Trees on sunny fields and shady hills

IMG_1643The mowing season is nearly over and as the last weed blossoms fade the dark green of healthy conifers shines through.  Although the volume of rainfall in late summer was less than ideal, seedlings from one and two years ago show substantial growth.   A warm September may have stretched another inch or two of growth in some rows.  The marking flags so critical to locating seedlings in their first year have torn and faded.  Their rusted remnants will be pulled in the Spring.

Two rows of sycamore, a future shady lane,  are rising between hybrid poplars that grow even more rapidly.  Walking/biking trails were not in the original Bluecircle plan but as more and more of the acreage is filled with trees they become a possibility.

Future sycamore lane

Future sycamore lane

Some of the tulip poplar, maple and oak seedlings planted this year have been growing in tree shelters that stand like tall white straws on the downslope to N. Watervliet Rd. This was a pilot project since the shelters cost substantially more than seedlings, but so far survival and growth in the ventilated plastic tubes is encouraging. The shelters should discourage browsing deer as well. IMG_1650

Big tulips, little foxes and chinkapins join the Bluecircle

IMG_2557 4x6 1600x Spring tree planting was in full swing this weekend. Tulip poplar, chinquapin oak and maple leaf virburnum seedlings from the Berrien County Conservation District found their places on a grassy slope facing N. Watervliet road. The work was closely supervised by our resident vixen who recently brought at least 7 kits out to play. IMG_2601 4x6 1600x Determining the exact number of little ones is challenging because they’re always in motion, but thanks to my neighbor’s photographic and observational skills we get incredible close-ups and updates on the pack. The leafing-out of underbrush and spring grasses will soon hide the kits and their den.

Long shadows, short trees

The Solstice approaches and long shadows are everywhere.

IMG_1463 Where weeds grew taller than kindergarten trees their seed pods and frost-ravenged skeletal remains no longer hide the progress of the conifers.   What snow had accumulated was rained away and green grass remains a significant part of the landscape, albeit peppered with faded oak and maple leaves.  The annual inventory of surviving pines and poplars came to just over a thousand.   Overall success this year was very good except in a planned windbreak of red cedars.  This planting at the crest of a hill suffered from being in heavy clay and too far from a water source.  So far only hybrid poplars appear to thrive just about anywhere.

IMG_1459 Pines, either Scotch, red or white now outnumber the short-needled spruces and firs. A few that were planted as “3-yr transplants” instead of seedlings now stand chest high or better. The 5″ pine seedling on the left took root in the shadow of grasses but should rise above them next year.

A dawn redwood after the frost

A dawn redwood after the frost

New this year were a few Dawn redwood transplants. They grew well but it’s too soon to say how they will handle a snowy winter.

A Bluecircle birthday!

The Bluecircle is now four years old. The “Home Depot” pines and oaks planted in late 2010 are soundly established, or at least the survivors are.  They have much company now since the last two summers have been kind to seedling trees.

IMG_1412 We have transitioned from vacation and weekend visitors to full-time residents but still find there’s more mowing, trimming, planning and planting to do than days in the week allow. Moving from city to farm, from office to the outdoors, the daily variation in weather is still amazing. The right boots and rain gear, good gloves and a sharp knife turn out to be critical.

Seedling oak showing its colors

Seedling oak showing its colors

Each species of our trees has had a different early early childhood. The sycamores have proven very durable.  Several have emerged from the field grass months  after they were reduced to dead branches and given up for lost. Their light green leaves are large and distinctive so they stand out – unless shredded by the dread Japanese beetle in July and August. More than a few oaks have recovered from chewed bark or sad encounters with the bush hog mower, but they lag way behind their more fortunate brethren. The black walnuts and other nut trees grow slowly, but those that survive their first year have made steady progress.

The hybrid poplars have thrived with only occasional mowing between their rows.  Some in the first planting are now more than thirty feet tall and a favored site for groundhog dens.  A leaf or two at the very top branch is the last to fall in October and waves like a triumph flag at the end of another growth year.  In the photo above a rows of poplars tower over the Scotch pines and early lake-effect snow.  The pines have grown more rapidly than anything but weeds and poplars.  Some brown and die for no apparent reason, but most are doing well and will soon become the most abundant conifers.  Short-needled fir and spruce are scattered through the Bluecircle rows – eventually they will add variety to the treeline.

Slowly grows the seedling spruce

Slowly grows the seedling spruce

The unnatural light of the moon

A "blood moon" in eclipse

A “blood moon” in eclipse

Last week’s lunar eclipse was blessed by good weather at the lake and inspired some late-night camera work.  The leaves are nearing peak color and the eclipsed moon added a seasonal touch.


An old post on this blog complained about light pollution from the neighboring condominium’s unshielded sodium lights.  The electric company provided an unsympathetic response when challenged on the topic, so this light trespass continues.  Like the full moon, these lights make moving about at night on the Bluecircle easier.  They also contribute interesting effects to night images.

Barn bathed in the full moon and aglow with sodium light

Barn bathed in the full moon and aglow with sodium light filtering through the poplars

At this posting the leaves are raining down in gusts across the lake and the night is starless.  The moonlit grove of black locust below will soon be stripped and ready for the changing season.



An expeditionary force of seedling trees suffers heavy losses

A cool rainy day after weeks of heat and drought makes it easier to take stock of what have been difficult months on the Bluecircle.  Recent rains have produced Spring-like greening of grassy areas and a proliferation of giant ragweed and other weeds where trees were planted this year.  Like an ill-prepared and prematurely deployed expeditionary force both short and tall spruce seedlings stand as brittle, naked reminders of the Summer of 2012.  In the graveyard of white spruce it will soon be time to think about tilling and planning for future plantings, but for now a simple mowing and removal of the plastic flags that mark the fallen soldiers will be enough.

Pines planted in 2011 in areas that receive some shade have tolerated the drought, while those in all-day sun have not fared so well.  Long-needled pines were more resilient than the spruce, cedar or firs, but until frosts have eliminated the competing weeds it will be unclear how much damage has been done.   A new well will enable a drip irrigation system next year and we will try to do a better job of matching soil conditions and plantings.

The hybrid poplars from 2011 are already making some shade of their own, but an attempt to introduce tulip poplars failed and only about 20% of this year’s hybrid poplar seedlings successfully rooted and made the transition from nursery to field.   Sunflowers, mostly self-seeded from the 2011 crop, provide the other bright spot amongst the ragweed and thistle.