Notes from Garden and Afield Week of 2017, April 30-May 6

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

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

In the Delaware and Raritan State Park, the historic bridgetender station, circa 1830, and garden at Blackwells Mills in Franklin/Somerset County.

GARDEN AND YARD: In my food garden, peeking through the soil are cool weather vegetables of lettuce and carrots. I had not seen any noticeable sign of peas coming up, but Cranbury/Middlesex County farmer Roy Reinhardt advised me to be patient; He was right, there they were a few days later. Wild onions, “Allium canadense,” are coming up in my lawn; If only I enjoyed onions more than I do, I would have a nice bounty.

Wild onions growing in the yard.

RAIN: The rain May 5, Friday, was drenching. Kathy Krygier of Krygier’s Nursery in South Brunswick/Middlesex County reported about 1.75 inches. Other reports from the Jersey Midlands, via the website, include Lambertville/Hunterdon County, 1.63 inches; Somerville/Somerset County, 1.16 inches; the Mill Lake Manor section of Monroe, 2.05 inches; Little Silver/Monmouth County, 2.02 inches; Miller Air Park in Berkeley/Ocean County, 2.63 inches; the Chatsworth area/Burlington County, 1.62 inches; and Ewing/Mercer County, 1.63 inches.

UPCOMING FOOD GARDEN DATES: For planting the warm season crop, my rule of thumb is May 20 (in a warm season) to June 1 (in a cooler season), with steady overnight temperatures of 55 or higher. Some planters go by Mother’s Day (this year, May 14), some go by May 15. Helmetta farmer Timmy Mechkowski says after the May full moon – this year, this Wednesday, May 10, the Full Corn-Planting Moon.

Rhode Island red chickens at the Mechkowski Farm in Helmetta.

INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION: Possible sightings of the ISS are May 8, Monday, 4:47 a.m. to 4:50 a.m, tracking west southwest to north northeast; May 9, Tuesday, 3:57 a.m. to 3:59 a.m., south to east northeast; May 10, Wednesday, 4:40 a.m. to 4:44 a.m., west to north northeast; May 12, Friday, 4:32 a.m. to 4:36 a.m., west northwest to north northeast. Caution: One needs a clear sky and, at times, a clear view well above the horizon.

EGRET: I have noticed a great egret, “Ardea alba,” fly by my house two or three times in recent weeks, along with once about 1-1/2 miles away. I suspect it is the same bird. Just an interesting sighting.

TURKEY: A wild turkey, “Meleagris gallopavo,” greeted me when I turned onto my street.

A wild turkey in the neighborhood.

TICKS: Reports are coming in about ticks being out with a vengeance in New Jersey. I, for example, have pulled deer ticks, “Ixodes scapularis,” and lone star ticks, “Amblyomma americanum,” off my clothes. From Chris Bevins, “How are you making out with ticks? They are ferocious this year and first time I’m seeing lone star ticks in abundance.” And Frank Ulatowski says he had about a dozen on him or his clothes after being up at the Delaware Water Gap area.

PINE BARRENS AROUND HELMETTA: Pink lady-slipper orchids, “Cypripedium acaule,” are coming into bloom. Flowering dogwood, “Cornus florida,” remains in bloom. Pitch pine, “Pinus rigida,” have long “candles” of new growth. Cinammon fern, “Osmunda cinnamomea,” is in its fiddlehead state and unfurling. Northern gray treefrogs, “Hyla versicolor,” continue calling vociferously. Spring peeper treefrogs, “Pseudacris crucifer,” continue calling. Sunfish, genus “Lepomis,” guarded their nests at Helmetta Pond. Antlion larvae, “Hesperoleon abdominalis,” had pits to capture ants. And I captured a nice photo of some kind of dragonfly in the woods.

A dragonfly at Jamesburg Park/Middlesex County.

A pink lady-slipper orchid in bloom, right. Left, lady-slipper leaves poking through the ground.

The pit of an antlion larva, or doodlebug. The larva sits in a pit awaiting a meal of an ant. The larva eventually evolves into a flying insect. To put the size of the pit in perspective, that is an acorn sitting nearby.

     DELAWARE AND RARITAN CANAL:  I visited a Franklin/Somerset County section of the D&R Canal State Park, specifically the area between Route 518 and Blackwells Mills. Various animals were active — great blue heron, “Ardea herodias”; Gray catbird, “Dumetella carolinensis”; redbelly turtles, “Pseudemys rubriventris.” Spring beauties, “Claytonia virginica,” remain in bloom. I saw as-big-as-my-forearm poison ivy, “Toxicodendron radicans” — “Hairy rope, don’t be a dope!” As a kid, I could touch it and not get a rash, but twice I got it bad as an adult years ago — perhaps it was because of the hot days, me sweating, my pores open. Now, I take no chances!

A great blue heron in the D&R Canal.

Basking redbelly turtles in the D&R Canal.

TURTLES CROSSING ROADS: A heads-up for turtles crossing roads. There has been a lot of reported movement lately. If driving, watch out for them. If trying to move them, one, do it safely and, two, move the turtle in the direction it was traveling. (For snapping turtles, “Chelydra serpentina,” BE CAREFUL. Some Piney lore, only lightning or the setting sun will make a snapper let go. Me, I use a grain shovel I keep in my Jeep to move snappers across roads.) I was driving through Pigeon Swamp in South Brunswick/Middlesex County recently and saw what I think was an eastern painted turtle, “Chrysemys picta,” crossing a road. By the time I turned around to move it, it was gone.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For the week of May 7, Sunday, to May 13, Saturday, the sun will rise at about 5:45 a.m. and set at about 8:05 p.m.

WEATHER: Go to the National Weather Service forecasting station for the area,

UPCOMING AFIELD DATE: The first soaking rain around May 15 should green up the woods for the season.

Mallards, “Anas platyrhynchos,” at Helmetta Pond. Left, the colorful male, and, right, the more drabby, brown female.

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.


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