Notes From Garden and Afield: July 16-July 23

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. Notes and photographs are for the period covered, unless otherwise noted.

Queen Anne’s lace along a roadside in Monroe, Middlesex County.

THE DRIVE-BY NATURALIST: During the week, I noticed the white-flowered Queen Anne’s lace, “Daucus carota,” blooming along various roadsides. Also, blue-flowered chicory, “Cichorium intybus,” remains in bloom. This got me thinking, how we can observe nature as we drive by. As I try to point out, keep your eyes open – for plantlife and wildlife, along with looking up at the daytime and night skies. Nature is around us, so do not miss out on it. And keep the camera ready!

Here, Queen Anne’s lace, the white flower, and chicory, the blue flower, in bloom along a roadside.

ON MY DRIVE-BYS: Despite the warm temperatures during the week, I have been watching for the changing colors of foliage. Yes, it is only July, but the “fall” foliage changing of colors should be starting right about now in the wetlands in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta. I have not seen it yet, but I generally look for changing colors in swamps beginning somewhere in the July 15-to-July 31 period.

Here, leaves changing colors in 2015, late July, at Cranberry Bog in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta.

SPOTTED ON A DRIVE-BY: As I was putting together this week’s “Garden and Afield,” I shot some last-minute photographs and was driving home when I noticed some deer, “Odocoileus virginianus,” just off the road near Manalapan Brook on the Monroe-Spotswood boundary, Middlesex County. Usually when you see a fawn, Mama is nearby. On this day, though, I caught what I consider an uncommon sight, fawns and a buck (whose antlers were in velvet). Mama Deer was probably keeping an eye on the fawns from nearby in the woods.

A fawn and a buck in Monroe, Middlesex County.

Two fawns in Monroe, Middlesex County.

LOW-MOISTURE-IN-THE-AIR BLUE SKY: Ever notice days when the sky just has that clear look to it? Based on my Roman Catholic upbringing and 16 years in Catholic schools, I call it a “Blessed Mother Blue Sky,” because the sky has the look of the blue clothing associated with the Virgin Mary. Joey Slezak, my go-to science guy in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, calls it a “Bluebird Sky.” “The first I heard ‘Bluebird Skies’ is (when I was) skiing,” Joey said. “People talking about it. You have white (snowy) ground contrasting the blue sky.” Joey, who has a bachelor’s degree in meteorology from Rutgers University and has completed his master’s degree course work in meteorology at the university, explained the clearness translates as “low moisture” in the air.

The clear blue sky is a result of low moisture in the air as the moon wanes after the July 8-9 overnight Full Thunder Moon. The next full moon is the August 7-8 overnight Full Red Moon

GARDEN ENEMIES: I have not seen the ground hog and its offspring lately, although the wood steps at one of my house doors is collapsing into their burrow. The rabbits are always around. Then, the other day, I found deer droppings and hoof prints in my garden. Finally, I found the tops of my tomato plants snipped off. Well, there goes this year’s tomato crop….

A snipped-off tomato plant in the garden.

WATERING THE GARDEN OBSESSION, NO. 1: On Sunday, July 16, for the first time since planting the food garden around May 20, I was able to water it completely by hand, using water I had accumulated in garbage can reservoirs. I used roughly 30 gallons for the 950-square-foot, or 315-row-feet garden. Now, to replenish the 20-gallon and 30-gallen barrels with rainwater, cellar de-humidifier water, water caputured while sprinkling the garden using the house system, and water from Manalapan Brook. (I keep the barrels covered so as not to promote mosquito development.)

WATERING THE GARDEN OBSESSION, NO. 2: With the water accumulated in my barrels, I thought I could cheat a little, by hooking up a simmer pump and hose to a sprinkler, rather than walking the garden with sprinkling cans. Well, I clogged the sprinkler, which required me unclogging it – but not until I gave up on using the pump for sprinkling. I guess the pump picked up gunk from the water barrel. And I am not even sure the pump was powerful enough to propel the sprinkler properly.

WATERING THE GARDEN, OBSESSION NO. 3 — MANALAPAN BROOK: I grabbed two buckets and took the walk of a few hundred feet to Manalapan Brook, the section between “Jamesburg Lake” (Lake Manalapan) and “Spotswood Lake” (DeVoe Lake). There, I was greeted by my friends, ebony jewelwing damselflies, “Calopteryx maculate.” I waded into the Brook, filled the two buckets, took some photographs, and headed home.

Manalapan Brook in the section of Monroe between Helmetta and Jamesburg, looking downstream toward Helmetta.

ELSEWHERE IN THE GARDEN: I am awaiting cantaloupe/mushmelon and sweet corn, both seemingly behind on the calendar from last year. The tomatillos, which I did not plant, are ready for harvesting; I will pass them along to a co-worker. Otherwise, I had some pea seeds laying around I decided to plant about a week or so ago; They are sprouting.

THE SIZE OF MY GARDEN: Friend, fellow hiker, and fellow gardener Priscilla “Peppy” Bath had an interesting observation about my garden: “Your vegetable garden is so good as you tell about it. I expected it to be much bigger. …Perhaps it would be interesting to others that you do not have one to two acres, but just a normal back yard.” Yes, my yard is only about a quarter-acre. “It would possibly encourage others to make a vegetable garden in their backyards,” Peppy said. I think people do not realize how productive a small garden could be. So, I reached out to friend Diane Larson, who is the home horticulturist and Master Gardener coordinator for the Rutgers University Extension Service office in Freehold, Monmouth County. The Monmouth County Master Gardeners garden is about 40 feet by 50 feet, or about 2,000 square feet. From 2006 to 2016, or over 11 growing seasons, the garden has produced 26,000 pounds of vegetables – an average of about 2,364 pounds per year, all donated to food pantries serving the needy. “The best part, besides all the produce going to food pantries, is that the MGs learn so much out there,” Diane said. “Some have never grown vegetables and they love it.”

The Monmouth County Master Gardeners garden in Freehold Township. This 40-foot by 50-foot garden has averaged a yield of 2,364 pounds per year from 2006 to 2016, with all the food donated to the needy.

Another view of the Monmouth County Master Gardeners garden.

ZINNIA OBSESSION: My new obsessive-compulsive fascination – the zinnias I planted to attract pollinators to the food garden. For next year, I plan to dig up the front lawn and plant zinnias there, too.

Zinnias in the garden.

FIRE IN THE MAIN PINE BARRENS: A wildfire has burned about 3,500 acres in Wharton State Forest. The fire remained burning as of Saturday, July 22. The good news is the fire — whose cause is, so far, undetermined — is not near buildings, which means the fire, too, will help keep the Pine Barrens a pine barrens. The Pine Barrens is an early succession ecosystem, so the fire – by knocking down the oaks that would shade out the pines – keeps succession in check. The pines may look like burned spars, but they are alive and can regenerate from their trunks, along with root growth and new growth of wildfire-spread seeds; The oaks, on the other hand, cannot regenerate from the trunks, but have to start all over, so to speak, by root growth. On Saturday, the fire was considered “contained,” meaning firefighters had a safe perimeter around it.

ELSEWHERE IN THE YARD: I am slowly reclaiming my yard after 4-1/2 weeks of a major remodeling project on my house – new roof, soffits, gutters and drainpipes, and siding. (For the first time since the house was built in 1952, it is no longer mint green. The retro green has been replaced by barn red.) So, I have been cutting the lawn and trimming shrubs, along with figuring how to approach my neglected garden. And I finally put up the screen tent that has been sitting in a box in my garage for a few weeks. Now, without getting bit by mosquitoes, I can spend warm nights in the screen tent reading, writing, listening to the radio, or just enjoying being outside. Next year, I plan to put the screen tent in a better location, farther from the house, closer to the garden. So, I put up the screen tent and almost immediately it began raining, then monsooning. …Oh, yes, the contractors still have a few odds and ends to finish, but I do have the yard back under my control.

The brand-new, and rain-drenched, screen tent in my backyard.

SOURCES, BOOK NO. 1: One of my book sources is “Dictionary of Plant Names” by Allen J. Coombes, 1985 to 1989, Timber Press. I have had this book for an estimated 25 or more years and have repeatedly turned to it. It lists plants by common and scientific names, cross-referencing the two – for example, mountain laurel, “Kalmia latifolia.” It goes on, saying the genus name is from naturalist Pehr Kalm (who did work in the 1700s in the South Jersey area) and the species name translates from Latin as “broad-leaved.” Mountain laurel, according to the book, is also known as “calico bush.” I use this book both on its own and in conjunction with plant-illustration books.

“Dictionary of Plant Names” by Allen J. Coombes

TURKEY FOLLOWUP: Bob Eriksen, a retired turkey biologist of the state Department of Environmental Protection, made some observations after seeing the photograph of the wild turkeys, “Meleagris gallopavo,” in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta published in the July 9 “Garden and Afield.” Bob said, “Good to see a hen turkey with at least three poults. They are all old enough that they likely will survive to adulthood.”

A turkey hen and her three poults in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, specifically in the Jamesburg Park section of East Brunswick, Middlesex County.

ATLANTIC OCEAN TEMPERATURES: The ocean temperatures have run from about 70 degrees to the lower 80s. On July 18, Tuesday, Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz, a Philadelphia television Channel 10 meteorologist, said online, “The Atlantic City ocean temperature is now up to 80 degrees. That’s practically unheard of for July. (It) peaks in August. 10 degrees above average.”

UPCOMING COUNTY FAIRS: Monmouth County Fair is July 26, Wednesday, to July 30, Sunday, in Freehold Township, Mercer County 4-H Fair, July 29, Saturday, and July 30, Sunday, in Hopewell Township, Middlesex County Fair, August 7, Monday, to August 13, Sunday, in East Brunswick, Somerset County 4-H Fair, August 9, Wednesday, to August 11, Friday, in Bridgewater, Hunterdon County 4-H and Agricultural Fair, August 23, Wednesday, to August 27, Sunday.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For July 23, Sunday, to July 29, Saturday, the sun will rise at about 5:50 a.m. and set about 8:18 p.m.

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

A blue jay rests in the garden, surrounded by sweet corn, tomatillos, and zinnia.

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, along with on the Jersey Midlands page.