Greenbelt Restoration Project: Service-Learning Sessions 5 & 6

Session 5

The primary task for the 5th service-learning session was to clear away the leaves, wood chips and weeds from all of the spots where new native trees, shrubs and ground covers would be planted on November 13th. Prior to the work party, Shirley and I had placed a green or pink flag at each of those locations.

Two staff members from Carlson Center, the University of Washington program that coordinates the University’s service-learning programs, came to our site that day. They wanted to talk with Shirley and me about how the students were helping to meet Green Seattle Partnership’s goals, to see our site, and to watch and talk with the students. They stayed with us for about an hour. I enjoyed their visit.

After a break, the students continued to clear the areas where native trees, shrubs and ground covers would be planted the following week.

Session 6

The 6th service-learning session took place on November 12, the afternoon before DocuSign, a corporate group, would be coming to plant everything. In-between the 5th and 6th sessions, the plants had been distributed to the locations where they would soon be planted.

Every year, each new plant is marked with a soft flagging tape. The tape may be attached to the plant itself or may be on a nearby stake. The tape is different for each planting season. Blue and white checkered tape was used for the Nov 2017 to March 2018 planting season and red with black polka dots for 2018-19. This season the tape is a light blue. You can see it on many of the plants in the photos above.

[The same tape is used in all Seattle Parks, so if you know the colors that were used for each season, you can go to any park and know what season a particular plant was planted.]

The flagging tape had been placed on all of the larger plants prior to the 6th session. When the plant is small, though, there may not be a branch that is strong enough for tagging. In those cases, we put the flagging tape on a stake and then put the stakes in the ground near the plants when they are planted. (The photo to the left shows one of the stakes.)

During the first part of the 6th service-learning session, three of the students made 100 of these stakes. While they did that, one of our staff members raked some of the paths on the site and another student put the stakes in or near the pots that contained small plants.

After a break, the four students who attended that day divided into two groups. Each pair planted a hemlock tree. Once the tree was planted, they put a ring of wood chips around it. The wood chips help retain moisture and reduce weed growth.

After planting the trees, the students hunted for areas where flags had been placed since the previous session and cleared the ground around those flags.

By the time this service-learning session was over, the land was ready for the next day’s planting work party!

Greenbelt Restoration Project: Service-Learning Session 4

The service-learning students and our forest restoration team leaders, who are also volunteers, accomplished so much during the 4th service-learning session.

[For those of you who may not have read previous posts about the service-learners, they are students from the University of Washington who are working on our site as an adjunct to their course work. They come once a week for seven weeks.]

Session 4

We worked in an area that was full of horsetails, bindweed, dried branches and other weeds. The horsetails had started to die down for the year, but there were years of dried stalks underneath the live ones. We left the live horsetails alone as much as possible because they are a native plant. However, it often wasn’t possible to remove the bindweed without removing the horsetail, because both break easily. The horsetails have been around since before the dinosaurs, though, so we know they will be back in the Spring!

This is what the area looked like when we started the session.

We hadn’t planned to create a path that day, but it soon became clear that one would be helpful. Here are before and after photos of the new path.

We worked on the path and on removing the invasive weeds throughout the three-hour work party. Most of the weeds were taken to drying racks.

[We’ve started bagging bindweed and putting it in the trash in case being on the drying racks isn’t enough to prevent the invasive vine from re-rooting.]

Click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.

The transformation in the land was remarkable. Compare the photos below to the first one in this post.

Thanks to the effort of all of the volunteers, it had been another productive work party. Step by step, and with the blessing of Mother Nature, we are creating another healthy forest in Seattle.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: Martin Luther King Day of Service

On January 21, twenty-two eager volunteers met to do forest restoration work in our North Beacon Hill Greenbelt site. Four of the volunteers were veterans of this project and served as team leaders. Most of the other volunteers found out about the work party from Green Seattle Partnership listings; two found out about it from one of the local or regional Amma newsletters. Three children between 6 and 8, a pre-teen (12 years) and a teenager (13 years) participated.

This work party was held on the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service. When that holiday was being created his wife, Coretta Scott King, said it should be substantive as well as symbolic. Since his was a life of service, the holiday became a National Day of Service.

While I knew of Martin Luther King’s role in civil rights, I didn’t know that he inspired the environmental justice movement, a movement that believes everyone has the right to clean air, water, and soil, as well as a right to live in safe and healthy communities.

After receiving an initial orientation, the volunteers divided into four groups.

Group 1

One of the team leaders and three of the other volunteers started the process of taking down the racks in The Rack Zone. When we clear land of blackberry, ivy and bindweed vines, all of the cuttings and root balls are put onto racks so that they don’t touch the ground before they dry out. If the vines touch the ground, they may re-root. I refer to the invasive plants we have cut down or dug out as “debris”.

The racks are made from logs and branches. This is a photo of one of the racks we built early on.

In most parks, racks are scattered throughout a site, but since we had a house foundation on the property, we decided to put most of the racks there. The concrete slab that was under the foundation would also prevent re-rooting. We named that area The Rack Zone.

Our plan was to let all of invasive plant cuttings dry out and decompose. In that way good dirt would build up and we could plant beautiful flowering shrubs in that area.

This was what The Rack Zone looked like in July of 2017, several months after we started using it. You can see that under the new cuttings there is a lot of debris that is becoming dry. There are at least two racks in the photo that have been used yet.

In January of 2018, we took most of the racks apart but didn’t spread the debris; we just built new racks on top it. During 2018, the new racks became filled and overflowing. We would start the process of taking them down completely at this work party.

I thought that would be a long process since what taking them apart the previous year had taken a long time. I thought that these volunteers would disassemble one to three racks during the first portion of the work party. That process would include separating the dried debris from the debris that was still living, taking out any logs or branches that were too big to readily decompose, and spread the debris that was dry.

When I checked on the group later, I was astounded by what they had already accomplished.

By the end of that segment of the work party, they had finished taking apart all but three of the racks!

We still have to figure out what to do with all the branches and logs that were too big to spread in this future planting area. Right now they are stacked on the north and south sides of The Rack Zone. In addition, there was a lot of broken concrete under the racks. Those are stacked on the ledge of the foundation and will also need to be moved to some yet unknown location.

Groups 2 and 3

Two groups worked in the planting areas, clearing out leaves and wood chips from around each plant. We refer that area as a donut hole. In addition, some members of those groups cleared branches that had fallen onto the paths during the winter winds and/or carried buckets of leaves to the newly cleared areas of The Rack Zone. Once there, they will decompose and become part of the composted soil.

The groups cleared the donut holes in most of the site. Each area looked so nice when they finished.

Group 4

Another team leader and a volunteer began to clear an area that was full of blackberry vines and ivy.

This is part of what that area looked like by the time the work party ended.

The work party had begun at 10 a.m. At 11:30 a.m. we took a short snack break. Before we went back to work, we gathered for a group photo. While we took some serious photos, the one that I loved most was a funny one.

The parents with young children planned to go home early, and did. Most of the remaining volunteers moved to the Greenbelt site that is on the north side of the Hanford Stairs; our main site is south of the stairs. I have been eager to start restoration work in that area.

This is what that that land looked like in December 2018.

January 21, 2019 work party photos:

This photo was taken after we finished that day.

The volunteers had removed a lot of trash and ivy.

It always amazes me how much can be accomplished during a three-hour work party. The land always looks substantially different when the volunteers leave, after having given freely of their time and their energy. Together we are helping this part of Seattle’s Greenbelt to once again become a healthy forest.

If you live in the Seattle area and would like to help with a future work party, write hanfordstairsgreenbelt@gmail.com.

Pearly Everlasting

In November of 2017, I took a Wetlands Best Practices workshop that was offered by Green Seattle Partnership and held in Seattle’s Discovery Park. As we were about to leave the park, several shrubs covered in white flowers caught my eye. I asked the instructor about them and learned that they were called Pearly Everlasting. In that moment, I committed to myself to include that plant in my 2018 plant order.

When the plants arrived at our forest restoration site in November of 2018, I was surprised by how small they were. In the photo below, there are ten Pearly Everlasting seedlings next to the deck post.

The Pearly Everlasting plants I saw in Discovery Park had been used as a border in hopes that they would keep park visitors on a trail rather than walking through vulnerable plants. I decided to try that rationale in our site too. Four of the Pearly Everlasting plants, still in their pots, are in the forefront of the photo below.

Most of the Pearly Everlasting plants seemed to wither and dry up soon after we planted them. I wondered if we were going to lose them. I don’t have photos from back then, but this is what they look like now.

Two weeks ago, I moved the leaves from around the base of one of the plants and found a few shoots coming out of the ground near it.

I looked at the ground around that plant again on January 25th and this is what I saw!

I’m excited and eager to see how these shoots/shrubs change day to day, month to month, and year to year.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: November 10, 2018

The November 10th work party was one of our biggest. Six team leaders, four of which were Green Friends members, four neighbors, and 29 students from the UW Introduction to Environmental Science class participated.

During the first part of the work party, we split the group in half and ran two bucket brigades at the same time. One spanned the distance from the wood chip piles located at the bottom of the Hanford Stairs and the Greenbelt. We had used wood chips from those piles at the previous work party, so the piles looked small. I had expected that we would finish moving those chips and need to move to piles at a different location but that wasn’t the case. Even now more wood chips are available there. The second bucket brigade started at the top of the Hanford Stairs. In that location there were two piles of wood chips that had been delivered the previous week.

These bucket brigades had two purposes. 1) We would create new piles of wood chips throughout the restoration site. The chips in those piles will be used during our November 15 planting work party, during which time two buckets of wood chips will be placed around each tree, shrub and ground cover that is put into the ground. In this instance, the wood chips serve as mulch, reducing weed growth and holding in moisture. 2) We would finish covering most of the paths that snake through the site.with three inches of wood chips. Our hope is that having a thick layer of wood chips on top of the paths will prevent them from getting muddy and slippery during the winter rains.

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

During the second part of the work party, we formed four teams. These teams focused on getting areas ready for the upcoming planting event. One team moved dried branches and blackberry canes out of a new planting area. That group also spread dirt in an area where a compost pile had been taken apart during previous work parties.

The second team cleared the ground around two sides of a red twig dogwood patch.

The third team pulled out blackberry root balls and raked out a section of land north of the Hanford Stairs.

One of our neighbor volunteers cut down blackberry canes and dug out blackberry root balls and weeds from an area just across the stairs from the third team.

We make a plant order in May of each year. The Seattle Parks Department provides us with the plants towards the end of October or the beginning of November. This year we had ordered 250 plants of 23 varieties.

Prior to this work party, the shrubs and ground covers had been separated into ten groups, each number assigned to the planting area where the plants will be placed in the ground. The trees were grouped separately.

The fourth team carried those trees, shrubs and ground covers to the areas where they will be planted.

After the work party was over, three of the team leaders walked around the site placing every plant in the spot where it will be planted.

Thanks to the effort of these students, neighbors and team leaders, we are now ready to plant. I am so excited to see what the land will look like once the trees, shrubs and ground covers are settled into their new homes!

Some Day a Mighty Oak?

In February we planted 10 bare root Gary Oak trees in the Greenbelt. I think only three of them are going to live, but those three are doing well. This afternoon, I took two photos of one of them. The white areas on the leaves are cotton-like fibers from nearby cottonwood trees.

It is hard to imagine that this little tree may someday become a mighty oak. But it is also hard to imagine that only two months ago there was only one tiny bud on the top of this tree; and that bud didn’t appear to have any life in it.. I wonder how tall the tree will be by the end of the summer.

I was concerned that we planted the oaks too close together, but in writing this post I looked for a photo of a mature Garry Oak and found this! Maybe they were planted just where they were “supposed” to be planted, close to their friends.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

The original uploader was Llywrch at English Wikipedia.
[CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Greenbelt Restoration Project: Our First Planting Season is Over

The planting season in Seattle’s parklands starts when the autumn rains begin and ends in mid-March. The reason for planting during those months is that it gives the plants time to root before they have to deal with the dry summer months. During our first planting season, we have planted 55 trees and 530 shrubs and ground covers.

All of the new plants are native to the Pacific Northwest. This chart lists the types of plants we planted during our first season.

I love watching the plants grow. Some have doubled or tripled in size since we planted them. Almost all of them have leaves now and some even have flowers.

There are plants emerging from the ground that are a complete surprise. One day, I noticed long stalks scattered around one area.

Later, I was told they are Bracken ferns. I found some photos of Bracken ferns on Pixabay.

We are going to have a LOT of Bracken ferns in that area. I hope they get along with the new plants.

When I was outside taking photos today, a tiny hummingbird came within two feet of me. It is going to be an exciting spring and summer. I hope I see some butterflies too!

Greenbelt Restoration Work Parties: February 21, 22, and 23, 2018

Amma teaches us to “Be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.” She also teaches us that “What we need will be provided” and to “Put in the effort and let go of the results.” Taking those attitudes can help us to stay in the moment which in turn can decrease the tendency to worry about the future. The Greenbelt restoration work parties we held during the last half of February provided me with many opportunities to practice each of those attitudes.

Students who take the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science course are required to do three hours of volunteer work. I had scheduled a work party for February 17 because it was the weekend before their assignment was due. That is always our biggest work party of the quarter.

I was concerned about that work party though, because the people who usually lead teams at our events were going to be at a retreat in Oregon that weekend. I decided to “think outside the box” and started inviting neighbors and people in the Amma community who weren’t going to the retreat. None of them had worked on this project before, but I knew they would do a good job.  Pretty soon I had three volunteers. They all came to the site ahead of time for an orientation. We were ready!

I soon discovered more good news was in store. Someone who had planned to go to the retreat, decided not to go, and volunteered to help at the work party. She had lead teams many times so that was a real bonus. Then, the Forest Steward from Mt. Baker park wrote me and said he would help. Just before the work party, another neighbor volunteered to lead a team. I was excited. We had an abundance of staff. While all of this was coming together, 31 students registered for the work party. We were set. What a good example it had been of “What you need will be provided.”

Then “Be like a bird perched on a dry twig” took over. Days ahead of time, we heard that a big wind storm was coming on the same day as the work party. You can do forestry work in the rain, but you can’t do it in high winds; branches might break or trees might fall. On the 16th, it became obvious we couldn’t hold the work party. In fact, the Parks Department canceled work parties that day on a park by park basis. Ours was one that was canceled.

That left both me and the students in a dilemma. I needed to have the land prepared for a corporate group that was coming to plant trees, shrubs and ground covers on Monday, February 26. And the students needed their volunteer hours. I knew that most or all of the team leaders would be at work if I planned events during the week. I decided I would hold three small work parties on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and be prepared to lead them by myself.

The “Be like a bird” lesson continued as the weather forecasters talked about the possibility of breezy weather and snow. Would these work parties have to be canceled too? The first indication that what I needed would be provided was when I found out that two of the people who had been scheduled to lead teams on the 17th had the week off from work and would help with one of the work parties!

Wednesday, February 21

Wednesday arrived and all was well. In fact it was better than just “well.” A half hour before the work party began, Peter, the Forest Steward from Mt. Baker, emerged from the forest. Not only was he going to help with this work party, he was going to help with all three of them! What a surprise blessing he was. So we had two Forest Stewards and 7 students that day. We began to clear new areas of ivy and blackberries vines. We dug out some big blackberry roots!

(Click on the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

Thursday, February 22

Knowing that Peter would be helping made it possible for me to accept more students than I had originally planned.  The work party grew to 23 students.

Maintaining the “Be like a bird” attitude was still important as the forecast was for snow and by Wednesday evening it was snowing, and sticking to the ground. Would I have to cancel the work party? I would decide in the morning.

Thursday’s work party had been scheduled to go from 2:30-5:30 to accommodate the students’ class schedule. The snow was very wet and was beginning to melt when I woke up that morning. Around 10 a.m. I decided to walk to the light rail and around the Greenbelt to see how much snow there was and whether we could work in it. I discovered the streets and sidewalks were clear and most of the Greenbelt was free of snow. What snow remained was melting. Even though the temperature was in the 30’s, it felt warmer than the day before because it was sunny.

My neighbor John also worked with us that day so we had three staff. We continued clearing the land that we had worked on the previous day.

After a snack break, we formed a bucket brigade and carried wood chips from the street into the site. The chips would be used as mulch during the February 26  planting work party.

While we were moving the wood chips, it started to snow lightly. When we finished, we cleaned and put away the tools and quickly headed back to our respective homes.

Friday, February 23

During the week’s third work party, we two Forest Stewards and three GreenFriends members served as staff. Twenty-one students participated. I experienced such a sense of abundance…. an abundance of staff and an abundance of students. Once again, what I had needed was provided.

About half of the students worked in the area we had been clearing during the previous work parties. We had cleared land that I hadn’t expected to clear until later this year! Peter, the Mt. Baker Forest Steward, worked with the students to create swale-like structures that will help prevent erosion. I appreciated learning new skills from him.

Another team worked in an area that has a big ivy mass. That team moved the big piles of ivy to the place on the site that has racks where ivy and blackberries can dry out rather than re-root.

A different group of students placed burlap around flags that were scattered through the site. Those flags marked the places we will be planting on the 26th.

After the break we formed another bucket brigade and finished moving the wood chips into the site.

After the remainder of the wood chips were onsite, we cleaned up and put away the tools, celebrated our accomplishments and went on our way.

What a week it had been. I was consistently challenged to stay in the moment, to let go, to trust what I need would be provided and to put in the effort and let go of the results.  And I had certainly felt like a bird perched on a dry twig. We accomplished so much during these three work parties. Grace had flowed.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: Shrub and Groundcover Planting Day 2017

Wednesday, November 15 was a big day, one I’ve been eagerly awaiting. On that day, a corporate group from DocuSign came to our restoration site to plant the 330 shrubs and ground covers Seattle Parks Department had given us. November 15 was DocuSign’s Global Impact Day. I looked up the philosophy behind Global Impact and found this:

We believe character is defined through action. With DocuSign IMPACT, we are committed to putting this character into action by harnessing the power of DocuSign’s people, products, and profits to make a difference in the global communities in which our employees and customers live and work.

On that day, buses picked up the employees at their corporate headquarters and traveled to projects all over the city. I felt so grateful to have 42 of their volunteers helping us; and they were wonderful people to work with.

(Note: You might be wondering why we plant at this time of year. In the forest, planting starts after the fall rains begin. That way the plants have a chance to root before the summer comes. We’ve had almost no rain during the summer for a few years and there is no water source on this property. The plants have the best chance of survival if they have developed a healthy root system before the dry period.)

Prior to the work party, we prepared eight planting areas. Any remaining blackberry vines and rootballs, ivy and bindweed were removed and the areas were marked off with green and white, or yellow and black, tape. The University of Washington students who helped during our November 11 work party moved the potted shrubs and groundcovers to the areas where they would be planted.

The photo below is of the Dogwood Area, so named because it is near a large area of red twig dogwood and because a small patch of red twig dogwood came up within this planting area during the summer.

Another way we prepared for the work party was to create and distribute photo galleries of the plants that would go in each area. That way the workers could see the beauty they were helping to create.

I already mentioned that the DocuSign group was wonderful to work with. We had a dream staff too, consisting of Joanna Nelson de Flores, the director of Forterra’s Green Cities program,  Nichole Marcotte, Forterra’s Stewardship Coordinator, Anavadya Oravec a Master Gardener and GreenFriends member and me! The staff arrived an hour and a half early so I had a chance to show them around the site. We spent part of our November 15th pre-work party time placing each plant on the spot where the DocuSign employees would plant it.

When the participants arrived, I talked about the history of the project and gave information about safety relating to this particular site. Then the group was divided in half and walked to the part of the property where they would soon be planting. Joanna and Nichole each led a group. They talked about tool safety and then showed participants how to plant the shrubs and ground covers. I really appreciated having the opportunity to hear the experts teach! During the work party, all four of us supervised the work and helped as needed. (Click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.)

After each plant was planted, a blue and white tape was tied loosely on one of its branches, or on a stick that was placed next to it. Every year, Seattle Parks Department uses a different color of tape to tag the plants. So from here on out, whenever we see a blue and white tape in any of Seattle’s parks, we will know that the item was planted in 2017!

Once a shrub or groundcover was planted, four burlap bags were placed around it. When all of the planting in an area was complete and the burlap was down, the entire area was covered with wood chips. (The burlap and wood chips reduce weed growth, retain moisture, and prevent erosion. Both the burlap and the chips will decompose and enrich the soil.)

Below are photos of the completed planting areas. You can see the blue and white tape I mentioned throughout them.

And this is a photo of the empty pots!

I am so excited for Spring to arrive so I can see every bud, every flower, and every berry! I hope most (or better yet, all) of the plants survive the winter.