Notes From Garden & Afield, Week of December 31

Article and photos by Joe Sapia (except where noted)

The Delaware River, iced-over Tuesday, January 2, at Washington Crossing — looking from Mercer County, New Jersey, to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, just upstream of the bridge.

SUB-FREEZING DAYS: After days of sub-freezing cold, how cold was it? Cold enough for a waterway – in this case, the mighty Delaware River — to freeze over.

The frozen-over Delaware River Tuesday, January 2, at Washington Crossing, looking from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.

A woman maneuvers Main Street in Cranbury during the Thursday, January 4, snowfall.

SNOWFALL, JANUARY 4: This storm produced a wind-whipped, powdery snow. Snowfall totals reported by National Weather Service:
Burlington County: 3.4 inches at Cinnaminson to 7.5 inches in the Southampton area.
Hunterdon County: 1.9 inches at Readington to 5.8 inches in the Hampton area.
Mercer County: 4.0 inches in the Washington Crossing area to 6.6 inches in the Lawrence area.
Middlesex County: 4.5 inches in the South Brunswick area to 9.6 inches at Cheesequake.
Monmouth County: 9.0 inches at Keyport to 18.0 inches in the West Long Branch area.
Ocean County: 12.5 inches in the Brick area to 18.3 inches in the Berkeley area.
Somerset County: 3.0 inches in the Montgomery area to 5.8 inches in the Franklin area.
(These totals are for these specific stations and may not be complete highs and lows for the counties.)

A snowplow pushes snow on Stockton Avenue in Jamesburg, Middlesex County, in the Thursday, January 4, snowfall.

SNOWFALL FOR THE SEASON: With the January 4 snowfall, my house in Monroe, Middlesex County, has had 16 inches of snow, so far this season. The seasonal average at New Brunswick, Middlesex County, or about 7.5 miles from my house, is 25.8 inches. The January 4 snowfall produced 7 inches at my house.

A wind-whipped, snowy field in Monroe, Middlesex County.

WALKING THE SNOWY WOODS: During the Thursday, January 4, storm, I set out from my house about 4:30 p.m., hitting the woods across the street, not wanting to pass up the pristine snowy woods. It was a brief walk, only about 45 minutes from shortly before sunset to shortly after. But I was glad I got to spend a few minutes shooting pictures of nature’s beauty and relaxing in the woods, before shoveling snow. (Weather conditions: Overcast, estimated temperature of 27 degrees, dew point of 5.5 to 6, wind sounding like a freight train.) I got thinking about this short time in the woods. Normally, I do not consider it a hike unless I do at least 3 miles. Perhaps I should re-focus and think about the mental part of the woods and try to get out there daily, even if for only a short time.

The Old Swimming Hole on Manalapan Brook in Monroe, Middlesex County.

A snow-covered treefall on Manalapan Brook in Monroe, Middlesex County.

SNOW AND THE LAY OF THE LAND: Take advantage of any snow cover. Where there is no snow cover, the woods presents itself as a homogenous picture of earth tones or green leaves – or both. But add a snow-cover; or, better, snow-cover and snow clinging to vegetation; or better yet, snow-cover, snow clinging to vegetation, and foliage and the depth and roll of the land stand out.

The snow-dusted Pine Barrens around Helmetta, Middlesex County – here, specifically, an East Brunswick section of the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area. With the snow contrasting against the earth tones of the woods, it is easy to see the roll of the land.

A firecut, plowed by the state Forest Fire Service before a controlled burn here in the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area, is easly seen, along with the rest of the lay of the land, thanks to snow contrasting with the woods’s earth tones.

VOICES FROM AFIELD, EAGLE: Patty Byrnes Lang of Monroe, Middlesex County, checked in with photographs of a bald eagle, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” she saw on the boundaries of Monroe, Cranbury/Middlesex County, and East Windsor/Mercer County. In New Jersey, bald eagles are “endangered,” or in immediate jeopardy, as breeders and “threatened,” meaning if conditions persist they could become endangered,” in general. Patty described one encounter, “I caught a glimpse of him in one of the trees on the left. We got to watch as he flew off the branch he was on, circled the field, and landed on another tree.” Based on its coloring, this is an adult. It could be one of the adults that had a nest last year nearby, along the Millstone River in Monroe. This is the time of year eagles begin working on nests.

A bald eagle on the boundary of Middlesex and Mercer counties, along the border of Monroe/Middlesex, Cranbury/Middlesex, and East Windsor/Mercer. (Photo copyright 2017 by Patty Byrnes Lang)

VOICES FROM AFIELD, BLUEBIRD: Bob Kane of Cranbury, Middlesex County, checked in with a photograph of an eastern bluebird, “Sialia sialis,” taken in his town. This one is easily identifiable as a male, because of the bright coloring.

A male eastern bluebird at Cranbury, Middlesex County. (Photo copyright 2018 by Bob Kane)

RANCOCAS CREEK: The Rancocas Creek watershed is 360 square miles. It is the only major waterway that flows into the Delaware River from the Pine Barrens. And, despite being freshwater, has a tidal effect; The Delaware River has a tidal effect on its freshwater as far north as Trenton.

Low tide on Rancocas Creek, looking upstream on the boundary of Mount Laurel, Willingboro, and Westampton, all in Burlington County. Although this is freshwater, there is a tidal effect on the Delaware River and its tributaries as far north as Trenton.

Rancocas Creek, looking downstream at the boundary of Mount Laurel, Willingboro, and Westampton, all Burlington County.

GARDEN WRITING COURSE: This spring, I will be teaching non-fiction writing again at the Princeton Adult School. This time, it will be “Garden Writing,” five sessions on Thursdays, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., from March 22 to April 26. The class description: “Look at your garden and yard in a different way – through your words. Record your memories in the garden and yard through the essay and vignette. This writing-intensive course has weekly take-home assignments, with the instructor returning critiqued papers. Students will learn writing components, outlining, grammar, style, interviewing, and the importance of resources such as dictionaries and stylebooks – with all assignments focusing on our vegetables, flowers, yards – or afield, if you wish. In-class discussion will cover good examples turned in by students, common problems, and concerns. Feel free to use the class to write a chapter a week of a dream project, work on getting published, keep a journal, or just have fun.” The class costs $99. Enrollment at

ATLANTIC OCEAN TEMPERATURES: The Atlantic Ocean temperature at in New Jersey on the January 6-7 weekend ranged from about 29 to 30 degrees.

WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasting office serving the Jersey Midlands is at

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For Sunday, January 7, to Saturday, January 13, the sun will rise about 7:20 a.m. and set about 4:45 to 4:50 p.m. For Sunday, January 14, to Saturday, January 20, the sun will rise about 7:15 to 7:20 a.m. and set about 4:55 to 5 p.m.

PENNSYLVANIA FARM SHOW: The Pennsylvania Farm Show continues through Saturday, January 13. It is a real-deal show of farming life, not faux farming. So, it has animals, tractors, food preparation, food to buy, gardening displays, and exhibitions. Visitors can get up close to it all. And check out the butter sculpture! (Unfortunately, I will miss the show this year. I had plans to go Wednesday with friends Jimmy and Kathy Krygier of Krygier’s Nursery in South Brunswick, Middlesex County, but work called. I am disappointed, because I look forward to this show.) More information at

COVERING THE WEATHER: During my 31 years as a reporter at the Asbury Park Press, I never saw fellow Metro reporters whine so much about covering something than about weather stories. Me, just the opposite. I loooooooved weather stories. Still do. Was out most of Thursday, January 4, chasing the snow.

Joey on the job, here Tuesday, January 2, photographing the iced-over Delaware River at Washington Crossing, Mercer County.. (Photo copyright 2018 by Pamela B. Roes)

Joe Sapia, 61, 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 an organic gardener of 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.

Copyright 2017 by Joseph Sapia