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For my youngest’s 24th, a hard-fighting false ­albacore

It has been quite a while since I heard a reel drag shriek. I had to go to Florida to hear it — not once but three times in minutes.
    My youngest son, Rob, was holding the protesting rig as a powerful fish departed at speed. Harrison, my next oldest at 27, was live-lining a small pilchard farther down the pier when his reel also began to wail as line ripped off the spool.
    Their friend Matt then joined in the cacophony. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his rod jerk down and the reel spool turn into a blur accompanied by another high-pitched drag howl.
    False albacore (average weight eight pounds) are one of the fastest fish in the sea at 40 knots. The boys were getting first-hand knowledge of just how speedy and powerful they can be. A first run in excess of 100 yards is about average on light tackle for this most numerous member of the tuna family.
    At the end of that run they’ve broken off, slipped the hook or paused, momentarily, to wonder where the rest of the school has gotten. That’s not the end of the fight, merely the beginning.
    The fact that all three of my party had hooked up, almost simultaneously, on that Florida fishing pier had nothing to do with my guidance, unless you count selecting the right mentor.
    The most convenient location to fish saltwater around Delray Beach, Florida — where my youngest is living and Harrison and I were visiting — was a long public fishing pier projecting into the ocean along the sandy eastern Florida shoreline.
    I had little firsthand knowledge of the local fishing. That was supplied by Vinny Keitt, a dedicated Florida pier angler who has been teaching the intricacies of that form for almost 30 years. Vinny is a giant of a man. Six and a half feet tall and broad, he presented an imposing figure strolling onto the pier, pulling a custom flatbed with rods, reels, gear and coolers.
    Greeting him was every person on the fairly crowded pier, from 12-year-olds fishing worn family spin tackle to everyday anglers to knowing sports wielding custom-made graphite rods rigged with Van Staals and high-end Shimanos. A well-dressed middle-aged woman proffered a sizeable king mackerel by its tail and exclaimed, “Look, Vinny, just like you taught me!”
    Soft-spoken and with a seasoned teacher’s manner, Vinny, selected a light spin rod rigged with a sabiki — six tiny hooks dressed with white feathers and a one-ounce sinker. Within a few seconds, he reeled back up the rig now wriggling with three or four small pilchard baitfish that had latched on below.
    He then placed a pilchard, nose-hooked and weightless, onto each of our medium spin rods, tossed the baits out and handed us the outfits with a few concise instructions. Within a very short time, each angler was struggling with a two- to three-pound blue runner, a hard-fighting fish of the jack family.
    The bite escalated from there, culminating an hour later in our hookups with the false albacore plus an awesome jump from a 60-pound tarpon before it spit Harrison’s hook.

You’ll enjoy the best flavor and pound out your aggression

The best sauerkraut is made from freshly harvested cabbage grown during the fall months. I make about 20 pounds of sauerkraut every two to three years and store it in canning jars.
    Choose cabbages that form tight dense heads and can be uniformly shredded into pieces approximately one-eighth of an inch thin. I prefer Flat Head Dutch be­cause the tight, dense heads can easily be shredded. Heads can weigh five pounds or more.
    For best flavor, pack and shred cabbage the day it’s harvested from your garden or at your farmers market.
    I make my sauerkraut in a stone crock because it can withstand the heavy pounding required to crush the cells of the shredded cabbage. Alternatives are stainless steel pails or food-grade five-gallon plastic buckets. For the latter, place a wooden disc the diameter of the bucket under it to prevent bouncing.
    A shredding board is a good tool because it has at least three cutting blades that shred the cabbage. For many years I shredded the cabbage with a very sharp chef’s knife, but I did not have the uniformity that I get from a shredding board.
    Peel away all loose leaves until the outer leaves are firmly attached to the head. Wash the cabbage under cold water and pat dry with a clean towel. Shred a three-inch layer of cabbage into the container and sprinkle with a tablespoon of salt. For every five pounds of shredded cabbage, add three tablespoon of canning salt. Kosher salt is ideal.
    With a clean sauerkraut pounder or a wooden dowel two to three inches in diameter, pound cabbage and salt until you start hearing a squishing sound. Add another layer of cabbage and salt and repeat the pounding. By the time you have pounded half of the shredded cabbage, you should have cabbage juice surfacing. If not, keep pounding until juice becomes visible.
    Continue until you have used all of the cabbage or your container is within four inches from the rim. Cabbage juice should cover the top layer of shredded cabbage.
    Place a dinner plate on the shredded cabbage and juice to direct the fermentation gasses to the outside edge of the container. Cover the dinner plate with a water lock made from a two- or three-gallon plastic zipper bag half filled with water. Seal the bag and place it over the plate; this will allow the fermenting gasses to escape but keep air out.
    Store in a cool dry place for six to eight weeks. The longer you allow it to ferment, the whiter the sauerkraut.
    On removing the water lock and plate, you will find a discolored surface layer. Using a large serving spoon, skim and discard this layer, rinsing the spoon in clean water after each scraping.
    Freeze your sauerkraut in plastic zipper bags or can it in in sterilized glass jars submerged in boiling water for 10 minutes.


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

And how did it come to be?

And how did it come to be?
The Appalachian Trail, a 2,190-mile route that stretches from Georgia to Maine, was proposed in 1920 by Brenton MacKaye. Acquiring and protecting the land took decades of cooperation and political and private negotiations. The trail was mostly completed by 1937, but not federally protected until 1968. Only in 2014 was the last part of the route protected.
    The trail is part of the National Parks System and travels through many tracts of federal and state-controlled land, but many parts of the corridor cross over or near privately owned lands.
    “The process of completing the trail has relied on many factors, particularly when it comes to land usage rights,” explains Jordan Bowman of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
    Care of the Appalachian Trail falls under the National Parks System, but the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, located in Harpers Ferry, WV, oversees and coordinates maintenance, protection and promotion of the trail. Much of the day-to-day maintenance and construction is done by the 31 Appalachian Trail Communities. In addition to the trail itself, regional groups also maintain and rent the cabins and shelters that line the route.
    The Potomac Appalachian Trail Community oversees a portion of the trail that begins in central Pennsylvania at Pine Grove Furnace, continues through Maryland and West Virginia to Harpers Ferry and extends into the mid-point of Virginia, including Shenandoah National Park.
    The trail is visited by approximately three million people a year
    “In 2015, 916 individuals reported that they had completed the entire trail, including 158 who completed their hikes over multiple years,” Bowman says.
    The most popular parts of the trail coincide with the beginning, Springer Mountain in Georgia, and end, Katahdin in Maine, and portions that go through national or state parks.
    “The vast majority of visitors are not thru-hikers, but those who instead spend anywhere from an afternoon to a few weeks on the trail. That’s one of the great things about the trail,” Bowman says. “Since it crosses over or near many roads and connects with many other trails, it is easy to find a hike that is as short — or as long — as you want it to be.”


Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

Credit our summer rain

Composting is a science nature has been using since the earth was created. It has only been in the last five decades that we have begun to understand what it does and how. I remain constantly amazed that such a simple process can be so complex. Understanding the pro­cess is the key to producing a quality compost that will benefit the soil in your garden in numerous ways.
    If you make your compost in open bins, you have no doubt made your best compost ever. The compost bins that I filled with last fall’s leaves and on-going vegetable waste from the garden and the kitchen is ready to use. Vegetable kitchen waste added to the compost the last week in July decomposed in less than two weeks.
    Credit the abundance of rain in June and July.
    I make it a practice to wet down my compost bins weekly during the spring and summer, but the downpours did a better job of keeping the composting piles wet than we can.
    In mid-June, I shoveled the composting waste from a large bin into a medium bin, filling it to the brim. By the first week in August, the medium bin had already shrunk to half the volume.
    This rapid rate of decomposition is a prime example of the importance in keeping decomposing organic waste moist. While the composting piles were shrinking rapidly, I measured temperatures of 140 degrees and above. This is an ideal temperature for composting, generating a final product that is nearly free of weed seeds and disease-causing organisms. As the composting materials began to cool in late July, the beneficial organisms that are accumulated on the surface enter the pile.
    When temperatures in the compost are close to the temperature of ambient air, the compost is not capable of providing nutrients because they are being absorbed by organisms active in composting. Most of the nutrients from the compost are not released until those organisms start dying out.


Beware the Harlequin Beetle

    With temperatures in the 90s, weather conditions have been perfect for the harlequin beetle to reproduce and attack plants in the vegetable garden. Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and even horseradish plants have been its prime source of food. This hungry, colorful insect can vary in size from the head of a straight pin to slightly larger than a pencil eraser. It actively feeds all day and lays its eggs in the fold of leaves. Any insect that can devour the leaves of a healthy planting of horseradish in a matter of weeks demands immediate attention. Garden books recommend controlling them by hand-picking, but 39-plus days of 90-degree temperature must have shifted their reproductive capability into high gear, because large colonies of pin-sized hatchlings seem to appear daily.


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

Hauling in jimmies cradling sooks

The big crabs were coming fast, furious and two at a time. My buddy, Mike Fiore, was in the bow holding a crab net crammed full of doublers. He was finding so many of the big males cradling females and clinging to the concrete bridge columns just below the water’s surface that he hadn’t time to shake one set out of the net before we were onto the next.
    “This is unbelievable,” he whooped in excitement. “I’ve never seen so many doublers.”
    Nor had I, and the fact that we hadn’t intended to go crabbing that morning made it more all the better.
    We didn’t have a basket on board to store the crabs, so Mike was simply dropping them onto the deck. There was soon scarcely room to move about in the skiff, with crabs two deep and scuttling in search of a return to the water.
    We had that net only because we intended to catch some big white perch. A crab net is the ideal landing device to ensure that a big heavy black back won’t be lost while over the side of the boat.
    The perch outing was a bust. Despite an early arrival, by mid-morning we had virtually nothing to show. The fish were not there, though we worked the likeliest areas with our best spinner baits.
    We exhausted Plan A and went into Plan B areas with no improvement. With a couple of peeler crabs and some bloodworms for a deeper-water Plan C, we headed for a not-too-distant bridge.
    As I eased my skiff up to a piling so that Mike could drop his top-and-bottom rig on the down-current side where we hoped some jumbo perch would be laying up (they weren’t), he blurted out, “Man there’s a couple of really big doublers hanging onto this column.”
    The baited top-and-bottom rig he had prepared never got wet as he laid down his outfit and wielded our perch landing device (the crab net) to bring the big jimmy and its date on board. Shaking them onto the deck, he leaned out and netted a second, then a third.
    “Dang, look, they’re all over the place,” he observed.
    The crabs kept coming.
    A successful angler can adapt to changing conditions. The conditions that day had changed drastically. We went from angling for white perch to harvesting blue crabs.
    I maneuvered our light craft close around each bridge support in turn, and Mike scooped up the doublers. After about an hour of working just a portion of the pilings, we had an astonishing number of crabs crawling the deck.
    Creating a couple of makeshift measuring devices marked at 5½ inches to ensure we didn’t keep any undersized crabs, we culled through the lot. Pitching the females plus all of the males even close to undersized, we still ended up with nearly a bushel of nice jimmies.
    Temporarily holding the keepers in our fish box while culling, we were then faced with another problem. A cooler is a poor place to store crabs as there is no air circulation. We had no other container and were almost an hour from home, so we dumped the keepers back onto the deck and began the run to the boat ramp.
    During the trip back, as I moved my flip-flop clad foot to discourage a big jimmy that was seeking shelter in my shadow, the motion was enough to trigger a typical crab response. It latched onto my big toe.
    With tears of pain and laughter running down my cheek, I held my foot still and the boat up on plane until the beast got bored and released my aching digit. The delicious crab feast we held that night was more than enough payback.

Holiday dates back more than 130 years

The first Monday in September marks Labor Day.
    “Labor Day is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor. “It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.”
    Credit for the day of celebration is divided between Matthew Maguire, a machinist and member of the Central Labor Union in New York, and Peter McGuire, a carpenter and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor.
    The first Labor Day celebration was held by the Central Labor Union in New York on Tuesday, September 5, 1882. Ten thousand workers took unpaid time off to march from Market Hall to Union Square in the first Labor Day parade.
    Labor Day celebrations spread throughout the country, with municipalities, then states and finally the nation recognizing a holiday for working people. President Grover Cleveland signed the law designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day in 1894. His timing was practical, in response to a railroad strike that crippled rail travel. In response, the government deployed troops to Chicago to control the striking workers. Riots broke out and dozens were killed. Labor Day was recognized in hopes of repairing the relationship between government and workers.
    Through the 20th century, the power of labor unions rose. The American labor movement has become synonymous with values that Americans hold dear: a fair wage for a day’s work, safe working conditions for all, a labor force that is valued and protected from exploitation — and the weekend.
    In the 1980s, 30 percent of Americans were union members. Today, only about 11 percent of workers are represented by unions.


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.

 

Dog vomit mold and artillery fungus are likely candidates

The abundance of rain this summer has created ideal conditions for the growth of artillery fungus and dog vomit mold. Gardeners who apply a fresh layer of mulch each spring are prime candidates for both problems. I have already seen one case of dog vomit mold, and I anticipate calls complaining that the color of their houses suddenly appears darker.
    Dog vomit is a slime mold that grows readily on organic matter such as hardwood bark mulch. Its name describes its appearance. It pops up in dark, shaded areas that can remain moist for several days. It will first appear as a bubbly dirty-white-to-pinkish blob five to eight inches long and two to three inches wide. Within a day or two, it will turn brown making it appear as if a dog dropped a load from the other end. Depending on how soon you discover it, it may have an odor.
    There are no chemicals you can use to rid the area of this slime mold and no chemicals you can use to prevent it. If you discover it in your landscape the only solution is to sweep it away with a rake and hope that it will not return. There is strong evidence that it is a more common problem where hardwood bark mulch is used and a lesser problem where pine bark mulch is applied. I have also seen it on colored mulches made from discarded pallets.
    Artillery fungus is the result of a saprophytic fungus releasing millions of black spores that are carried by a wind or a slight breeze. We have the proper conditions for artillery fungus to appear. Many years ago, extension agents on the Eastern Shore were overwhelmed with phone calls from people whose houses overnight changed in color from white to brown-black. In every instance, the homeowners had applied a fresh layer of mulch under and around their garden and foundation plantings. There appeared to be no differences among the types of mulches used.
    Those homeowners who took immediate action and power-washed the exterior of their homes were spared the expense of having to paint them. Those who allowed the fungus spores to dry on the siding had to scrape and sand before it could be painted.
    Both of these problems are unpredictable. But our recent weather — frequent heavy rains, high temperatures and high humidity — remind me of those years when both dog vomit mold and artillery fungus were problems. Beware.
    I have never experienced either of these on my property. I avoid them by not applying bark or wood mulches. I am a strong advocate for using compost as mulch. Bark contributes nothing of nutritional value to the soil, while compost provides nutrients. Plus the composting process kills disease-causing organisms and only beneficial organisms remain.


Heat Shock in the Garden

Q    Why are my green pole bean blossoms falling off? No beans in sight.

–Buddy Rapczynski, Lusby

A    It has been too hot. Cool the plants by misting them with water twice during the heat of the day.


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

A hard fighter and incom­parable on the table

The previous two fish were a 10- and an 11-incher, but when I cinched this perch it was clearly a more formidable adversary. Boring for deep water in an extended, measured run, the perch then paused and just plain refused to budge. I lifted my rod and tried to pull him toward the surface but found it almost impossible to gain line.
    Having lost a number of big perch trying to out-muscle them, I patiently kept a deep bend in my stick. Eventually the fish began to move, steadily and away. I was at a loss for what to do next.
    The primary goal that morning had been to get some nice white perch for dinner. The secondary goal was to be off the water by 11am, when the August sun would begin to really throw its heat around.
    While I’ll launch my skiff in the wee hours before dawn when the water is at its coolest, I have never been a morning person. Luckily I didn’t have to rise early for these fish. The white perch is one species in the Bay that is almost immune to warm temperatures.
    The whitey is also as sporty as they come, a hard fighter, easy to lose and incomparable on the table, especially when fried. The only possible shortcoming is the perch’s modest size, but that can be remedied by matching the tackle to the fish.

Tackle Tips
    My favorite rods for tangling with these spunky fish, especially in shallow water where they can really show off their stuff, are a pair of light, Loomis five-footers with full-length cork grips and Shimano Sahara 1000 reels spooled with four- to six-pound mono.
    I throw a variety of lures, and each can be superior depending on the circumstances. Spinner baits are, overall, the most productive class of lures. A 1/6-ounce Super Rooster Tail in Clown Coach Dog or Chartreuse Dalmatian are superior for water up to four feet deep and have been the most popular perch lures in the mid-Bay for the last half-dozen years or so.
    A more recent addition, the Capt. Bert’s Perch Pounder in orange and black (Jamie’s Halloween) is fast overtaking the Roosters in terms of fish catching. These baits also work well in deeper water up to six feet and feature a single, fixed, super-sharp Gamagatsu hook that resists bottom fouling and makes de-hooking the fish a great deal easier.  Deeper water lures include the Kastmasters and the P-Line Laser Minnows.
    White perch of all sizes can usually be found in the shallows around rock jetties, piers and docks, fallen shoreline trees, any kind of rip-rapped edges and any deeper underwater structures such as bridge supports, rock piles, oyster reefs or sunken boats. The more remote, hard-to-find or difficult-to-access structures have the best chance of holding larger fish.

Back to the Fish at Hand
    It took some long and anxious minutes before my monster finally began to tire. Early in the battle I was suspicious that the rascal was a rockfish in disguise but its steady, determined runs and thumping head shakes convinced me that it was an old, thick shouldered, black back.
    Netting the beast as it finally emerged from the depths, I was still astonished by its size. Measured from the fork in its tail to the tip of the nose, it registered a solid 13¾ inches, my personal best in 35 years of fishing the Chesapeake. As contrast, it would take a rockfish of more than 36 inches on light tackle to equal the thrill of landing this outsized perch, indeed a trophy.
    Six perch that day easily provided dinner for me and my wife. I filleted the fish (the big one turned out to be a male), then cut each into finger-eating-sized portions. Rolled in panko crumbs, fried to a golden-brown in peanut oil and served with fresh, Eastern Shore sweet corn and sliced tomatoes, it was a meal to remember.

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.