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 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”.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: June 29, 2019

From Spring Quarter of 2017 through Autumn Quarter of 2018, students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class helped with the forest restoration work on our site. In fact, they were our major source of volunteers!

I was very disappointed when the teacher retired at the end of 2018; disappointed for me, not for him. I had been told that he would probably teach the class again Summer Quarter of 2019. And he is! Students from the class attended our June 29 event, our first work party of the summer.

Shirley, Claire, Dave and I served as team leaders. Sixteen students from the Introduction to Environmental Science class, friends of two of the students, and John, a neighbor who has attended almost all of our work parties participated. Two other neighbors helped for a while; one signed in participants as they arrived and another took many of the photographs.

After an orientation, the participants were divided into four groups.

There were several places on the site where our native trees, shrubs and ground covers were being overtaken by blackberry and bindweed vines as well as other weeds. This was particularly a problem on the borders of the property. Shirley’s group cleared away the invasive plants on one of the planting areas that borders the east side of the site.

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

***

Dave’s group worked on the upper south planting areas. There the blackberries had completely covered a debris pile that had been created when we first cleared blackberry and ivy vines from that portion of the land. Only a tiny bit of the dried debris was visible.

The group cut the blackberry vines away from the debris pile and in nearby areas and then took many loads of the dried debris to another part of the site. They carried the live cuttings to drying racks located elsewhere on the property.

John also worked in that area. With his trusty pickaxe, he cleared many blackberry vines and weeds from the southwest corner of the site.

***

Generally, I focus on coordinating the event rather than leading a team. At this work party though, I lead a small team of three students. They worked on two projects. They did such a good job, even though I was only with them from time to time.

When there is a dead tree on the site, it is generally not cut down. As the tree decays, and even after it falls, it nourishes birds, animals and insects either by providing shelter or food. There was a dead shrub on this property that had grown as big as a small tree. Its branches were dropping into some of our new trees and shrubs. The first job this group did was to cut back those low hanging branches so they didn’t interfere with the growth of the new native plants.

When the students finished that project, they started clearing the blackberry vines that were growing into the planting areas along the lower part of the southern border of the site.

Claire’s group cleared bindweed and other invasive plants from an area that was also covered with native bracken ferns. Those ferns had surprised me when they emerged from the ground last year since I didn’t know they were there. They covered a lot of the native plants we had planted.

It was tricky to remove the invasive bindweed without hurting the bracken ferns or other native plants but the students did a good job of doing it. Towards the end of the work party they also removed the suckers that were coming out of two maple trees.

The work party had begun at 10:00 a.m. At 11:30 we stopped for a snack break and to take a group photo.

After the break, all of the groups continued their work. At 12:40 participants began the final tasks. They put the remainder of the invasive plants they had removed on drying racks, gathered the tools and took them to the tool box, put all the supplies away and joined together for a closing. During the closing, we celebrated all that they had accomplished during the three hour work party.

I think everyone had a good time. I sure did!

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: Amrita Bala Kendra

On Sunday May 5, five children from the Seattle Amma Satsang’s Amrita Bala Kendra group, along with six of their adult family members held their second work party in our forest restoration site. (The group’s first visit to the site was a litter pick-up work party in February 2017.)

All of the small trees, shrubs and ground covers on the site have a ring of wood chips around them. The wood chips help the ground to retain water during the summer months. The area close to each of the plants is supposed to stay free of wood chips so that the plant will be able to take advantage of any rainfall. During this work party, the kids and their family members cleared away any wood chips that had fallen into the center of the rings.

They also poured wood chips around a new structure that had been built by the DocuSign team during the April 24 work party. It will be used as a “stage” for orientation, a place to sit during breaks and for group photos such as the one at the top of this post. The wood chips around the stage will become part of the system of paths on the property.

The group was blessed with a beautiful day, made a significant contribution to this future forest, and had a fun time together.

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! 

This is What the Dream Looks Like

Sreejit is in the process of writing a new song called This is What the Dream Looks Like. It is about his experience of living and working on Amma’s most recent North India Tour. The video below was taken when he shared the lyrics with a group in Amritapuri.

Lyrics:

Straw mat and a concrete floor, food in the corner from two days before, laundry hanging from a rope through the center of the room – this is what the dream looks like.

Callus hands but they weren’t always rough, sharp words but we weren’t always tough, one thing this life teaches is that, together, we are enough.

This is what the dream looks like, more than a struggle it’s a fight to be kind when you’re hungry and tired, ‘cause you don’t have any right to be tired

when people are coming to forget their problems, and maybe a little of your time could help solve them, maybe a kind word from you would absolve them of the feeling that they’re all alone – though sometimes we all feel that we are all alone – yeah this is what the dream looks like.

Beaten down by the work no one sees, ‘cause it’s always full-on behind the scenes to magnify the glitz and the lights – yeah this is what the dream looks like.

Getting home to see family at most once a year, and never bringing home the glam and the cheer – just wanting to hide in your bed, to watch tv just to get out of your head – yeah this is what the dream looks like.

Feet full of cracks and can barely walk, always falling asleep and so can barely talk, all eyes on you confused why you can’t form a sentence, let alone a thought,

always irritated by the smallest things, ‘cause that’s just what happens when you forget to eat, and that’s just what happens when you’re consumed with the work that you love – yeah it truly is a gift from above.

Straw mat and a concrete floor, kind of looks like the city before, but that place had water and this one you have to go next door,

but next door they have a kitchen and some home cooked food, and a friendly ear to pry out the blues if you choose to forget for a moment that you are not alone in the struggle – yeah this is what the dream looks like.

Tour photos:

We Freed the Shrub!

Last week, I heard that a Greenbelt tree had fallen onto the Hanford Stairs. When I walked through the snow to that area, I could see that branches had fallen, but they didn’t cover the stairs. I didn’t feel safe walking any closer to the stairs than I was; the snow was too deep and slippery.

On Friday, February 15, the sidewalks were clear, for the most part, so I headed back to that area to take a closer look at the fallen branches.

The tree was one that had been cut away from power lines numerous times in the past. I soon discovered it wasn’t just a few small branches that had broken off, it was a BIG one.

I also noticed that the branch had fallen on top of a Pacific Ninebark shrub; one that had been planted by a neighborhood work group many years ago.

I called John, the neighbor who has helped with our reforestation project from the beginning, and asked him to come take a look.

Before long, he was sawing part of the big branch and I was using a lopper to remove smaller branches

Once John had sawed through the branch, we discovered it was too heavy for him to move alone and I couldn’t be of much help. At that moment, another neighbor walked up to us and offered to help. She and John were able to remove the branch, free the shrub, and carry the branch to the other side of the stairs. They put it on top of a pile I had created for the smaller branches.

There was still much more of the fallen tree branch to deal with but that could wait until another day. At least the shrub was free and safe!

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: Martin Luther King Day of Service

On January 21, twenty-two eager volunteers met to do forest restoration work in our North Beacon Hill Greenbelt site. Four of the volunteers were veterans of this project and served as team leaders. Most of the other volunteers found out about the work party from Green Seattle Partnership listings; two found out about it from one of the local or regional Amma newsletters. Three children between 6 and 8, a pre-teen (12 years) and a teenager (13 years) participated.

This work party was held on the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service. When that holiday was being created his wife, Coretta Scott King, said it should be substantive as well as symbolic. Since his was a life of service, the holiday became a National Day of Service.

While I knew of Martin Luther King’s role in civil rights, I didn’t know that he inspired the environmental justice movement, a movement that believes everyone has the right to clean air, water, and soil, as well as a right to live in safe and healthy communities.

After receiving an initial orientation, the volunteers divided into four groups.

Group 1

One of the team leaders and three of the other volunteers started the process of taking down the racks in The Rack Zone. When we clear land of blackberry, ivy and bindweed vines, all of the cuttings and root balls are put onto racks so that they don’t touch the ground before they dry out. If the vines touch the ground, they may re-root. I refer to the invasive plants we have cut down or dug out as “debris”.

The racks are made from logs and branches. This is a photo of one of the racks we built early on.

In most parks, racks are scattered throughout a site, but since we had a house foundation on the property, we decided to put most of the racks there. The concrete slab that was under the foundation would also prevent re-rooting. We named that area The Rack Zone.

Our plan was to let all of invasive plant cuttings dry out and decompose. In that way good dirt would build up and we could plant beautiful flowering shrubs in that area.

This was what The Rack Zone looked like in July of 2017, several months after we started using it. You can see that under the new cuttings there is a lot of debris that is becoming dry. There are at least two racks in the photo that have been used yet.

In January of 2018, we took most of the racks apart but didn’t spread the debris; we just built new racks on top it. During 2018, the new racks became filled and overflowing. We would start the process of taking them down completely at this work party.

I thought that would be a long process since what taking them apart the previous year had taken a long time. I thought that these volunteers would disassemble one to three racks during the first portion of the work party. That process would include separating the dried debris from the debris that was still living, taking out any logs or branches that were too big to readily decompose, and spread the debris that was dry.

When I checked on the group later, I was astounded by what they had already accomplished.

By the end of that segment of the work party, they had finished taking apart all but three of the racks!

We still have to figure out what to do with all the branches and logs that were too big to spread in this future planting area. Right now they are stacked on the north and south sides of The Rack Zone. In addition, there was a lot of broken concrete under the racks. Those are stacked on the ledge of the foundation and will also need to be moved to some yet unknown location.

Groups 2 and 3

Two groups worked in the planting areas, clearing out leaves and wood chips from around each plant. We refer that area as a donut hole. In addition, some members of those groups cleared branches that had fallen onto the paths during the winter winds and/or carried buckets of leaves to the newly cleared areas of The Rack Zone. Once there, they will decompose and become part of the composted soil.

The groups cleared the donut holes in most of the site. Each area looked so nice when they finished.

Group 4

Another team leader and a volunteer began to clear an area that was full of blackberry vines and ivy.

This is part of what that area looked like by the time the work party ended.

The work party had begun at 10 a.m. At 11:30 a.m. we took a short snack break. Before we went back to work, we gathered for a group photo. While we took some serious photos, the one that I loved most was a funny one.

The parents with young children planned to go home early, and did. Most of the remaining volunteers moved to the Greenbelt site that is on the north side of the Hanford Stairs; our main site is south of the stairs. I have been eager to start restoration work in that area.

This is what that that land looked like in December 2018.

January 21, 2019 work party photos:

This photo was taken after we finished that day.

The volunteers had removed a lot of trash and ivy.

It always amazes me how much can be accomplished during a three-hour work party. The land always looks substantially different when the volunteers leave, after having given freely of their time and their energy. Together we are helping this part of Seattle’s Greenbelt to once again become a healthy forest.

If you live in the Seattle area and would like to help with a future work party, write hanfordstairsgreenbelt@gmail.com.