Greenbelt Restoration Work Parties: January 15 to January 20, 2020

During Winter Quarter, January-March 2020, we have two groups of University of Washington students working with us in the Greenbelt. The first group, three Carlson Center Service-Learning students who are taking an Introduction to Community, Environment and Planning course, come on Wednesdays from 1:30-4:00. The second group consists of Capstone interns who are seniors majoring in Environmental Studies. They join the Service-Learning students at the Wednesday work parties and also work in the site on most Friday afternoons.

The first work party of Winter Quarter was held on January 15. In the days leading up to it, it became clear that weather was a potential problem. The Seattle Parks Department notified us that we were to cancel work parties if the temperature was below 32 degrees, if there was more than two inches of snow on the ground, or if more than half an inch of ground was frozen. We already had a policy of cancelling work parties if there are high winds. The chances of any or all of those criteria occurring was likely.

By the morning of the event, there was 1/2 – 1 inch of snow on the ground and the possibility of winds. We had expected 20-degree temperatures, but it had warmed up considerably. We decided to take it minute by minute. We would do a longer than normal orientation in my house and, if weather permitted, would take a tour of the site and do some restoration work afterwards.

Sarva and I led the orientation and the tour of the site. There wasn’t much time left afterwards and it was so cold that we decided not to start the restoration work that day. Still, we were off to a good start!

UW Capstone interns and Service-Learning students

We gave the Capstone students responsibility for restoring a small section of the site and creating a planting plan for that area. The Capstone instructor also requires them to create a “deliverable” for the organization that is hosting them. Our students plan to create pamphlets about forest restoration that will be useful for future volunteers.

On Friday, January 17, the Capstone interns worked on their section of the site for the first time. They took down a drying rack where invasive plants like blackberry and ivy vines had been drying out for a year and moved the contents to a part of the site where dried debris is breaking down further. We will eventually plant in that composted debris.

After finishing moving the dried debris from the rack, the interns started digging out blackberry root balls and ivy from their section. I taught them what they needed to know to do those two jobs and then picked up trash from the site and the adjacent stairs, checking in with the students from time to time.

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In future sessions, as the interns finish removing invasive plants from their section of the site, they will spread wood chips over the newly cleared area to prevent soil erosion.

On January 20, we held our second annual Martin Luther King National Day of Service work party. Our team leaders were Maya, who is Forterra’s Green Cities Stewardship Coordinator, Shirley and me from GreenFriends, and Dave who is one of our regular team leaders.

Most of the volunteers were alumni from Western Washington University’s Huxley School of the Environment and their families. They were celebrating Huxley’s 50th anniversary. Others included our two UW Capstone interns, a family from the neighborhood where our site is located, a man who had signed up for event information on our GreenFriends information list during Amma’s last Seattle area visit, and several people who found us on Green Seattle Partnership’s event page.

After an orientation, we divided into four teams and started to work! Shirley and the neighborhood family picked up branches that had fallen on pathways during the last few months, weeded planting areas in the north part of the site and loosened up or replaced flagging tape on shrubs that had grown so much that it had become tight. (We use flagging tape of various colors to show what year a tree, shrub or ground cover was planted.)

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

Maya’s group pruned a strip of shrubs and removed invasive blackberry and ivy vines along 25th Ave S. The shrubs had been planted years before we started our restoration project. They had grown big enough that in places they had become a thicket.

Dave’s team worked in one of the few areas on the site where we hadn’t done much clearing in the past. It contained many forms of invasive shrubs and vines, primarily blackberry vines. Before the work party, I saw one blackberry vine that was at least 20 feet long.

At the beginning of the work session, several members of the group moved the contents of an old drying rack so that they would have a place to put their cuttings.

My team removed the dried vines and weeds from one of the drying racks; looked for tagging tape that had gotten too tight and loosened or replaced it; and weeded several southern planting areas.

After a snack break, all of the groups joined together to move wood chips from a pile on 25th Ave. S into smaller piles on our site. (Moving the wood chips onsite makes them much more accessible to members of future work parties.) We accomplished that task by forming a bucket brigade.

Maya took two time-lapse videos of the bucket brigade. I hope you enjoy watching them as much as I did. https://photos.app.goo.gl/W77onh6wwyBfWVN86 (Hover the cursor over the video to make it work. To make either of the videos fill the full page, click on the arrow.)

The three work parties between January 15 and January 20 were very different from each other, but each was productive and gave the participants a significant forest restoration experience.

Every volunteer who comes here contributes substantially to creating another healthy forest in Seattle.

Mother Nature Provides… Again

On January 22, 2019, I found a shovel on our Greenbelt restoration site. It was standing up against the remnants of a house foundation that is on the site. I was very surprised because I had been standing in that spot the day before, and it wasn’t there then. I put it away. The following day, I found a shrub sitting on the ledge next to the place where I had found the shovel.

There was blue and white checkered flagging tape on the plant, which indicated that it had been planted somewhere in Autumn of 2018. I couldn’t find any hole on the site so I had no idea where the shrub had come from.

Since I couldn’t think of any reasonable explanation for these events, I concluded, tentatively, that I was “supposed” to plant the shrub in the foundation. In January 2019, I wrote about that mystery- A Mystery in the Greenbelt. Towards the end of March, I wrote a followup article- Mystery Followup. Both articles contain numerous photos.

Before I go on, let me give some more backstory. The house foundation was discovered in April 2017 when Seattle Parks Department staff cut down the blackberry vines on the site. Because of items we found within the foundation and the presence of charred material in the area, we believed the house had burned down in the 1950’s.

We decided to use the foundation to store the racks we build to facilitate drying out blackberry, ivy and bindweed vines and other invasive weeds we dig out on the site. Putting these invasive plants on racks prevents them from re-rooting.

Early in January, 2019, we started disassembling the racks and spread the dried debris throughout the foundation. We also spread the dried debris from other racks on the site in the foundation. We planned, in time, to use that space as another planting area.

At that time, I had planned to plant in the foundation after the dried debris had composted and turned into dirt. When the mystery plant showed up, however, I let go of that plan; I would plant the shrub in the foundation.

Planting in dried debris is not the same as planting in dirt. There was some material towards the bottom of the debris that was pretty well composted but almost everything above it consisted of dried canes and branches. I decided to dig a hole in the debris and then place some dirt in the bottom of the hole, put the plant on top of it and then spread as much dirt as I could around it.

As I was deciding what to use for dirt, my eye fell on a single mole hill that was near the foundation. I noticed that dirt was very light and airy. I thought it would be perfect! By the beginning of August, the shrub, which turned out to be oceanspray, had grown significantly. My planting strategy had obviously worked.

Fast forward to mid-November 2019. We had some extra Roemer’s fescue and tall managrass plants after our November 2019 planting day. I thought it would be interesting to use the plants to experiment with planting in the foundation area again. Shirley (Sarva) and I decided we would have the UW service-learning students plant the fescue and managrass along the inner southern and western borders of the foundation.

The day before the students came, I saw the scene in the photo below in front of the foundation. At the time, I had been wondering what dirt we would use for the planting.

We rarely see mole hills on the property and to see four big ones (there were four even though the photo only shows three) directly in front of the foundation seemed like no accident. I realized that, once again, Mother Nature had provided the dirt we needed for the experiment. And again, the soil was so light and airy; perfect for planting the new plants.

On November 19th, the students planted 9 fescue and managrass plants.

It will be interesting to see how they grow in this location. I imagine I will be writing updates in the future!

Greenbelt Restoration Project: Service Learning Session 7

November 19th was the last of this quarter’s service-learning sessions. We were lucky to have Dave, one of our regular team leaders, join us for the first time. Antje, another team leader, who has helped throughout the quarter, also attended.

Before I tell you about this work party, let me give you some backstory. In January 2019, we started taking apart the racks we used to dry the blackberry and ivy vines and weeds that we dig out. (Putting the invasive vines and weeds on racks prevents them from re-rooting.) We spread the dried debris that was on the racks inside the old house foundation that is on the site. Our goal was to eventually make that area a planting area. While some of the lower layers of debris has decomposed, most of it hasn’t.

That February, we planted one plant in the foundation as an experiment, to see what happened. That plant, an oceanspray shrub, is now 5 feet high!

We decided we would begin another foundation planting experiment during the November 19 service-learning session. We would plant 5 tall managrass and 4 Roemer’s fescue plants along the southern and western inside borders of the foundation’s walls.

There may be some of the debris that has composted enough to have become dirt, but if there is, it is far below the surface. Two of the students did the best they could do to create holes the debris and then added some dirt to the holes. Next, they planted the plants, continuing to add dirt in the space around the plants.

Once the students had planted the 9 plants, they reinforced a stretch of path by adding a 2-4 inch layer of wood chips to the existing path.

While those students were planting the grasses and reinforcing the path, other three students and two of the staff members started clearing blackberry and ivy vines, buttercup, grass and other weeds from an area near the entrance to the site. This is what that area looked like in April 2019, the first time we worked there.

Even though the area had been cleared before, the weeds had come back; and the shrubs had formed a thicket that hung across the sidewalk. By the time the first team finished their work, the clearing of this area was well underway.

The two teams joined together and cleared the rest of the weeds. While the students were digging out weeds, Dave cut down the dead laurel trunks that surrounded a pine tree. Then he and I pruned the shrubs. Once the invasive plants were gone, we all covered the area with wood chips.

This was one of those weeks that I got so involved in the work that I, for the most part, forgot to take photos. The photo below will have to represent all of the students and staff who were working in that area.

The transformation in the space was remarkable.

Click on the photo gallery to enlarge the pictures.

The shrubs need more pruning but they look so much better; and they are no longer hanging over the sidewalk.

This was the last session for these service-learning students. They each have made a significant contribution to this site and they all seemed to enjoy their time here. I feel so grateful for their presence and their help.

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 Project: Service-Learning Sessions 1-3 (Autumn 2019)

This quarter, we have students from the University of Washington’s Service-Learning program (Carlson Center) helping on our site. The Carlson Center’s service opportunities are tied to academic courses. Two of the students are from an introductory level course in the College of the Environment and four are from an English composition course that is focusing on social issues.

The service-learning students will work in our forest restoration site every week for seven weeks. Each session will last three hours.

Session 1: October 8

Our forest restoration project gives everyone who participates the opportunity to practice flexibility, especially the leaders. That was certainly true of the day the students came to our site for their first session.

In the week that led up to the first session, the weather forecast changed many times; in fact, sometimes it changed several times a day. (We can work in the rain, but we have to cancel if it is windy since many of the trees on the site are old and it is not unusual for branches to fall during wind storms. And we didn’t like the idea of the students’ first experience being in heavy rain.) Often the weather during our work parties is better than the forecast, so we hoped Mother Nature would support us in that way again.

On the day of the event, the weather changed even more often. An hour or two before the work party there was some lightning. (We wouldn’t work in lightning either.) As I was doing the final setup for the work party, the rain was pouring.

Shirley, who co-leads these sessions with me, and I had decided to hold the orientation in my house and to make it much more comprehensive than normal. When the students arrived, it was still raining, but the rain wasn’t as heavy as it had been earlier. After the orientation, Shirley and I took them on a tour of the site. By then, the rain had changed to a light shower. And, by the time we were ready to do the restoration work, the sun was shining!

We had reviewed the plan for what work we would do during the first work party numerous times over the preceding week. As we took the tour of the site, we decided the five students and two leaders would break into two teams; we would cut back the blackberry vines that were shooting into the site from the blackberry barrier that goes along the southern border, separating our site from the neighbor’s land.

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

In the two photos above, you can see some of the many piles of blackberry vines that were removed during that first session. The cuttings were carried on tarps to drying racks in other parts of the site. In the photos below, you can see what two of the border areas looked like when we finished that day

Session 2: October 15

Six students attended the second service-learning session. Antje, one of our other team leaders, also participated. We worked together near the red twig dogwood area, an area that is very near wetlands. That land is full of horsetails, a native plant that is older than the dinosaurs. It also contained invasive bindwood, blackberry and ivy vines, as well as nightshade and other weeds. We removed the invasive vines and weeds, but left the horsetails alone.

You can see before and after pictures of the area the students worked in that day below. The invasive vines are gone and the native plants are more visible.

After a break, the students removed a big pile of dried cuttings from another area, and took them to a different part of the site where they will break down even further. We will be able to plant shrubs in the space where the large pile of debris the students moved that day once stood.

Session 3: October 22

During this session, five students and the three leaders tackled an area that had been worked on twice during summer work parties. There was still plenty of clearing that needed to be done.

Dried blackberry canes and branches covered the ground, as well as live ivy, blackberry vines and other invasive plants. Under the dried debris, we found layers and layers of ivy vines. They criss-crossed so much that they seemed woven. It is possible that these layers represented 50 years of ivy growth. The students carried many loads of invasive vines to drying racks that day.

This is what the space looked like at the end of the session. It is another area where native trees and shrubs will be planted in November.

This group has accomplished so much during their first three service-learning sessions. I am always amazed by how much the land transforms during each work party.

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.