The days of falling leaves are almost over. A few stragglers remain in the poplar tops and some oaks will keep their rusty decorations till March. The treetops often hold larger leaves than lower branches and a young Burr oak provided some trophy specimens this year.
Burr oak leaves
The Bluecircle leaf “grand champion” was a 5-year Sycamore that blanketed its lawn on North Watervliet Road with fallen giants. Many had a span over 12 inches, and some were larger. It was good that this naturalized area needs no raking – by Spring these enormous remnants of a good tree year will be gone.
Sycamore leaf measures 18 x 16 inches!
One pumpkin vine survived the groundhog chomping in the corn patch and bore a single tiny fruit. Maybe a fairy carriage?
The Red Oak leaves brown and blow on a howling Halloween and the tree farm has reached another birthday. Occasional bursts of lake-effect snow from a lead-lined sky warn of harsh weather ahead, but for now the grass is green. Freed from competition by frost-pruned weeds it’s growing thanks to lots of October rain. It will be left a little long where there are not too many leaves to mulch or move.
A rabbit, or maybe 2 elude the clutches of our resident fox by living beneath the largest Scotch Pines. Those planted as 3-year seedlings are now almost 9 years old. Volunteer raspberry and blackberry vines like the pines too, waiting to grab the sleeve or hat of the guy on the mower. Poison ivy that stealthily made its way up trunks all summer is now bright red and obvious – but only until the next hard rain sweeps the leaves away. The myth that this vine only thrives in shade is busted on the Bluecircle since it’s everywhere the mower blades don’t reach.
Spagetti squash proved to be the champion crop of this year’s garden. The pepper and tomato plants and never fully recovered from a late frost, and a groundhog that tunneled into the sweet corn/pumpkin patch feasted on the young vines. Soon it will be time to clean out the beds, hang up the tools and wait to anticipate the first signs of Spring.
Oaks and pines
Midsummer in Michigan, cooler than many years and mostly rainy enough to keep established trees healthy. The Bluecircle’s older pines now close the rows between them and briars thrive in their shade. It will be a few years before you could lose yourself here, but even now you could stay out of sight in the Scotch pines.
The mixed planting of spruce, fir and pines is susceptible to the white pine weevil. Especially in the sunniest areas this pest has infected some topmost branches leaving then brown, dead and soon broken by the wind. New branches form below this crude amputation but the crooked trunk of affected trees marks the damage.
Both oaks and conifers continue to develop new leaves or needles, often with transient immature colors that contrast with established growth.
Spruce tip on a July afternoon
The advent of Spring at the Bluecircle brings its share of surprises, from a (? last) burst of lake-effect snow to an outbreak of small tornadoes and nightly visits from a portly skunk. Meanwhile, the greening of buds and grasses proceeds. A new batch of hybrid poplar cuttings rests in the greenhouse and awaits more sun and fewer frigid nights. The first bare-root trees of the year are planted and today’s soaking rains are just what they needed to settle in their new rows.
The Bluecircle hens have agreed that Winter is over and egg production is back to normal. They are happy that most of the coop window covers were removed to restore their view of the big world. Fortunately the red fox of the Woodland Conservancy who brought a feathered chicken dinner home as “take out” last week enjoyed his meal a few hundred feet beyond their coop. Now the winds of March have scattered the feathers of this unfortunate prey.
Six hundred or so miles southwest of Paw Paw Lake lies Prairie Village Kansas were you can walk wagon ruts from the 200-year-old Santa Fe and linked Oregon Trails. Beyond the community park that preserves the “Prairie Highway” heritage older, well-preserved homes fill this southeast suburb of Kansas City. Only in your imagination can you see the gently rolling hills spread with prairie grasses, now dusted with a little snow or trampled by freezing rains.
This eastern terminus of the frontier trails to the West is far from the sheltering ring of the Bluecircefarm, but free of lake-effect snow drifts. Visits totaling weeks here have let Sophie establish her daily route of neighborhood inspection and nap times. But she looks longingly at her space in the back seat of the truck and will be glad to leave this one house, two dogs neighborhood.
She’ll be bringing a member of the Bluecircle family to interim residence in the guest house, widening her choice of people to love and protect. I think she’ll enjoy keeping track of a bit larger family. The orange “U” trailer behind us will be as big as the prairie schooners outfitted here in the 1820s but our journey will be shorter, and far easier.
Bright October afternoons of oak and maple leaves swirling in the wind are gone for another year. The last red raspberries and tomatoes have frosted away so only b’sprouts, tiny broccoli and milkweed pods persist in the garden beds.
A few yellowed needles drop from the Bluecircle pines but it will be many years before they make a layer of mulch under a mature canopy. On a recent hike near Gun Lake fallen needles from the tall pines decorated the still-green maples.
But now the first gusts of lake-effect snow have brought shivers to the hilltop. Bronzed leaves that evaded the mulch pile blow randomly between the trees, finding company in the piles that grow by fences and shrubs. And the sun sets low in the almost-winter sky.
The months roll by on the Bluecircle and soon the last of the Fall colors will be under the first blanket of lake-effect snow. Mowing is almost done for this year and both the machine and mower are ready for a break. The red oak grove and Douglas firs pictured here hide the spruce and pines behind, but the last leaves remaining at the top of the poplars show them towering over the field. After six years of planting, sun and rain this area of the farm is beginning to mature.
North Watervliet Road at the bottom of this hill marks the east edge of the property. Two-year tulip poplar, maple and oak seedlings here will eventually define a path into the older plantings above. White plastic “grow tubes” around some of the maples are needed to discourage grazing by the doe and fawns that traverse this entrance to the farm.
Looking northwest over a recently cleared and planted area with hybrid poplars and tiny pines in the foreground. Taller Scotch pines and wind-bent poplars are beginning to hide the storage barns. Behind this clearing rows of white and blue spruce seedlings will mark a corner of the Bluecircle.