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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A summer came and went after the last post here, fading like the sun over Lake Michigan in August. Soon the greens of the Bluecircle will evolve into their own annual sunset.
For the most part these have been wet, hot months. Groups of 25 new Norway spruce, sycamore and black walnut seedling have fared well and most twigs of sugar maple have also survived. Conditions were good for conifer growth so farm “anniversary” photographs a few weeks from now will show some rows of trees closed, their branches too dense for the lawn tractor to pass. This writer will not be sorry when “mow again” can be removed from the weekly agenda.
This gallinipper (psorophora ciliata) was likely a product of the plentiful rains that frequently left standing water near the lake. Fortunately these extra-large mosquitos are not as common as the tiny pests that buzz at DEET and even follow you indoors.
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.
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.