Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: July 7, 2019

On Sunday July 7, we held our second work party of the summer. Twenty-two students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class participated in the event, as did a volunteer who found us on the Green Seattle Partnership Event Page and a neighbor. One of our team leaders was unable to come that day, so Claire and I led the work party by ourselves. That ended up working fine since most of the work we did that day was done together.

After the orientation, the first task for the day was to add or reinforce wood chip rings around many of the trees, shrubs and ground covers we have planted since fall of 2017. The rings help hold in moisture during the dry summer months. During the work party, volunteers would also be watering some of the plants. After a snack break, we planned to remove bindweed from a Greenbelt site across Cheasty Blvd.

The area where we would start building the wood chip rings was on the far side of the site, far away from the wood chip pile. First of all, everyone filled buckets with wood chips. Afterwards, some of the students stayed at the wood chip pile and refilled the empty buckets as they were returned to the pile.

Most of the students formed a long line between the wood chip pile and the area where the chips would be placed around the plants. Buckets full of wood chips were passed from one person to another down the “bucket brigade” line. After the buckets were emptied, they were returned to the wood chip pile in the same manner. (I’m aware that my photos of the line only show empty buckets. Be assured that MANY filled buckets were passed as well!)

At the far end of the line, other volunteers created or reinforced the wood chip rings. They completed the rings in the far planting area much faster than I expected and then moved on to other parts of the site. They ended up making functional wood chip rings on about half of the site.

When I surveyed the work the next day, I was amazed to discover that the volunteers had completed 123 wood chip rings!

Click on any of the photo galleries to enlarge the photos.

About 45 minutes into the work party, a small group was pulled from the bucket brigade line to start the watering. I have been watering some of the Greenbelt plants since the cistern was installed on the site, but this was the first time we’ve done it at a work party. The cistern is located near the top of the Hanford Stairs. The water system operates solely by gravity, so if we are working in a high area, which we were, the water pressure can be very low.

I was filling the buckets near the bottom of the highest planting area. Even so, the water came through the hose slowly. We have been asked by the Seattle Parks Department staff to give two gallons of water to each plant that needs it. I had a hard time filling buckets fast enough keep up with the volunteers who were pouring the water on the plants. Eventually, we started filling the buckets even lower on the site. That meant the volunteers had to carry the buckets further, but moving to the lower area really increased the water flow.

I’m sorry I didn’t get more photos of the water team; I was too busy figuring out how to get them water. Due to our persistence, 33 plants received two gallons of water during the work party!

An hour-and-a-half into the event, we took a break. Since the snack that day was ice cream, and because we had so few team leaders, I decided to hold the break on the back deck of my house; my house is adjacent to the Greenbelt. When the snack was ready, I looked down into the site and saw Claire leading a long line of volunteers towards my house. It was an amazing sight. After enjoying the ice cream, we took a group photo.

After the break, we walked down the Hanford Stairs and crossed Cheasty Blvd. Once there, we started digging out bindweed. (Last week, I wrote about some experiences in that site. That post was called “Oh No’s”.)

This is what the area looked like when we stopped at the end of the work party. We had filled six or seven bags with bindweed.

Since the bindweed in this site has been growing back so fast, I am doubtful that the area we cleared will stay clear. I wrote my Green Seattle Partnership supervisors today and asked for direction.

We had a wonderful work party. I feel so grateful for all of the volunteers who participated in the July 7th work party as well as for those who have worked here in the past or will work here in the future. Every volunteer leaves having made a significant contribution in creating “Another Future Healthy Forest”.

“Oh No”s

I’ve had a lot of “Oh No” experiences lately; ones that relate to the new Greenbelt site we’ve agreed to help with. Our main site is south of the stairs that begin at the intersection of 25th Avenue S and S Hanford Street in Seattle. About three years ago, the Department of Transportation built a second set of Hanford Stairs across Cheasty Boulevard. They are lower on the side of Beacon Hill than our main site. There is Greenbelt property on both sides of the lower stairs.

When those stairs were built, the Department of Transportation planted native shrubs on both sides of the stairs and then covered the area with wood chips. It was beautiful. However, no one maintained the property and over time the land, including the new plants, became covered with bindweed vines. There were some blackberry vines too, but in that area the bindweed ruled. In fact, the bindweed completely covered most of the shrubs. Sometimes, there was no way to know there was even a shrub there; they just looked like mounds of bindweed.

Below are some photos of bindweed vines I took on our site two years ago. They show how bindweed strangles shrubs and ground covers.

One day in April, a Green Seattle Partnership staff member asked us to remove the bindweed from that area, if possible, meaning if we had time. We worked on it for the first time, on April 29. The photos below show what it looked like at that time. Seeing it when preparing for the work party was probably my first “Oh No” experience in this series. We removed bucket after bucket of bindweed that afternoon.

Our main site has a lot of bindweed, but it looks small in comparison to what is in this area. I’ve read that bindweed can go 32 feet into the earth. It is very fragile so breaks off easily so I had had no illusion that we could completely get rid of it. But we had at least started the process of reducing it.

When I checked the site three weeks later, I could barely tell we had worked there before. “Oh No.” We cleared bindweed from that area again on May 20. Afterwards, we covered the area where we had “removed” the bindweed with wood chips. Even though we weren’t able to clear the whole area, the part we had “finished” looked beautiful.

On June 27, I went back to the site to take a look. The first thing I noticed was how much bindweed had returned. “Oh No.” The second thing I noticed was that two thirds of the way down the stairs someone had dumped a couch, chairs and other garbage. “Oh No.” How had the dumpers even gotten this stuff down there?

Seattle has a Find It, Fix It app that residents can use to report problems that they want the city workers to fix. I reported the dump. As I was filling out the report on my phone, I noticed that there was new graffiti on the area where I was standing. “Oh No.” Once I completed the illegal dump report, I filed a graffiti report.

On July 1, I walked down the stairs to take some photos of the bindweed. I felt discouraged to see that the shrub near the phone pole was completely covered again. In fact, bindweed was coming up everywhere. “Oh No.” I was, however, pleased to see that the furniture and other items that had been dumped were already gone. That was fast!

On July 3, I walked down the stairs on my way to pick up my car from an auto repair shop. I noticed that the bindweed had continued to grow in the last few days. I also took a closer look at areas we hadn’t cleared yet. “Oh No.” When I saw my photo I was sorry to see that my finger had gotten in the way and showed up in the photo. “Oh No.” Luckily the picture still showed what I wanted it to show.

Then, I saw that more items had been dumped not far from the bottom of the stairs . “Oh No”. I couldn’t even tell what the stuff was. I could only see that they were big. This time the dump was in an area we hadn’t worked on before; one that is filled with blackberry vines as well as bindweed. Once again, I reported the dump through the Find It, Fix It app.

In writing this post, I can see from the photos that even though there is still lots of bindweed coming up in the areas we have cleared before, there is far less of it than when we started on April 29. And we kept it from flowering. The flowers would have caused it to spread even more. We are making a difference, one step at a time.

Bindweed flower from Pixabay.com

Our plans are for the 30 people who have registered for the July 7 work party to work in that area for the last part of the event. In the past, we have only worked there with five or six people. I look forward to discovering how much we accomplish at that time.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: June 29, 2019

From Spring Quarter of 2017 through Autumn Quarter of 2018, students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class helped with the forest restoration work on our site. In fact, they were our major source of volunteers!

I was very disappointed when the teacher retired at the end of 2018; disappointed for me, not for him. I had been told that he would probably teach the class again Summer Quarter of 2019. And he is! Students from the class attended our June 29 event, our first work party of the summer.

Shirley, Claire, Dave and I served as team leaders. Sixteen students from the Introduction to Environmental Science class, friends of two of the students, and John, a neighbor who has attended almost all of our work parties participated. Two other neighbors helped for a while; one signed in participants as they arrived and another took many of the photographs.

After an orientation, the participants were divided into four groups.

There were several places on the site where our native trees, shrubs and ground covers were being overtaken by blackberry and bindweed vines as well as other weeds. This was particularly a problem on the borders of the property. Shirley’s group cleared away the invasive plants on one of the planting areas that borders the east side of the site.

Click on any of the photo galleries to enlarge the photos!

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Dave’s group worked on the upper south planting areas. There the blackberries had completely covered a debris pile that had been created when we first cleared blackberry and ivy vines from that portion of the land. Only a tiny bit of the dried debris was visible.

The group cut the blackberry vines away from the debris pile and in nearby areas and then took many loads of the dried debris to another part of the site. They carried the live cuttings to drying racks located elsewhere on the property.

John also worked in that area. With his trusty pickaxe, he cleared many blackberry vines and weeds from the southwest corner of the site.

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Generally, I focus on coordinating the event rather than leading a team. At this work party though, I lead a small team of three students. They worked on two projects. They did such a good job, even though I was only with them from time to time.

When there is a dead tree on the site, it is generally not cut down. As the tree decays, and even after it falls, it nourishes birds, animals and insects either by providing shelter or food. There was a dead shrub on this property that had grown as big as a small tree. Its branches were dropping into some of our new trees and shrubs. The first job this group did was to cut back those low hanging branches so they didn’t interfere with the growth of the new native plants.

When the students finished that project, they started clearing the blackberry vines that were growing into the planting areas along the lower part of the southern border of the site.

Claire’s group cleared bindweed and other invasive plants from an area that was also covered with native bracken ferns. Those ferns had surprised me when they emerged from the ground last year since I didn’t know they were there. They covered a lot of the native plants we had planted.

It was tricky to remove the invasive bindweed without hurting the bracken ferns or other native plants but the students did a good job of doing it. Towards the end of the work party they also removed the suckers that were coming out of two maple trees.

The work party had begun at 10:00 a.m. At 11:30 we stopped for a snack break and to take a group photo.

After the break, all of the groups continued their work. At 12:40 participants began the final tasks. They put the remainder of the invasive plants they had removed on drying racks, gathered the tools and took them to the tool box, put all the supplies away and joined together for a closing. During the closing, we celebrated all that they had accomplished during the three hour work party.

I think everyone had a good time. I sure did!

Greenbelt Restoration Site: The Plants are Growing Fast!

The Greenbelt trees, shrubs and ground covers are growing so fast. Many are flowering; some are developing fruit or seed pods. All of the photos in this post were taken in May and June of 2019.

Most of the trees are now four to five feet tall; some of them are even taller.

Another example of “fast growing” is the Elderberry shrub in the photo below. When we planted it on March 15, 2019 it was a stem with one leaf. Three months later, this is what it looked like:

Some of the elderberry plants we planted in spring of 2018 are now more than ten feet tall!

The blackberry vines, bindweed, and other weeds, are also growing fast. If you live in or are visiting the Seattle area, we could use your help in removing them. Leave a comment below if you would like more information about upcoming work parties.

Beauty in the Greenbelt: Wildlife

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

I have been excited to see the wildlife in our restoration site increase. During a break in one of the April work parties, a student and I sat quietly on a recently-built platform. In addition to gazing at the trees, shrubs and ground covers in the planting area in front of us, I heard and saw many birds. I felt so much peace as I took in the sights and sounds.

We spent part of that work party building wood chip rings around plants. (Those rings will help keep the ground moist during the dry summer months.) In the process of building the rings, we used up the wood chips in two wood chip piles that were located on the site. At one point, when I sat on the ground near one of those areas, I noticed insects (gnats?) coming out of the remains of the woodchips. As I watched, four robins flew to the area and started feasting on them. They didn’t seem to care that I was sitting so close to them.

When I walked into the Greenbelt in mid-May, the first thing I saw was a hummingbird. Many of the shrubs we’ve planted are supposed to draw hummingbirds, but this was the first one I’d seen. In addition to the robins and the hummingbird, I’ve seen lots of sparrows, chickadees, crows, flickers, and a few blue jays.

Later that day, as I was getting ready to leave the Greenbelt, I saw a small rabbit and baby bunny in front of me. To the right of them were two robins looking for food and to the left two squirrels were scurrying around. Again, I felt a sense of peace and was very grateful to be able to witness this scene.

Single yellow swallowtail butterflies, like the one in the photo at the beginning of this post, have flown through the site for two years, but one day last month I had a quick glimpse of an orange one. I’ve also seen bumblebees, honey bees, mason bees and wasps.   

Last week there was a dead mole on one of the paths. I felt sad to see it. I don’t know how it died but was thankful that the person who was with me buried it. I know there are raccoons on the property, because I’ve seen their droppings, so maybe that is what caught and killed it.

I’ve seen rabbits several times recently. They have usually been munching on a particular type of weed. I decided to leave a patch of them for a while hoping they would stick to that diet rather than munch on the shrubs and ground covers we’ve planted. I haven’t seen any rabbits for the last week though, so maybe the weeds have gotten too tough for their taste.

A few days after I took the photo above, I saw ladybugs on the weeds. Then I noticed there were aphids. Someone recently had seen an aphid on a plant and told me that ladybugs would show up soon, because lady bugs eat aphids. I also noticed that there were three types of ladybugs on the plants. I wondered if these were actually the same type of ladybug but were at three different stages of development; i.e., baby, youngster, mature.

I’ve tried to take photos of the rabbits, birds and squirrels, but they almost always take off before I can get a shot. Probably if I sat down and quietly waited, I would be able to take more photos, but when I sit down, I usually see weeds that need to be removed so continue with that never-ending task.

Yesterday I saw the bug in the photo below, a large dark black beetle and a dark black centipede. Several days before, I had seen an unfamiliar winged insect.

I love watching the many forms of wildlife. I hope my descriptions give you a taste of the excitement and the peace I feel as I witness them moving into our Greenbelt site.

Beauty in the Greenbelt: Oceanspray

We’ve planted more than a dozen oceanspray shrubs in our forest restoration site. Some of them may have had a few blossoms last year, but many more have them this year.

This week I saw oceanspray shrubs in other Seattle parks that were 13 feet high and nearly as wide. It will be interesting to see how big the ones in our restored forest grow.

FOTD