Notes from Garden & Afield: July 24-29, 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.

Flowers on display at the Monmouth County Fair, which runs through Sunday, July 30, in Freehold Township.

THE DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, FLICKER: I aim to check the family gravesites once a month, with one of my visits to Saint James Cemetery in Monroe. There, I observed a bird I normally only get a glimpse of, flying off when spooked, the northern flicker, “Colaptes auratus” – in Greek, the genus name referring to “peck” because the flicker is a woodpecker and the species name referring to its “golden” underwing, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website. The flicker, whose body is generally tan with black speckles, is easily identifiable when it flies off because of its white rump. The flicker is a year-round resident.

A flicker at St. James Cemetery, Monroe.

The Saint James Cemetery flicker.

IN THE GARDEN: I picked multi-color carrots and green tomatoes for a salad. A true tomato crop will be iffy because some animal is snipping the tops of the plants. Sweet corn should be ready for picking soon (if the deer or raccoons do not get to it), although I noticed some yellowing of the leaves, probably attributable to the recent wet conditions. The rains apparently caused the splitting of a cantaloupe – basically, the rain forcing the fruit to develop more quickly than it is capable. So, I am backing off on watering at least the cantaloupe. The missing cucumbers are no longer missing; they are fruiting. I thought the tomatillos – which I did not plant and do not know where they came from – were ready for harvest, but they are still developing.

Pick green tomatoes and multi-color carrots from the garden, add balsamic vinaigrette dressing, and, voila, Joey’s Garden Garden Salad.

MY GARDEN WATERING OBSESSION: My two water barrels are pretty full, meaning I have about 50 gallons of non-house water on hand. The water is from various sources, including rainwater and recycled water from the cellar dehumidifier. But, after talking to other gardeners about watering, most recently Diane Larson, the horticulturist at the Rutgers University Cooperative Extension/Monmouth County, I am backing off on my daily watering. Instead of a daily watering, I am going to an every-other-day watering or even a less-frequent watering.

THE DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, KINGBIRD: As I walked around Saint James Cemetery, I noticed a bird I had not observed in years perched on a utility line, the eastern kingbird, “Tyrannus tyrannus.” It, too, is easily identifiable: dark head, white chin and underbelly, a white border to its dark tail. As the Cornell University All About Birds website says, “With dark gray upperparts and a neat white tip to the tail, the Eastern Kingbird looks like it’s wearing a business suit. …The scientific name ‘Tyrannus’ means ‘tyrant,’ ‘despot,’ or ‘king,’ referring to the aggression kingbirds exhibit with each other and with other species.” Here, it is a summer breeder eating insects, migrating to South America to spend winters and mainly eat fruit. An interesting fact, according to All About Birds, “Eastern Kingbirds apparently rely almost completely on insects and fruit for moisture; They are rarely seen drinking water.”

Pick green tomatoes and multi-color carrots from the garden, add balsamic vinaigrette dressing, and, voila, Joey’s Garden Garden Salad.

MY GARDEN WATERING OBSESSION: My two water barrels are pretty full, meaning I have about 50 gallons of non-house water on hand. The water is from various sources, including rainwater and recycled water from the cellar dehumidifier. But, after talking to other gardeners about watering, most recently Diane Larson, the horticulturist at the Rutgers University Cooperative Extension/Monmouth County, I am backing off on my daily watering. Instead of a daily watering, I am going to an every-other-day watering or even a less-frequent watering.

THE DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, KINGBIRD: As I walked around Saint James Cemetery, I noticed a bird I had not observed in years perched on a utility line, the eastern kingbird, “Tyrannus tyrannus.” It, too, is easily identifiable: dark head, white chin and underbelly, a white border to its dark tail. As the Cornell University All About Birds website says, “With dark gray upperparts and a neat white tip to the tail, the Eastern Kingbird looks like it’s wearing a business suit. …The scientific name ‘Tyrannus’ means ‘tyrant,’ ‘despot,’ or ‘king,’ referring to the aggression kingbirds exhibit with each other and with other species.” Here, it is a summer breeder eating insects, migrating to South America to spend winters and mainly eat fruit. An interesting fact, according to All About Birds, “Eastern Kingbirds apparently rely almost completely on insects and fruit for moisture; They are rarely seen drinking water.”

The Saint James Cemetery kingbird.

FALL CROPS: I should get carrots, lettuce, beets, and peas in the ground around August 1, although my tight schedule will probably delay that planting. Around August 15, I am looking to plant spinach.

This white-tailed deer, “Odocoileus virginianus,” in a genetic piebald state lives in the Route 130 area of Cranbury, Middlesex County. Thanks to George Nikitiades, whose family owns Teddy’s luncheonette in Cranbury, for passing along this photograph.

THE DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, DEER: As I was driving to the Monmouth County Fair, I passed a soybean field in Monroe and noticed a doe with her two fawns. The good thing for me, I captured some nice photographs. As for the farmer, his or her crops are likely being shared with these deer.

The Monroe doe and her fawns.

MONMOUTH COUNTY FAIR: The Monmouth County Fair, operated by the county Park System, completes its five-day run Sunday, July 30. This fair has a little bit of everything – and I like it because it retains the Old Jersey farm, garden, animal, and home exhibits. I spent some time there with retired county Agricultural Agent Rich Obal, county plant horticulturist Diane Larson, and Master Gardeners judging vegetables, flowers, and herbs. It was good to see Rich, whom I dealt with as an Asbury Park Press reporter over 30 years. And a shout out to Diane, who runs the Master Gardeners program, for continuing to answer my questions over the years.

Flowers at the Monmouth County Fair.

QUEEN ANNE’S LACE: Outdoorswoman Priscilla “Peppy” Bath of Hamilton, Mercer County, noted, “The Queen Anne’s lace is outstanding this year. When I was a little kid I would put some stems of Queen Anne’s lace in ink and watch the flowers turn blue.” I, too, have noticed a lot of Queen Anne’s lace, ““Daucus carota,” this year. And, now that Peppy has given me the idea, I will have to go out and buy some food coloring.

Queen Anne’s lace blooming in a fallow field at Heavenly Farms, East Brunswick, Middlesex County.

Goldenrod, genus “Solidago,” is blooming along roadsides. Here, it blooms along ConRail railroad tracks in Monroe.

Punks, or cat-tails, genus “Typha,” are in flower in wetlands.. These were photographed at Heavenly Farms in East Brunswick, Middlesex County.

GARBAGE IN THE WOODS: Because of development, destruction caused by off-road vehicle riding, and littering or garbage dumping, we are losing the battle to protect open space. Earlier this month, I came across living room furniture dumped along an East Brunswick, Middlesex County, public road passing through the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area. Middlesex County Parks and Recreation responded and removed the trash. The Jamesburg Park Conservation Area is approximately 1,400 acres of Pine Barrens ecosystem in East Brunswick, Helmetta, Spotswood, and Monroe. It is home to one of the few Atlantic white cedar swamps in the area, along with pine-oak forest, orchids, carnivorous plants, various wildlife (including the carpenter frog, which could be at its northernmost location, here.) See http://www.middlesexcountynj.gov/…/PR/Jamesburg-Park-CA.aspx. It is truly a jewel that needs to be respected, so that future generations can enjoy it, too. I take this personally — My family through my maternal side has walked afield in what is now the conservation area for more than 100 years and I have been a volunteer at Jamesburg Park for years. If anyone recognizes this furniture and knows the owner, please report it to Parks and Recreation, telephone 732-745-3900.

The furniture dumped at the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area.

I thought this tree-mulching scene was ironic because it is on Rutgers University’s Douglass-Cook campus. Cook is where Rutgers agriculture studies are based. And these volcano-like mounds are the wrong way to mulch! Creating the volcano-look, or the pileup of mulch against a tree could cause too much wetness around the bark or make the tree susceptible to insect infestation or disease. Instead, use the “doughnut” method of placing the “doughnut hole” outside of the tree and its exposed roots, so the mulch is not touching bark. Outside of the hole, the mulch should be about only 2 or 3 inches in depth, so as not to overwet the tree. The outer rim of the “doughnut” should go to the end of the root ball or the tree canopy/drip line. If a tree is established, there is no need for mulching.

The Northeast Corridor railroad tracks bridge crossing the Raritan River between New Brunswick, left, and Highland Park, right, in Middlesex County. This photograph shows the day’s changing weather, some rain, some sunshine.

PLEIN AIR ART IN THE GARDEN: One night, I plopped myself in a chair at the edge of my garden and used color pencils to do an artwork of the zinnias, which continue to bloom beautifully.

Zinnias in the garden.

OCEAN TEMPERATURES: Atlantic Ocean temperatures on the New Jersey coast were reported at around 75 degrees on Saturday, July 29.

UPCOMING COUNTY FAIRS: Middlesex County Fair, August 7, Monday, to August 13, Sunday, in East Brunswick, http://middlesexcountyfair.com/. Somerset County 4-H Fair, August 9, Wednesday, to August 11, Friday, in Bridgewater, http://www.somersetcounty4h.org/fair/. Hunterdon County 4-H and Agricultural Fair, August 23, Wednesday, to August 27, Sunday.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For July 30, Sunday, to August 5, Saturday, the sun will rise at about 5:55 to 6 a.m. and set about 8:10 p.m.

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

Pickerel weed, “Pontederia cordata,” in bloom on the Millstone River on the boundary of Middlesex County (Monroe and Cranbury) and Mercer County (East Windsor).

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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