Month: November 2017

Notes from Garden & Afield: Week of November 5

 

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). Notes and photographs are for the period covered, unless otherwise noted.

Pumpkins and fall foliage, both taking a last stand for the season, at the Red Wagon Farm Market on Route 33 and Smithburg Road/Route 527-A in Manalapan, Monmouth County.

SNOWBIRDS: I saw the first “snowbirds,” or dark-eyed juncos, “Junco hyemalis,” of the season on Tuesday, November 7, Election Day, around sunrise at St. James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County. The birds are easy to identify by their gray tops and white undersides – “gray skies above, snow below” – and the white edges of their splayed tails as they take off. My rule of thumb is to look for these birds around Halloween, October 31, arriving for the cold weather from as close as the high ground of North Jersey or Pennsylvania and as far away as Canada. Around my yard, I look for these small birds on the ground under the bird-feeder or in bushes. I will see them around my yard to about mid- to late April.

I saw the first “snowbirds,” or dark-eyed juncos, of the season Tuesday, November 7, Election Day, at St. James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County. These birds arrive from the north for the cold-weather season.

VOICES FROM AFIELD, MORE WINTER BIRDS: Diane Larson, a long-time gardening mentor, checked in on the afield side, regarding Beaver Dam Creek in Brick, Ocean County. “Another bird sign of winter – the buffleheads (“Bucephala albeola’’) and mergansers (genus “Mergus”) arrived in Beaver Dam Creek right on schedule – saw them Saturday (November 4) for the first time. We also have otters (“Lutra Canadensis”). They are very elusive, but we’ve seen them and heard them splashing in the water around 8:00 p.m. one night (during) the last week of October. We went outside and tried to see them, but they swam away. All we saw was their wake and heard their grunts.”

Canada geese, “Branta canadensis,” on the Skeba Farm in the Applegarth section of Monroe, Middlesex County.

BIRDS IN MY YARD: As I was doing yardwork, birds were feasting on corn hearts at my backyard bird-feeder: dark-eyed junco, “Junco hyemalis”; mourning dove, “Zenaida macroura”; tufted titmouse, “Baeolophus bicolor”; and Carolina chickadee, “Poecile carolinensis.”

A Mourning Dove at my Backyard Bird-feeder

A Tufted Titmouse at my Backyard Bird-Feeder

A Chickadee at my Backyard Feeder

GARDEN AND YARD: As I cut the lawn, hopefully for the last time of the year, I smelled wild onions I had mowed down. A bittersweet scent – one pointing back at the year’s peak of vegetable growing, one pointing to a gardening season that lingers. The Jamesburg-to-New Brunswick area of Middlesex County got down to about 20 degrees on the Friday-Saturday, November 10-11, overnight, pretty much bringing an end to the warm weather gardening season. However, I did find a few cherry tomatoes in my garden. (I have a cool weather crop of carrots planted. So, I am hoping for some kind of harvest.) So, this week, I cut the lawn, dumped my last barrel of gardening water, and mowed down the garden, except for the carrots. As for the yard work, I try to get that all done by Thanksgiving.

I found these cherry tomatoes in my garden. The top one was in good condition and I popped it into my mouth right in the yard and ate it.

VOICES FROM AFIELD, NO. 2, LINGERING SPRING: Last week, I mentioned I thought I heard the call of a spring peeper treefrog, “Pseudacris crucifer,” at Farrington Lake on the boundary of South Brunswick, East Brunswick, and North Brunswick in Middlesex County. They are normally early spring callers. Jean Montgomerie, an environmental scientist who lives in Freehold and works in the Pine Barrens, said, “Those were spring peepers; I heard them last week too.” Spring, in the form of fall, is playing itself out again, this year.

NIGHT SKY: With the cold spell at the end of the week, I stood in my yard between about 10:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. and looked at the night sky. With the temperature at about 23 degrees and very little moisture in the air (with a dewpoint of about 8 degrees), it was one of the clearest night skies I recall, with great views of Auriga (overhead/east); Pleiades, or Seven Sisters (overhead); Orion (southeast); the Great Square of Pegasus (southwest); Cassiopeia (northwest); and the North Star. Take advantage of cold, dry fall and winter overnights. Get a revolving star chart, turn off the outside lights, go outside and acclimate your eyesight to the darkness, and look into the night sky.

THE MOON: The moon is waning from the Full Frost Moon of the November 3-4 overnight. The next full moon is the Long Night Moon on the December 2-3 overnight.

The morning moon, with the changing colors of the fall foliage underneath, at St. James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County. The moon is waning from the Full Frost Moon of the November 3-4 overnight. The next full moon is the Long Night Moon on the December 2-3 overnight.

FALL FOLIAGE: The changing colors of fall foliage are all over the place – some past full color, some peaking, some yet to come. I take the colors as they come, rather than concentrating on a peak.

The changing colors of the fall foliage along Interstate 195 in Jackson, Ocean County.

The rising sun’s light hits the top of the trees, lighting up the fall colors, at St. James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County.

The changing colors between Davidson Mill Park and Pigeon Swamp in South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, RED-TAILED HAWK: As I was returning home from my normal Sunday routine of lunch at the Hightstown Diner in Mercer County, I crossed the Millstone River on the boundary of Cranbury, Middlesex County, and East Windsor, Mercer County. On the Cranbury side, a large bird flew out of the trees, then low along the roadway – a red-tailed hawk, “Buteo jamaicensis.” I cranked off a shot on my camera. Not a good shot, but that is photojournalism – you take what you get, because the news does not necessarily stop for the journalist. The photo, at least, puts in perspective how low the bird was.

A red-tailed hawk flies low along a roadway on the boundary of Cranbury, Middlesex County, and East Windsor, Mercer County.

The Millstone River on the boundary of Cranbury, Middlesex County, and East Windsor, Mercer County.

VOICES FROM AFIELD, NO. 3, DEER RUT: I continue seeing normally hidden male deer, “Odocoileus virginianus,” because it is the mating season, or rut. This week, I saw one in southern Monroe, Middlesex County, at night. Then, as I was driving to work one morning in daylight, a deer bolted across a paved road in the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, Middlesex County. I did not get a good look at the deer, but, based on the way it bolted across the street and because I saw no others, my guess is it was a buck. Paul Migut checked in from South River, Middlesex County: “Spotted buck behind my firehouse. He’s been chasing two does around here.” Again, be careful driving during the rut, which should last until about mid-December.

CLOUDS: This week’s cloud shots are from St. James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County. My family has had a plot there for more than 100 years, since my maternal grandfather, Michael Onda, died in 1917, October.

Clouds over St. James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County.

More clouds from St. James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County.

And more clouds from St. James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County.

VOICES FROM AFIELD, N0. 4, SWIMMING RIVER: Rik van Hemmen, sailor and advocate for the Navesink River watershed, Monmouth County, checked in: “Two weeks ago, just before I hauled my Sea Bright skiff for the winter, we had a perfect tide going up the Swimming River with friends who had never done it before. As is common, it blew their minds to see all this natural beauty.”

Fall on the Swimming River in Monmouth County. (Photograph copyright 2017 by Rik van Hemmen.)
OCEAN TEMPERATURES: Atlantic Ocean temperatures on the New Jersey coast were about 50 degrees to 53 degrees over the November 11-12 weekend.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For November 12, Sunday, to November 18, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:40 to 6:45 a.m. and set about 4:35 to 4:40 p.m. For November 19, Sunday, to November 25, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:50 to 6:55 a.m. and set about 4:35 p.m.

WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasting station for the area is at http://www.weather.gov/phi/.

IN THE BACKYARD: As I was wrapping up this week’s “Notes from Garden and Afield,” I took a soda break. While in the kitchen, I grabbed four gourds I had on display on the table, opened the back door, stood on the back porch, and threw the gourds across the lawn into the garden. I threw one into a pitch pine, “Pinus rigida,” bordering lawn and garden. A bird must have been in the tree, because a large bird flew out and past me eye-high. Wow! On that note….

Say, good night, Pumpkin Person. (A pumpkin person at the Red Wagon Farm Market on Route 33, Manalapan, Monmouth County.)

Joe Sapia, 60, is a lifelong resident of Monroe — in South Middlesex County, where his maternal family settled more than 100 years ago. He is a Pine Barrens naturalist and a gardener of organic vegetables and fruit, along with zinnias and roses. 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 Polish-immigrant grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda. He gardens the same backyard plot as did his Grandma Annie and Italian-American father, Joe Sr. Both are inspirations for his food gardening. Ma inspires his rose gardening. Joe is a semi-retired print journalist of almost 40 years. His work also is at @JosephSapia on Twitter.com, along with Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.

 

Notes from Garden & Afield: Week of Oct 29

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). Notes and photographs are for the period covered, unless otherwise noted.

Nor’easter rain pelts the Delaware and Raritan Canal at Kingston, which overlaps the boundary of Franklin, Somerset County, and South Brunswick, Middlesex County. This photograph was taken on the Somerset County side of Route 27.

NOR’EASTER: The Sunday-Monday, October 29-30, nor’easter dropped large amounts of rain throughout the Jersey Midlands. The National Weather Service unofficial high totals from weather stations in the Jersey Midlands portion of seven counties: Hunterdon, up to 4.91 inches in High Bridge; Somerset, up to 4.5 inches in Bernards; Middlesex, up to 3.79 inches in northeast South Brunswick; Monmouth, up to 4.74 inches in West Long Branch; Ocean, up to 5.45 inches in Berkeley; Burlington, up to 4.62 inches in Roebling; and Mercer, up to 5.42 in west Princeton.
The nor’easter also brought reported maximum wind gusts of: Hunterdon, 45 miles per hour at Frenchtown; Middlesex, 52 MPH in the Raritan River/Perth Amboy area; Monmouth, 49 MPH at north Long Branch; Ocean, 58 MPH in the Beach Haven area; Burlington, 47 MPH at Jobstown; and Mercer, 40 MPH at Mercer County Airport.

Water pools on a roadway in Princeton, Mercer County, during the nor’easter Sunday, October 29.

NOR’EASTER, BEFORE AND AFTER: Before the Sunday-Monday, October 29-30, nor’easter, all seven Midlands counties had a deficit of rainfall over the last three months. After the nor’easter, only Hunterdon and Mercer have deficits. According to National Weather Service, three-month rainfalls as of Thursday, November 2, were: Hunterdon, 10.7 inches total over the last three months, minus 1.8 inches; Somerset, 12.4 inches, plus .2 inches; Middlesex, 12.0 inches, even; Monmouth, plus .2 inches; Ocean, 12.0 inches, plus .7 inches; Burlington, 11.8 inches, plus .2 inches; and Mercer, 10.2 inches, minus 1.8 inches.

Farrington Lake – here, on the boundary of South Brunswick and East Brunswick looking to North Brunswick, all in Middlesex County – in the days before the Sunday-Monday, October 29-30, nor’easter.

The same view of Farrington Lake in the days after the nor’easter.

FALLEN LEAVES ON ROADWAYS: Motorists, be careful of braking with fallen leaves on the roadway, especially in wet conditions.

Leaves cover a roadway in the Kingston section of Franklin, Somerset County, during the October 29-30 nor’easter.

FALL FOLIAGE: The fall colors have really brightened, although there is still much green out there and a lot that has already turned color. I am thinking we are in the midst of our (erratic) peak, so enjoy it while it lasts.

The changing colors of the fall foliage in New Brunswick, Middlesex County, as seen through the window of the Rutgers University Plangere Writing Center.

Shattering two myths: One, pine trees are evergreens, but they do shed needles. Here, a pitch pine, “Pinus rigida,” the most common pine of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. This one is in my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County, but transplanted from the wilds of the Pine Barrens of Monmouth County. Two, the Pine Barrens are not barren. Actually, the Pines are a great place to see the changing colors of the fall, contrasting with the greens of pitch pines and other evergreens.

DEER RUT: As I have mentioned, I am seeing something I do not normally see – adult male deer, “Odocoileus virginianus.” But it is the mating season, or rut, so bucks are moving. On the night of Wednesday, November 1, I saw a buck as I drove through an East Brunswick section of the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area. He trotted into the woods. We appear to still be in the first phase of the rut – bucks following female deer in search of receptive does. The second phase will be mating, the third phase being the rut winding down – the rut lasting until about mid-December. With sex-crazed deer running around, be careful driving.

VOICE FROM AFIELD, JOAN GETAZ ZUMOFF: I still not have seen any “snowbirds,” or juncos, “Junco hyemalis,” at my house in Monroe, Middlesex County. But I expect them any day down for the colder weather from probably as far north as Canada. Actually, they are likely around already and I just have not seen any yet, because Joan Getaz Zumoff checked in just below the Midlands — from Gloucester Township, Camden County, where she had a first sighting Oct. 27. My rule of thumb for snowbirds at my house is around Halloween, October 31. But this has been a wacky year with the weather.

IS IT FALL YET?: Depending on the day, it could be frosty or summer-like. This week, I was shooting photographs at Farrington Lake in Middlesex County. At the part of the lake on the boundary where North Brunswick, East Brunswick, and South Brunswick meet, I am pretty sure I heard a spring peeper treefrog, “Pseudacris crucifer.” The normal time to begin hearing their calls is around early March – that harbinger of spring that sounds like sleigh bells coming from swamps – and, then, they are pretty much done as the spring warms up toward summer.

I photographed this spring peeper treefrog in the Manalapan Brook floodplain in Monroe, Middlesex County, in March. They are early spring callers. But I am pretty sure I heard the species calling this week at Farrington Lake on the boundary of North Brunswick, East Brunswick, and South Brunswick, all in Middlesex County – one of those aberrations of nature.

BLOOMING FLOWERS: Garden flowers continued blooming. In Kingston, on the South Brunswick, Middlesex County, side, for example, I saw a beautiful planting of zinnias along Route 27 in front of the Eno Terra restaurant.

Here in Kingston on the South Brunswick, Middlesex County, side of Route 27, grows an ornamental planting of zinnias with the fall foliage colors in the background.

VOICE FROM AFIELD, CHRIS BEVINS: Chris Bevins checked in from Monroe, Middlesex County, where he works for the Utility Department: “I was working on a project this morning and the irrigation pond at the end of England Road on the field had a mated pair of freshwater otters eating fish and frolicking.” I hope to see them, because I have never seen an otter, “Lontra canadensis.”

MY GARDEN: My vegetable garden – between Helmetta and Jamesburg in South Middlesex County — took a licking because of heavy rain over the summer. Other than the colorful and pollinating-attracting zinnias, it was a bad year – basically only a bit of sweet corn to show for the work. But, then this week, I harvested some of my early spring plantings of Lake Valley “Rainbow Blend” carrots. Now, I will watch to see how my late-season planting of carrots does.

Planted April 8 as part of my early crop, these Lake Valley “Rainbow Blend” heirloom carrots were harvested Sunday, October 29.

VOICE FROM THE GARDEN, PAUL MIGUT: Paul Migut, now in his early 60s, who has been gardening since childhood, reported in from South River, Middlesex County: “November 2, a balmy 75f. Garden cleaned out and tilled up. A few eggplants picked and one grape tomato plant still hanging in there. While no match for Pon’s garden from days of old” – a reference to his Uncle Stanley “Pon” Ceslowski and his garden in Monroe, Middlesex County – “my 20 feet by 20 feet section still manages to provide vegetables for the two of us” – Paul and his wife, Karen – “and then some.”

The “last of the eggplants,” according to Paul Migut, from his South River, Middlesex County, garden.
DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, VULTURES: During the nor’easter, I came across these vultures in the Monmouth Junction section of South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

Vultures across the street from the Monmouth Junction Elementary School in South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, HAZY SKY: On Thursday, November 2, I awoke to weather reports warning of fog. By the time I left the house around 8 a.m., though, there was no ground-level fog to speak of, but the sky had a haze. Sunshine fighting through that haze provided a beautiful view – one to photograph.

The sun breaks through the haze over the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area on the boundary of South Brunswick and East Brunswick, both in Middlesex County.

CLOUDS, NEW BRUNSWICK: Beautiful cloud views continue. This week, for example, at New Brunswick, Middlesex County – the Douglass-Cook campus of Rutgers University and along the Raritan River.

Clouds above the Douglass-Cook campus at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, Middlesex County.

Over the Raritan River from George Street in New Brunswick, Middlesex County.

RUTGERS UNIVERSITY SQUIRRELS: As I walk through the Rutgers University College Avenue and Douglass-Cook campuses in New Brunswick, Middlesex County, Mondays through Fridays, I find the squirrels, “Sciurus carolinensis,” entertaining and numerous. If I were a squirrel in New Brunswick, I probably would pick the garden-y campus, rather than the urban sectors.

This squirrel has quite a bit of red tint.

Acting as a squirrel with acorn in mouth.

This squirrel was acting like a human, with some kind of bread in its mouth.

OCEAN TEMPERATURES: Atlantic Ocean temperatures on the New Jersey coast were about 60 degrees to 62 degrees over the November 4-5 weekend.

On the banks of the old Raritan River, looking downstream from New Brunswick, across the river to Highland Park, both in Middlesex County.

CHANGE THE CLOCKS: We switch from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time November 5, Sunday, at 2 a.m., the clocks moving back to 1 a.m.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For November 5, Sunday, to November 11, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:35 a.m. set about 4:45 p.m. For November 12, Sunday, to November 18, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:40 to 6:45 a.m. and set about 4:35 to 4:40 p.m.

WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasting station for the area is at http://www.weather.gov/phi/.

Pictured is the Full Frost Moon on the November 3-4 overnight. The next full moon is the Long Night Moon on the December 2-3 overnight.

A PARTING NOTE, HAIKU: The Japanese poetry style of 5 syllables, 7 syllables, and, finally, 5 syllables:
Look into the woods –
The leaves are changing colors.
Yellow, orange, red.

Leaves changing colors in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, Middlesex County.

Joe Sapia, 60, is a lifelong resident of Monroe — in South Middlesex County, where his maternal family settled more than 100 years ago. He is a Pine Barrens naturalist and a gardener of organic vegetables and fruit, along with zinnias and roses. 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 Polish-immigrant grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda. He gardens the same backyard plot as did his Grandma Annie and Italian-American father, Joe Sr. Both are inspirations for his food gardening. Ma inspires his rose gardening. Joe’s work also is at @JosephSapia on Twitter.com, along with Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.