What grows faster than ivy in May?

A rhetorical question to begin this post, but poison ivy is one of the best-adapted vines in this landscape. When a thunderstorm downpours registers “zero” on the Paw Paw Lake East rain gauge it’s time to get a ladder and investigate the gauge. Spider nests, cottonwood or maple seeds or other plant debris plugging the rain collector funnel at the top of the gauge are common offenders.

This week poison ivy, a more formidable problem, was to blame. The image above is the usual, shade-loving ground variety of the ivy whose 3 leaves mean “no contact allowed”. Below, the rain gauge decked out in what might be called “tree ivy”.

The rain gauge reports that it was a wet spring.

Again, no contact allowed with stems or leave , especially without gloves and long sleeves. Definitely no weed-eater allowed because it would create a toxic sap spray. Weedkillers are seldom used on the Bluecircle, but this situation called for a hand sprayer of ivycide. Fortunately the solar panel on the weather station was not covered, so cleanup of the collector and internal rain meter should be all that’s needed to get the station operational.

A more common form of poison ivy begins in the shade of evergreens that are too small to have a ground covering layer of old needles, or pine straw. Here ivy tendrils reach the trunk and climb, eventually branching out onto the upper boughs. In the example below nearly the entire top of the spruce is hidden. This is far too high to manage with a sprayer, so clippers will have to be used to strip ivy stems from the lower trunk and restore sunlight to the spruce top.

Baby leaves and not quite acorns

New oak leaves and their flowers are providing fresh color despite the late surge of cold air this weekend. Hopefully the frost won’t interfere with the acorn production our abundant black and grey squirrels depend on. One has already taken the liberty of an oak flower snack while dangling from the branch tip. In a taller tree a neighbor’s kind donation of pork chop left-overs made Mothers Day breakfast for another fat black squirrel.

Gnawbone squirrel, vegan no more.

Pea, spinach, lettuce and radish leaves are growing day by day in the early garden and we have enjoyed the first asparagus of the year.

Snap peas and salads of the near future

Arbor Day 2020

Tree seedlings from Wisconsin’s Chief River Nurseries arrived today on a cool, damp Arbor Day to join the peas, leaf lettuce, radish and spinach already sprouted in the gardens.

Planting the hickory seedlings with a tree spade took only a few minutes, best described as putting sticks in the grass (budded end up, of course).

The hemlock and fir seedlings were more heavily rooted but still amenable to tree spade planting. Since that was the approach recommended by the nursery they too were “spaded in”, leaving a signature divot a few inches from the stem. Hemlock planted here a few years ago have grown rapidly and are now over eight feet tall. The new hemlock will fill thin areas along the south edge of other plantings.

This will be the first season for the blue-green concolor firs. In a few weeks they will be joined by a some Douglas fir seedlings to improve the balance between pine, spruce and fir.

A 10-inch concolor fir seedling in its new Bluecircle home

The Circle’s blue fairie house

Tax day again brings the last shrouds of winter snow to the rising buds of Spring. It’s a time of transition needing both parkas and jackets, boots and sneakers by the front door. The still leafless woods stand snow-clad while wild roses show a little green and early rising flower stems are nearly blanketed.

This is the season that brought the blue fairie home to the farm. Today her house is roofed with the last, fleeting snowflakes but tomorrow it will be bathed in sunlight. The cottonwood stump beneath it serves as a reminder of the cycle of growth and returning that inspired the Bluecircle’s name.

Blue light streams from the house at night, brighter than the stars but like them a cool, silent witness to the passing days and years. There is no music at this place of memories save a distant chime that speaks on windy days. Like all butterflies, the small one that rests on the faire’s toe is silent.

No snow in a garage with doors

The exterior of the new garage is now mostly finished, awaiting the arrival of the electrician and crew. Snowfall lags well below our average but the snowblower has gotten a little exercise and the fuel tank may have to be refilled before we bid this season goodbye.

The February sun and a little rain have made short work of the Nordic ski trail that briefly ringed the Bluecircle and Conservancy. But cold nights brought ice back to the open waters of Paw Paw Lake for at least a few more weeks.

A still night freezes the lake

Thin ice grew to a shore-to-shore ice covering overnight as the gale subsided and temperature dropped into the low teens. The lake finally achieved its winter hibernation beneath a shroud of white.

The new garage has progressed from piles of lumber and a plan to a completed roof, windows, slab and partial siding. However, construction has now lapsed while the crew finds a warmer place to work. Delivery of the main doors by the end of the month should let inside construction begin soon.

A new foundation at the Circle

Since the solstice work has begun on the Bluecircle workshop-garage overlooking Paw Paw Lake. The project plan was developed using Home Design Studio Essentials software. Early plans were larger and others more complicated; window, roof and wall concepts came and went. The 70-year old garage it replaces is scarred, roofline and rafters charred and sagging from a near-fatal fire decades ago.

The site was transformed from concrete and sand to studded walls in less than 3 days thanks to Charlie Sample’s dedicated crew and a warm December. The “little green giant” he pilots is now flying lumber to the carpenters – truss framing is underway and the roof deck should be in place this week. Then another dose of lake effect snow will cover the muddy ruts of construction and restore the reality of Winter.

Into the Bluecircle woods

Late Fall sunshine is a welcome visitor though it brings wind instead of warmth. The tall maple and black locust woods harbors two deer and few dozen squirrels, all fattened up for the cold days ahead. The mower is finally parked in the barn and the tree farm is more ready for snow than its owner.

The long-needled Red, White and Scotch pines are now wide enough to span and close their 8-foot rows. Some are nearly 20 feet tall and fallen needles, or pine straw blankets the ground between them. Oak, hickory and maple seedlings have now survived their infancy in the meadow where the blue clay subsoil was too dense or wet for pines.

For over a century the acreage that would become the Woodland Conservancy and Bluecircle Farm was a productive orchard. Now forty years have passed since the last apple and peach trees were torn from the land. The trees and flowers now there are a work of restoration that continues with each passing season.

COLD morning in the Bluecircle

The skies cleared last night to celebrate the lunar eclipse and make way for near-record cold. The farm’s weather station at “East Paw Paw Lake” recorded 15 below after a windless night.

A single woodpecker broke the wintery silence of the morning.

Eight years and growing

The Bluecircle has reached that age where it’s no longer a baby.  The last two years have been free of drought and wind damage, so some pines, oaks and maples are reaching their “teens” in height while the poplars tower far above. 

Tulip poplars that line the pathway from N. Watervliet Road will shade it in the next year or two.  At the edges black walnut trees spread by busy squirrels are slowly overtaking wild sumac and briars.  With nearly 50 walnut seedlings or 7-year trees in the farm plantings the ground will soon be thick with nuts.

Red oaks produced a few dozen acorns this year, as did both the chestnuts and English walnuts.  The mature white oaks had heavy loads of acorns and the local squirrel population is large, fat and fearless.  

Hickory seedlings were added this year to round out the nut menu for future wildlife.  There are no picture of the BC apple orchard that has struggled.  Of the original 9 seedlings only 7 are standing.  Three of the founders lost their “appleness” grafts and survive only as rough peach rootstock so this year they were replaced with pot-raised transplants.

The latest addition was a small bat house over the watchtower, a platform crafted from remnants of gazebos and old lake docks.