Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Week 2 Photo

My life has been so focused on the Greenbelt restoration project that I rarely write posts about other topics. Today one of Cee’s Fun Foto Challenges caught my eye and I decided to participate. Each week of this challenge, she will post a photo and our job is to submit one or more photos that fit the challenge. This week’s photo is:

Her suggested topics are: truck, mural, octopus, whale, animal, painting, orange, black, water, lighthouse, ocean, vivid, vintage, blue, etc. I decided to use the following topics: ocean, red-orange and mural.

Ocean

I snapped this ocean photo on the beach in Amritapuri, India in 2015. The 2004 tsunami had washed the beach away. At some point after that, big rocks were placed along the coastline in an attempt to prevent further beach erosion. I took the photo in the early morning when villagers could be seen fishing in canoes and boats.

Red-Orange

The first red-orange photo is of a poppy soon after it began to open. The second is a microscopic shot of the center of an echinacea flower from my garden. The third is a picture of a flower I saw in Amritapuri, India.

Mural

Artists are painting stairways around Seattle as part of the Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School project. The stairs in these photos are near the part of the Beacon Hill Greenbelt we are restoring. If you look down the stairs you don’t see anything but plain concrete. But if you look from the bottom up, this is what you see!

A few days ago, a friend sent me an article about two of the artists who are doing this work. To read it click here.

Found at a Toronto Bus Stop

I saw this sign in Toronto earlier this week. I was walking by a bus stop that was enclosed on three sides. The sign filled one side of the structure. I wonder if there are similar acknowledgements anywhere in the U.S. I don’t remember ever seeing one.

I didn’t notice the message in the hand until I enlarged it when I was writing this post. I wish I had done it!

Walking Through the MA Center: Chicago Farmlands

For the third year in a row, I attended Amma’s programs in Chicago during the last week in June. Like previous years, I spent part of my time there walking the fields. The first place I visited was the hoop house. This year they were growing tomatoes in that structure.

(Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

Next, I headed towards the echinacea field. The MA Center volunteers had done a lot of work in that area since I was there last. The rows were neat and weeded and it was no longer mixed with other plants. When I visited the field in 2017, only three flowers had fully bloomed. This year there were many of the pinkish-purple flowers.

As I investigated the echinacea field this year, I remembered the video I had seen prior to my 2016 visit. That video had been taken much later in the summer so the field was full of flowers. I was inspired by the video and resolved to someday see it in person.

When I returned to Seattle after my 2016 visit, I planted echinacea in my own garden. At some point I want to learn how to harvest the echinacea for medicinal use. Right now, I am just enjoying seeing the flowers in their various stages of development.

As I was writing this post, I remembered the microscopic photos I’ve taken of the echinacea flowers from my garden. Seeing them again heightened my already existing fascination with the plant.

Back to my visit to Amma’s Chicago Center this year. After I left the echinacea field, I walked to the orchard.

Then I headed for the fields where vegetables are grown. I have found it interesting to see how the farmlands change from year to year.

In 2016, an alfalfa farmer rented part of the property.

MA Center: Chicago grew both vegetables and flowers in nearby fields.

The photos below show what some of the MA Center farmlands looked like in 2017:

This year, 2018, even more of the property is being farmed or being prepared for future farming. I was amazed by the size of the fields and by the changes that had been made in irrigation and mulching… or perhaps “mulching substitutes” would be a more accurate way to describe it. Maybe next year I will ask for someone to show me around the fields so I can ask questions about the changes I see. Right now, all I’m doing is guessing.

I feel so grateful to be able to witness the development of these fields. I wonder how they will change between now and the summer of 2019!

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: July 5, 2018

The July 5 work party was very small, probably because I scheduled it for the morning after the 4th of July holiday! Two GreenFriends members and four student volunteers from a UW Environmental Science class participated. The GreenFriends members served as team leaders, teaching the students what they needed to know, doing organizational work, and at times working alongside them.

This event was organized in a way that was different from our other work parties in that we identified a longer series of tasks that needed to be done. We would move from one job to the next, stopping when the task was finished or when the sun got too hot in a particular area. The process reminded me of an exercise circuit where you use one exercise machine for a period of time and then move on to something else. The students were as incredible, as they always are, and we accomplished so much during the three-hour work party.

The first task on our circuit was to cut back the blackberry vines that were pouring into the southern planting area. [Planting areas are places in our Greenbelt site where we have already removed the blackberry vines and root balls, bindweed, ivy and other invasive plants. After we clear an area, we planted native trees, shrubs and ground covers in it.]  Since the blackberry vines that were coming into the planting area were from property that is not part of the Greenbelt, we could not dig out their root balls. Clearly, this is a task that we will have to repeat regularly since the vines will continue to grow. Even though it was only 10:30 in the morning, the sun was so hot, we moved on to the next task sooner than we would have if the weather had been cooler.

We headed to a place in the north end of the site, picking up loppers as we walked by the tool box. Our destination was a big maple tree that is very old and very tall. A part of the tree had fallen at some point in the past and tree suckers had grown from it. The initial suckers had been cut down but more had grown. Those suckers were getting very tall and it was clear that in time they would reach the power lines that were over them. The students removed the remaining suckers. One of the photos below is of the big maple tree. Luckily, it is far enough from the power lines that it hasn’t needed to be cut back. The second photo shows the part of the tree where suckers have been removed either in the past or during this work party.

Next, the students subdivided into two groups of two. One pair started cutting down blackberry vines that were coming into the planting area on the eastern side of the site. We couldn’t dig those root balls out either, this time because they was a very steep drop off on the border of the planting area. For safety, and liability reasons, volunteer groups are not allowed to work on slopes that are steep.

While these two students cut back blackberry stalks and carried them to the area we call “The Rack Zone”, the other two students picked up piles of bindweed that had been removed during the prior week. Those vines were also placed on the racks. [The Rack Zone is filled with racks that hold the invasive vines that have been cut so that they can dry out without re-rooting.]

Claire, who co-lead the work party with me, removed blackberry shoots that were growing inside of the planting areas whenever the students didn’t need her help.

Even though it was not possible to remove the blackberry vines that were on the slope completely, we wanted to do our best to keep them from invading the planting area, or at least slow them down so when the second pair of students finished picking up the bindweed piles, they carried logs to the place where the first pair of students were working. Once there, they created a row of logs in-between the planting area and the blackberry bushes. When completed, the row of logs spanned 35-40 feet. Next, that pair of students gathered piles of big branches that were scattered throughout the property. They carried those branches to the row of logs  and threw the branches directly onto the blackberry bushes, which pushed the bushes away from the planting area. They also used the maple tree suckers they had cut down earlier as part of the barrier. While this barrier will not remove the problem of blackberry vines growing into the planting area, it will hopefully slow them down and make it easier for us to manage future growth.

As soon as the first pair of students completed cutting back the blackberry vines, they  started to take apart an old drying rack that was nearby. The debris had been on that rack for about a year and was completely dry. That meant it was ready to spread on the burlap bags that line many of the paths throughout the site. The bags reduce weed growth. The debris we place on them will crumble as we walk on it. The decomposing burlap and debris will also hold in moisture and enrich the soil. Having the paths covered by the blackberry cane debris also makes it easier to differentiate the paths from the planting areas since those areas are covered with a wood chip mulch.

At one point, one of the students in the photo above spotted a small bug. It was so close in color to the debris that we had difficulty finding it after it moved.

When we spotted the bug again, I took a photo of it. Later, I showed the photo to the other volunteers. One of them said it was a cricket. I was a bit surprised. There are a lot of crickets near my house, which is adjacent to the Greenbelt, but they are all black.

When the pair of students who had been creating the barrier near the drop off finished that work, they began to put dried debris on a burlap bag path in another part of the site. Much of the debris they used was scattered on the ground rather than on old racks. One of the students found some remnants of a carpet pad embedded in the dirt and debris. Seeing the pad in recognizable form reminded me that so much of what has been discarded in the Greenbelt takes decades to biodegrade. In fact, some of it may never decompose.

All too soon, the work party was over. I loved working with this group of volunteers. I also liked how we had structured the event. I believe the other participants did too. I look forward to the possibility of leading another “circuit” work party someday.

In the Greenbelt: Nodding Onion

It has been fun to see what the native plants we picked to put in our Greenbelt site become. I have loved watching the Nodding Onion grow. This week I noticed that some of the plants had flowered.

I wonder how big they will get.

I looked up nodding onion (allium cernuum) on wnps.org (Washington Native Plant Society) and learned that they are clumping plants that may grow 16-20 inches tall. WNPS says the plant normally flowers in May or June; Wikipedia says July or August. They will develop black seed heads that will last all winter. For more information about nodding onion click here and here.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: June 30, 2018

On June 30th, we held another forest restoration work party. Twenty-three students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class attended, along with a young man who has been helping at work parties in various Seattle parks. Three GreenFriends members and a neighbor served as team leaders.

This post will include photos of each team’s work followed by before and after photos of the area where they were working.

Team One worked in a part of the site that was heavily covered with blackberry vines and bindweed. They removed the vines and dug out the blackberry root balls. [Note: There are pictures of bindweed and links to information about several of the invasive vines in my  June 22 work party blog post.]

(Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

Before 

These photos below may give you a sense of how dense the plants in his area were when we started. The second photo is of a student removing bindweed in the same section of the site during a previous work party. I am including it because it also shows you how dense the foliage was.

After 

The area where Team Two worked was covered by creeping buttercup plants, blackberry vines and bindweed, all of which are invasive.

Before

After

Team Three helped weed a planting area that had blackberry vines scattered throughout. Some were just emerging from the ground and some were well established. They also weeded two planting areas that were full of horsetails and bindweed, in addition to  some blackberry vines.

Horsetails are native plants and we try to leave them alone. They had become a problem, however, because they had grown in so close together that they impeded the growth of the trees, shrubs and ground covers we had planted. We’ve had more plants die in these two areas than in any other part of the site. Also, bindweed had wrapped so tightly around many of the horsetails that it was often impossible to remove the bindweed without damaging the fragile horsetails.

I remembered a plant ecologist once telling me the horesetails were here before the dinosaurs and they will be here long into the future. At this work party the volunteers removed the horesetails that were close to each of the new plants or in the path between the two areas, and left the rest of them alone. To learn more about horsetails click here.

Before 

After

Team Four worked on a strip of land that borders 25th Avenue S. It is in the Greenbelt site that is just north of ours. Some students worked in an area that had blackberry shoots and grass scattered randomly throughout. Others cleared land that was covered by large and well established blackberry vines.

Before 

You can get a sense of how dense the foliage was by looking again at the photos in the gallery just above this statement. Know that those were taken after the team had already done a lot of work. If I had remembered to take “before” photos you would have seen that dense blackberry vines had covered almost all of this area.

After

The photos below show what the area looked like when the team finished. None of these logs and downed trees could be seen at the beginning of the work party. There is also a photo of one of the two drying racks the group built. [Note: The volunteers place the invasive plants on the rack after they are removed, so that they don’t touch the ground and re-root.]

As always, we had accomplished so much during the three hour work party. I enjoyed seeing so many happy and enthusiastic volunteers both throughout the work party and when they were saying goodbye. They thanked the staff profusely as they left.

I believe that this work in the forest is so nurturing for everyone’s body, mind and soul. I know it is for mine.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: June 22, 2018

The students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class have become a major part of our GreenFriends Greenbelt Restoration project. They are required to have three hours of volunteer work and the course’s teaching assistants have been happy to send out the registration links for our work parties.

Their volunteer reports are usually due the sixth week of the quarter so there may be a long gap between the last work party of a quarter and the first one of the following quarter. I really miss working with the students during that time. I find it interesting that early in my work life (when I was 26 y.o.), I taught nursing students from the University of Washington, and here I am at the end of my work life (soon to be 70 y.o.) teaching UW students once again.

One of the reasons I enjoy working with them is that they may not have spent much time in nature and almost none have done this kind of work before. I love witnessing their growing enthusiasm as they work together to transform the land.

A student sent me an email after our last work party. He said:

Thank you for giving me a chance to actually get out of my college residence hall and gain first hand experience on working at eco-friendly environment. As an international student who is from Seoul, Korea, who has spent all of his life living in city regions, it was amazing to get some eco-friend work done at eco-friendly environment.

I think their participation in this project is as important to them as they are to me.

The June 22 work party was held during the first week of UW’s Summer Quarter. I had never offered one that early in the quarter before, so I didn’t know how many students would come. I was delighted when 10 college students, 2 high school students and an adult who has helped with forest restoration work parties in other Seattle parklands showed up.

This work party was devoted to removing the invasive vines and plants that have been emerging throughout our Greenbelt site. One of the invasive plants that abound at this time of year is bindweed (aka morning glory). Bindweed vines wind around healthy plants and essentially strangle them. I’ve been told that bindweed roots can go 32 feet into the ground, so it’s not a feasible goal to eliminate the plant completely. If we can dig out at least some of the root, though, it will weaken the vine and slow down its growth.

I took these photos of bindweed that covered a thimbleberry plant on our site last year. I’m happy to report that much less bindweed came up near that shrub this year.

If you click on any of the photo galleries you will see enlarged copies of the photos.

After listening to an initial orientation, the volunteers divided into three teams. Team One focused on removing bindweed from the northwest part of the property. It is painstaking work to remove the vine in a way that doesn’t destroy the leaves on the native plant that is being freed. This group worked diligently and carried many loads of bindweed to the area where we dry out the invasive plants, so they don’t re-root. [Note #1 The plant you see above the young man in the first photo below is knotweed. That is also an invasive plant but is one that Seattle Parks Department staff removes.]

The invasive plant that Team Two focused on removing is known as creeping buttercup. This team worked in a section of the property that hadn’t been cleared before. I had thought it might be pulled out easily, but that was not the case; the roots were firmly entrenched. The removal was also hampered by the fact that the ground is much harder in the summer; it can be difficult to even get a shovel into the dirt. I was excited to see the bare ground becoming visible as the work progressed.

Team Three focused on removing blackberry vines. For the most part, the blackberry plants were small, but there were a lot of them, especially on the paths.

After a break, all of the team members joined together in working on the western border of the Greenbelt site that is just north of ours. They continued the process of clearing an area that my neighbor John and I had started in early May. After the weeds were removed, work party participants spread burlap bags on the land and then poured wood chip mulch on top of the bags. The burlap and the mulch will reduce weed growth and keep the soil moist.

Once again, the effort of a small group of volunteers made such a tangible difference. And they accomplished all of this during a work party that lasted only three hours. Together we are restoring land that was covered by invasive blackberry, bindweed and ivy vines for more than 50 years. It is back on the road to once again becoming a healthy forest.