YESC Seattle at Golden Gardens

About 25-30 high school students from YESC Seattle (YMCA Earth Services Corps) joined us at Golden Gardens on Saturday, Jan. 30. We removed ivy and blackberry along the bottom of the stairs that go from the middle parking lot up to the dog park. Altogether, we cleared and mulched about 2500 square feet. A good day!

Doug Gresham, the forest steward, lays out the work site.

Doug Gresham, the forest steward, lays out the work site.

After some introductory words up by the dog park parking lot, we moved down to the work site to learn about the tasks of the day.

After some introductory words up by the dog park parking lot, we moved down to the work site to learn about the tasks of the day.

Everybody is always so eager to get to work.

Everybody is always so eager to get to work.

The work party ran from 10 to 2, with a break for lunch. But the enthusiasm didn’t dim, and the students dug into finishing up the work and getting a solid load of mulch down (about 5 yards).

The initial ivy removal happened in the morning. In the afternoon, we had the tougher task of grubbing out the roots and underground bits.

The initial ivy removal happened in the morning. In the afternoon, we had the tougher task of grubbing out the roots and underground bits.

As the time to leave drew near, we all pitched in to a vigorous but satisfying bucket brigade to get the mulch onto the site.

Just a few minutes left before the supposed end of the work party, the leaders decided to push through because we were so close.

Just a few minutes left before the supposed end of the work party, the leaders decided to push through because we were so close.

Here we are about eight minutes to two. By the time they finished, this site was completely mulched.

Here we are about eight minutes to two. By the time they finished, this site was completely mulched.

A good, hard working time was had by all. The next work party at Golden Gardens will be on February 13. We hope to see you there!

The Hidden Half of Nature


The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health
David Montgomery and Anne Biklé
WW Norton, 2016

The authors began a journey into examining the role that microbes play in our lives by reconstituting the soil in their yard. They discovered the soil was brought back to life with relatively little effort. This lead to a lot of research into what, exactly what going on, and learning about the rhizosphere, the wealth of bacteria and microbes that surround and enrich the roots of plants. When Biklé contracted cancer, they embarked on a similar journey into the depths of the colon and the microbial life we support and which supports us. Both systems are bewilderingly complex, and there is much more cooperation and symbiosis than we thought. In both cases, a healthy microbial environment provides strength and immunity to the host (either the plant or us).

A few things prevented us from seeing these communities and benefits earlier. Our lab practices were focused on the “germ theory,” that microbes were inherently harmful and needed to be eradicated. This lead to studying only pathogenic microbes that could be easily cultured in labs. DNA sequencing allows us to study microbes that aren’t culturable outside their host environment. Further, relationships between organisms were viewed through the lens of Darwinian competition, which is only recently being challenged by new views on cooperation and symbiosis.

This is leading to a revolution in our approach to both farming and nutrition. For the second half of the 20th century, agribusiness concentrated on ever-higher doses of fertilizers and biocides for the short-term benefits of yield increase, ignoring the long-term problems of soil depletion, adaptation of pests, and destruction of helpful microbes and insects. A similar practice was happening in medicine, with a reliance on antibiotics that provided untold benefits, but which led to a larger problem we now face.

The farming practices, combined with dietary changes (and convenience foods) led to diets filled with nutritionally poor but high calorie foods. Meanwhile, our helpful gut flora were being destroyed by the antibiotics that were otherwise saving our lives. New research indicates that over-use of antibiotics is leading to both an increase in disease-resistant bacteria and chronic auto-immune and inflammation diseases.

“The Hidden Half of Nature” is filled with interesting stories about research into soil health that contradicted the agrichemical practices that was ignored, or research into gut health that went a little past the ability to visualize or quantify why things worked the way they did. One particularly fascinating story is that of Ignasz Semmelweis, who in the late 1840s noticed that the wards in his hospital run by midwives had significantly less mortality than the wards run by doctors. Why? The doctors wore their bloody coats with pride, and went between patients or autopsies and patients without washing their hands. Montgomery and Biklé say that by insisting the doctors wash their hands and change their lab coats, mortality in the doctor-run wards was reduced to the same as the midwife wards. This infuriated the doctors, Semmelweis was fired from that hospital, fired from another for instituting the same changes, and was so hounded by the medical establishment that he died in an asylum. Philosophers of science now use the term “Semmelweis reflex” to describe the autocratic rejection of new knowledge that contradicts established paradigms.

The authors are careful not to ignore the good results of agribusiness or antibiotics, but they fully acknowledge that it is crucial to adapt our practices to new realities. More careful administration of antibiotics, removing antibiotics from use as animal growth promoters, and more attention to prebiotics and foods that improve our gut flora are among their recommendations for human health. They also recommend farming practices that concentrate on soil health, such as returning stubble to the field after harvest, no-till farming, and organic farming. They acknowledge where research is still inconclusive, such as whether organically farmed plants are more nutritious than conventionally farmed plants.

“The Hidden Half of Nature” is informationally dense – the “Sources” section has pages of citations for every chapter – but is so clearly presented that at first I thought it almost felt like it was aimed at a young adult audience. Once they got onto things I didn’t know, however, I was fascinated by their stories. They mix personal experience with research in a way that brings the research into focus. The few notes are amplifications of the text that would have gotten in the way of their main point. There is also a good index.

I think this book makes a good companion to The One-Straw Revolution. Fukuoka’s book is much shorter, and focuses on his personal experience with restoring pre-agribusiness farming practices to his farm in Japan. Montgomery and Biklé present the history of the science of microbes, looking at European research into farming and medicine.

Stewardship Adventure Squad at White Center Heights Park

Another fun day in a park, playing in the mud with a great group. We worked several times last summer with the Stewardship Squad, which is why I went back to work with them as a volunteer.

The day was gray and cool, but far from cold, and it didn’t rain. It was just cool enough that we warmed up quickly in our layers, but not so cold that we chilled when we took a break.

White Center Heights Park is located in — wait for it — White Center Heights. I was there last summer with a group from City Year, during the teacher’s strike. It’s a small park, with a pond and a seasonal stream. It’s at the intersection of SW 102nd St. and 8th Ave. SW. It’s hidden from those streets by a small riparian strip of trees, which screens some of the traffic noise and makes it a hidden gem, as they say. It has a small pond, which had some buffleheads and megansers in addition to the standard mallards. Stewardship Squad had been there previously to do some planting, and they were back for more.

A few years ago, Starbucks put some money into it. The results are a nice shelter, a p-patch, a great bridge over the pond, and signs in English, Thai, and Spanish. Since then, though, it’s been a little neglected, and it’s only recently that King County was able to get volunteers in to clean up the weeds and invasives and put some fresh plants in.

Lina brought shovels of many different sizes, even a trowel for the very smallest child.

Lina brought shovels of many different sizes, even a trowel for the very smallest child.

This little stream only flows during the winter. Planting its borders will help maintain the bank.

This little stream only flows during the winter. Planting its borders will help maintain the bank.

After finishing up by the stream, we moved to a more-wooded section for the afternoon's work. We planted 50 shrubs here, for more than 60 plants altogether.

After finishing up by the stream, we moved to a more-wooded section for the afternoon’s work. We planted 50 shrubs here, for more than 60 plants altogether.

We had a scavenger hunt for the walk to the second planting area. One of the adventurers found this little case of insect eggs.

We had a scavenger hunt for the walk to the second planting area. One of the adventurers found this little case of insect eggs.

Indians of the Pacific Northwest


Indians of the Pacific Northwest From the Coming of the White Man to the Present Day
Vine Deloria, Jr.
Fulcrum, 1977, 2012

The first white people to arrive in the Pacific Northwest were British traders, looking to take advantage of the established trade routes of the Salish peoples for their own ends: The Makah whalers for whale oil, others for salmon or animal skins. They lived in relative peace with Salish peoples, even intermarrying, although they still brought smallpox. The Americans who came later wanted to establish permanent settlements, which resulted in the occasionally violent removal of first peoples from their lands and the establishment of reservations. I thought this book would be a pretty depressing read, but although it told the story of the thefts of Americans without flinching, it also told the many stories of successes that first peoples have had, in re-establishing their fishing rights and keeping parcels of their lands under their own control. I think this book leaves a lot out, as well, particularly the story of the Duwamish. It was first published in 1977, and an afterword provides an update as of 2011, which takes us through casinos and up to the first Elwha Dam removal.

Martin Luther King Day at Dick Thurnau Memorial Park

Yesterday I joined King County Parks for a work party in Dick Thurnau Memorial Park. Even though I’d been all over the county last summer, I hadn’t been to this park before. It used to be called Lakewood Park, and was fairly neglected, with runoff from the surrounding streets polluting the lake until it was unswimmable. Dick Thurnau was the man who started working on the issues facing the park. Now it’s undergoing restoration, with floating islands in the lake and regular work parties. There are also plans for more improvements to make it more of a community park.

While there, we saw families with strollers, dog walkers, and a number of disc golf players. There were also a good amount of water birds in the lake. Gulls, of course, as well as mallards and Canada geese, but I even saw buffleheads, scoters, and some mergansers.

The agenda for the work party was to install more than 250 shrubs and ground cover. They were planted uphill from the lake, in an area that had lots of runoff and just ivy and blackberry. The weeds had been removed over the summer, and the time for planting had come.

About half the plants for planting. This picture includes snowberry, twinberry, red flowering currant, evergreen huckleberry, and two different roses.

About half the plants for planting. This picture includes snowberry, twinberry, red flowering currant, evergreen huckleberry, and two different roses.

These plants will add a lot of structure to the mature cottonwood and coniferous trees we were planting under. They’ll filter and hold the rainwater better with their variety of root depths and structures than the shallow-rooted ivy or the blackberry did. Their different bud, flower, and leaf-drop times will provide food throughout the growing season for a variety of insects and the animals that eat them.

The volunteers included a large group of students from Raisbeck Aviation High School and miscellaneous other families and groups. The volunteers were great! It’s been a couple months since I’ve done a volunteer event with King County, and it was great to get back into it with them. I was there basically as a minion, so the event organizer could be free to work more closely with the volunteers. I got the second batch of plants ready, answered questions, and generally moved things around. It was a lot of fun!

This one is split about evenly between sword fern and two kinds of Oregon-grape.

This one is split about evenly between sword fern and two kinds of Oregon-grape. Some volunteers named their plants, so one of the sword fern is named “Jessa” and another is named “Fernie Sanders.”

After the preliminaries are finished, the volunteers are eager to get to work and warm up.

After the preliminaries are finished, the volunteers are eager to get to work and warm up.

All the volunteers were really dedicated to the work. I like the social aspects of restoration, even think it’s an important part of the work. But sometimes the work party gets a little TOO social. But when groups of people working together ran out of plants, they all came up to the plant stash asking for more. That was great!

By lunch time, almost all the plants had been planted. After lunch, we had a small crew finishing up the planting while everyone else demolished a mulch pile. Last but not least, the volunteers all set to cleaning up the shovels and buckets. And we even had time for a group photo!

Lina Rose, the event coordinator, on the far left. The high school students are on the right.

Lina Rose, the event coordinator, on the far left. The high school students are on the right.

If you’re interested in volunteering in the restoration of some King County parks, check out The Dirt. There is a list of events through early February, with King County Parks or the Washington Trails Association.

Friends of North Beach Park January Work Party Announcement

Join Friends of North Beach Park for the wrap up of the planting season on Saturday, January 23, 2016. We’ll meet at the main entrance to the park, 24th Ave and 90th St. NW. The work party will run from 9 a.m. to noon, rain or shine.

We’ll be planting at the main stream crossing and streamside up and down from that point. We’ll also be transporting some mulch down to the planting areas. The plants we’ll be planting have been provided by Green Seattle Partnership and the Washington Native Plant Society.

We’ll provide tools, gloves, and guidance. Please wear weather appropriate layers than can get dirty (likely very dirty) and closed-toe, waterproof shoes. Rain gear will be helpful; expect late-January weather, whatever that means these days. Even in cold weather, it’s a good idea to bring some water and a snack. Note there are no facilities at the park.

Please sign up in advance so we know you’re coming.

All ages are welcome; volunteers under 18 must sign and bring a waiver (link next to the sign-up form). The #48 and #40 buses stop a few blocks south of the park; check Metro for details. Parking is available on 90th St. east of 24th Ave.

As always, you can support Friends of North Beach Park by making a directed donation to the Seattle Parks Foundation. All money donated will be used to fund the restoration efforts of North Beach Park.

If you’re looking for something on Martin Luther King Day, there are a number of special events all over the city.

If you can’t join Friends of North Beach Park in January, save the date for one of our upcoming work parties: February 27, March 26, or April 23. All work parties are 9 a.m. to noon, and will meet at the main entrance to the park, 90th St. and 24th Ave. NW.

The One-Straw Revolution


The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming
Masanobu Fukuoka
New York Review Books, 1978

Masanobu Fukuoka proposes a method of farming timed to natural sequences of plants. Cover crops and food crops are sown in sequence such that weeds are kept down. Straw and plant waste is returned to the field after harvest, returning most of the nutrients to the soil. This is a no-till method that builds the soil up year after year with no amendments. The soil is increasingly healthy, which prevents plant disease. The diversity of the crops prevent crop pests from taking over. Not spraying also allows the beneficial insects to live and protect the crops. The plants themselves are more resistant to pests and diseases because they are growing in healthier soil, and are consequently healthier. The healthiness of the soil and the extensive use of straw and plant waste as mulch greatly decreases water use. In general, Fukuoka used a method of farming that had been developed over time by the indigenous farmers of his region, before Western agrichemical practices took over. This method of farming is as productive as Western agrichemical farming, but with healthier soil and stronger, more nutritious plants.

This method of no-till agriculture and crop rotation would work in any location, but would need to be adapted to local growing seasons and crops. He also espouses a philosophy of being in touch with the earth and its cycles. In some ways, his method of farming reminded me of the Bradley method of restoration, in that both of them look to the cycles of plant life and soil health and ecology to accomplish their goals. This book left me wishing I had some land — even a back yard would do — to practice his method and adapt it to PNW climate.

Golden Gardens with Youth Environmental Awareness

About ten volunteers from Youth Environmental Awareness joined Golden Gardens forest stewards and other volunteers for a day of ivy removal and mulching. They worked really hard, trucking full wheelbarrows of mulch down a long staircase and clearing several hundred feet of ivy. They also had a great time and brought plenty of snacks (always important!) and water.

The weather cooperated, with a cool, foggy start to the day. The work warmed us up pretty quickly, and by the time the work party was over the sun was beginning to peek through the fog leading to a nicely sunny afternoon.

Doug Gresham, forest steward for Golden Gardens, begins the work party with a welcoming talk, explaining some of the whys and wherefores of urban forest restoration.

Doug Gresham, forest steward for Golden Gardens, begins the work party with a welcoming talk, explaining some of the whys and wherefores of urban forest restoration.

After the welcoming talk, a bit of goofing around while everyone gets gloves and signs in.

After the welcoming talk, a bit of goofing around while everyone gets gloves and signs in.

More important preliminaries: Tool safety and work demonstration.

More important preliminaries: Tool safety and work demonstration.

After that last bit of preliminary, we got to work, and I was too busy to take any pictures. Plants installed last month were mulched, and a long section was cleared of ivy and other invasive plants (along the way, finding a couple buckets worth of trash). There was even a break for water and snacks, but everyone got back to work shortly. Overall, we had a great time, and were impressed by how much work was accomplished.

 

The end of the day, and still smiling. Making sure everyone took some water home.

The end of the day, and still smiling. Making sure everyone took some water home.

Sources of the River


Sources of the River: Tracking David Thompson Across Western North America
Jack Nisbet
Sasquatch Books, 2007

David Thompson was the first European to explore and map the full reach of the Columbia River from its source in the northern Rocky Mountains in what is now British Columbia. He ranged over the inland upper northwest, setting up trade houses and surveying for the NorthWest Company, a competitor to Hudson’s Bay Company for the fur trade. His sharp eye and meticulous practices lead to such accurate latitude and longitude readings that they stand up to modern techniques. He also observed the social practices of the First Nations he encountered (sometimes as the first white man they’d seen). He was able to record the locations of the tribes he encountered, mineral deposits, forests, and other geographic details. His work was motivated by a curiosity for the land and a desire to do a good job. The stories of his travels — compiled from several remaining notebooks, and a “Narrative” unfinished at the time of his death — are riveting, I can barely imagine the difficulties he and his crews faced as a matter of course. Unfortunately, after retirement, he was unable to get his maps published during his lifetime, and they have languished half forgotten. Nisbet interposes his own travels in the modern day inland NW, on a heavily dammed Columbia River.

Christmas Tree Disposal

Please DO NOT dispose of your Christmas Tree in North Beach Park or any other greenspace or natural area. The tree may have been treated with flame retardant chemicals or other additives that will decrease the quality of the greenspace. The City of Seattle will pick up Christmas Trees until January 31; here are the directions. In fact, it would take less effort to dispose of the tree correctly than to dump it. Yard waste dumping, of any type, is not helpful to greenspaces or natural areas, and contributes to or worsens the problem with invasive species.

Friends of North Beach Park had been actively restoring the North Beach Park ravine since April, 2011; this is considered one of the more successful restoration projects in Seattle. We are composed of volunteers and friends from the Ballard, Crown Hill, North Beach, and Olympic Manor neighborhoods. We have regular work parties on the fourth Saturday of the month, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. January 23 will see us planting native trees and shrubs that are under-represented in the park. All are welcome to join us, please register at the link above or write to lukemcguff [at] yahoo [dot] com for further information.

If you want to have your Christmas tree contribute to restoration projects, you can participate in Swanson’s Trees for Salmon program next year: Salmon Says: “Buy A Living Christmas Tree!.” If a living tree is a little out of your reach, there are medallions you can buy at Swanson’s that will donate restoration plants to local parks (Carkeek Park and King County Parks). (NOTE: Friends of North Beach Park has received plants from this program in the past, but is not participating this year.)

Thanks! We look forward to seeing you in the ravine!