Notes from Garden and Afield, Week of May 14-20, 2017


Article and photos by Joe Sapia

Note: The yard references are to my house in the section of Monroe between Helmetta and Jamesburg in South Middlesex County. My yard is in a Pine Barrens outlier on the Inner Coastal Plain, the soil is loamy, and my neighborhood is on the boundary of Gardening Zones 6b (cooler) and 7a (warmer). Afield references are to the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, unless otherwise noted. Photographs are for the period covered, unless otherwise noted.

Packets of some of the seeds I planted in my garden this year.

THE GARDEN: Shooting for May 20, I planted my garden pretty much on target, May 19 and 20, directly sowing Rutgers Heirloom Tomato, Heirloom Cucumber Straight Eight, Hale’s Best Jumbo Heirloom Cantaloupe, Northern Xtra-Sweet Hybrid (Sh2) Sweet Corn, and State Fair Mix Zinnia, all by Burpee, along with Cut and Come Again Zinnia by Agway. I started Red Cherry Tomato by Lake Valley Seed inside and transplanted them outside. Earlier in the season, I directly sowed cool-season crops: Salad Bowl Lettuce, Rainbow Blend Carrot, and Sugar Daddy Snap Pea, all the Lake Valley Seed brand. My garden is approximately 950 square feet, or about 315 row-feet. Now, it is the three Ws: Water (by 10 a.m. daily, unless the ground is wet), Weed, Wait.

Lettuce growing nicely in my garden.

DEALING WITH MOTHER NATURE AND FATHER REALITY: I was planting the garden, working with no shirt on, when I finally paid attention to the buzzing around me. Ugh, bees! But I noticed they were not aggressive. I did some research and it appears my garden has beneficial ground bees, which will help with pollination. Thank you, Mother Nature. As for Father Reality, I had plowed areas for zinnias in the front yard and corn in a section of the backyard, only to find out contractors are ready to go on a house-remodeling project that has been planned for about two years. OK, no problem, I just re-grouped, abandoning plow lines too close to the house so as not to impede the work and plowed new lines. Father Reality turned out to be not so bad.

MOUNTAIN LAUREL AND TURTLES: Mountain laurel, “Kalmia latifolia,” is coming into bloom. With that, I recall some Pine Barrens lore: The snapping turtle lays its eggs when the mountain laurel blooms. Yep, there are reports of turtles moving around: snappers, “Chelydra serpentine”; painters, “Chrysemys picta”; boxers, “Terrapene Carolina.” If you move a turtle off a road, move it in the direction it was traveling. A water turtle is likely a female, either heading to high ground to lay eggs or returning to water after laying eggs. Safely moving snapping turtles: I use a shovel, preferably a wide grain shovel; I keep a grain shovel in my Jeep this time of year. More Piney lore: Only the setting sun or lightning makes the snapping turtle let go. A snapper’s chopped-off head will continue biting. Joey lore: If a snapping turtle will not let go, try shoving a wire up a nostril.

COLLIERS MILLS WMA: The state Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area is about 13,000 acres in the Pine Barrens in Jackson and Plumsted, Ocean County. It basically runs from Six Flags Great Adventure in the north to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in the south. Woods, fields, swamps, waterways, and bodies of water comprise the essentially undeveloped property. WMAs, or “game lands” as they are known elsewhere outside of New Jersey, basically are wildlife habitats and hunting grounds. Painted turtles, “Chrysemys picta,” basked. Yellow pond lilies, “Nuphar lutea,” were in bud. Pine Barrens hudsonia, “Hudsonia ericoides,” bloomed.

A painted turtle basks on Colliers Lake in the Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area. Yellow pond lilies budding.

Pine Barrens hudsonia in bloom at the Colliers Mills WMA.

BEARS: Reports of roaming black bear, “Ursus americanus,” continue this spring. This week, there was a report of a bear in Millstone/Monmouth County. Stay clear and all should be all right. The bears are acting as bears do, looking for their own turf or to mate.

“KNOCK OUT” ROSES: My “Knock Out” roses started blooming. What a beautiful flowering addition to the yard. Other than trimming them, I do no maintenance on them. (They are thorny. Ask my foot. Foolishly walking barefooted last year, I stepped on a thorn, which stayed in my foot probably for weeks. I learned my lesson. I now wear shoes around the Knock Outs.)

Knock Outs bloom in my backyard.

YARDWORK: On Wednesday, I trimmed the shrubs. At one point, I simply lifted my arm to trim some high shrubs and nearly went down on all fours with a pain in my left side/back. I hobbled to the house and lie down. Awakened Thursday, feeling better, and cut the lawn. On Friday, I prepared the garden and planted. On Saturday, I finished the planting. Feeling 60-years-old and beat up Saturday night!

BE ATTUNED TO NATURE: It is amazing how much of the natural world “happens” in front of us, rather than we having to go look for it. At Helmetta Pond, I watched a smaller bird harass a bigger bird, unfortunately too far away for me to identify. Standing in my backyard recently, I watched a black-colored bird harass a red-tailed hawk, “Buteo jamaicensis,” then I watched two red-tails circle around in the sky. And, as I have mentioned previously, I keep seeing a great egret, “Ardea alba,” fly by my house. So, keep an eye out.

PINK LADY-SLIPPER ORCHIDS: Seems to be a great year for pink lady-slipper orchids, “Cypripedium acaule.” I am seeing nice ones, here, in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta (and hearing of sightings in the main Pine Barrens). This week on a walk in the woods, I saw about 25, with about one-fifth blooming. In another spot, there were about 65. So, I saw almost 100.

Two blooming pink lady-slippers at Jamesburg Park in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta.

Pine Barrens around Helmetta – Gall of the wool-sower wasp, “Callirhytis seminator,” on a member of the white oak, genus “Quercus,” family. How to identify a member of the white oak family: Look at the round edges of the leaves, like bullets, rather than points, like arrows. Oaks with pointy leaves are members of the red oak family.

HUNTERDON COUNTY: Arguably New Jersey’s most beautiful county.

Green Sergeant’s Bridge, outside of Sergeantsville/Hunterdon County, the last remaining publicly owned covered bridge in New Jersey.

Cut hay in a field between Stockton and Sergeantsville/Hunterdon County.


BUTTERFLIES: For what it is worth, I have been seeing a lot of tiger swallowtails, “Papilio glaucus,” flying around.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For the week of May 21, Sunday, to May 27, Saturday, the sun will rise about 5:35 a.m. and set about 8:15 p.m.

WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasting station for the area is at

STAY ALERT: Stay alert with camera at the ready. There is a lot to see in garden and afield.

Pine Barrens “tea” water flowing over the spillway at Lake Success in the Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area/Ocean County. Iron and vegetative matter color the water.

Joe Sapia, 60, is a lifelong Monroe resident. He is a Pine Barrens naturalist and an organic vegetable-fruit gardener.
He gardens the same backyard plot as did his Italian-American father, Joe Sr., and his Polish-immigrant, maternal grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda. Both are inspirations for his food gardening. Joe is active with the Rutgers University Master Gardeners/Middlesex County program. He draws inspiration on the Pine Barrens around Helmetta from his mother, Sophie Onda Sapia, who lived her whole life in these Pines, and his Grandma Annie. Joe’s work is also at @JosephSapia on, along with on the Jersey Midlands page.

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