Notes from Garden & Afield: Week of November 19, 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.

Farmers are harvesting field corn as fall turns into winter. Here, a cut-down cornfield in Monroe, Middlesex County. We have seen a wide fluctuation of temperatures this fall, from summer-like to winter-like, but look out for long days of cold, perhaps accompanied by snow.

FARMING: Look for the traditional farming season to wrap up. Farmers are continuing to harvest field corn, for example. Meanwhile, we are transitioning into the winter holidays season at Christmas tree farms.

A farmer works a corn field outside Neshanic Station, Somerset County.

CHRISTMAS TREE FARMS: For those seeking trees from local farms, whether recent cuts or cut-your-own, here is the New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers Association website’s farm locater, Keep in mind, all Christmas tree farms may not be listed. (I heard an interesting radio news report regarding Christmas trees in America. The report said we are facing the effects of the recession 10 years ago – that is, with the recession, farmers planted less trees and with those trees now reaching cutting time, there are less trees. In turn, higher prices. The report said this will go on for years.)

DEER RUT: While I have not noticed any bucks roaming lately — because, I suspect, the mating season, or rut, of deer, “Odocoileus virginianus,” is peaking and bucks and receptive does are holed up in the seclusion of woods — I did come across a dead buck on farmland in Monroe, Middlesex County. It was a fresh kill and near a busy road, so he probably was a victim of a motor vehicle accident. Additionally, he was probably sex-crazed and less wary, crossed the road, and got hit. I noticed the dead buck because nature was taking its course and vultures were feasting upon him. Definitely turkey vulture, “Cathartes aura”; Maybe black vulture, “Coragyps atratus,” too.

I spooked these vultures when I stopped to photograph them on a deer carcass in Monroe, Middlesex County. Notice the dead buck on the middle-to-right bottom of the photograph.

The dead buck appeared to be a pretty good size.

DEER HUNTING: Various deer-hunting seasons have been underway and will continue into 2018, with “Deer Week,” or the Six-Day Shotgun Season, being Monday, December 4, to Saturday, December 9. (If you are traveling through the Pine Barrens, take note of those primitive buildings that are quiet for 51 weeks of the year. During Deer Week, they will be hopping.) Anyway, be careful if heading into the woods during deer seasons. One, it might be advisable to stay out of the woods. Two, if you are in the woods, at least wear blaze orange. Three, during Deer Week, just stay out of the woods unless you are hunting. A year or so ago, I walked underneath a bowhunter in a deer-stand, never seeing him until he spoke to me from above. Fortunately, I wore blaze orange and was obvious to him. This rattled me into thinking I am not as aware of my woods surroundings as I should be.

This doe was killed in the Route 33 area of Manalapan, Monmouth County.

FALL FOLIAGE: The Jersey Midlands are past the peak of the changing colors of fall, but there were some beautiful brown/Earth-tone views.

Fall foliage and a cloudy sky at Westminster Cemetery in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

A sunny day upon the fall foliage along Manalapan Brook in Monroe, Middlesex County.

“Englishtown Lake” (properly Lake Weamaconk) in Monmouth County. The lake is formed by the damming of Weamaconk Creek, part of the Raritan River-Bay watershed.

Farmland below Sourland Mountain in Montgomery, Somerset County.

SOURLAND MOUNTAIN: This week, I had to go to Hillsborough, Somerset County, to attend a funeral service. Because I was nearby, I took a ride to Sourland Mountain on the boundary of Somerset, Hunterdon, and Mercer counties. Sourland Mountain, also known as Neshanic Mountain and Zion Mountain, sits on the Piedmont geological area. It runs about 10.5 miles by 4.5 miles and rises about 570 feet above sea level, with its surrounding lowlands as low as about 90 feet above sea level.

Looking across farmland at Sourland Mountain at Montgomery, Somerset County.

Fencing to hold back snow drifting on roads at Montgomery, Somerset County.

RARITAN RIVER SOUTH BRANCH: The South Branch of the Raritan River is 51 miles long, draining 276 square miles in Somerset, Hunterdon, and Morris counties. It meets the North Branch north of Neshanic Station, forming the main stem of the Raritan River.

An old railroad bridge and mill on the South Branch of the Raritan River at Neshanic Station.

The one-lane, 1896 iron bridge over the South Branch of the Raritan River, connecting Branchburg and Hillsborough at Neshanic Station, Somerset County.

VOICES FROM AFIELD, EAGLES: Michael Franken checked in regarding bald eagles, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus.” He reported seeing them on the boundary of Cranbury and Plainsboro, Middlesex County, Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. In New Jersey, the bald eagle is “endangered,” or in immediate peril, as a breeder and “threatened,” or if conditions continue or begin to deteriorate, they will advance to endangered, in general. The state Division of Fish and Wildlife bald eagle page is

DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, BIRD OF PREY: I was driving through a farming area of South Brunswick, Middlesex County, and came across a bird of prey perched in a tree. I could not get a good look or a good photograph of the bird. Later, in looking at the photo on my computer, the bird’s head appeared to be somewhat, perhaps not that blatantly, lighter than the body. A bald eagle, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” transitioning from juvenile to adult?

A bald eagle, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” transitioning from juvenile to adult?

FULL MOON: The upcoming full moon — the Full Long Night Moon on the December 3-4, Sunday-Monday overnight — will be 2017’s only full “super moon,” that is, when the full moon comes close to the Earth, or 222,443 miles away. The closest will be at 4 a.m. Monday, December 4, when the moon will appear “about 7 percent larger and 16 percent brighter than usual,” according to the National Geographic.

Around 5 p.m. November 20, Monday, or a short time after sunset, there was a beautiful rainbow-shaped and -colored cloud in the western sky. The color was caused by the reddish sunlight from under the horizon hitting the cloud. And more toward the southwest was the crescent moon. What a view! (The photos, all shot from my yard, from where I have watched the night sky since the American-Soviet “Space Race”: the moon, stars, planets, meteorites, and the International Space Station.)

DARK SKIES: As you probably can tell, I am a big fan of a dark sky, to be able to see the stars, planets, satellites clearly. When I remodeled my house over the summer, I insisted on shielded outside lighting, which directs my three outside lights downward, not horizontally or upward. (At night, a shielded light will emit a cone of light, while an unshielded light emits a blinding burst of light. Also, red and green lights protect night vision.) On Saturday, November 25, I heard this story on NPR, about a proposal for part of Idaho to get recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association as a “dark sky reserve,” Go, Idaho! (I plan to be in Idaho for a wedding in August and hope to see that Idaho dark sky. Give people a wonderful view – turn off lights that project into the sky!)

AROUND PEDDIE LAKE: There were some nice views at Peddie Lake at Hightstown, Mercer County. The lake is about 15 acres, created by the damming of Rocky Brook, part of the Raritan River-Bay watershed. The Peddie School, a preparatory school, sits along the lake.

A fisherman on Peddie Lake under a partly cloudy sky.

The Peddie Lake cabin.

PROTECTING THE JERSEY MIDLANDS: The Jersey Midlands are an incredible environmental resource: the Atlantic Ocean and other coastal waters, the Outer and Inner Coastal Plains, the Piedmont, the Pine Barrens, the Delaware River, valuable farmland. This alone is evidence of why we should protect the Midlands environment. But, more so, the area is under intense development pressure and stress because of its location at the New York City and Philadelphia metropolitan areas.

Despite the beauty here of the blue sky above the Manalapan Brook floodplain in Monroe, Middlesex County, notice the commercial jet in the sky, probably headed for Newark Airport. The Midlands are under intense stress because of they are part of both the New York City and Philadelphia metropolitan areas.

OCEAN TEMPERATURE: The Atlantic Ocean temperature at Sandy Hook was about 47 degrees over the November 25-26, Saturday-Sunday, weekend.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For November 26, Sunday, to December 2, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:55 to 7:05 a.m. and set about 4:30 to 4:35 p.m. For Sunday, December 3, to Saturday, December 9, the sun will rise about 7:05 to 7:10 a.m. and set about 4:30 p.m.WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasting station for the area is at

CLOUDS: This week’s cloud photographs were captured at Monroe and Jamesburg, Middlesex County.


“Jamesburg Lake” (properly Lake Manalapan), looking from Monroe toward Jamesburg, Middlesex County.

IN THE GARDEN AND YARD: I try to get the yardwork done by Thanksgiving weekend. So far, the lawn has been cut for the last time, shrubs have been spruced up in the front yard, the gutters and drainpipes have been cleaned in the front of the house, the crawlspace where a two-room addition was put on the house circa 1967 has been secured, and the garage door and front cellar window well has been cleaned. Still to go, sprucing the backyard shrubs, cleaning the rear gutters and drainpipes, raking leaves into the garden, and, perhaps, roto-tilling the garden. I will not get the outside painting I had planned done. As the outside work ends, I have a ton of stuff to do inside over the winter.

The garden in my backyard in August.

This week in the garden.

UNEXPECTED WILDLIFE REFUGE: A little south of the Jersey Midlands, in Atlantic County, are our friends at the Unexpected Wildlife Refuge. Veronica Van Hof, the director, is seeking help in meeting a challenge. “As another way of supporting the Refuge, we have been accepted to be part of the Newman’s Own Foundation $500,000 Holiday Challenge, administered through CrowdRise,” Veronica said. “Every donation (‘voting’) through our page at CrowdRise increases the chance of our receiving additional funding through one of the Challenge prizes which range from $2,500 for 10th place up to $150,000 for first place.” The challenge runs to January 3. The challenge is at More about Unexpected is at

December 3, Sunday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. – Green Brook Cleanup at the Green Brook Regional Center, 275 Greenbrook Road, Green Brook, Somerset County, with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and the Central Jersey Stream Team. More information at
December 8, Friday, 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., Middletown, Monmouth County – “Forest Therapy” Walk, hosted by the Monmouth Conservation Foundation. “It is not intended to be a strenuous hike, but a time for mindful awareness in nature,” according to the foundation. More information,

This turkey survived Thanksgiving. (Compliments of the eclectic Joey Archives: A plastic turkey from my 1960s youth, pictured in the faux cabin section of my basement.)

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 is a semi-retired print journalist of almost 40 years. His work also is at @JosephSapia on, along with on the Jersey Midlands page.

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