Photos and article by Joseph Sapia
Afield observations made in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta in South Middlesex County. Garden observations made in my yard, just outside of Helmetta.
THE GARDEN. Planted vegetables, cantaloupe, and flowers, all from seed, May 21. Sweet corn, cucumbers, and sunflowers are sprouting well. The tomatoes are just peeking through the soil.
GARDENING CHORES. Planted black-eyed Susan seeds, finished lawn-mowing, weeded the garden, been watering the garden.
WATERING THE GARDEN. I use no fertilizer and no chemicals — to me, things ruining the local Pine Barrens ecosystem and time bombs in the soil and groundwater. But I water, a soaking preferably before 10 a.m., so less loss of water to evaporation in the sun’s heat and allowing the vegetation to dry so as not to pick up fungal growth. If I miss the pre-10 a.m. watering, I will try to water with a sprinkling can, low to the ground, underneath the vegetation.
WATER CONSERVATION. Since taking over the family house in 2002, I have cut my water consumption in half for the most part. Some can be attributed to a needed bathroom remodeling (and a water-efficient toilet), but a lot is from simple conservation — do not run as much water, along with re-using gray water and rain water for watering plants. This week, for example, I watered the garden with a combination of house water and gray water, hoping to switch entirely to rain water and gray water.
MORE WATER CONSERVATION. Water from the cellar de-humidifier goes to the bird bath/watering trough. The trough, too, is recycled — a garbage can lid place on the ground, easy for birds to use, as well as squirrels and so on.
RACCOON AT THE BIRD-FEEDER. My friend continues to visit the bird-feeder, helping itself to the sunflower kernels. I let it do it for a good part of the night, then I put the feeder in the garage for the overnight.
WILDLIFE AND ME. Un-rhythmic chirping crickets in my cellar in the middle of the night bring out the serial killer in me — wait till later this summer when that starts up!. But, generally, wildlife is very welcome in my yard (if not my house). This week, though, a raccoon, which I normally get within 7 or so feet of as I let it raid my bird-feeder, would not leave my garage after I startled it and it hid behind tools and so on. I poked around with a stick and finally gave up, left the doors open, and curled up on the love seat in the house until I heard rattling, meaning the raccoon was in the garbage can holding the bird seed. So, I got up, and shooed it away. Earlier, while weeding, I saw a rabbit — whose kind let me get within 5 feet or so — eating my sunflower sprouts. The hand-weeder in my hand flew across the garden. Get it? The rabbit surely understood.
WILD ON MY SIDE. Neat on the street side and neighbor side. I let my hedges and shrubs have a wild or English garden look facing inward. But I try to keep it neat on the public and neighbors’s sides. And I keep a number of wild patches in my side and back yards, making the best out of unproductive lawn ecosystems (photo 9) (I am puzzled by parents that worry about school bus stops, un-shoveled snowy sidewalks, and overcrowded classrooms, but do not worry about the chemicals on their lawns. Time bombs, I say, time bombs!)
AROUND THE YARD. The season’s first bloom of Knock Out roses is wilting. Fungi (photos 11 and 12), mullein, and pokeweed sprout freely. I let this stuff grow, interested in how it looks.
— WHAT IS GOING ON? In recent weeks, I have seen a brown thrasher (first I have seen in around 15 years), then I heard a whip-poor-will calling at my house (the first in an estimated 6 years), and, this year, the northern gray treefrogs have been hollering. Is nature coming back to the local Pine Barrens? Is the natural world becoming so condensed that nature is retreating internally? Does it mean anything?
— AND MOUNTAIN LAUREL IS BLOOMING Meaning turtles are out laying eggs, so be careful while driving. (And be careful: Do not pick them up by their tails and WATCH OUT FOR THE SNAP OF A SNAPPING TURTLE.) For the more fainthearted naturalists, the mountain laurel blooming is sort of an alarm clock that the woods will heat up, get muggy, and pine flies will be swarming.
— MY INSIDE GARDEN. The view from my desk.
Copyright 2016 by Joseph Sapia
Joe is kicking off a new Facebook.com group, “The Jersey Midlands,” where this report is first published. To access The Jersey Midlands, go to the group and request access.
Joe Sapia, 59, is a vegetable gardener, who gardens the same backyard plot as did his Italian-American father, Joe Sr., and his Polish grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda. Both are inspirations for his vegetable gardening. And he draws inspiration on the local Pine Barrens from his mother, Sophie Onda Sapia, who lived her whole life in the local Pines, and his grandmother.