Transformation of the Greenbelt

In September 2016, when GreenFriends members started their forest restoration work in this Greenbelt site on Beacon Hill in Seattle, most of the land looked like the two photos below.

We have now planted trees, shrubs and ground covers in at least 20 areas on the site. The next four photos show the transformation that has occurred between the time two of those areas were planted and August 2019.

Example 1:

Example 2:

Many of the elderberry shrubs have become very big. We have one that is around 17 feet tall. The photo below is of the second biggest elderberry shrub.

Three of the Douglas Firs and several of the Alders are more than 5’ tall. The Cedars are smaller, but they are so beautiful.

If you click on the photo gallery you will see an enlarged view of the photos.

The transformation that has occurred on the site is remarkable and is thanks to Amma’s encouragement to serve Nature, the support of the Green Seattle Partnership staff, the effort of hundreds of volunteers, and the blessings of Mother Nature.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: August 10

During our August 10 work party, two team leaders, seven students from the UW’s Introduction to Environmental Science class, a mother and daughter from our neighborhood and a volunteer who found us on Green Seattle Partnership Event Page participated. Three of the students had also attended our August 3 event. The August 10 work party was unusual in that most of the volunteers had previous restoration experience.

In the days preceding the event, the weather forecast changed several times a day, so we had no idea what to expect. When I started setting up that morning it was raining, but the rain had stopped by the time the work party began. And by the end of the work party, it was sunny. It has been quite hot lately but on this day the temperature was in the 60’s. Mother Nature had blessed us with a perfect work day.

I had ordered eight cubic yards of wood chips to be delivered sometime after August 12, so wanted to use up as many of the wood chips in the wood chip pile that is located on 25th Ave S as possible. During the August 10 work party, we would begin to make smaller piles of wood chips inside the Greenbelt. The wood chips in those small piles will be used when we do the fall planting. (When we plant trees, shrubs and ground covers, we place a four inch thick ring of wood chips around each new plant to help with weed reduction and water retention.) During the August 10 work party, we would also reinforce the upper path on our site by placing a new layer of wood chips over the existing path.

Since we didn’t have a big group of volunteers, we didn’t create the type of bucket brigade we had used on August 3. Instead, each volunteer carried many buckets of wood chips, two at a time, and dumped them in the appropriate places. I didn’t take any photos of this segment of the work party; I was too busy filling buckets. I did take some photos of the results of the work at the end of the event.

The first photo below shows what the pile looked like on July 7, the last time we had used wood chips from that pile. The second photo shows what the “pile” looked like after this segment of the August 10 work party. There are still wood chips in the pile, but even though the picture doesn’t show it clearly, the pile is nearly flat. The space is ready for the new delivery of wood chips!

We had made three smaller wood chip piles inside the Greenbelt and covered about 250 feet of path with new wood chips.

After a break, the group split into two teams. One team focused on removing the bindweed, and suckers that were shooting up from stumps of maple trees, in areas that border the Hanford Stairs. The maple trees had been cut down at some time in the past because they were under power lines.

Click on any of the photo galleries to see an enlarged version of the photos.

It was difficult to get before and after photos of the areas where the bindweed was removed because there is a dense cover of braken ferns and horsetails. I decided the best way to show the results of the work these students did was through a photo of the three bags of bindweed that they removed during this 45 minute work session! (To give you a sense of the size of the bags, know that they each one once held 40 pounds of pellets for a pellet stove heater.)

I did take before and after photos of the two places where the maple leaf suckers were removed.

The second team removed blackberry shoots and weeds from an area on the southeastern section of the site. They were even able to remove blackberry vines from under the big elderberry plants. Some of the elderberry plants are now 12-16 feet tall.

They also dug out a tire, a gas can and a pot. Here are photos of the gas can and the tire!

I saw the first berries on our elderberry plants during this work party. They were from a red elderberry. We have planted red, blue and black elderberry shrubs. I wonder if any of the others will fruit this year.

During the work session big blackberry vines and little ones were removed. This is a photo of one area before we started the work.

And the next set of photos show what some of the areas that this team worked on looked like at the end of the work party.

You can even see the ground under this elderberry plant!

I find myself using the word “amazing” a lot when I describe our work parties. That is an accurate description of this work party as well. I think it is amazing that twelve volunteers were able to accomplish so much during a three-hour work party.

***

I feel so grateful for all of the volunteers who participated in this 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”.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: August 3, 2019

The August 3 work party was the biggest we’ve had in a long time. Volunteers included six team leaders, 19 students from the UW’s Introduction to Environmental Science class, a friend of one of the students, two people who found us on the Green Seattle Partnership Event Page, and a neighbor who comes to almost all of our work parties.

The event started with an orientation that included a welcome, staff introduction, information about project history, safety tips, schedule of the day and more. We planned to have two work sessions, with a snack break in the middle.

After the orientation we divided into six teams and started to work.

Team 1

Shirley’s team focused on watering the plants in the southern planting areas. Any plant that showed any sign of distress received two gallons of water. The team watered 90 plants! The photos below show this team at work. (In the background of the fourth and fifth photos below, you can also see neighbor John removing blackberry vines and blackberry root balls.)

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

Team 2

Claire’s team worked in the Rack Zone, an area that used to be filled with drying racks. We put all of the invasive blackberry vines, ivy and other weeds on drying racks so that they don’t re-root. Earlier this year, we took down most of those racks and spread the dried debris around the Rack Zone. After the debris has had more time to break down and become soil, the Rack Zone will become another planting area.

During the August 3 work party, the volunteers removed weeds that were growing in the Rack Zone; spread dried debris that had been brought there from other racks on the site; and took apart the rest of the original Rack Zone racks.

On January 22, 2019, I had been surprised to see a shovel lying against the Rack Zone wall. On January 23, I was even more surprised to see an unpotted plant in the same place. The plant was tagged with blue and white checkered flagging tape which meant that it had been planted during the November 2017-March 2018 planting season… but I never found an empty hole on our site. Where had it come from?

I had no idea if the plant was dead or alive, but since I couldn’t think of a rational reason for these occurrences, I decided it was “supposed” to be the first shrub we planted in the Rack Zone even though I had planned to wait another year before planting that area. So I planted the mystery plant.

It took months before it became obvious the shrub was alive, and longer still before we determined it was an oceanspray shrub. That plant not only survived, it thrived. This is what the once possibly dead plant looks like now!

Team 3

My team completed jobs in three different parts of the site. They learned how to build a drying rack and then built one, cut dead branches from an old vine maple shrub, and removed two patches of invasive ivy. (The first photo is of the new rack; the photo under it is the group removing the dead branches of the shrub, the vertical photo and the fourth one are of the team removing ivy and the last photo shows one of areas after they cleared ivy from it.)

Team 4

Dave’s team worked in the southeast part of the site. That area had never been completely cleared and had been covered by tall weeds for some time. Recently, long blackberry vines had also invaded the area.

This is what that section of the site looked like at the beginning of the work party.

It was really hot in that section of the site, so at one point during the morning, we decided to move the group to a cooler area. Three of the five members of the group preferred to work in the sun so they stayed put.

The photo below is of Subgroup A working.

And this is what that area looked like at the end of the first work session.

Clearly there is much more clearing to do here but the group made tremendous progress.

Subgroup B removed blackberry root balls in an area where volunteers had cut down blackberry vines during the July 29 work party. Prior to that work party the blackberry vines had been so dense that you couldn’t walk through them. The next set of photos are of Subgroup B working.

Team 5 Antje

During the July 28 work party Antje led a group who removed weeds from both sides of the Hanford Stairs. Her August 3 team continued that work. In many places along the stairs, native fringe cup plants were covered by a layer of an invasive buttercup plants. The team’s challenge was to remove the buttercup plants without removing the fringe cup.

This is what one of those areas looked like on July 27.

And this is what some of the areas looked like when we took our break on August 3.

Team 6

Christine’s team worked in an area that is on the far side of the Hanford Stairs. At the beginning of the work party, there were many blackberry shoots, grass and other weeds in this section. By break time most of the invasive plants were gone and the native plants were much more visible.

The work party had begun at 10 am. At 11:30 we took a 20 minute snack break. We decided to use the second work session to spread wood chips on one of the paths in the site. We did that by creating a wood chip bucket brigade that went from a wood chip pile on Cheasty Boulevard, up the Hanford Stairs, into the Greenbelt and to the end of the lower path. Buckets were filled at the wood pile and then passed up the line until they reached the people who were pouring the wood chips onto the path. Once the buckets were empty, they were passed down the line until they again reached the wood chip pile. There, they were refilled and the whole process started once again.

Remember, you can click on the photo gallery to enlarge the photos.

In 45 minutes, we had created the bucket brigade and spread wood chips over a path that is about 250 feet long! When we finished that job, we put away the tools and supplies and gathered for a closing.

The August 3 event was another very successful work party. I’m always astounded by how much volunteers can accomplish in three hours time. The old adage, “many hands make light work” is true!

***

I feel so grateful for all of the volunteers who participated in this 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”.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: July 28

Twelve volunteers participated in our July 28 work party. That total included three team leaders, four students from the UW’s Introduction to Environmental Science class, two family members of one of the students, someone who found us on the Green Seattle Partnership Event Page, a previous volunteer and a neighbor. Together we accomplished so much.

After a short orientation, we separated into three groups. One of the groups focused on watering the plants that needed it. The water flows from our 1100 gallon cistern into a rubber pipe that goes across the site. There are spigots installed every 50-100 feet along the pipe. We attach hoses to those spigots. The water flows by gravity so we have to use buckets when we are watering the higher areas. Using the buckets also helps us gauge how much water we give each plant. We aim to give two gallons of water to each plant that shows any evidence of being dry.

We were watering the higher planting areas during this work party, so we used the buckets.

The water in the cistern ran out just before we took our snack break. We have watered a lot of plants in the last six weeks or so, but I didn’t have any idea how close we were to needing a refill.

The second group worked in and near an area that had red twig dogwood shrubs. Those red twig dogwood plants had been growing for many years and the area was dense. In front of the red twig dogwood shrubs were many horsetail plants. Native horsetails have been around since before the dinosaurs. These horsetails were covered by invasive bindweed. Bindweed strangles shrubs and ground covers. (To see closeup photos of bindweed go to: “Oh No”s)

We try not to disturb the horsetails but they are fragile and are easily damaged. This group worked to remove the bindweed from the horsetails and other plants and to prune the mature red twig dogwood shrubs. We also removed bindweed from new red twig dogwood shoots that had started emerging from the ground.

The third group worked to clear invasive plants on both sides of the Hanford Stairs. The photos below show what part of that area looked like when they started.

And this is what some of this area looked like after the volunteers had removed the invasive plants.

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

At 11:30, we stopped for a snack break. During the break, we also took a group photo.

During the break, a neighbor who has attended most of our work parties arrived. He started removing weeds and cutting dead limbs from trees in an area that is near the entrance to our site.

After the break, the group who had been removing bindweed from the horsetails continued their work. The other two groups worked in an area we had begun to clear earlier in the year but had not completed the job. The blackberry vines had taken over again. My “Before” photos of this area didn’t turn out, but imagine an area that had blackberry vines that were so long and dense that you couldn’t walk through it.

There were numerous Oregon grape plants that were totally covered by bindweed and other invasive plants.

There is still much to do in this section of the site, but I was amazed by how many blackberry vines the volunteers were able to cut back. When the ground is softer, we will remove the root balls.

This is what that area looked like at the end of this work party.

Another way to gauge work done during this work party is to look at the two new drying racks where we placed the cut blackberry vines and other weeds. (Bindweed is so invasive that we have started putting it into plastic bags and then put the bags in the trash as an extra precaution against re-rooting.)

These two racks were empty at the beginning of the work party. They were large racks and by the end of the work party they were towering, overly full.

The work party began at 10:00 a.m. At 12:45 p.m. we started putting away the tools and other supplies and then met for a closing. We celebrated all that we had accomplished during this immensely successful work party.

***

I feel so grateful for all of the volunteers who participated in the July 28th 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”.

Pearly Everlasting Update

Pearly Everlasting Flowers

I have been fascinated by Pearly Everlasting shrubs since I first saw them when I took a class at Seattle’s Discovery Park in November of 2017. They are the plants with white flowers in the background of the photo below.

I put 10 Pearly Everlasting shrubs on my 2018 Greenbelt plant order. When they arrived, in November 2018, they were in small containers. Each pot held one or two stalks. There was a small cluster of white flowers at the top of each stalk.

During the winter, the stalks withered away. I wondered if the plants had died. I was excited when I noticed new growth emerging from the ground on January 27, 2019.

This is what the plant looked like on March 26.

The plants grew fast. By May 14, they were this tall. I thought they were beautiful.

Imagine my surprise on June 10 when I found that all of the stalks on one of the plants had collapsed; they weren’t strong enough to support the weight at the top.

I thought it may have happened because the area where these four Pearly Everlasting plants were planted used to be a compost pile, so the dirt is very rich. Maybe the shrubs grew too fast. Overtime though, all of the Pearly Everlasting shrubs on our site collapsed in a similar fashion.

When it first happened, I wrote one of the Green Seattle Partnership Program Managers and asked if this was normal. She said she hadn’t heard of it occurring before but would check with other people. She was told it happened because there weren’t enough stalks; when there are more, the stalks will support each other. Hopefully there will be many more stalks emerging from the ground next year.

Even though the plants collapsed, they kept growing. In some ways, it was as if each stalk was a separate plant. On June 15, I saw a flower beginning to bloom at the end of one of them.

June 20

June 27

The photo I chose to use at the top of this post was taken on July 5.

And this is what one of the plants looked like yesterday, July 26.

It will be interesting to see if enough stalks grow next year so that they are able to support each other, and the weight of their flowers. I wonder if they will be thicker and more sturdy. I also wonder when the plants will look like the shrubs I saw in 2017. Meanwhile, I will enjoy the mystery.

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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.