“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.

Service-Learning Work Parties: May 6, 13 and 20, 2019

On May 6, the UW students came for their fifth service-learning experience. Most weeks Shirley, one of our team leaders, and I both work with the students. This week Shirley was not available. The rest of us weeded four planting areas (2050 sq. ft.) and put wood chip rings around 90 trees, shrubs and ground covers in the eastern part of the site. The wood chip rings hold in moisture thereby increasing the chance the plants will survive during a dry summer.

On May 13, Shirley was back. Once again, we weeded and put wood chip rings around plants, this time in the northwest part of the site. These areas had many more weeds than the places where we had worked on May 6. At this work party, we weeded 3705 sq. ft. and built 116 wood chip rings. I’m sorry I didn’t take photos that day; but am glad that Shirley took a few.

However, the next day I did snap photos of some of the planting areas where we had worked. I thought they looked so beautiful.

May 20 was the last service-learning session. Shirley and I decided the group would spend the whole time working on the new site across Cheasty Boulevard. We had begun to clear bindweed and other invasive vines from that area on April 29. This was what the land looked like before and during the April 29 work party.

(You can enlarge the photos in any of the galleries by clicking on the gallery.)

We had done so much clearing on April 29. I was shocked when I visited that site two days before the May 20 work party. While some of our previous work was still visible, the bindweed was already on shrubs we had rescued at the earlier work party, and the bindweed we hadn’t pulled then had grown at an unbelievable rate.

I knew there was no way we would be able to remove all of the bindweed, ever; I’ve read that the roots can go down 32 feet! But we would clear away as much of it as we could.

I was surprised to see that many of the bindweed roots were woven together like a lattice. However, since the group that had planted the shrubs, years ago when the lower part of the Hanford Stairs were built, had covered the area with wood chips, the roots were more surface than I’ve ever seen before. To see what I mean by long roots, be sure to take a look at the last photo in the gallery below!

We filled bucket after bucket with the vines. Once the buckets were full, we emptied them on the drying racks along Cheasty Blvd that we had built last summer. (I took the photo of the drying rack four days later than the work party, so the bindweed was already wilting.)

We spent the last hour of the work party spreading wood chips on the part of the site we had cleared.

I have no illusion that the bindweed is gone but there is sure a lot less of it and the land we cleared looks wonderful. We had removed the bindweed from the area around three salal shrubs and two snowberry shrubs and circled them with wood chip rings. A few days later, I saw mushrooms had emerged from the ground a little lower on the site.

What a wonderful and productive last service-learning session we had. I feel very grateful to the students for all they have done during the last seven weeks. Because of their work, our Greenbelt restoration site is so much more prepared for the dry summer months.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: April 24, 2019

On April 24, DocuSign, a Seattle corporate group, came to help with our restoration project– for the fourth time! They are such a fun group to work with and are so productive.

We completed many tasks during the work party. One group removed the blackberry, ivy and bindweed vines, as well as other weeds, that were emerging in the south-end planting areas. When other groups finished their assigned tasks, they joined this group.

(To enlarge the photos click on any of the galleries.)

A second group was building new drying racks. Drying racks are used to keep the invasive blackberry, bindweed and ivy vines off of the ground while they dry out. If the vines are left on the ground, there is a good chance they will re-root.

A third group disassembled a pile of branches. They used some of them as mulch and distributed the rest to groups who were building new drying racks. 

A fourth group built two drying racks and then stacked laurel branches on them to dry.  An important element in urban forest restoration is the removal of non-native and invasive species. (Laurel is considered an invasive species.) Treating the invasive and non-native plants onsite is effective because once the plant material is completely dried out, it is then used as mulch. 

A fifth group took an unsightly area that was filled with concrete slabs and broken cinder blocks and turned it into an area that not only looks nice but also has a structure we can use for orientation, breaks, group photos, etc. In fact, we used the new structure when we took the group photo at the top of this post!

Before

We accomplished so much during the work party thanks to the five team leaders and the DocuSign volunteers. Everyone seemed to enjoy the work. I was very excited when the DocuSign coordinator told me that they are planning to come back to our site in November. YAY! 

It’s Going to Snow Again

It started snowing during the Super Bowl last Sunday and by morning we had six inches of snow. The temperature has been in the 20’s and low 30’s ever since.

I live on the side of Beacon Hill so getting off the hill is a problem. The streets and sidewalks were so icy this week, I didn’t drive at all and I rarely left the house.

It warmed up to 37 degrees today. By noon, I was able to get my car door open. (I had tried to open it earlier in the day but discovered that it was frozen shut.) We are supposed to have way more snowfall tomorrow and Saturday than we did last weekend, so today was my day to run errands and get ready for the next storm. Thankfully the streets were free of ice and snow so I was able to do what I needed to do.

When I returned home, I also spent time walking in the Greenbelt. The snow was almost gone in one section.

As I walked in the other areas I saw the weight of the snow had pulled one of the little trees to the ground. The top of it was buried in the snow.

When I shook the snow off, the tree popped up. It wasn’t straight but hopefully it will straighten over time. It occurred to me that the same thing may happen tomorrow.

I noticed that the tops of two nearby trees were also buried in the snow.

I didn’t feel safe walking down the hill to free them, but later I walked up the hill and shook the snow off of them. They also straightened once they were free of the weight.

I’ve been worried that the snow will hurt the shrubs that are already leafing. I was relieved to see that this one looks fine.

I enjoyed walking through the rest of the site. The trees we planted in November of 2017 grew so much this year. I thought they looked very stately in the snow. I wish I had taken photos of more of them.

I’m supposed to teach a class about this restoration project at Seattle University next Tuesday. Then on Thursday, the students from that class are supposed to have an hour long work party at our site. I walked down the stairs to the area where I plan to have them work so I could see what it looks like.

The weather forecasts say that it is going to snow on and off all week. I’m preparing as if these two Seattle University events are going to take place but I wonder if that will happen. I am excited about both of them so I hope the weather forecasters are wrong.

***

Anyone is welcome to help with this forest restoration project. For more information write: hanfordstairsgreenbelt@gmail.com.

Green Seattle Day: November 3, 2018

Each year, the Green Seattle Partnership sponsors a Green Seattle Day. On that day, work parties are held in parklands all over Seattle. Sarva and I decided to volunteer as team leaders at Cheasty Mt. View Park. Several other GreenFriends members and their friends joined us.

The number of people who registered for the work party amazed me. There were seven in our GreenFriends contingent, but 126 volunteers in the whole group.

One of the leaders encouraged the participants to plant from a place of gratitude. She suggested that the volunteers name their trees … and that they talk to the trees as they put them into the earth. As I wandered through our section, helping people with the planting, I heard many participants doing that.

After some of our GreenFriends group planted this tree, they decided to give it a kiss.

The 126 volunteers planted 800 trees, shrubs and ground covers during the first hour of the work party.

We spent the rest of the work party removing invasive blackberry and ivy vines. Again, it was phenomenal to witness how much can be accomplished in a short period of time.

We put vines we cut onto drying racks so that they don’t touch the ground and re-root. There were several drying racks in the area where we were working but they were soon full. Before long there were big piles of cuttings around the site.

Some of the volunteers built a new drying rack and then we moved the piles of cuttings to the new rack.

Before long, the three-hour work party was over and we prepared to leave.

What a wonderful morning it had been. The work party was such a good example of the adage “Many hands make light work.”

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: June 30, 2018

On June 30th, we held another forest restoration work party. Twenty-three students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class attended, along with a young man who has been helping at work parties in various Seattle parks. Three GreenFriends members and a neighbor served as team leaders.

This post will include photos of each team’s work followed by before and after photos of the area where they were working.

Team One worked in a part of the site that was heavily covered with blackberry vines and bindweed. They removed the vines and dug out the blackberry root balls. [Note: There are pictures of bindweed and links to information about several of the invasive vines in my  June 22 work party blog post.]

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

Before 

These photos below may give you a sense of how dense the plants in his area were when we started. The second photo is of a student removing bindweed in the same section of the site during a previous work party. I am including it because it also shows you how dense the foliage was.

After 

The area where Team Two worked was covered by creeping buttercup plants, blackberry vines and bindweed, all of which are invasive.

Before

After

Team Three helped weed a planting area that had blackberry vines scattered throughout. Some were just emerging from the ground and some were well established. They also weeded two planting areas that were full of horsetails and bindweed, in addition to  some blackberry vines.

Horsetails are native plants and we try to leave them alone. They had become a problem, however, because they had grown in so close together that they impeded the growth of the trees, shrubs and ground covers we had planted. We’ve had more plants die in these two areas than in any other part of the site. Also, bindweed had wrapped so tightly around many of the horsetails that it was often impossible to remove the bindweed without damaging the fragile horsetails.

I remembered a plant ecologist once telling me the horesetails were here before the dinosaurs and they will be here long into the future. At this work party the volunteers removed the horesetails that were close to each of the new plants or in the path between the two areas, and left the rest of them alone. To learn more about horsetails click here.

Before 

After

Team Four worked on a strip of land that borders 25th Avenue S. It is in the Greenbelt site that is just north of ours. Some students worked in an area that had blackberry shoots and grass scattered randomly throughout. Others cleared land that was covered by large and well established blackberry vines.

Before 

You can get a sense of how dense the foliage was by looking again at the photos in the gallery just above this statement. Know that those were taken after the team had already done a lot of work. If I had remembered to take “before” photos you would have seen that dense blackberry vines had covered almost all of this area.

After

The photos below show what the area looked like when the team finished. None of these logs and downed trees could be seen at the beginning of the work party. There is also a photo of one of the two drying racks the group built. [Note: The volunteers place the invasive plants on the rack after they are removed, so that they don’t touch the ground and re-root.]

As always, we had accomplished so much during the three hour work party. I enjoyed seeing so many happy and enthusiastic volunteers both throughout the work party and when they were saying goodbye. They thanked the staff profusely as they left.

I believe that this work in the forest is so nurturing for everyone’s body, mind and soul. I know it is for mine.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: May 12, 2018

Our May 12th work party was a collaborative effort between GreenFriends, Green Seattle Partnership, Bridge2Beach, and neighbors. Thirty-two volunteers participated in the event. The five team leaders were GreenFriends members and/or neighbors. Additional GreenFriends members and neighbors helped with the sign in process and photography.

Twenty-five additional volunteers had pre-registered through the Bridge2Beach and Green Seattle Partnership event calendars. Twenty-one of them were from the U.W.’s Introduction to Environmental Science course. The UW students who had worked at our May 9 event could also be considered part of this collaboration since they did so much to prepare the planting sites for the work that was done on the 12th.

The volunteers arrived by car, bus and light rail. Once they had signed in they each picked up a pair of gloves and listened to an orientation. The various work opportunities were presented and then the participants divided into three teams.

Sixteen of the volunteers and their team leaders formed a bucket brigade to carry wood chip mulch from the city street into the Greenbelt. Once on the site, the mulch was placed around approximately 300 plants which had been planted and mulched in October or November of last year. Since there is no water source on the site, the additional mulch will help hold in moisture during the dry summer months.

Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.

The second team consisted of six volunteers and the team leader. They removed a dense cover of invasive ivy, blackberry vines, and holly from an area on the eastern border of the site. While there will be many other teams working in this area in the future, the transformation that occurred during this three hour work party was remarkable.

Before

After (These photos show only a small segment of the work this team did that day.)

The third team was comprised of the team leader and three other volunteers. They worked in an area that is north of the site we’ve been restoring. In three hours time, they cut survival rings around eleven trees!  In addition, they began to remove ivy and blackberry vines from the land in the vicinity of those trees. [Note: Ivy kills trees. We create a survival ring by removing ivy on a tree from ground level to shoulder height. That way the ivy that is higher up will die off without creating the risk of pulling dead or dying branches onto ourselves or other people.]

While I didn’t take a photo of this area prior to the work party, you can get a sense of what it was like by looking at the backgrounds of the photos below.

I had eagerly awaited this particular work party, and it was everything I had hoped for. We had finished mulching all of the planting areas and accomplished significant invasive plant removal in two new areas.

Next steps:

  1. Remove blackberries and other weeds from pathways all over the site.
  2. Remove weeds from all over the site as they pop up again.
  3. Take apart dried debris piles that are ready to be spread on the paths.
  4. Remove invasive plants from small areas on this site that have not been cleared before.
  5. Continue clearing the larger areas we worked on during this work party

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: The DocuSign Employees Come Back!

On November 15, 2017, a corporate group from DocuSign came to work at our restoration site. 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.

During that work party, the 42 DocuSign volunteers planted 330 shrubs and ground covers.

Last Friday (April 27), DocuSign held another IMPACT day, and once again they chose our site to be one of the options. This time we had 20 volunteers from DocuSign and a student from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class.

Our staff consisted of  Claire (GreenFriends), Jeb (Forterra) and me (GreenFriends and Green Seattle Partnership.)

I had been working with Andrew and Maksim from DocuSign to plan the event. Maksim attended the work party as well. His help that day was invaluable.

The group signed in, picked up gloves, listened to a short orientation…

 

… divided into three teams and began to work.

Team 1 gathered the remaining wood chips from our mulch pile and placed them around each plant in 2 1/2 planting areas. The mulch will hold in moisture and make it more likely that the plants will survive the summer if there is little to no rain. (In March there was 15 cu. yd. of mulch in that pile. At that time, it was 6-8 feet high!)

 

Team 2 removed weeds. While all of this land had been cleared during the year, shoots of blackberry, ivy and bindweed vines were popping up throughout the site. After the work party, I discovered that the group had weeded more than 13,500 sq.ft. of land. The ground looked so clean and open.

 

(Note: Two of our planting areas contain lots of horsetails. Horsetails are native plants; ones that were here before there were dinosaurs. We leave most of the horesetails alone, removing them only when they are crowding out other native plants.)

Team 3 worked on a part of the site that we hadn’t worked on before. It is located on the west side of Cheasty Boulevard. We chose to start in a place where there are some gigantic trees. They are located near the bottom of a steep slope. The team cleared blackberry vines and ivy from the ground and made survival rings around four big cottonwood trees. (Note: A survival ring is created by removing ivy from all sides of a tree starting at ground level and going to shoulder height. Cut off from their roots, the rest of the ivy in the tree will die off.)

The group created two drying racks behind the trees. All of the debris was placed on these racks in order to prevent the vines from reaching the ground and regrowing.

 

These “Before” and “After” photos show the dramatic changes the team made in this area.

Before

After

Once again, the DocuSign volunteers (and the UW student) did incredible work. I look forward to the possibility that they will return here in November for their next Global Impact Day!

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: April 14, 2018

During the week leading up to the April 14 party, there were plenty of opportunities to practice Amma‘s teaching to “Be like a bird on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice”. The weather forecast looked pretty good a week out but then it got worse and worse. The night before the event, it seemed like there was a chance that it might not rain during the work party, but when I checked the next morning it had shifted back to 90% chance of rain during the last two hours.

We don’t cancel work parties for rain, we only cancel for high winds, so I also got practice in maintaining equanimity. There was no use in worrying about what might or might not happen; that would only result in me creating an emotional roller coaster for myself. Instead, I  needed to come up with a variety of plans and decide what we would do in the moment.

Twenty-five students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class participated in the event. I felt so grateful that they were willing to work knowing that it might rain. Three GreenFriends members served as team leaders.

After an orientation, we started the day with a bucket brigade that everyone could participate in, moving wood chip mulch from an area on the street that is north of our Greenbelt site to a planting area in the southern part of the site.

When the mulch arrived at its destination, a few students spread it four to five inches thick throughout the area. Trees and shrubs had been planted there on February 26th. Being heavily mulched will keep the ground moist making it make it more likely that the plants will survive the dry summer months. The mulch also deters weed growth and prevents erosion.

The 600 sq. ft. of land we covered that day is on a continual slope. There are several swale-like structures towards the bottom of the strip that will also help reduce erosion.

The mulch we were getting the wood chips from had been delivered on March 5. At that time, there were 15 cu. ft. of them and the pile was 6-8 feet tall. (Susan was standing on a slope so the pile was actually taller than it looks in the second photo.)

We have had three bucket brigade work parties since that time. I have enjoyed watching the pile decrease in size.  I have no idea how many hundreds of buckets filled with wood chips have been passed down the line during those work parties.

After the March 17 work party the pile looked like this:

After the April 8 work party:

And after the April 14 work party:

The bucket brigade continued until it was time for a snack break. By that point, it had started to rain; luckily, it was a light rain. After the break, we broke into three groups for the last 45 minutes of work time. During that time, the groups would focus on removing non-native invasive plants- blackberry and ivy vines, bindweed, laurel, holly and bamboo. 

There is a Douglas Fir tree on the northwest corner of the property that had been partially topped in the past because it was too close to power lines. On the day of the work party, the tree was surrounded by a patch of laurel so thick that the bottom part of the Douglas Fir trunk was barely visible.

The students cut off the laurel plants lower branches. As the lower branches were removed, we could see that the laurel was covering and/or displacing Pacific ninebark, Oregon grape and other shrubs. I also saw new laurel shoots nearby. Finding the native plants being crowded out by the laurel made it obvious to me why laurel is considered an invasive plant. I know that the part of the Greenbelt that is north of the site we are working on has big areas of laurel.

I appreciated being able to see more of the Douglas Fir tree truck and look forward to the day when I will be able to see all of it. I feel sad that the treetop had needed to be cut away from power lines. Seeing the deformity, though, will serve as a constant reminder that we need to be careful where we plant trees as we restore this piece of forest.

Now that it is spring, all of the trees, shrubs and ground covers we have planted since October are growing rapidly. Simultaneously, new shoots of blackberries and bindweed are emerging from the ground. There are also several areas on the site that still have ivy.

A second group of students scoured a section of the land that is full of old maple trees, sword ferns, and other older shrubs. Their purpose: locate and remove invasive plants. Everything was wet and it was still raining. The students worked diligently even in these less than desirable conditions.

The third group worked in an area that was new to us. Our plan had been to clear a path, dig out holly and cut bamboo. The group cleared a path that led to the holly and bamboo, but after a week or more of rain, the ground was too muddy to work with the holly. (We didn’t want to make the area any muddier than it already was.)

Instead the group focused on cutting and stripping the bamboo. Last year, we used the bamboo branches from another bamboo field in building the racks we create to dry out the invasive plants. We gave the stripped stalks to gardeners to use as stakes.

When the last forty-five minute work period was up, the students from all three groups took the invasive plants they had removed to the racks to dry and then gathered, cleaned and put away all of the tools. Afterwards, we celebrated our accomplishments. Then everyone brushed the mud from their shoes and headed home.

Soon after the work party was over, the rain became very heavy. April 14, 2018 turned out to have the largest rainfall that has ever been recorded in Seattle in April. Mother Nature had certainly blessed our work party. Two hours of the three hour work party had been rain-free and even though it rained during the last hour, the rain was comparatively light.

Next on our to do list:

  • Finish mulching some small areas on the property that have not been mulched yet
  • Weeding, weeding and more weeding
  • Remulch areas that were planted in October and November of 2017
  • Finish cutting down the bamboo
  • Dig out the holly and bamboo

The list could go on and on but that is enough to think about today!

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: July 9

It seems like I think every work party we have is the best. That was true on this day too. Eight students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class, one student from Garfield High School, one neighbor and three GreenFriends members came together to do restoration work in the Greenbelt.

We cut blackberry vines, dug out blackberry root balls and bindweed (morning glory vines)

(click on any of the galleries if you want to enlarge the photos)

…. picked up trash

…. freed ferns

…. carried wood chips from a pile near 25th Avenue S and S Hanford, down the Hanford stairs, into the Greenbelt and scattered them in an area that will be used for a 250 square foot cluster of trees, shrubs and ground covers when we start to plant in the fall. Having the wood chips there will facilitate decomposition of the burlap bags that are under it and help to build the soil by creating mulch.

…. and moved debris to the rack zone to dry.

Vandya, Ellen, John and I organized the work party and led work groups. Vandya and I also took photos. At one point, we snapped pictures of each other taking photos!

During the three hour work party we cleared a lot of land. The next step will be to spread burlap bags to prevent erosion and weed growth.

One group dug out the biggest root ball we’ve found!

Needless to say, our July 9 work party was a big success.