Category: Voices of the Watershed

Of the residents of the Lower Raritan Watershed there are many naturalists and individuals with a wealth of knowledge about the special ecosystem we call home. “Voices of the Watershed” is our community blog, a place for watershed residents to document (through photos and posts) stories and observations of the watershed.

For more about our authors and photographers, and how you can contribute and essay, story, artwork or photo.

May I List You as an Entrée Today?

Article and photos by Joe Mish

The food chain is not a one way street, as a turtle whose kin may feed on baby ducks, gets picked on by a bald eagle

It is unthinkable to imagine a restaurant where the diners are often listed as menu items. Though when seated at nature’s dinner table, the catch of the day takes on a whole new meaning as predators and prey freely alternate position. The dietary choices are also a surprise as the variety of delectable meals is often at odds with expectations.

Sorting through my library of photos, I was perplexed trying to categorize some images showing two species in close contact. Obviously notable was the reversal of who was eating who.

The first image which prompted these thoughts was captured as I launched my canoe. Here was a very young painted water snake, brilliant colored markings, with a fish sticking out its mouth. Comparing the size of the snake to the fish, I wondered if the snake ‘bit off more than he could chew’, as they say. The fish was wider than the snake and it didn’t look like much progress was being made in the attempt to swallow it. I couldn’t identify the species of fish but thought it a moment of karma as small mouth bass which inhabit the river are well known to forage on anything that swims or crawls in the waters of the south branch. A small snake would hardly be ignored by a hungry bass.

Another image shows a larger painted water snake suspended on o vertical river bank holding onto the tail of a gold colored catfish. As the snake was in an awkward position and didn’t want to go into the water, it was a standoff with the advantage going to the snake. The fish would struggle and then lay still. Eventually the fish broke free. I then remembered a series of images documenting another struggle where a snapping turtle grabbed a painted water snake by the tail. As I paddled along, I saw a water snake swimming across the river and as it neared the opposite bank it suddenly reared up and began to thrash about. Mystery solved as a snapping turtle soon surfaced holding on tight, as the snake now alternated struggling and lying still. As I drifted closer, the turtle was intimidated into releasing its grip and the snake swam off.

A painted water snake has a catfish by the tail. The snake is barely holding on to the vertical bank , using a tuft of grass to secure its precarious position. the catfish would struggle mighily and then rest. After several tries the catfish appeared dead and lay still for quite some time. Suddenly the catfish came to life and broke free. Again, the scene was captured from a canoe.

A painted water snakes has the tables turned on it as a snapping turtle reached up to grab the snake swimming across the river.

Turtles are not immune from the proverbial soup bowl as they are prey to many birds and animals that share the same habitat. Even large water snakes will easily swallow a turtle hatchling seeking cover in the water, as will great blue herons, mink, fox, skunk, raccoon and birds of prey.

In a twist of fate, the turtle that killed baby ducks in a farm pond yesterday could very well be on a larger bird’s menu today.

Such was the case when I spotted a bald eagle standing on a log near shore, intently pulling and tearing away at what was probably a deer carcass or white sucker. The eagle would occasionally look up and certainly it saw me from two hundred yards away, apparently not at all intimidated. As I closed the distance, a bright yellow object was clearly visible and the focus of the eagle’s rapt attention. I began to take photos, drifting ever closer and as I started to pass the eagle, it flew off. It was then I realized the eagle was dining on a painted turtle!

Across the land where rivers flow, the lines between predator and prey begin to blur. Don’t be surprised when a squirrel is seen carry a baby crow or a muskrat is swimming underwater holding a baby blue jay or a blue jay is flying off with a dead vole. If you can’t imagine it, it is happening somewhere along our wild rivers.

Muskrat with a bluejay swims into its den’s underwater entrance. Mystery for sure.

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.

Garden & Afield: Week of October 8, 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). Notes and photographs are for the period covered, unless otherwise noted.

A bit of a strange scene in my backyard: forsythia blooming among the fall foliage changing of colors.

SPRING IN THE FALL: Years ago, I recall seeing sheep laurel, “Kalmia angustifolia,” a spring bloomer, flowering in the fall in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta. Twice this week, I noticed a bird or birds singing away, seemingly a springtime song; And a red-bellied woodpecker, “Melanerpes carolinus,” drummed against my house. Also, this week, I noticed another spring bloomer in flower – forsythia. It flowered in my backyard. I normally see forsythia blooming for the first time of the season in early March to mid-April. What does it all mean? I just think the fall conditions are replicating spring conditions, especially the summerlike temperatures.

The backyard forsythia in bloom.

THE PINE BARRENS “FALL FOLIAGE” PEAK: The Pine Barrens’s name is a misnomer, neither a place of all pines nor barren lands. And it is a great place to see the changing colors of the fall foliage – the deciduous vegetation changes, with blueberry bushes turning flaming red, and contrasts with the greens of pines, cedars, and laurels. Normally, I look for the fall foliage color peak in the Pine Barrens on October 13 in the wetlands and October 20 in the uplands. This year, that schedule is running behind. The woods around Helmetta are still quite green. (“Fall foliage” is a misnomer, too. In the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, one can observe the changing colors beginning in about mid- to late July.)

The colors are changing at Helmetta Pond October 13, Friday, but not yet peaking

An October 12, Thursday, map from the Fall Foliage Network.

DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, PHEASANT: I just happened to be reading about ring-necked pheasants, “Phasianus colchicus,” the other day. Then, I saw one between the Applegarth and Wyckoff Mills section of Monroe, Middlesex County, the first time I recall seeing one afield in maybe 20 or 25 years. These are non-native – introduced to America from Asia in the 1880s, according to Cornell University’s All About Birds website, allaboutbirds.org. Now, they are naturalized in the United States. This one could have been a naturalized bird or one released for hunting.

This is a rather blurry photograph, because I came across this ring-necked pheasant unexpectedly while I was driving and had to quickly crank off a photograph before it fled. I am using this photo because it shows a full view of the bird. Also, I did not crop out the roadside litter, to illustrate how wildlife competes with human carelessness.

Notice the white, forming the ring around its neck.

CLOUDS: This week’s spectacular cloud scene was in Middlesex County, at North Brunswick, looking toward Milltown. I stopped at the McDonald’s restaurant for breakfast, looked at the sky, and there they were.

Clouds over North Brunswick, Middlesex County.

VOICES FROM (FAR) AFIELD, JUDY AUER SHAW: Judy Auer Shaw, author of “The Raritan River, Our Landscape, Our Legacy,” checked in from Ohio, reminded by a suggestion in a previous “Garden and Afield” to wear blaze orange in the woods in hunting areas: “I have a story from my teaching years in Michigan. I organized a nature hike for my kids (7th graders) and we all wore browns, grays and greens. As we approached the hiking trail, we were behind a carload of guys wearing orange. It finally dawned on me that we were going out on the first day of hunting season — in complete camouflage. Yikes! Needless to say, we were fine, but I was one worried den mother that day!”

Judy Auer Shaw’s 2014 book.

The pumpkin patch at Giamarese Farm on Fresh Ponds Road, East Brunswick, Middlesex County

YARD AND GARDEN: I planted five “false cypress,” or Crippsii,” I picked up at Krygier’s Nursery in South Brunswick, Middlesex County. The Knock Out roses and zinnias continue blooming – the zinnias being visited by such butterflies as the painted lady, “Vanessa virginiensis,” and cabbage white, “Pieris rapae.” Despite blooming, the zinnias are losing their luster, covered with powdery mildew, “Golovinomyces cichoracearum,” and a leaf spot disease. I also found my first raspberry on some bushes planted earlier this year.

Five “false cypress,” or Crippsii, have been added to my yard.

A raspberry fruiting in my backyard garden.

FARMING PERILS IN THE MIDLANDS: I was visiting Krygier’s Nursery, owned by husband and wife Jimmy Krygier, in South Brunswick, Middlesex County, and two perils were obvious – encroaching development and damage caused by browsing deer, “Odocoileus virginianus.” The nursery, a Krygier family business for three generations of about 100 years, is on Route 535, also known as Cranbury-South River Road, Cranbury Road, and South River Road. What was adjoining cornfield up to months ago is now a warehouse property, for example. And one only has to see how the deer have shaped the arbor vitae trees through their browsing. (Krygier’s Nursery is at the corner of Route 535 and Dunham’s Corner Road, South Brunswick, near the Middlesex County Fair Grounds).

Development encroaches Krygier’s Nursery in South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

Notice the odd shape to the arbor vitae. It is caused by deer nibbling on the trees.

DEER DOCUMENTARY: “The Deer Stand” is a documentary about deer over-population in the Jersey Midlands. See the movie at https://vimeo.com/233572156.

In fall of 2016, Anna Luiten, an ecologist with the Monmouth County Park System, stands in a Thompson Park forest area over-browsed by deer. The fenced area contains a lush understory, because it is protected from deer.

SNOWBIRDS: Anybody seeing dark-eyed juncos, or “snowbirds,” yet? The birds, “Junco hyemalis,” come down to our area from as far away as Canada during the cold-weather months. I normally begin seeing them in my yard around Halloween. Their color pattern of slate gray on their backs and white on their fronts suggests, “Dark skies above, snow below.”

A “snowbird” in the snow in my yard in early 2017.

OCEAN TEMPERATURES: Atlantic Ocean temperatures on the New Jersey coast were about 67 degrees to 69 degrees during the October 14-15 weekend.
SUNRISE/SUNSET: For October 15, Sunday, to October 21, Saturday, the sun will rise from about 7:10 to 7:15 a.m. and set about 6:10 to 6:15 p.m. For October 22, Sunday, to October 28, Saturday, the sun will rise about 7:20 a.m. and set about 6 a.m. to 6:05 a.m. We switch to Daylight Savings Time November 5, Sunday, at 2 a.m., the clocks moving back to 1 a.m.
THE NIGHT SKY: The next full moon is the Frost Moon on the November 3-4 overnight.
WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasting station for the area is at http://www.weather.gov/phi/.
UPCOMING: 2017, October 28, Saturday, 1 p.m. book signing and 2 p.m. lecture with Marta McDowell, author of “Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life,” at Jamesburg Presbyterian Church, 175 Gatzmer Ave, Jamesburg. $30 at the door. More information is available from the Earth Center Conservancy (of Middlesex County), www.ecc-nj.com. Beatrix Potter, born in 1866 and died in 1943, was a children’s writer and illustrator. She wrote and illustrated “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” 1901.

Author Marta McDowell will sign books and speak in Jamesburg, Middlesex County, October 28, Saturday.

Gray squirrels, “Sciurus carolinensis,” appear to be active, burying acorns, preparing for winter. This one was at Rutgers University’s College Avenue Campus in New Brunswick, Middlesex County.

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. 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 also is at @JosephSapia on Twitter.com, along with Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.

Perth Amboy Green Infrastructure Update

Article by Billy Kurzenberger, Program Coordinator at City of Perth Amboy, Office of Economic and Community Development

The City of Perth Amboy, in partnership with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program and with funding provided by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), has launched several new projects in its community-based green infrastructure initiative, Perth Amboy SWIM (Stormwater Infrastructure Management).

Washington Park is the site of a new rain garden designed to redirect and absorb rainwater while beautifying the park. The park’s parking lot is now resurfaced in porous pavement designed to allow rain water to pass through the surface and seep into the ground instead of running off into our stormwater sewers.

Perth Amboy SWIM rain garden installation, Sept 7/2017. Photo credit: Perth Amboy Mayor Diaz

In addition to the projects at Washington Park, the same partnership is responsible for the installation of two other porous pavement parking lots at municipal parking lot C on Jefferson Street and municipal parking lot RDH on Madison Street. All of these efforts will help us protect our local waterways from nonpoint source pollution, reduce flooding around the City and serve as excellent educational tools for the community.

A Perth Amboy SWIM porous/pervious pavement Green Infrastructure project at Washington Park. October 9/2017 was the first rain. Rain water is allowed to pass through the asphalt & soak into the soil rather than flood the neighborhood. Photo Credit: Raritan Riverkeeper.

Perth Amboy SWIM meets on the third Thursday of every month at 10am and always welcomes new members! Meetings are held in the Brighton Avenue Community Center (56 Brighton Avenue, Perth Amboy, NJ). For more information, please contact Billy Kurzenberger at wkurzenberger@perthamboynj.org

Notes from Garden & Afield: Week of September 24

Article and photos by Joe Sapia (except as noted)

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.

Gray clouds over Monroe farmland, looking toward the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area. Beautiful cloudy skies have presented themselves in recent years over my hometown of Monroe.

FALL HAS ARRIVED: Despite the summer-like temperatures the Jersey Midlands have been experiencing, fall is here. The calendar proclaims the beginning of fall at the September equinox – this year, September 22, when the day’s light and dark are generally equal. However, I regard fall beginning September 1 and running through October and November.

A fall scene at Griggstown Farm in Franklin, Somerset County.

DEER RUT: The mating season, or rut, for deer, “Odocoileus virginianus,” normally peaks from late October to mid-December. Here is Nixle.com-South Brunswick, Middlesex County, advisory:

“The South Brunswick Police Department is reminding motorists to be alert for increased deer activity over the next six weeks. This is typically when we see an increase in car crashes involving deer. The deer can unexpectedly dart onto roads so motorists need to use extra caution. “Motorists are urged to be especially attentive and cautious during morning and evening commutes when visibility may be poor. Deer are involved in thousands of collisions annually in New Jersey, with as many as half coming during the fall mating season, or rutting season…. An adult male deer can weigh 150 pounds or more.
“In the past month there have been a half dozen crashes involving deer in South Brunswick. In past years the majority of crashes have taken place over the next 6 weeks.

“…Deer are most active in the very early morning and around sunset, when visibility conditions can be very difficult. Using caution while driving will become even more important when Daylight Saving Time ends November 6, causing commutes to align with periods when deer are most active. For motorists, low levels of light and sun glare can make it very difficult to see deer that are about to cross the road. Moreover, multiple deer may cross the road at any given moment, usually in a single file.

The following tips can help motorists stay safe during from deer crashes:

-If you see a deer, slow down and pay attention to possible sudden movement. If the deer doesn’t move, don’t go around it. Wait for the deer to pass and the road is clear.
-Pay attention to ‘Deer Crossing’ signs. Slow down when traveling through areas known to have a high concentration of deer so you will have ample time to stop if necessary. If you are traveling after dark, use high beams when there is no oncoming traffic. High beams will be reflected by the eyes of deer on or near roads. If you see one deer, be on guard: others may be in the area. Deer typically move in family groups at this time of year and cross roads single-file. Don’t tailgate. Remember: the driver in front of you might have to stop suddenly to avoid hitting a deer.

-Always wear a seatbelt, as required by law. Drive at a safe and sensible speed, considering weather, available lighting, traffic, curves and other road conditions.

-If a collision appears inevitable, do not swerve to avoid impact. The deer may counter-maneuver suddenly. Brake appropriately, but stay in your lane. Collisions are more likely to become fatal when a driver swerves to avoid a deer and instead collides with oncoming traffic or a fixed structure along the road.

-Report any deer-vehicle collision to a local law enforcement agency immediately.

-Obey the state’s hands-free device law or, better yet, avoid any distractions by refraining from using cellular devices while driving.

I encountered these deer near Rutgers University–Douglass College in New Brunswick, Middlesex County. These are city deer, allowing me to get within 30 or so feet of them.

WEARING BLAZE ORANGE: With the popular deer-hunting season underway, it is probably a good time to wear blaze orange in the woods. Actually, a few years ago, I started wearing blaze orange on my knapsack year-round, because it is hard to keep track of hunting. During the last deer-hunting season, I walked under a tree-stand with a hunter, never seeing him until he spoke to me. Fortunately, I wore blaze orange. (The incident showed me, no matter a life spent in the woods, I let down my awareness.)

My blaze orange vest and one of my blaze orange hats.

BALDFACED HORNET NESTS: As we transition from the warm weather season to the cold, baldface hornets, “Dolichovespula maculate,” will abandon their nests. The abandoned nest is not a threat and may make a folksy bringing-of-the-outdoors-inside ornament. I have two hanging, with another waiting to be hung, in my cellar “cabin” area. Scope your nest now, but wait for colder weather to make sure it is fully abandoned. (Even in season, these nests are not a threat, if far-enough away from human activity. See this Pennsylvania State University Extension factsheet, http://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/baldfaced-hornet.)

A baldfaced wasp nest on display in my cellar.

MONARCH BUTTERFLIES: Last week, I mentioned monarch butterflies, “Danaus plexippus,” would be heading on their southern migration to either Florida or, more likely, Mexico. The monarchs we see now are a “super generation,” the great-grandchildren of last fall’s migration and these making the complete trip south, if they survive. This week, I was able to photograph one in my garden as it visited the zinnias.

A monarch butterfly on the zinnias in my garden. If all goes right, this butterfly will migrate to at least Florida or, more likely, Mexico. Good luck!

ZINNIAS AND LETTUCE: This week, my zinnias went to Teddy’s luncheonette in Cranbury, Middlesex County, and the Hightstown Diner in Hightstown, Mercer County. The fall lettuce crop in my garden is growing nicely.

The fall lettuce crop in my garden.

GARDEN VOICES: Paul Migut, who gardens in South River, Middlesex County, checked in: “(I) pulled out all Rutgers and yellow tomatoes. (I) still have two grape/cherry tomatoes and two bush beans. And, of course, the ‘surprise’ turnips still growing. Enjoy the Fall season.”

Cherry tomatoes and bush beans from Paul Migut’s garden in South River, Middlesex County. (Photograph copyright 2017 by Paul Migut.)

BEAUTIFUL CLOUDS: The beautiful cloud formations continue. This week, among the places I photographed them was “Jamesburg Lake” (properly “Lake Manalapan”) on the Jamesburg-Monroe boundary, Middlesex County.

Clouds over “Jamesburg Lake,” Middlesex County.

The Delaware and Raritan Canal on the boundary of Rocky Hill and Franklin, Somerset County.

OCEAN TEMPERATURES: Atlantic Ocean temperatures on the New Jersey coast were about 68 degrees to 70 degrees during the weekend of September 30-October 1.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For October 1, Sunday, to October 7, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:55 to 7 a.m. and set about 6:30 to 6:40 p.m. For October 8, Sunday, to October 14, Saturday, the sun will rise about 7:05 a.m. and set about 6:25 p.m.

THE NIGHT SKY: The next full moon is the Full Harvest Moon Thursday, October 5.

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

UPCOMING: Another “Rally for the Navesink” meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, October 3, 5:30 p.m., at the Monmouth Boat Club, 31 Union Street, Red Bank. The Rallies are an effort of environmental groups, the community, and municipal, Monmouth County, and state governments to promote improvement of the Navesink River in Monmouth County. The river suffers from high fecal bacteria counts and depleted oxygen levels. More information on the Rally is available from Clean Ocean Action, telephone 732-872-0111, website www.cleanoceanaction.org.

The Navesink River in September, looking downstream from Middletown toward Sea Bright, Monmouth County.

The recent photograph shows Sandy Hook, where the Atlantic Ocean and Raritan Bay meet, from an airplane flight leaving LaGuardia Airport in New York City. Humans, how small we are! (Photograph copyright 2017 by Dan Mulligan, a Long Branch, Monmouth County, kid who, now, lives in Cranbury, where he is on the Township Committee and has served as mayor.)

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 also is at @JosephSapia on Twitter.com, along with Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.

October is Alive with Color…and coming to a tree near you!

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Black oak leaves are ablaze in the most incredible orange color, which makes you wonder how the black oak got its name.

A robe of many colors is October’s alone to wear. It is a coarse cloth, woven with silken threads of yellow and orange, melting into the extreme end of the red spectrum. Set against a clear blue sky, the colors radiate with brilliance. While the sun is otherwise occupied behind gathering clouds, the colors are no less extraordinary, as they hold their sharp contrast, presenting with a soft matte finish.

As the robe is placed upon the earth’s shoulders, the colors slowly flow downward in an infinitely slow progression, best seen from high above the earth. With that image in mind, it is easy to visualize autumn as a living creature leaving a momentary trail of color across the breadth of the tilting earth.

An alternative to a live, time lapsed satellite image of autumn’s gradual crawl across the latitudes, is best seen from a lofty vantage point with expansive views. Though the view is static, the full range of colors is on display. The cloth of the colorful cloak lies tight against the contour of the wooded mountains, each undulating feature of the landscape accentuated by shade and light. On a typical sunlit October day, herds of white billowy clouds drift across the blue sky followed on the ground by their shadows trying to keep up. As the lagging shadows flow across the colorful mountainsides, the tints change for a brief moment to provide a sense of movement to an otherwise still image. The scene is more dramatic if you can imagine the passing shadows being that of the artist’s hand working as you watch.

Retreating from distant views to stand within the October woodlands, individual trees and stands of trees become the focus. Each species resplendent in their own genetically defined color, modified to some degree by soil conditions, specifically, available nutrients and moisture. Instead of looking at a mass of treetops where smudges of varied colors blend together, we now see the pixels that make up the distant image.

Comparing trees of the same species, we can see the individual variation of color. Many trees with yellow leaves such as hickories, Norway maples, cherry and tulip poplar trees are very consistent in color. Oaks, sweetgum and some maples, whose leaves have a red component, show the most diversity.

The most glorious displays of fall color are where we find them, scattered among the local landscape. Each, an emissary heralding the arrival of autumn; apart from the mass of color sweeping across the land.

We all have a perennial favorite we watch on a daily basis to gauge the progress of autumn color.

A lone white oak in the middle of a field or a native red maple pressing against the chain link fence in the backyard, as seen from the bathroom window, serve as daily alerts.

Among the many autumn images accumulated in my experience, the one that keeps appearing is an old abandoned farm road lined with Norway maples, all the same size. The tree tops form a tight canopy over the road, keeping it clear of weeds and paving it with a golden carpet of fallen leaves. The length of the yellow paved road has a hint of a vanishing point that beckons a traveler to follow deeper into the fire of autumn color.

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.

Notes from Garden & Afield: Week of September 17

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.

Dawn on the Delaware River, looking downstream from Hamilton, Mercer County, to the other side of the river and Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

ABBOTT MARSHLANDS: The Abbott Marshlands are about 3,000 acres, about 1,300 wetlands and 1,700 uplands, along the Delaware River on the boundary of Burlington and Mercer counties in the Bordentown-Trenton area. An interesting point of the marsh is that it is both freshwater and tidal. While Delaware River saltwater going inland ends between the Delaware Memorial Bridge and Philadelphia, the tidal effect continues for miles upstream to the Marshlands. The Marshlands also are known as the Trenton Marsh and the Hamilton Marsh. More information is at http://abbottmarshlands.org/.

The Abbott Marshlands at Hamilton, Mercer County.

MONARCH BUTTERFLIES: Watch for monarch butterflies, “Danaus plexippus,” on their southern migration, to either Florida or, more likely, Mexico. This “super generation” are the great-grandchildren of last fall’s migrators and will make the complete migration. However, next year, they will begin northward, but will only make it so far, requiring three breedings to complete the journey north. Then, those great-grandchildren will become a “super generation,” making the entire journey south.

A monarch butterfly in my garden in August.

DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, BLACK VULTURES: I was driving to Princeton, Mercer County, to meet the lovely Pamela for breakfast and came across quite a scene on Route 27 in South Brunswick, Middlesex County – dozens of black vultures, “Coragyps atratus,” feeding on a dead deer. (As I mentioned last month, I do not recall seeing a black vulture locally until probably the 1990s. They are a southern species that has moved north.) Remember, nature is all around us, just keep an eye out for it.

Black vultures on Route 27 in South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, CHESTNUT TREES: As I was driving through the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, I noticed a Middlesex County Parks and Recreation pickup at the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area. I had to talk to naturalist Eric Gehring about a volunteer project, so I turned around and pulled over. Eric was on a mission with Les Nichols of the American Chestnut Foundation, looking for chestnut trees, “Castanea dentata,” in the Conservation Area. Since around 1900, the American chestnut has been plagued by a non-native and extremely invasive and potent fungal blight, “Cryphonectria parasitica,” – estimated to have crippled up to 4 billion chestnuts initially. American Chestnut blight affects the tree upward from where it infects it. The tree, then, is able to sprout again from roots, only to have those shoots, except for rare cases, infected. The Foundation seeks good specimens, hoping to create resistance in future chestnuts. Eric asked if I knew of chestnuts growing in these woods. Yes, at Swing Hill (which Eric already knew about) and at Big Tree. Into the woods, we headed – on my part unexpectedly, but I would rather walk the woods my family has walked for more than 100 years than do chores around the house – looking for specimens that may produce sought-after seeds in the future.

An American chestnut, in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, infected with the fungal blight.

American chestnut leaves in silhouette – serrated with a surf wave-like pattern.

STINK BUGS: I had noticed one or two brown marmorated stink bugs, “Halyomorpha halys,” outside the house. This is an Asian species, apparently introduced accidentally in the Allentown, Pennsylvania, area in 1996. This week, I found one in the house on a blind in my living room — perhaps just the beginning of an infiltration for their overwintering. As a Rutgers University fact sheet says, “They enter houses through cracks in windows and the foundation and may be seen in large numbers during September and October.” If you go after one and, say, crush it, it will release an earthy odor. So, it is a nuisance, not a damaging bug to the house. However, it is a serious threat to crops. More information is available at https://njaes.rutgers.edu/stinkbug/. (As for crickets in the house, my $45,000 cricket deterrent project – that is the remodeling with the side benefit of keeping crickets out of the house – seems to be working. So far, only 8 crickets in the cellar and 2 in the living section of the house. A cacophony of crickets is beautiful music. A single cricket rubbing its legs in the wee hours like the fingernail scratching of a blackboard. While cleaning the garage, I may have discovered their last main intrusion route into the living section – through a crack/opening between garage floor and foundation.)

marmorated stink bug on a living room blind.

BIRD FEEDING: This is the first summer in years I have not gone all out feeding the birds in my yard. I miss watching them, but I saved quite a bit of money (because I use only sunflower hearts or kernels) and tried something new, letting the birds eat insects, serving as a natural pesticide. But the bird-feeder is back up and the birds are slowly discovering it. I am looking forward to beginning my day watching birds feed.

A chipmunk, “Tamias striatus,” in the yard.

FERRIS FARMS: Now that I am feeding the birds in my yard again, I stopped by my regular bird food supplier, Ferris Farms in East Brunswick, Middlesex County. I recall visiting Ferris as a youngster with my family. Mike Rutkowski and Tony Riccobono have always been friendly and helpful when I have asked gardening questions. See http://www.ferrisfarms.org/.

Gourds at Ferris Farms in East Brunswick, Middlesex County.

Pansies at Ferris Farms.

KITCHEN TABLE: The flower display on my kitchen table gets better and better. One, the Knock Out roses continued flowering. Two, the zinnias also continued blooming. Three, I learned the display looked better with the more zinnias that I used. Lastly, the gourds were the same as before but they seemed to be yellowing in color, making them more autumn-like. Of course, the antique, porcelain-top table adds to the country-ness of the display. On the down side, this rose bloom seems on its way out. (I have something up my sleeve, though: Grandma Annie Onda’s old kitchen table, with porcelain top and more ornate build, stands ready in my cellar to be moved upstairs to the kitchen.)

The kitchen table flower display.

ZINNIAS IN THE GARDEN: This week, my zinnias were distributed to the Helmetta Post Office, the lovely Pamela’s, and Jamesburg Dental Care (where I had my first dental appointment 55 years ago under Dr. Lew Goldstein). Butterflies continue to visit my zinnia patch.

A painted lady, “Vanessa cardui,” in the zinnia patch.

HURRICANE JOSE, THE GOOD: Jose’s effects brought out sightseers to look at the roughness of the ocean. And I saw parasailing surfers taking advantage of the winds at the Atlantic Ocean at Sea Bright, Monmouth County.

A parasailing surfer in the Atlantic Ocean at Sea Bright, Monmouth County.

WEEDS IN THE YARD: When I see some kind of vegetation popping up in the yard, I let it grow to observe it. So, year after year, pokeweed, “Phytolacca americana,” pops up, one plant along my driveway, another in my garden. Here is an interesting article on this complicated plant, http://nadiasyard.com/our-native-plants/american-pokeweed/.

Pokeweed in the garden.

MONMOUTH CONSERVATION FOUNDATION: A shout-out to the Monmouth Conservation Foundation, a not-for-profit land preservation group in Monmouth County, as it celebrates its 40th anniversary. Over the 40 years, it has helped save more than 22,000 acres of open space. (The Foundation recently contracted me to write two articles – one on the group’s origin and another on Monmouth County wildlife — for one of its upcoming publications.)

OCEAN TEMPERATURES: Atlantic Ocean temperatures on the New Jersey coast were about 69 degrees to 74 degrees on the weekend of September 23-24.

A gull at the Atlantic Ocean beach at Sea Bright, Monmouth County.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For September 24, Sunday, to September 30, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:50 a.m. and set about 6:45 p.m. For October 1, Sunday, to October 7, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:55 to 7 a.m. and set about 6:30 to 6:40 p.m.

THE NIGHT SKY: The next full moon is the Full Harvest Moon October 5, Thursday.

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

“Jamesburg Lake,” or more properly “Lake Manalapan,” on the boundary of Monroe and Jamesburg, Middlesex County, is about 35 to 40 acres. On the Outer and Inner Coastal Plains, there are few, if any, natural bodies of water. So, Jamesburg Lake on the Inner Coastal Plain is formed by the damming of Manalapan Brook.

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 also is at @JosephSapia on Twitter.com, along with Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.

Notes from Garden and Afield: Week of Sept 10

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.

My kitchen table display gets better and better: Gourds, which mysteriously appeared in the garden, are added to the display of zinnias and Knock Out roses on the antique porcelain-top table.

BIG SKY COUNTRY, EMLEY’S HILL: I was driving through one of my favorite places in the Midlands, rural Western Monmouth County. I stopped at Upper Freehold’s Emley’s Hill, part of the cuesta geological formation that divides the Outer and Inner Coastal Plains. Generally, east of this hilly formation drains directly to the Atlantic Ocean, while west of the cuesta drains to the Raritan River. Emley Hill, though, is on a spur of the cuesta dividing the drainages of the Raritan River and the Delaware River. Because it is a hilly rural area at about 140 feet above sea level with lower surrounding farmland, there are beautiful big-sky views. Emley’s Hill is at the intersection of Emley’s Hill Road and Burlington Path Road.

Looking east from Emley’s Hill in Upper Freehold, Monmouth County.

Looking north from Emley’s Hill at the Bullock Farms, http://www.bullockfarms.com/.

WILD OUTDOOR EXPO: The New Jersey Wild Outdoor Expo is an annual event, held at the Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area in Ocean County. It includes information on environmental issues and parks, hunting, fishing, trapping, other recreational use of the outdoors, and so on.

This year’s expo, held on Saturday and Sunday, September 9 and 10, was sponsored by the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, Division of Parks and Forestry, and Forestry Services, along with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

Colliers Mills WMA is the almost 13,000 acres of open space — Pine Barrens forest, fields, waterways, and bodies of water — behind the Six Flags/Great Adventure amusement area. Outside of New Jersey, WMAs are referred to as “game lands.” In New Jersey, WMAs are shared by hunters and other recreational outdoors people.

Red-tailed hawk, “Buteo jamaicensis,” on display at the Expo. Note the reddish tail giving the hawk its name. Red tails are commonly seen, soaring above, or commonly heard, calling in a wheezy-sound way.

A mounted mink, “Mustela vison.” They are around, but the only two I have seen were both roadkills in recent years in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta.

A mounted bobcat, “Lynx rufus.” I describe them as having a dog-like body with a cat’s head. I would love to see one in the wild. The state lists the bobcat as “endangered,” or in immediate peril of surviving.

A mounted coyote, “Canis latrans.” Note the dog-like body, but pointy fox-like nose and ears. From 2014 to 2016, I worked an overnight shift near the Metropark train station in Woodbridge, Middlesex County, and I would occasionally see a coyote. One night, an ambulance was on the other side of the woods, yipping its siren. The coyotes started up, yipping away. Smart animals – I once read a suggestion if coyotes had opposing toes, they probably would run the world.

Brochures from the Expo.

FALLING ACORNS: I was driving one of the paved roads through the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta and came across outdoorsman Art Utter, who lives nearby in Spotswood. Art was gathering acorns to use as hunting bait around his deerstand. While we were talking, I was listening to and dodging falling acorns. Earlier, Art got conked on the head by one and it drew blood. These things looked massive. Some might say these acorns suggest a severe winter ahead, with the acorns providing animals with food. I do not think it is a good predictor of anything. The only thing I got out of it was that it seemed as though acorns were falling steadily and they were big.

Acorns litter a road in the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta.

IN THE GARDEN: I got tired of looking at the tangle of cucumber and cantaloupe plants that did not produce one usable item this year. So, I mowed them down, along with the tomatillos and gourds, both of which I did not plant. So, now, I look forward to fall lettuce, which is growing nicely, and carrots.

I came across this toad, genus “Anaxyrus,” while cutting the lawn.

THE FLOWERING YARD: The zinnias and Knock Out roses continue to bloom, although the zinnias may have slowed down – perhaps because of powdery mildew and leaf spot. But the Knock Outs seem to be flourishing.

Knock Out roses continue to bloom nicely – even flourishing.

OUT-OF-SEASON FLOWERING: Occasionally, plants bloom out of season. In the past, I remember seeing sheep laurel, “Kalmia angustifolia,” blooming in the fall in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, when its normal bloom is May and June. Maybe an out-of-season bloom was caused by temperatures and sunlight replicating normal bloom times. Whatever the reason, the flowering quince bush in my yard was actually flowering. Normal flowering would be in the spring.

Flowering quince blooming out of season.

BIZARRE EXPERIENCE IN THE YARD: The flowering quince was unusual, but not bizarre. The bizarre experience happened a day earlier, when I was cutting the front yard grass. First, I notice a rabbit, “Sylvilagus floridanus,” watching me from a few feet away on the other side of the hedges. As I have mentioned, if I go about my own business, the rabbits and butterflies allow me to get close. As I was cutting the grass along the street’s edge, I noticed something embedded in the ground where I had just mowed – a 20-gauge, loaded shotgun shell! If I cut that open when I was mowing, I could have sprayed hundreds of pellets. Fortunately, it was intact, but bent, probably having been run over by a vehicle. In the old days, I could have asked any of a number of hunters in the neighborhood what to do. But hunting is becoming less popular, so less available sources. Although it was probably remote I could set off the primer and powder, I did not want to take a chance. So, I called Monroe Police and gave it to responding Officer Bob Bennett with whom I had a great conversation about the local woods. (Officer Bennett opened the conversation, asking if I was the guy…. Uh, oh, a police officer asking if I was the guy! Actually, he asked if I was the guy who posts nature photographs on the local Facebook page. Guilty, Officer. I mean, Yes, Officer.) As for the shotgun shell, who knows where it came from. My friend, the rabbit, disappeared. Was it warning me about the shell?

The shotgun shell.

My rabbit friend. Was it warning me about the shotgun shell?

FLOWERING HIGHTSTOWN: One of my regular stops is the Hightstown Diner, where Kathy and George Antonellos have been great hosts over the decades in their 1941 diner. What I notice when I visit the diner is the flowers in this quaint, historic Mercer County town. So, I walked about, shooting photos of them. (If you like South Jersey-Philadelphia scrapple, the Hightstown Diner has it – one of the northernmost locations where scrapple can be found. Me, I love scrapple!)

The corner of Mercer Street (Route 33) and Rogers Avenue in Hightstown, Mercer County.

Along Mercer Street (Route 33) in Hightstown, Mercer County.

Flowering Hightstown.

DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, A GREAT EGRET: As I was driving home from Hightstown, I crossed the Millstone River, the boundary of East Windsor, Mercer County, and Cranbury, Middlesex County. There, I noticed a perched great egret, “Ardea alba.” Keep an eye out for nature. It is all around us.

A great egret on the Millstone River. Here, the river is the boundary of East Windsor, Mercer County, and Cranbury, Middlesex County.

OCEAN TEMPERATURES: Atlantic Ocean temperatures on the New Jersey coast were about 72 degrees Friday, September 15.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For September 17, Sunday, to September 23, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:40 to 6:45 and set about 6:55 to 7:05. The fall equinox of nearly equal daylight and sunlight is September 22, Friday. For September 24, Sunday, to September 30, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:50 a.m. and set about 6:45 p.m.

THE NIGHT SKY: The new moon is September 20, Wednesday. The next full moon is the Full Harvest Moon October 5, Thursday.

Harvest time it is. Here, hay being harvested on a farm in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

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

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 also is at @JosephSapia on Twitter.com, along with Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.

Notes from Garden and Afield: Sept 3-10, 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). Notes and photographs are for the period covered, unless otherwise noted.

A black gum, “Nyssa sylvattica,” changes color at Cranberry Bog in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta.

CHANGING COLORS IN THE PINE BARRENS AROUND HELMETTA: Black gum trees, ““Nyssa sylvattica,” are obvious with their leaves changing colors for the season. “Fall foliage,” meaning the changing colors as colder weather approaches, is a misnomer, because, here, in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, changing colors are noticeable beginning about July 15 to 31. I look for the peak of the coloring October 13 in wet areas and October 20 in dry areas, but, really, it is impossible to pinpoint a peak. If there is even a peak, because there may not be a uniform turning of colors.

“OPIENKI” MUSHROOMS, PINE BARRENS AROUND HELMETTA: As I drove a paved road through Jamesburg Park today, I saw a car parked at the woods and a woman at the car. She wore yoga pants, a short-sleeve pullover shirt, and sneakers, pants untucked — not really dressed as a woodswoman. So, I took a guess at what she was doing.

Mushrooms? I asked.

She said yes.

What kind, honey mushrooms?, I said.

The woman — Lana, who lived a few miles away from the site — said she did not know the name to tell me. Then, I noticed what sounded to be an Eastern European accent.

“Opienki”? I asked.

Yes, she smiled. How did you know that name?

A grandmother from Poland, I said.

Lana is from the Ukraine. She was picking edible mushrooms of the genus “Armillaria,” known by Polish people as “opienka” singular and “opienki” plural. “Pien” means stump in Polish and these mushrooms grow along the stumps of dead oaks. Hence, they also are known as “stumpies” — and “tan and yellow stumpies” because of their color and, of course, where they are found. But the general public probably would know them best by their common name, “honey mushrooms.”

Lana had bags filled with mushrooms in her car. (See the photos, which she let me take.)

Journalisticly, I am publishing this to inform people. In a neighborly way, I am hesitant to publish this because PICK THE WRONG MUSHROOM AND, AT BEST, YOU WILL GET SICK, AND, AT WORST, YOU WILL DIE.

I am 60-years-old and have been in these woods my whole life, and have heard stories from them going back another 50 or 60 years to when my maternal family settled here, and I will confidently pick ONLY ONE mushroom in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta: opienka. In the Jersey Midlands as a whole, I will confidently pick ONLY TWO: the second one, a morel, which I am familiar with on the Piedmont — say, at such areas as Princeton and Sourland Mountain.

I am “somewhat confident” to pick two more. But I made it to 60 and “somewhat confident” does not cut it. Remember the adage: There are bold mushroom pickers and there are old mushroom pickers. There are no old AND bold mushroom pickers.

If one must pick mushrooms, three bits of advice, even for the experienced picker: One, know how to call emergency responders, telephone 911; two, the telephone number of New Jersey Poison Control, 800-222-1222; and three, save one mushroom, perhaps on your kitchen counter, so doctors know the mushroom one ate.

I said good-bye to Lana, warning her of ticks, which can pass along disease such as Lyme, and chiggers, which will get one itching, beginning about 36 hours after leaving the woods, and scratching like crazy for days. (Me, man who got chiggers a week ago, here, in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta. Me, stupid man because I was not thinking and did not avoid grassy areas.)

(Dedicated to Grandma Annie Poznanski Onda, born 1885 in Poland, died 1972 in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta. And a big thank you to Ralph “Rusty” Richards, woodsman extraordinaire of the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, who continues to be a local woods mentor to me.)

Lana’s “opienki” mushrooms in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta.

ALSO IN THE PINE BARRENS AROUND HELMETTA: Look for fall bloomers, such as asters. Joe Pye weed, “Eutrochium purpureum,” remains blooming – and will do so until about October. Queen Anne’s lace, “Daucus carota,” continues blooming to about November. The seed heads of punks, or cat-tails, genus “Typha,” were fluffing as summer passes.

Joe Pye weed in bloom near the Ditch in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta.

CHIGGERS IN THE PINE BARRENS AROUND HELMETTA: I did a brief hike Friday, Sept. 1, and began itching around Sunday morning – chigger bites! Fortunately, I did not get a bad case, a bit of itching here and there on my legs. I first encountered chiggers, here, in about 2004. Some view chiggers as a Southern species moving north; Others will say we already had them up here. I knew of chiggers from hiking in the Pine Barrens down in South Jersey. The bottom line is they itch! So, I will scratch for a few days, then life will go on until the next round of chiggers. (A tip: Avoid grassy areas such as those I walked in on my hike. I just was not thinking.)

MA, GRANDPA, AND THE LOCAL PINE BARRENS: Perhaps I was not thinking of chiggers on Sept. 1 because my mind was elsewhere. Earlier that day, I had mailed in a donation to my church, Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Helmetta, and a request for a Mass to be said in Grandpa Mike Onda’s honor October 11– the 100th anniversary of his death in Helmetta from tuberculosis at 35–years-old. He left a 32-year-old widow, Annie Poznanski Onda, and three children 5-years-old and younger. One of those children was my mother, Sophie Onda Sapia, who was 3 when her father died. Her only memory of her father in later years was of her with him at Shekiro’s Pond in Helmetta. September 1 was the 22nd anniversary of Ma’s death at 81 in 1995. On this anniversary, I visited Shekiro’s Pond.

PESTS IN THE YARD: Neighbor Tom DeRose contacted me on the night of Labor Day, wanting to show me something in his yard. So, in the dark with flashlights, Tom and I were looking into a hole – perhaps big enough to shove in a few golf balls – of yellow jacket wasps. Ugh! They have scared me since I was a kid playing Army in this same neighborhood with Eddie Kasubinski. I pointed down the street at “The Swamp,” where Eddie and I got attacked – not by an opposing army, but by “yellow jacks.” I ran up the street crying. My father heard me, rushed into the backyard, saw the yellow jacks attacking me, grabbed my Army jacket, which had yellow jacks in it, and threw it aside. A number flew out of the jacket. I had got stung twice. Yellow jacks can be aggressive and multiple stingers. So, I advised Tom to stay away from his side yard until the cold weather sets in or spray a pesticide into the hole.

The yellow jacket nest in Tom DeRose and Trisha Miller DeRose’s side yard.

LAURINO FARMS: I was out in Monmouth County and stopped by Laurino Farms on Route 537 (between Laird and Swimming River Roads) in Colts Neck. There, I picked up a favorite of mine, white peaches, along with a jar of cranberry preserves. A shout out to Bobby Laurino, whom I saw briefly – personally, Bobby has patiently answered my gardening questions and he is an inspiration for me growing zinnias this year. And, more importantly, a shout out to Bobby for what he does for feeding the needy, including helping the Soul Kitchen restaurants (www.jbjsoulkitchen.org) in Red Bank and Toms River, founded by rock and roll star Jon Bon Jovi and his wife, Dorothea Bongiovi, who live in Middletown, Monmouth County, to support the needy. For example, Laurino provides space at his farm for Soul Kitchen to grow food organically. Dorothea said, “Bobby is an amazingly generous person, not only with his contribution of land to the Soul Kitchen so we could raise our own vegetables, (but) he is generous with his time, his knowledge, his spirit. I am not sure if all farmers are as optimistic as Bobby, but he has a positive can-do attitude that maybe all farmers need. Farming is an unbelievably difficult life, with many uncontrollable variables: temperature, rain, sun, insects (Bobby does not use pesticides), animals. I have enormous respect for anyone who grows food for others.” (And a shout out to Dorothea, who handles herself with class and humility. Over the summer, Dorothea received a Volunteer Leadership Award in the New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Awards for Public Service for her work with Soul Kitchen. “I was very surprised and humbled by the Jefferson award,” Dorothea said.)

Zinnias and sunflowers at Laurino Farms in Colts Neck, Monmouth County.

DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, “BIDENS” FLOWERS: Although I know the yellow flowers of the genus “Bidens” are adorning unplowed farmland and disturbed areas, it still amazes me when I come across fields of these flowers. I was driving in southern Monroe and came across this batch, next to acres of soybeans.

Yellow flowers of the genus “Bidens” in southern Monroe.

IN THE YARD AND GARDEN: The zinnias and Knock Out roses continue to bloom earnestly.

Zinnias, Knock Out roses, and a gourd, all from the my yard or garden, decorate the antique porcelain-top table in my kitchen. One of Ma’s old coffeepots is used as a vase.

MY BELOVED ZINNIAS: While still flowering wonderfully, the zinnias appear to have contracted powdery mildew. So, I will be dealing with this.

Apparently powdery mildew on the zinnias.

IN THE GARDEN: My summer crop, except for the zinnias, was a disaster. The sweet corn was undeveloped, probably because of too much rain and I should have planted in a bigger block to foster pollination, but it was harvestable and tasty. Too much rain translated into no cucumbers, no cantaloupe. Very few tomatoes, because something ate the tops off the plants.

MECHKOWSKI FARM: Timmy Mechkowski farms in Helmetta. He reported good crops of sweet corn, beets, stringbeans, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, and onions. “Tomatoes were decent until the end, when we starting getting the rain.” Timmy reported a bad year for peppers, potatoes, and blackberries. The Mechkowski farm is one of my favorite places.

Sitting on the front porch of his house, Timmy Mechkowski goes over his planting list.

Timmy Mechkowski’s dog, Abby, probably the most beautiful and most gentle dog I have ever met.

NAVESINK RIVER: The Navesink River drains about 95 square miles in the Red Bank area of Monmouth County. It abuts the hilly geological formation that separates the Inner and Outer Coastal Plains. The river sits on the Outer Coastal Plain side. These photos were taken downstream of the Ocean Bridge from the Middletown side. The bridge connects Middletown and Rumson. The Navesink River is one of my favorite places in the Jersey Midlands.

On the Navesink River, looking toward the Oceanic Bridge connecting Rumson, left, and Middletown, right.

Along the Navesink River.

DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, GREAT BLUE HERON: As I was leaving the Navesink River, I noticed a great blue heron, “Ardea Herodias” – a large bird I am in awe of.

The great blue heron along the Navesink River.

BIG SKY COUNTRY, MONROE TOWNSHIP: As the Jersey Midlands continue to develop, there is more a loss of big sky views. But the area between the Applegarth and Wyckoff’s Mills sections of Monroe is still a holdout. Here, there are wonderful views over soy bean fields and cornfields.

Between Monroe’s Applegarth and Wyckoff’s Mills sections, looking over a soybean field toward Route 33.

Between Monroe’s Applegarth and Wyckoff’s Mills sections, looking toward Cranbury, with corn growing to the right and soybeans to the left.

THE FLIP SIDE OF BAMBI: I have published photographs of beautiful deer in nature. I need to point out the flip side: deer on farmland and in garden. Years ago, I was talking to a farmer who grew corn on the state’s Assunpink Wildlife Management Area in western Monmouth County. The farmer paid no rent, but he had to leave a percentage of his crop to feed wildlife. The way I recall the story: “The problem is,” the farmer said, “the deer don’t know which 75 percent is mine and which 25 percent is theirs.” As Jersey Midlands nature writer John McPhee has written, “Deer, in my opinion, are rats with antlers, roaches with split hooves, denizens of the dark primeval suburbs. Deer intensely suggest New Jersey.”

OCEAN TEMPERATURES: Atlantic Ocean temperatures on the New Jersey coast were in the range of about 69 to 72 degrees during the weekend of September 9-10.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For September 10, Sunday, to September 16, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:35 to 6:40 a.m. and set about 7:10. For September 17, Sunday, to September 23, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:40 to 6:45 and set about 6:55 to 7:05. The fall equinox of nearly equal daylight and sunlight is September 22, Friday.

THE NIGHT SKY: This week, in the pre-sunrise sky, I saw the constellation Orion for the first time this season – Colder weather is coming with the winter constellations. The moon is waning after the September 6 full moon. The new moon is September 20, Wednesday. The next full moon is the Full Harvest Moon October 5, Thursday.

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

Joey’s zinnias at the Hightstown Diner, in Hightstown, Mercer County.

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 also is at @JosephSapia on Twitter.com, along with Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.

Issues affecting Bobcats in New Jersey

Article and drawing by Maya Fenyk, age 13

Hello! I am Lynx Rufus, but you can call me Blossom the Bobcat. I am New Jersey’s only native wildcat, and have been on New Jersey’s endangered species list since 1991. Sightings of me in the Lower Raritan Watershed and throughout the state are increasing, but are still rare.

You might think “Oh, bobcats must survive just fine. They are at the top of the food chain. They have no predators.” I am sorry to say, that’s just not true. Some of my predators are mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, owls, wolves and humans. I can’t say I blame them as I also prefer a carnivorous diet. My prey includes rabbits, rats, squirrels, ground-nesting birds, turkeys and even small or sick deer. But predator threats are not my biggest concern.

My species used to be abundant and flourishing in the coniferous and mixed forests of New Jersey until humans started deforesting our homes. Clearing land for retail, corporate and housing developments has a huge impact on my survival. And disruption of our habitat by pipelines has huge impacts on us and other endangered, threatened and special concern species. Other issues that affect me are hunting and being hit by cars. Getting hit by cars, development and pipeline installation are linked. Fragmentation of my habitat makes it hard for me to find shelter from the weather, cover for hunting and raising my babies, and forces me and my family to cross roads to find our dinner and safe spaces to hide. Please slow down through forested areas! When humans ruin my home, push me onto their roads, and drive too fast through the woods it really gets my angry purring going.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program’s Bobcat Recovery and The Nature Conservancy’s Bobcat Alley are both doing a great job restoring bobcats in New Jersey, but plans for pipelines and proposals to reduce protections under the state’s Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act and the federal Clean Water Act put our population recovery into question.

I must head to my den to check on my kittens, but I want to let you humans know how important it is to keep track of the numbers of my species. To report a bobcat or other endangered species sighting, please contact NJDEP. Thanks! And I say that with a final meow!

Notes from Garden & Afield: Week of August 27

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.

This photograph – that of a slug on a cantaloupe — basically sums up my garden’s summer fruit and vegetable crop. Slugs like moisture. And it was just a wet season.

GARDEN VOICES, NO.1: “It has simply been too wet for most things,” said Bob Eriksen, a retired biologist with the state Department of Environmental Protection who gardens in Warren County, just outside of the Jersey Midlands. “I have had groundhog issues in our garden, as well as deer. The deer are early — when the mulberries are hitting the ground, they spend time poking around our yard nibbling on everything. The groundhogs have been a major issue, eating everything from tomatoes and peppers to petunias. I have removed eight, so far, and believe there are still at least two more. I did not trap any last summer, but the summer before I caught nine.”

IN THE GARDEN: Aside from the zinnias and Knock Out roses, both of which continue to produce nicely, I pretty much have given up on the rest of the summer crop. Not one cucumber! And I fear not one cantaloupe will ripen properly. But the fall crop of carrots and lettuce, planted in early August, are coming up nicely.

Here comes the fall lettuce crop.

GARDEN VOICES, NO. 2: Paul Migut, a childhood friend and one of my gardening mentors, checked in from South River, Middlesex County. Paul, who is in his early 60s, has been food gardening since childhood: “I’d say this wasn’t the best of year for the vegetable garden. I’d say 3 out of 5.

Bush beans producing about 20 percent of previous month. Some plants drying up, branches showing signs of ‘old age’ (brown, brittle). Pickles still producing, but much slower, and also appear to be drying despite watering at 6:30am. Zucchini, a total waste as borers devoured the stalks.

Eggplants producing, but not as plump as prior years. Rutgers tomatoes small, (good color and that Jersey flavor!). Yellow (acid-free) producing fairly well, though appear a bit delicate with signs of spots, imperfections, but rather juicy. Radishes done. And the ‘mistake’ purchase of turnip (Purple Top White Globe, ‘Brassica rapa’) are still leafy, bushy, and still getting bigger — some over 4 to 5 inches diameter. Pulled more weeds than crops yesterday! Now to the house- rotate use of de-humidifier water between hydrangea in front of house and to refill backyard birdbath.” Paul is a great food gardener, making a not-so-good food garden year still a good year.

Circa late 1960s, Monroe Township – Paul Migut with an 8-horsepower roto-tiller at the huge garden of his uncle, Stanley “Pon” Ceslowski.

AROUND THE YARD: I was harvesting zinnia in the backyard garden when a large shadow passed over the backyard. I looked up and only a few yards away flew two turkey vultures, “Cathartes aura.” Usually, I see them soaring, riding the currents, rather than being nearby. I did not smell any dead animal for them to scavenge. So, perhaps they were perched nearby and I startled them.

This turkey vulture flew off while I was in the backyard.

CATBIRDS AND CAT: I was doing some outside painting when a ruckus interrupted me. About four catbirds, “Dumetella carolinensis,” converged in the shrubbery behind me, next to the street. Underneath the hedges was the neighborhood cat, feasting on what was once part of the catbird clan.

DRIVE-BY NATURALIST: I was driving across the Swimming River Reservoir on the boundary of Holmdel and Colts Neck in Monmouth County and noticed two great egrets, “Ardea alba,” so I stopped and shot photos of one with Canada geese, “Branta canadensis.”

A great egret and Canada geese on the Swimming River Reservoir in Monmouth County.

Another view of the great egret and Canada geese on the Swimming River Reservoir.

SEA BRIGHT BEACH: The Atlantic Ocean had a bit of a chop on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 29, at Sea Bright, Monmouth County, the surf tussled by the wind — sustained at about 10 to 13 knots per hour (a “gentle breeze” to “moderate breeze”) and gusts up to 14 to 19 KPH (“moderate breeze” to “fresh breeze”) about 3:30 to 4 o’clock, all out of the East Northeast, as recorded at nearby Sandy Hook. (Honestly, I thought the wind was blowing harder at Sea Bright.) Flags were extended, the surf rough, and foam, created by an agitated ocean, covered the surf line. Plus, it was raining. …But it was OK, that is what nature is about. And I had the beach to myself!

On this day at the beach in Sea Bright, Monmouth County, whitecaps were on the Atlantic Ocean, the surf churned, and the agitated ocean produced foam covering the surf line. It was kind of a day for the birds – or beach naturalists.

Flags at the Sea Bright Ocean Rescue Headquarters show the force of the wind.

SEPTEMBER AT THE SHORE: The traditional Jersey Shore summer season is the Memorial Day Weekend to the Labor Day Weekend. So, Labor Day Monday, September 4, would mean it is all over. Wrong! Remember the Shore secret, September is the best month at the Shore – less people, warm air and Atlantic Ocean temperatures, soft sunlight. But be extra careful if going into the ocean when lifeguards are not on duty.

2013, September, at the Atlantic Ocean in Asbury Park.

YELLOW FLOWERS IN THE FIELDS: The “Bidens” genus flowers are blooming nicely on unused farmland and disturbed areas. I vaguely remember hearing a story this yellow flower is not native to New Jersey, first being discovered in the state along railroad tracks at Camp Kilmer near New Brunswick in the post-World War II or Korean War years, suggesting it was transported from its native southern United States via railroad. I am going to take a guess and identify the species as “aristosa.” (But this historical and botanical information would have to be verified.) Basically, it is a weed — although a colorful one that brightens fields this time of year.

“Bidens” wildflower growing in South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

More of the “Bidens” wildflower in South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

Where the generally flat Coastal Plain meets the rolling hills of the Piedmont — In the foreground is a soybean field on the boundary of Cranbury and Plainsboro in Middlesex County on the Coastal Plain, or more specifically the Inner Coastal Plain. In the distance haze are the rolling hills of Princeton, Mercer County, on the Piedmont. The Jersey Midlands are filled with stories of geology, flora, fauna, and, especially if we turn off outside lighting, the Night Sky.

COASTAL PLAIN BODIES OF WATER: Between the soybean field and the hilly ground in the previous photograph is a 23-acre pond in Plainsboro. The name on the sign, “Mill Pond Park,” says a lot. Its name suggests the pond was built, by damming Cranbury Brook, to form a power source for a mill. Most, if not all, bodies of water on the generally flat Coastal Plain are human-made.

Plainsboro’s Mill Pond

The dam that holds back Cranbury Brook to form Plainsboro’s Mill Pond.

A TALE OF TWO DEER: As I drove through Thompson Park in Monroe, I noticed a white-tail deer, “Odocoileus virginianus,” buck. He had a beautiful 10-point, velvet-covered rack. He was not free. Instead, he was confined behind a fence as part of the park zoo. Later that day, I saw another beautiful buck, this one on a section of Sourland Mountain in Montgomery, Somerset County. He roamed freely in a rural area of woods and farmland. But how free is “free”? Assuming the status of the two deer does not change, the zoo buck will be safe during hunting season, but the Sourland Mountain deer may wind up as someone’s meal or trophy.

The Thompson Park Buck

The Sourland Mountain buck.

FOR LAWN LOVERS, BLEGGGGGHHHH!: As you probably know, I dislike trophy lawns – basically, non-native wastelands filled with pollutants. Better to go green – go organic, go with native plants instead of a lawn, create high-grass wildlife patches, grow vegetables, or plant annual flowers that attract pollinators. But if you must…. Now is the correct time to seed lawns – as early in September as possible, not later than mid-September. This time of year provides for good seed growth, while competitive weeds are no longer growing. See the Rutgers University Cooperative Extension Service “Seeding Your Lawn” fact sheet, https://njaes.rutgers.edu/pubs/fs584/.

A wildlife patch in my neatly kept, but un-trophy-like, lawn.

GARDEN VOICES, NO. 3: Priscilla “Peppy” Bath, who gardens in Hamilton, Mercer County, knows about my quest to eliminate lawn in favor of garden. She checked in from vacation in Germany’s Black Forest. “I took a walk this morning and the house across from my hotel has no grass at all, just a beautifully maintained garden. It has flowers and vegetables, no weeds. Knock Out roses, cosmos, mountain pink, lots of lettuce, green beans, tomatoes, zucchini, and bare spaces where other already-harvested vegetables were. Perhaps this is what you are striving for.”

LEECHES: Sophie Onda Sapia used to tell me about leeches when she was a kid in the Pine Barrens Around Helmetta, where she lived all her 81 years, from 1913 to 1995. Ma said sometime one or more would latch onto one when swimming in the local waters. I have been around these waters all my 60 years – blessed to still walk afield where my maternal family has walked more than 100 years, despite New Jersey urbanization – and never recall pulling a leech off me. But I saw some chatter the other day on the “Jersey Pine Barrens” Facebook.com page about the “unusual amount” of leeches encountered, this year. Thoughts?

GRIGGSTOWN FARM: I stopped at Griggstown Farm near the Delaware and Raritan Canal in Franklin, Somerset County, and bought some goods – sweet corn, tomato, etc. Of course, I shot photos. More information, https://griggstownfarm.com/.

The market at Griggstown Farm in Franklin, Somerset County.

Tomatoes at Griggstown Farm.

Griggstown Farm’s cookbook library.

OCEAN TEMPERATURES: Atlantic Ocean temperatures on the New Jersey coast were in the range of about 72 to 74 degrees Thursday, August 31.

A lifeguard boat at Sea Bright, Monmouth County.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For September 3, Sunday, to September 9, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:30 a.m. and set about 7:20 p.m. For September 10, Sunday, to September 16, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:35 to 6:40 a.m. and set about 7:10.

THE NIGHT SKY: The Full Corn Moon is on the Sept. 5-6, Tuesday-Wednesday, overnight.

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

UPCOMING: September 9 and 10, Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Wild Outdoor Expo at the Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area, Jackson, Ocean County, WildOutdoorExpo.com.

The zinnias from the garden keep on giving. Here, at a friend’s house.

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 also is at @JosephSapia on Twitter.com, along with Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.

 

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