Notes from Garden & Afield: Week of Oct 29

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This squirrel has quite a bit of red tint.

Acting as a squirrel with acorn in mouth.

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

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

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

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

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

WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasting station for the area is at

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

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

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

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

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