An Unexpected Visitor

The plant order for our Greenbelt restoration site arrived today. As I was sorting them out, a shiny object caught my eye. When I looked closer, I discovered that it was the shell of a snail.

The snail was moving along the top of a pot. By the time I grabbed my iPhone camera, it looked to me like it was planning to go down the side of the pot.

I was wrong. That was not what the snail had in mind.

I loved watching the snail’s amazing journey. However, I didn’t want it eating the new Greenbelt plants, so I carried it to a place where it could munch on something else.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: October 21, 2018

Twenty six volunteers participated in the October 21 work party. Twenty of them came from the UW Introduction to Environmental Science class, five were GreenFriends members who served as staff and one was a neighbor.

The first part of this work party focused on bringing wood chips from the street into the Greenbelt. Most of them were placed on the pathways we are making throughout the site. After finishing the paths we were working on that day, we created two piles of wood chips that will be used on November 15 when a corporate group comes to do the first planting for this season. (Note: Planting starts in November after the rains begin and continues through mid-March. Planting during these months gives the plants a chance to root before the dry summer months.)

During the second part of the work party, we focused on cutting up dried blackberry debris and spreading it on the paths we will be making next; clearing wood chips from around the plants that were planted last season, weeding and clearing a new planting space.

Wood chip bucket brigade

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

 

Carrying the filled buckets into the Greenbelt

 

The new paths and piles (Hold cursor over photos below to see the captions)

 

Cutting Up Debris

I was surprised to see that I forgot to take photos of the group who cut up dried blackberry vines, ivy  and branches, but I do have pictures of one of the paths-to-be we spread them on. We will more than likely cover this debris with wood chips during the next work party. (Note: We primarily use the debris in this way so we can eliminate the piles of debris that are scattered throughout the site. Over time, the debris will break down and enrich the soil.)

Cleaning Out the Donut Holes

When we plant a tree, shrub or ground cover, we pour a ring of wood chips around it, leaving the center clear. The outer ring looks like a donut and we refer to the center area as the donut hole. We try to keep the donut hole, the area closest to the plant, free of wood chips and weeds so the plant can get the full value of any rain that falls. One group of volunteers at this work party cleared the donut holes in almost every planting area on the site.

Today, when I walked outside to take photos of some of those areas, I found that a lot of leaves had fallen, so the donut holes didn’t look as empty as they did at the end of the work party.

 

Weeding

Two groups of students weeded four planting areas on the property. The first two pictures show volunteers working in an area that has wild ginger. After each planting area was weeded,  students cleared the wood chips from the donut holes. One group then used more wood chips to form new rings around the plants, keeping the center area clear. (Note: When wood chips are inside a planting areas, they serve as mulch.)

 

Clearing a new planting area

My neighbor, who is in the background of the first photo below, has become skilled in removing blackberry vines and root balls with a pick ax. During this work party, he cleared a new area; you can see it in the second photo. Two trees will be planted in that space on November 15.

 

This was the biggest work party we’ve had in a long time. The next one will be held on November 10. There are already 31 students registered for that event and we still have two weeks to go!

Many thanks to everyone who participated in the September 21 work party. You each made a significant contribution to the goal of turning this Greenbelt site back into a healthy forest.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: September 30, 2018

I returned from India around noon on September 24th. I brought my luggage into the house and soon thereafter was checking out our Greenbelt site, eager to begin the forest restoration work again. I was pleased to see that most of the plants had survived the drought.

The University of Washington classes began on September 26th. This was to be the ninth quarter that students from their Introduction to Environmental Science course would help us. Most of our volunteers come from there, but we also get people from many other sources, such as neighbors and the Green Seattle Partnership Event Calendar. Most of our staff are part of GreenFriends, the environmental arm of Embracing the World.

Our first fall quarter work party was held on Sunday, September 30.  Including the staff, we had eight volunteers. (There are only six people in the photo because I’m taking the picture and a neighbor didn’t arrive until the second half of the work party.)

I was so immersed in the work that I forgot to take photos throughout the work party. Luckily, I can show you some before and after pictures.

The Seattle Parks Department staff had delivered a pile of wood chips that looked similar to this one. Our main task for the day was to start the process of spreading wood chips along the paths in the Greenbelt. I knew from last year’s experience that during winter the paths get muddy and slippery and wanted to prevent that situation from reoccurring. After the work party orientation, we filled the buckets with wood chips.

(Click on any gallery to enlarge the photos.)

Then, we carried the filled buckets and spread the wood chips along the path, 3 inches thick and 3 feet wide. Some of the volunteers stayed at the wood pile to fill the empty buckets as they were returned. Together, we spread wood chips on 620 sq. ft. of land. I was amazed by how much a small group was able to accomplish in a little over an hour.

After a fifteen minute break, we divided into three teams. One team dug out invasive blackberries near the south-east part of the site. They also spread dried blackberry canes over burlap; this strip will become part of a path during an upcoming work party.

Before:

After:

The second team moved some stumps and thick branches from a future planting area, took wire and other trash to the trash pile, and then dug out blackberry vines and root balls from two areas that had been planted in March. The planting areas looked so nice after most of the blackberry shoots that had been coming up in them were removed.

The third group worked on a compost pile that was here long before our restoration project began. They dug out  weeds that were growing through it and pulled out any trash, branches or lumber that they found.

Before:

After:

I was so happy with the results of our work and feel very grateful to the volunteers who participated in this work party.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: August 4, 2018

The August 4th work party went faster than any work party I can remember. I was so surprised when I looked at my watch and saw how much time had passed. I suspect that time warp happened in part because the temperature that day was in the high 60’s. The previous three work parties had been in mid to high 80’s weather. It had felt oppressive to work in those conditions and we had moved from place to place to avoid the hot sun. We were relieved to be working when the temperature was in the 60’s once again.

Fifteen volunteers participated in the event. Five were GreenFriends members, seven were UW Environmental science students and three were neighbors.

Our primary goal for this event was to work in areas we had avoided when the sun was so hot.  We would do that work until break time and then, after the break, we would move to the Greenbelt site that is just north of ours.

Over the three-hour period, we worked in five different areas. This report is going to be pictorial, with photos showing what each area looked like before, during and after the work.

Area 1

After the initial orientation, all of the participants worked in the planting area that is in the southwestern part of the site. There, many blackberry sprouts had been growing among the native plants. Not only did the volunteers remove most of those blackberry plants, but they also partially or completely cleared blackberry vines and root balls from the area outside the southern and western borders of that space.

(Click on any of the photo galleries to enlarge the pictures.)

Before 

 

During

 

After

 

Area 2

An hour into the work party, a few of the volunteers moved to the second area. They spent a half-hour removing blackberry vines that were growing around and through piles of debris as well as bindweed that had invaded a nearby planting area. There is more to be done in this area in the future, but this group made a lot of headway.

Before

 

During

 

After

 

Break Time

An hour-and-a-half into the work party, we took a short break. Among the snacks we offered were ice cream and watermelon. The students decided to include the ice cream in the group photo!

After the break, we moved to the site that is north of the Hanford Stairs.  Once there, we divided into three groups. During the next 45 minutes we worked in areas three, four and five.

Area 3

The third area had a big leaf maple tree with lots of suckers growing from it. Blackberry plants and invasive ground covers grew around it. The students removed the suckers and some of the invasive plants. It will be interesting to see how the tree changes now that the suckers have been removed.

Before

 

During

 

After

 

Area 4

The fourth area was 20-30 feet into the Greenbelt. It was not visible from the road that borders the area. This group removed ivy and other weeds from under several 10-15 year-old evergreen trees; and cut down any blackberry vines that were growing through them. They also cut ivy from an old evergreen tree and removed a number of blackberry plants from the area

Before

 

During

After

 

Area 5

My neighbor John and I started working in an area that runs parallel to 25th Avenue South several months ago. Volunteers also worked on it during some of the July work parties. During one of those work parties, John removed enough blackberry vines that he broke into a space that he and I had cleared last Spring. I was so excited to see the two spaces connected.

On August 1 and 2, another volunteer worked seven hours in the same area. Once he cleared some of the ground, he and I built two drying racks to use at future work parties. (When we cut down blackberries, ivy and bindweed we put them on drying racks so they can’t reach the ground and re-root.)

The photo below shows what this area looked like at the beginning of the August 4th work party. During the work party, volunteers focused on cutting sections out of fallen trees that crossed the area we were clearing. Walking over them could be hazardous and we wanted to prevent accidents by creating a clear path. They also dug out blackberry root balls and raked up dried leaves and other debris. The last photo shows the transformation that occurred during the last forty-five minutes of the work party.

Before

 

During

 

After

Another work party was complete, and once again the changes in the land that occurred during the three hours of working together was remarkable. I love how every person that helps with this project makes a difference. That proverb, “many hands make light work,” is so true.

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: May 9, 2018

Many of the volunteers who help us with our GreenFriends Greenbelt restoration project are students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science course. We are having a big work party this coming Saturday, May 12th, but I decided to offer one mid-week as well. Susan Zeman, a Green Seattle Partnership Forest Steward in a park just south of ours agreed to help me lead the work party. Seventeen students participated. They were a delight to work with.

Susan led a work group in an area that is packed with invasive holly, blackberries and bamboo. It is also an area that has many red twig dogwood plants and a red flower from a rhododendron bush can be seen in the distance. Susan’s group was tasked with starting the process of removing the invasive plants so that the native plants can thrive.

While it will take many work parties to free the area from invasive plants, the group made a lot of progress during this three hour work party.

They were even able to dig out a huge clump of bamboo.

Towards the end of the work party, the students carried all of the invasive plants they had removed to the “Rack Zone”, a place on the site where the debris dries out on racks. By being kept off the ground, the vines and other invasives will not be able to re-root.

The second group of students removed blackberry vines, bindweed and other weeds that had started to sprout in all of the planting areas.

They also removed any wood chip mulch that was too close to the base of the plants. (When we spread wood chip mulch we take care to create a “donut hole” around each plant, keeping the wood chips from actually touching the plants. When it rains, the  chips tend to slide into that empty space.) These students cleaned weeds and chips from the donut holes around approximately 500 plants!

When they finished cleaning up the planting areas, they pulled out ivy, blackberry and bindweed vines that were in the paths and/or mixed in the ferns that are scattered throughout the site.

Every work party adds to the miracle that is occurring on this site. As I was writing this post, I came across a photo that was taken on March 15. It shows what one area looked like two weeks after trees, shrubs and ground covers were planted in it.

This is what that same area looks like today.

 

 

Next steps: On Saturday May 12 we will create a big bucket brigade for the purpose of spreading more wood chips around plants that were planted back in October and November of 2017. The work that the students did in this (May 9th) work party will make that process much easier. We will also be clearing ivy and other invasive plants from parts of the property that we have not worked on before.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Awakening

This is the view from the upper deck of my house. The magnolia tree and the blue spruce are in my yard. Beyond them is the Greenbelt which is full trees and plants awakening.

I love watching ferns in their awakening process. Each of the photos below  is of a different fern. Most of them are in the Greenbelt.

By June, many of them will look like this.

Awakening