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 Work Party: DocuSign Planting Day November 13, 2019

On November 15, 2017, a corporate group from DocuSign came to work at our restoration site for the first time. The event was held on their Global IMPACT Day. At that time, I looked up the philosophy behind Impact Day and found this statement:

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.

Employees from DocuSign also worked in our site in April 2018, November 2018, April 2019; and on November 13, 2019, they returned to do our fall planting.  DocuSign has become a valuable part of our restoration team.

Prior to the event, the spots where the trees, shrubs and ground covers would be planted were cleared and marked with green or pink flags. The pots containing the plants were put next to the flags a day or two before the work party

When the big day arrived, 21 DocuSign employees and 2 students from Seattle Central Community College participated. Our staff consisted of Claire, Shirley and me from GreenFriends; Susan, a Forest Steward from another Cheasty Greenspace site; John, who is a neighbor; and Antje, who is one of our team leaders.

Following an initial orientation, everyone divided into four teams and got to work. After each plant was planted, the volunteers put a ring of wood chips around it. The wood chip rings help in retaining moisture and reducing weed growth.

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

Once the teams finished planting their areas, they did other restoration work. Two of the four groups added wood chips to rings around previously-planted trees and shrubs. The third group cleared invasive vines from the land on the sides of the Hanford Stairs. The fourth group finished clearing an area along Cheasty Boulevard and then planted some shrubs and ground covers in that area. This was the first time we had planted in that part of the site.

One hundred and sixty-seven trees, shrubs, and ground covers were planted that day. The gallery below shows some of the species we planted.

[The plants from the November 2019 planting will all be tagged with light blue flagging tape. You can see it in most of the photos. Flagging stakes, such as the one in the first photo, still need to be added to some of the smaller plants. The flagging tape allows us to know when a particular plant was planted. This blue tape will be used for the November 2019-March 2020 planting season.]

And here are some photos of the newly planted Cheasty Boulevard area.

The DocuSign employees, students, neighbor and team leaders did amazing work and I think everyone had a good time. Rumor has it that DocuSign may come back again in April. I sure hope that is the case!

I offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone who participated in our November 2019 planting day and to those who helped prepare for it. Each person made a significant and important contribution to the goal of returning this stretch of Seattle’s Greenbelt to a healthy forest.

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 Project: Service-Learning Sessions 1-3

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.

Greenbelt Restoration Updates

Service-Learning Students

The Carlson Center at the University of Washington coordinates the University’s service- learning programs. They describe service-learning this way:

Service-learning combines service in the community with structured preparation and reflection opportunities. Service opportunities are tied to academic coursework and address concerns that are identified and articulated by the community.

 We had our first group of service-learning students during Spring Quarter 2019. This quarter, we have another group. The first time we had four students; this quarter we have six. Two of the students are taking ENVIR 100 Introduction to Environmental Studies, and four are taking ENGL 121D Composition Social Issues (Environment). These students are working with us three hours a week for seven weeks. They are interested and enthusiastic and have already made a significant contribution to the project.

Amazing Tree Growth

When we planted alder trees in November 2018, they were about four feet tall. Most of the alder trees are now around 5 ½ feet. This month we discovered that there was one alder that is 10 feet 4 inches and another that is 6 feet 5 inches. Both are near the red twig dogwood area, a moist part of the site. I think it is astounding growth for one year. How big will they be by this time next year?

Capstone Interns

We are in the process of picking two senior students from UW’s College of Environment to intern at our site. The Capstone’s Program is described this way:

Students majoring in Environmental Studies gain valuable professional experience and explore potential career paths through a 3-quarter Capstone Course Series which includes a quarter-long internship, study abroad experience or research with a faculty member. Students produce a written deliverable and tie this professional and hands-on component with their academic study.

The Capstone is usually centered around an internship with a community site partner. Potential Capstone sites range from local non-profits and government agencies to faculty research projects and private sector initiatives and the Capstone instructor organizes a “Meet and Greet” small career fair with site partners who have pre-selected projects for students to work on.

The interns will start their formal internship program in January 2020, but they will have the opportunity to start gathering required hours with us this quarter. They will become valuable members of our team.

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: Expedia Day of Caring

Friday, September 6 was Expedia’s Day of Caring. Twenty of their employees chose to work in our Greenbelt site on that special day. It was wonderful to have them. Many of the volunteers had previous experience doing forest restoration work; their experience was an added bonus.

After an initial orientation, the group divided into four teams. One or two of our team leaders guided the work of each team.

Team 1: Shirley’s team removed weeds and other invasive plants in an area we had begun to clear during a previous work party. While it will take numerous groups to completely clear this section of the Greenbelt, the Expedia team made tremendous progress.

Team 2: Susan’s team started clearing an area along Cheasty Boulevard, which borders the eastern portion of the site.

There were some native shrubs in this area, but when we started it was hard to see them since they were mixed with weeds and invasive plants. The next two photos are before and after photos of a section like that.

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

Laurels, hawthorne, and holly are invasive shrubs. The first photo below shows one of the patches of hawthorne and holly prior to the work party. The second photo shows what the area looked like after the weeds were cleared and the lower limbs of the shrubs were removed so that the Parks Department staff can easily find them when they come to treat invasive shrubs/trees.

This team also disassembled a pile of dried debris that had been created from invasive plant cuttings during earlier work parties. After they took the pile apart, they spread the dried debris along the ground. Next they made a new drying rack to hold the blackberry and ivy vines, as well as other weeds, they removed on that day.

Team 3: Haley’s team removed invasive bindweed that had invaded two planting areas. In many cases, the bindweed traveled through and over horsetails. (Horsetails are native plants that were around before the dinosaurs so we leave them alone.) This team also removed the blackberry vines that were entering planting areas from the other side of the border. The border of that planting area is on a very steep slope so removing the blackberry root balls is not an option; the best we can do is to continue to cut them back when they enter the planting area.

The first photo below shows the bindweed in this area before the July 24 work party. I’m using this photo even though there wasn’t this much bindweed on September 6th because it shows the bindweed clearer than photos I took before this work party. I say no visible bindweed in the second photo because the roots can go 32 feet down!

The next photos are of the area where the blackberry vines were cut back. Seattle Parks Department cut up a tree that had fallen into our planting areas earlier in the year and used the pieces to create a border for us.

Team 4: John and I led a team that weeded a part of the site where many blackberry, ivy and periwinkle vines were emerging from the ground. We had planted the area in March of this year and had pulled out weeds and invasive vines many times since then. This time we focused on digging out the blackberry root balls as well as removing grass and other weeds.

This work party lasted 4 1/2 hours rather than the normal 3 hours. After a lunch break, we created a bucket brigade to bring wood chips from our wood chip pile on 25th Avenue S into the Greenbelt site. The first thing we did with the wood chip was to spread them along a 125 foot path.

Once the path was completed, we focused on creating piles of wood chips on the site. These wood chip piles will make it easier for volunteers to construct 4-inch-high wood chip rings around each new tree, shrub and ground-cover we plant in mid-November.

By the end of this segment of the work party, we had moved nearly 8 cubic yards of wood chips into the site! Afterwards, we picked up and put away the tools and supplies and then met for a closing to celebrate all that we had accomplished that day.

I feel so grateful for all of the Expedia 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”.