Dock of the Bay

Volume VI Number 48
December 3-9, 1998


  • Dreaming of a Green Christmas? How to Harvest the Right Tree
  • Where to Get Your Tree
  • Mr. Mister's Bounce: A Parable of American Politics
  • Be Good to our Boat This Winter
  • Way Downstream ...

  • Dreaming of a Green Christmas? How to Harvest the Right Tree

    It may feel like May outside, but area nurseries, garden centers and tree farms know better. It's time to start thinking about your Christmas tree.tree

    You can keep your choice simple and get a balsam again this year. Or you can throw in some new complications like whether to cut your our own tree this year - or maybe try a live tree. Whatever you decide, you're likely to find the tree of your dreams nearby in Chesapeake Country.

    Standard for cut Christmas trees are white pine, scotch pine, Fraser fir, Douglas fir and Canadian balsam. Pines tend to have more flexible branches that don't always support some of the heavier ornaments. Balsam, firs and spruces have stiffer branches but are often more expensive. At Behnke's Nursery in Largo manager of the outdoor plant department Orion Taylor picks the Fraser fir.

    "It has a nice fragrance and very long-lasting needles, even when the tree is almost completely dry." But he hedged his bet. "Balsam is also one of our top sellers because of the price," which is less than a Fraser fir, Taylor said.

    Price varies greatly depending on the type and size of tree as well as where it's bought. At Roozen's Garden Center in Annapolis, for example, trees "start at $19.99 and go up to $200. That one takes five men to hold it," said manager Nancy Faulkner.

    There are several schools of thought on how to tell if a cut tree is fresh. Faulkner advised cupping your hand and running it along the stem. Most of the needles should remain on the tree, she said.

    Bend a stem, Taylor said, and make sure it is flexible. He also advised picking off a needle and bending it. "If the needle snaps, it's really fresh. If it bends, the tree is getting a little leathery and dry," he said.

    Many people grasp the tree and bang the trunk end against the ground; some needles will probably fall, but there shouldn't be a carpet. Another strategy is to ask the seller to make a fresh cut on the trunk. "If you see sap after the tree is cut, it is fresh," Faulkner said. Problems will be more visible if you buy during daylight.

    To keep your choice fresh, wrap it in plastic for the ride home, the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service advises. This will prevent excessive wind from drying the tree. Once home, the tree should go promptly into a bucket of water and be stored outside until decorating time.

    This week is still early for that job. "Trees brought in this week are likely to shed quite a bit by Christmas week," Taylor said.

    Once the tree is indoors and in the stand, make sure it gets plenty of water. Otherwise, the cut on the trunk will seal and the tree will dry out. "You may have to water it daily," Taylor advised.

    There are two foolproof ways of getting an absolutely fresh Christmas tree. One is to cut your own tree at a local tree farm. The other is to buy a live tree for planting outdoors after Christmas.

    Cut-your-own operations are scattered through Chesapeake Country. But they're fairly "small and unadvertised," a Maryland Christmas Tree Association spokesperson told New Bay Times. You often have to find them by signs or word-of-mouth.

    Nurseries and garden centers also stock live trees. Often you can choose from Eastern white pine, Norway spruce, Colorado blue spruce and Fat Albert blue spruce. These varieties are suited for growing outdoors in the region, Taylor said. Fraser firs don't like the heat of a Maryland summer, he added, but can do well if planted where they will receive some shade in the hottest part of the day.

    Frozen ground seems a far way off but, to be on the safe side, dig the planting hole now and fill it with leaves or mulch. If buying a live tree now, wait before bringing it indoors. "We tell people not to have live trees indoors more than 10 days," Taylor advises.

    When you bring it in, you'll need a container large enough to hold the rootball of a live tree, which will be 18 to 24 inches around. Put a little sawdust or pine bark mulch in the bottom of the container to keep the tree steady, then cover with more. Keep the rootball moist but not wet.

    Whether cut, cut-your-own or live, trees are likely to sell briskly this weekend. The week after Thanksgiving is "traditionally our biggest for Christmas trees," Taylor said.

    Many trees have already been sold at Mary's Mount, a cut-your-own tree farm in Harwood. "We sold more trees last weekend than we ever have" this early, said owner Dick Smith.

    Many cut-your-own farms have saws available and will help cut the tree, if requested, but it's wise to call ahead to make sure.

    -Patricia Acton writes of plants and gardens from Deale.


    Where to Get Your Tree

    For cut trees, possibilities range from large building supply stores and nurseries, smaller garden centers, and numerous lots devoted mostly to trees and greenery. Some lots sell trees to benefit an organization or cause, including:

    Farms that sell live or cut-your own trees include:

    Mr. Mister's Bounce: A Parable of American Politics

    photo by Mark BurnsMr. Mister

    You're on your feet and cheering, riding the high of your team's win, when the camera pans the losers' dugout and you look straight into the face of defeat. In American's two-party system, as in baseball, at least half the players lose. But if you've played the game of politics well, your story shouldn't end there.

    Hagner Mister's didn't.

    A month ago, Mister lost his job. Lost by the skin of his teeth, put out of office by 201 votes. In a 10-candidate field, the two term Calvert County commissioner - the president of the august body that governs Maryland's fastest growing county - came in sixth. So close was the race - the spread among the bottom six candidates was only 1,200 votes - that Mister couldn't even be sure he was dumped until absentee ballots were counted.

    Worse, Hagner Mister lost his job to a sewer.

    On the issue of whether Dunkirk, one of the county's so-called "town centers," should give up septic systems for public sewer, Mister had voted yes.

    "The thing that did me in was the sewer issue," the defeated commissioner, still unabashed, told New Bay Times. "I thought it was the right thing to do when I voted on August 4, and I still do today - from both the environmental and the health point of view."

    But in rural areas, the coming of public sewer often opens the floodgates of development, which to residents who've come to the country is about like opening the gates of hell. Dunkirk's own anti-sewer candidate, Republican David Hale, was swept into his first term as a commissioner with 11,600 votes, second only to the popular second-term Republican Linda Kelley.

    A month ago, Hagner Mister's face must have looked like a San Diego Padre's.

    But now Hagner Mister is a man reborn - and all because he's a team player. Mister played the whole season on Gov. Parris Glendening's team. Whether times were foul or fair, when Glendening came to Calvert County, Mister was there.

    Now Mister is moving up to the big leagues, joining Glendening's team mid-December as deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

    "It's just the job I would have wanted if I'd applied," said Mister.

    The fit is good for a couple of reasons. First, Mister is a part-time farmer, growing about 10 acres of tobacco on the 100 acre farm he owns with his brother. Much of that land has been in the family since the 1950s, and Mister's roots in Southern Maryland's farm and water ways go even deeper.

    Next, Mister worked 33 years - "the better part of my life," he says - in the United States Department of Agriculture.

    "I've worked with farmers, with county government, state government, the federal government," says Mister. "I think all my work over the years with levels of government, farmers and soil conservation districts will be an asset to me."

    What's more, Mister will be working with a near neighbor. The department's secretary, Dr. Henry 'Bud' Virts, lives across the Patuxent River in Charles County, just below the Benedict bridge.

    As icing on the cake, Mister's getting "a nice office with windows" in one of state government's most attractive complexes. On Harry S Truman Parkway, the Maryland Department of Agriculture building is also, says Mister, "not a bad commute: about 40 miles."

    Now that he's joined the "governor's management team," the new deputy secretary expects he'll be helping "to implement the governor's vision and goals for the state: smart growth, rural legacy, agricultural preservation, open space and good environmental policies."

    That Mister won't mind at all, since they're policies he was willing to lose for:

    "Along the lines of the governor's smart growth initiative, look right here in Calvert County," he says. "I've often thought what our long narrow county is going to look like in 50 years if we don't develop our town centers. By having access to sewer and water, you can increase density and still have environmental quality. You're not going out on the total landscape and making irretrievable decisions. You can preserve open space. It's environmentally the right thing to do."

    And those, the out-going commissioner/in-coming deputy secretary said, will do for last and first words.


    Be Good to our Boat This Winter

    If you're like us, you're still enjoying your boat to get out on the Bay this spring-like autumn. But with December, we're acknowledging that the good weather will some day end.

    Our boat has been very good to us this year, and we want to be good to it this winter. We asked the Boat Owners Association of The United States to review the basics. Here's the least you need to do to avoid paying for winter damage next spring:

    Do it yourself, or have your winterizing professionally done by one of the many marinas or marine service contractors in Chesapeake Country.

    BOAT/U.S. has a full, free guide to putting your boat up for winter. For your free copy of their Winterizing Notebook, call 800/274-4877 or visit


    Way Downstream ...

    In Virginia, authorities have vowed a crackdown to improve the state's dubious reputation as the second biggest trash importer in the United States. (Pennsylvania is first.) The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality said last week that it will increase inspections of trucks and landfills and perform its own tests of water around landfills rather than letting dumping companies do it

    In California, a logger named Jimmie Derington found last week that it doesn't pay to profit from rare, old-growth forests. He was sentenced to 33 months in prison after being convicted on felony charges of cutting down 180 200-year-old trees in the Sequoia National Forest ...

    Newfoundland is producing a new bottled drink being called the cleanest drinking water on earth. Iceberg Industries of St. John's in New Foundland, pioneered a process to tear chunks from icebergs that had broken from glaciers that were formed so long ago that they've never been exposed to modern contamination ...

    In Britain, researchers are trying to make sure your blue jeans aren't polluters. Instead of using a blue die with the chemical sodium dithionite, scientists at the University of Reading are experimenting with a medieval process that makes dye from a bacteria called clostridium. The only problem thus far is that the bacteria gives off a smell of rotten eggs ...

    Our Creature Feature is a tale of success from Iowa, a pesticide-soaked state of cornfields and presidential aspirants where people aren't accustomed to seeing endangered birds. Especially huge birds with snow-white heads and sharp curved beaks.

    But Iowa's eagle population is soaring thanks to the banning of DDT insecticides and wise management of nesting areas. In a drive to bring back America's symbol, Iowa's Department of Natural Resources hoped to have 10 nesting pairs by the year 2000. A recent survey presented the good news: 83 nesting pairs and 1,737 individual eagles.

    As a result, the Iowa's bald eagles likely will enter the new millennium with the status of threatened rather than endangered.

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    December 3-9, 1998
    New Bay Times

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