serving to avoid the slimy texture that results from over-cooking.
    I have grown okra in my garden in Deale for the past 24 years without failure. I could never grow it when I gardened in New Hampshire because the summers were too short and cool.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.