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.