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September 24, 2007

Day of Clearing

Last Friday a bunch of us from Engineering Excellence participated in the United Way of King County's Day of Caring, an opportunity to work on community service projects. Our specific project was clearing blackberries from Rattlesnake Lake park.

For those not in the Seattle area, I'll explain that blackberries are one of the joys of late summer around here. They grow everywhere; there isn't a park or trail that isn't infested with delicious nuggets of blackberryness. Unfortunately it really is an infestation; the most common species of blackberries are not native to the area. Some may say let the plants battle it out and we can eat the winners, but they do take over rapidly (and can be a big pain to exterminate if they get into your garden).

So we drove to Rattlesnake Lake to de-infest a small part of it. Rattlesnake Lake is east of Seattle near North Bend, near the outlet mall and the Twin Peaks tourists. It's actually maintained by Seattle Public Utilities, which owns the entire Cedar River watershed as a water supply for the city, and runs Rattlesnake Lake next door as compensation for restricting access to the Cedar River (there's a nice Education Center that talks about the watershed). Rattlesnake Lake is very scenic; it's also the starting point for a nice hike up to Rattlesnake Ledge (comparable to Little Mt. Si), and also the Iron Horse Trail, which heads west 105 miles over an abandoned railroad line (the term "Iron Horse Trail" seems to be a common one in this situation), including a 2.3 mile tunnel near Snoqualmie Pass.

We were assigned an area near the shore of the lake, given pruners and shovels, and put to work. If you've seen blackberry patches you'll know the type: about 8 feet high and full of vaguely malevolent, thorny blackberry plants. You go in with the pruners and try to get the plants down to about knee height (while avoiding any other plants have managed to survive), then dig down with the shovel to get out the "crown", where the roots meet the plant just below the surface. If you uproot the crown then you can basically leave it all lying on the ground, it won't re-root from there. But if you just trim the plant at ground level and leave the crown in place then it will grow back quickly. Unfortunately although the crown is easy to get to, it's hard to extract because the roots are strong.

We attacked the blackberries and after about 4 hours of work (interrupted by lunch) we had made a small but noticeable dent in them, possibly visible by satellite (go to this view here; in the middle of the picture, on the north shore of the lake just above where the image switches to in color, there's a clump of green that intrudes onto the grassy area. We were weeding behind that clump, the blackberries look smoother and only slightly darker than the grass, compared to the lumpier trees). A later crew will come in and plant native plants in the area.

This is some dialogue:

Adam [observing that a certain section had been trimmed down, but not completely cleared of crowns, while most people had moved on to another part]: Hmmm, I think we are over-multitasking.
Another EEer: Yes, we didn't stick to a proper definition of "done" for this section.
A normal person: Do you really talk like that away from work?

One problem with blackberries is that they have big thorns on them. New growth isn't that bad and can be handled with my garden gloves, which have rubber palms and fingers. But clearing away the Old Man of the Blackberry Patch with rubber gloves will get you lots of pokes. I went looking on the web for gloves that claim to be tough enough for the task and it basically came down to two (once I got past all the people selling accessories for the Blackberry mobile device): the Garden Armor glove and the Bionic Rose Glove. Oop, there's another one from West County Gardener. They are all about $40; I don't need them, but I may buy them anyway. I'll show those thorns who's boss.

Posted by AdamBa at September 24, 2007 09:57 PM

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There's a green space behind our house and it's full of blackberries, so I spend lots of time clearing them out of our yard. I have dealt with young and old blackberry plants and have done so with your standard hardware-store leather work gloves, somewhat like these (although I only bought one pair, not a six pack): http://www.acehardware.com/product/index.jsp?productId=1334175&cp=2568443.2568444.2598672.2601408.1305675&parentPage=family

Posted by: Tommy Williams at September 25, 2007 06:52 AM

What a crying shame!

Posted by: marble chair at September 25, 2007 03:34 PM