Notes from Garden and Afield, Week of May 21-27, 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). Afield references are to the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, unless otherwise noted. Notes and photographs are for the period covered, unless otherwise noted.

The Atlantic Ocean beach at Bradley Beach, Monmouth County

THE JERSEY SHORE SUMMER SEASON: The traditional Jersey Shore summer season arrives with Memorial Day Weekend, this weekend, and ends with Labor Day, this year September 4. (A tip: Jersey Shore people know September is a great month at the Shore – the crowds are gone and the weather and ocean are still warm.)

SPRINGTIME AT TONY’S MARKET: A favorite Jersey Midlands place of mine for decades has been Tony’s Farm and Garden Center in the Windsor section of Robbinsville, Mercer County. A nice selection of various products and owned and operated by the warm and helpful Ciaccio family. I regularly patronize three nursery-garden centers: Ferris Farms in East Brunswick, Krygier’s Nursery in South Brunswick, and Tony’s. At Tony’s, I buy houseplants and houseplant supplies. And I try to always shoot photographs at Tony’s.

Flowers at Tony’s Farm and Garden Center in the Windsor section of Robbinsville, Mercer County.

SIX-MILE RUN RESERVOIR SITE: On Wednesday, May 24, I hiked this area in Franklin, Somerset County, with the Outdoor Club of South Jersey. The area, about 3,000 acres and part of the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park, had been planned for a reservoir, but that did not come to be. The terrain of red shale soil and traprock is part of the Piedmont geologic region. While pretty terrain – an area that I want to re-visit soon – much of it appears to be grown-over farmland, rather than a pure ecosystem.

A Jack in the Pulpit flower, “Arisaema triphyllum,” in past-peak bloom at Six-Mile Run Reservoir.

MUSHROOMS: The wet weather may have produced mushrooms popping up in your yard or you simply may see mushrooms in the woods. BE CAREFUL! In my 60 years, I have learned only two mushrooms I feel comfortable picking – and I probably would still eat them with hesitancy out of fear, warranted or not. Remember the adage, “There are old mushroom pickers. There are bold mushroom pickers. There are NO bold AND old mushroom pickers.” It may be best to stay away from mushrooms in garden or afield.

Mushrooms popping up post-rain in my backyard.

TURTLES AND MOUNTAIN LAUREL: Some Pine Barrens lore, “When the mountain laurel blooms, the snapping turtle lays its eggs.” Mountain laurel, “Kalmia latifolia,” is coming into bloom and, yes, snapping turtles, “Chelydra serpentina,” and other turtles are moving about. On Saturday, May 27, Priscilla “Peppy” Bath reported seeing a snapping turtle near her Mercer County home: “There was a huge turtle in the road. We stopped. Another car stopped and the turtle was not injured. But it was a big snapping turtle and the man was afraid to pick it up. Then, a young man on a bicycle came along and he picked it up and got it out of the road.” On the same day, I was driving on Route 206 in Burlington County and had to swerve to miss a box turtle, “Terrapene carolina carolina,” crossing 206. The car behind my Jeep hit it, but it appeared to nick it safely, knocking it to the side of the road. So, a heads-up while driving. If you move a turtle, move it in the direction it was traveling. If it is a snapper, I would use a shovel, not my hands. And, if using one’s hands, do not pick it up by its tail, which could injure it.

Mountain laurel about ready to go into full bloom at Jamesburg Park in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta.

I keep this type of grain shovel in my Jeep to move snapping turtles off roads.

     TREE MULCHING:  I see so many examples of “volcano” mulching, or the wrong way to mulch a tree. 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 mulch “volcano,” or the wrong way to mulch a tree, in South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

BLACKWELLS MILLS GARDENS: The gardens looked beautiful, here — in Franklin, Somerset County — which is part of Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park.

The garden at the circa 1830 bridge tender station at Blackwells Mills.

Flowers at Blackwells Mills.

MOON: The crescent moon waxes toward the June 9 Full Strawberry Moon.

GARDEN AND AFIELD: I already had some lower broom sedge, “Andropogon virginicus variety abbreviates,” gathered, here, in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta on display on my kitchen table. So, with my “Knock Out” Roses blooming, I just added some of those to the vase.

“Knock Out” Roses and lower broom sedge on my kitchen table.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For the week of May 28, Sunday, to June 3, Saturday, the sun will rise about 5:30 a.m. and set about 8:20 p.m.

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

MY GARDEN: I am simply practicing the three Ws: Water, Weed, and Wait – waiting for lettuce, carrot, pea, sweet corn, tomato, mushmelon, cucumber, and zinnia to grow and be picked.

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.