Today’s “Quarry Farm Fridays with the Bluffton Public Library” featured North America’s marsupial. Angus the Virginia Opossum is our resident education ambassador for his kind.
Included in this season’s news are details about the design and building of a new Cranberry Run footbridge. The previous footbridge, built by Gerald Coburn and Kevin Siefker at the turn of the century and re-engineered by David Seitz, survived floodwater currents longer than any other bridge. This spring, we discovered that the northern-most weight-bearing pole was rotten, Dave went into action with assistance from his daughter Aili. He documented the new bridge-building project via email to Board President Laura. It’s a fascinating read that we share in the printed newsletter. The beauty of the electronic page offers more space for photos, so we’re sharing the report here as well.
Tuesday, April 16
Some pictures of the bridge, from this afternoon. A good one of the actual break in the north side pole. You can see it drooping below the 2 x 6s, which are holding it together. I’m starting to like the idea of moving the bridge to the south, to the more narrow part of the channel.
Wednesday, May 8
This afternoon I rode up to the QF to see the poles, and tie them off a bit, so they wouldn’t head for Toledo or similar. Both are partly in and partly out of the water. They are beauties: 35 ft. long. One is just 50 meters south of the old bridge. The other is clear down toward the bend. Maybe 150 meters south of the old bridge. Put on my boots, and waded around a bunch. I put strings across the creek, and measured widths, and heights, looking for the best spot. Another point: Since the bridge is now a regular “raft,” I don’t see any sense in burying the poles into the bank. They float up and down these days, often enough. We’ll want chains on the new bridge, like the old. Instead, I’d like to put the poles up on railroad ties. One on each bank would result in the pole top being over a foot taller than the bank. Could put several railroad ties on each bank, for better stability, and to minimize sinking and stress on the banks.
Thursday, May 9
I was worried about the thunderstorms flooding the creek, and losing (the poles). As it turned out, the rain we had was necessary for me to move them to the bridge site. I worked pretty hard with the pry bar on the close one. About an hour to move it 50 meters or so. The creek was too shallow at the rapids. But for the far one, even after the rain and the creek rose 4 inches or so, it still took 2 hours of back work to get it to the bridge site. And just getting it from the bank into the creek was a challenge. Pry bar and blocks were enough, but barely.
The cable puller held together till the end, but was getting iffy on the last pole. With the puller and the recovery straps, it is slow work, but possible.
Tuesday, May 14
Was able to get the first two railroad ties in place, with the poles on top. Will try to get two more ties installed, later in the week. They are heavier than I expected. The one on the west end was about 240 #, and larger than the others. They will keep the poles up off the ground, and stabilize the bridge. Higher the better.
Tuesday, May 21
Worked till dark forced us to stop. The idea was to take off every other board, and transfer them over to the new bridge. That way there would be access to the quarry at all times. Unfortunately, it took us several hours to get the poles “rolled” to the proper position before we started. They both had a sag as received, particularly the north pole. We were able to get the sag rolled 180 degrees up, before the first planks were fastened, so the sag is now an “arch.” But it got dark and we had to stop with about 5 planks short on the new bridge. There are planks all the way over the water, but not enough for a walk across. The current plan is to come up and continue the plank installation tomorrow, weather permitting.
Removing the runner and the screws from the old bridge was indeed a challenge. I brought every kind and size of screw driver I had, and needed them. Some screws were over 4 inches long, and there were multiple types on most of the planks. On the new bridge, I am using new 3 inch zinc coated construction screws, with a torx 25 driver. Two per side. And drilling the pilot holes before screwing them in. Less stress on the poles, and they can be removed when necessary. For a bit of stability while working on the bridge, Aili hung up a yellow stretch of anchor rope at shoulder height above the planks, to give something to hold on to.
Thursday, May 23
Well, we finally got packed and rolling by sunset again. Home just after 10 p.m. Without Aili the planks wouldn’t be done yet. Aili picked through them, and with the 10 new 2 x 6s and “re-purposing” the recently added 2 x 10s that were part of the ramps, felt pretty good about them. And with the spacing, and being flat, it seems quite stable to me. I’ll give them a good inspection, after they’ve been in service some months, and are dried out. They were staying wet all the time on the old bridge.
The last job of the day was to remove the west side anchor chain from the old bridge, and do a temporary anchor job on the west end of the new bridge. I didn’t move the east side chain off the old bridge yet. Will do that one later too when I move the “good” south pole to the proposed ravine bridge site. Also need to anchor the railroad ties. Don’t want them floating away either.
Wednesday, May 29
We had a pleasant day putting up the side ropes, and holders. Re-used the yellow twist anchor rope that we left for the temporary safety rope. It is only half inch diameter, but pretty strong. Totally synthetic, so only worried about UV light wearing it out.
Have chains on both ends now, so should be OK if there is a mega flood. Should go up and back down without taking off for Toledo. Chains are around the poles, and anchored on the railroad ties as well, so we don’t lose them. I’ll make some small changes once I take all the chain off the old bridge. Feel pretty good about it now.
Things are greening on The Quarry Farm now. Dutchman’s Breeches have bloomed and gone above the “Cut-off” oxbow, shaded by the oldest trees on the nature preserve. The farm animal sanctuary residents trim new leaves and grass while outside the fences the grass grows and grows. Much of this spring so far has been wet and cool to cold. Arthur the Rooster stands in an alcove of the front porch, glowering at the wall with his spiking wet ruff raised around his feathered ears. On rare sunny days the roosters crow and the pigs stretch out, bellies hitched high for maximum exposure to warmth.
The floodplain has been awash with the merging of Cranberry Creek and Riley Creek as floodwaters ebb and flow, from April now into May. The footbridge, so beautifully engineered by David Seitz, is still with us; the longest-surviving passage from west to east banks over the Cranberry. David watches it rise and fall from internet feeds, using stretched cords to monitor where it settles when the water drops. A new bridge project is underway several meters upstream of the old one. David is at the helm; more news on this to come. But I’ll take this May moment to catch up on April.
Before April showers changed from gentle mist to a series of gully washers, Girl Scout Service Unit 221 from Ada and Kenton spent the better part of April 13 cutting bush honeysuckle. They needed 70 potential hiking staffs to carry home. They tackled the ridge and bottom on the east edge of the stone quarry wetland, lopping their way through one of the densest growths of this confounded invasive woody plant. As well as making way for shagbark hickory and swamp white oak seedlings, they helped us release a woodduck drake who had flown down the Red Fox Cabin chimney.
The following Friday was rainy and windy—just the perfect sort of day for Sophie the Potbelly to go for a car ride. She didn’t think much of the idea; she never does until she is in the back seat and the car is rolling. Sophie, Tyree the Cornsnake and Gerald the Rooster were invited to attend Spring Break Day Camp at the Girl Scout Camp in Lima. Once there, I parked outside Rose Marie Duffy Lodge, leaving the car door open while I carried Tyree and Gerald into the conference room. I heard laughter behind me and turned to see Sophie marching up the Lodge steps, ready to greet her newest fans and to accept accolades as only stars of her caliber receive. She hoovered up the spoils of a snack break while I shared why we do what we do here with those that share this Back 50.
Thanks to Katlin Shuherk for sharing her photos.
Saturday was a full Family Day. For a sunlit August 5, it was cool enough to hike from cabin to chickens without breaking a heavy sweat. Even the mosquitoes hatched from recent heavy rains were relatively scarce.
Thanks to all who joined us for the 2017 Family Day on The Quarry Farm. Much bush honeysuckle was repurposed for walking and hiking sticks, birdhouse gourds were polished, shirts were imprinted with unique leaf patterns, Red Fox Cabin was toured and the farm animals were enriched with gentle human interaction (except for Nemo who refused to break her afternoon nap routine.) As was expected, this gentle giant was up at 5 p.m., grazing on the grass so recently imprinted by visiting feet.
Next up: The 4th Annual Quarry Farm Jam
In 363 days, the 2017 Quarry Farm Jam is happening under the red roof of the Seitz Pavilion. Two days after the 2016 musical gathering, my toes are still tapping and I wonder at the videos and photos that keep popping up on Facebook, including this compilation from Dave Frick:
A few years back, Steve brought up the idea of inviting musicians to this place, this “whole different world” as Betty Wannemacher says. No program, said Steve, just ask people to come on over and play their favorite musical instrument…or not. Listeners could pack a lawn chair. We’d supply the cookies, per tradition.
Four years ago, the first Quarry Farm Acoustic Night included guitar players and kazoos. The next year, fiddles and a saxophone showed up, too. The third year, scheduled for late October, was renamed a Jam as the pavilion was wired with electric outlets and lights. The weather didn’t care, however, as the Jam was snowed out (yes, snow.) The next day, we circled the second Saturday in 2016 as the fourth music night, plugged or unplugged.
Saturday’s instruments included guitars of various scale, a ukulele, autoharps, fiddles, harmonicas, and I believe that a mandolin made an appearance, too. There was a good gathering of music lovers to listen alongside and in the peaceable kingdom next door.
Oh so many thanks to Doug, Mike, Ralph, Gus, Dondi, Lynn, Bob, David and Michelle. And Erin, who has joined us every time with her roadie/soundman dad Bruce and musician mom Beth. Did you notice that great blue heron skimming low over the cabin on its way to sunset? That was your great-grandpa, Erin, and boy, is he proud.
In between cookie batches for Saturday’s annual music Jam, the call of the nature preserve was answered. So were Lolly and Cady, both of whom stared out toward the tree line, rolling their big brown eyes soulfully and wagging their tails each time someone with opposable thumbs walked in the direction of the front door.
Sunday, the door was opened. Summer drought and temperatures in the upper 80s laid mosquitoes to rest; no repellent was pocketed along the way.
I always forget what late summer does to the natives. Minnows, small bass and other fishes circle in the pools that are Cranberry Run during much of the year. This year there are clots of decaying algae to suck the oxygen from their gills. The bed has been dry for so long that purple ironweed grows below the waterline. The old quarry is diminished to a green duckweed center.
I pulled a muskrat trap from the bed of the stream. Its wire frame lifted with a strong coating of fertilized creekbed. Neither traps nor fertilizer are welcome in this waterway. One is easily removed, though, and went the way of garbage pick-up.
Leaves hang dull green and brown-edged from the trees. Twigs–whole limbs, sometimes–drop with the hot wind that puffs down the bluff into the floodplain. A willow that, even though it died some years back still hosted ichneumon wasps and other helpful predators, leaned its last before our arrival. A chunk of trunk crumbles over the path. A new bracket grows on what still stands.
The back field is golden under heated air open to sunshine but little current. Few insects sift through the artichokes and bullthistles. There should be so many this time of year. Their absence is sobering. It’s a relief to see a bumblebee and sulphur butterfly. I tried to take the bees photo, but all but his back legs and a bit of yellow fluff are caught in the frame to the left of a cluster of yellow flowers.
Flattened grasses indicate that somethings do rest and feed here. We get a whiff of proof when both dogs roll in scat and carry it with them back through the upper woods toward home and baths.
Much as I tried, I couldn’t leave this photo to its own devices. Buddy was indeed yawning, not braying the classic “hee haw.” Donkeys don’t, at least the two here, don’t. They “hee-hee-hee” and “ho-o-o-o-nk” and blow raspberries, but declare nothing for Buck and Roy to play along with.
Sunday morning, as I filled the water pans, Buddy followed me to make sure no carrots lurked in my pockets. I saw his lower lip begin to tremble and readied the camera just in case a toothy grin was on its way..
Despite the heat, only one paint mixer drill bit and mosquitos aside, three programs happened onsite this past week. Monday, Putnam County Master Gardener Brenda Fawcett led a make-and-take wherein participants created planters out of papercrete (a sort of papier mache combination of Portland cement and paper strips.) Tuesday saw the return of the Hardin County Herb Society.
On Saturday, “the hottest day of the year” according to local weather forecasters, Charlene Finch and the 2016 Continental Jr. Gardeners made the group’s annual trek from the northwest corner of Putnam County. If you scroll back through this blog, you’ll see that Finch’s crew have been here just about this time every summer for several years. After partaking in a scavenger hunt for pollinators, the young green thumbs posed on the front porch of Red Fox Cabin for their annual portrait (thanks to Miranda for sharing this snap.) They also visited with the farm animal sanctuary residents, helping to cheer up S’more as he’s been pretty withdrawn due to the loss of his brother this week.
That pollinator search led to quite a list of creatures. The team of Nathan and his mom Lindsay won the scavenger hunt with a list of 21, as follows:
1. baby green grasshopper
4. cabbage moth
6. wood bee
7.big brown beetle
10. flying ant
13. sweat bee
14. black cricket
15. honey bee
17. Japanese beetle
18. black beetle
19. big brown camo moth
21. red lightning bug with reddish brown black spots
Teams didn’t have to be specific with names as long as they could describe their finds. As a group, we corrected some names and identified others as described. For instance, #19 was a skipper butterfly.
You’ll also note that not all on the list are technically pollinators: hummingbirds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies, and flies that carry pollen from one plant to another as they collect nectar. However, all of Saturday’s finds carry pollen, not to mention seeds and other insects, in their journey from place to place. That includes humans, whether we intend to or not.
You may also see that the notorious, voracious invader Japanese beetle made the list. They may spread pollen around as it clings to their scarab-like bodies, but they more than make up for this by decimating green goods. But there’s hope from the skies, control provided by a European transplant that’s been here so long that the New World is as much theirs as it is ours.
Eat up, European starlings. There’s ketchup in the shelterhouse.