Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Beware: Tiny invaders munch vegetables

When tiny snails showed up on my garden vegetables last summer, it puzzled me. These were totally unfamiliar and certainly unexpected. My thoughts immediately turned to zebra mussels, those exotic mussels that found their way into the Great Lakes and now pose a menace to native flora and fauna. Was there a parallel with these snails?

On the other hand, I was sure that the snails were just a bumper crop of some native species. Reason dictated that the snails were responding to an early spring and also to frequent rainfall of the summer. But in this case, it looks as though reason was wrong.

The tiny (100 could fit in a teaspoon, with room to spare) snails proliferated and in the case of my garden, succeeded in destroying pounds of chard, lettuce and broccoli. They even defoliated my carrots, although they appeared to dislike parsnip tops. This was a true plague.

All the same, I thought that the snail invasion was probably confined to the Mid-Coast area. Wrong again. According to University of Maine Cooperative Extension, these pesky snails showed up all over Maine. And worse, no one can determine exactly what species of snail they are. The snail boffins are totally perplexed.

Everyone pretty much agrees that the snails are a species of ambersnail, but exactly which species remains a mystery. Some suggest that the snails may be an exotic species, introduced by some unknown means. If that’s the case, then a recurrence of last summer’s snail eruption seems likely. Even worse, no one as of yet has figured out a practical means of controlling the snails.

Our great hope lies in the lingering snowpack of early spring and also, the lengthy time last winter when we had continual sub-freezing temperatures, but no snow cover. This allowed frost to penetrate deeper than usual.

Anyway, since snails (perhaps not all snails, I’m no snail expert) spend winters hibernating in underground burrows, deep-penetrating frost last winter may have killed them. If not, we may be in for a rough ride this summer. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Another Opening Day - April 1

Opening day of trout season, April 1, dawned cold, windy and rainy. The day previous was sunny and mild, wouldn't you know. Anyway, my fishing buddy Tony and I were determined to keep our tradition alive of going out on opening day despite the weather. And we did it again this year.

But torrential rain the night before made it nearly impossible to fish. The smallest brook, the tiniest stream, was turned to a raging torrent. After several hours of traipsing through wet brush and up and down steep banks, we decided to take a break and stop for breakfast, another part of our tradition. It was good to get warm, too, since our fingers were cold and stiff.

Surprisingly enough, several other people were out that morning as well, trying to catch a few trout from discolored, rushing water. I doubt that anyone else had any better luck than we did. Conditions were just too bad to admit of catching anything anywhere. Well, almost.

After breakfast, we hit the last several streams on our list and all were in spate, unwilling to yield any of their trouty treasures. By mid-afternoon, we had had it and were headed home in defeat. But I recalled a tiny brook that sometimes holds trout during the dog days of summer. Here, a spring-fed pool provides cold, oxygenated water, essential to trout survival in hot weather. I wondered if the pool held any trout now. There was only one way to find out.

We stopped and left the truck, with me going down to the pool to fish first. We've developed an alternating routine, where we take turns fishing the best pools first.

Anyway, on the first cast a trout hit and I managed to lose it at the last minute. Bushes and brambles surround the pool, making it difficult to lift a rod high enough to firmly hook a fish, let alone lift it from the water. The next cast resulted in another hookup and this time I claimed my prize.

I caught two more fish from that pool and Tony came down and took another. I had one trout that I had taken earlier, a token fish from another prized pool.

So in the end, we both caught trout on opening day. These were small trout, but their ceremonial value was immense.

We returned home tired, but happy. Another opening day had come and gone, and we had done our part. And now we, I, look to the future and hope for more opening days, perhaps warmer and sunnier than this one. But even if they come in cold and rainy, it really doesn't matter. Just getting out and doing it, keeping up tradition, is really what counts. Some things are just like that.