A successful day of planting at Clark Ranch

Grant Union High at Clark Ranch 2
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 13, 2018

Participating School
Grant Union High School

Location
Clark Ranch 2 in Davis, CA – the southern of two projects at this site

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers Farms
Bruce Clark

Mentors
Amelia Munson, UC Davis graduate student
Jen Metes, Research Associate, Consero Solutions
Julea Shaw, UC Davis graduate student
Mandi Finger, Associate Director, Genomic Variation Lab
Sean McNamara, Farm Manager, Sierra Orchards

Summary of the Day
Students from Grant Union’s GEO Academy returned for their second Field Day at Clark Ranch to clear, calm skies – a welcome change after a VERY windy first Field Day! After breakfast and hot cocoa under the oak grove, we circled up to begin the day. We discussed the impact our project will have on the area, and the ways in which the plants will help improve the surrounding habitat. We also introduced new project mentors and partners before playing a game of group juggle to help us remember each other’s names.

Following opening circle we played “Steal the Native Plant” – a SLEWS planting day classic. Students learned the characteristics of manzanita, buckbrush, sage, elderberry, and coyote brush – five of the plants we’d be planting that day – before competing to be the first to identify species and earn points for their mentor groups.

Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District let students in a planting demonstration to ensure our plants have the best possible chance of survival. One student was so inspired by this demonstration that he created an illustrated step-by-step guide during our end-of-day reflection (see below). Students jumped right into planting with enthusiasm and by lunchtime had planted 280 native trees and shrubs!

After lunch, students participated in a Nature Scavenger Hunt in their mentor groups, with most groups finding all 17 items in just 15 minutes! One group was excited to share that they found an owl pellet with bones inside, while another was thrilled to see a lizard as they explored the area. To finish the day, students reflected on their day by creating a “Postcard from the Field”, writing and drawing to sum up their experiences.

One exciting addition to this day was a film crew from local public television show “Rob on the Road” – they are doing a feature on the Center for Land-Based Learning and the SLEWS program, and were capturing footage of the group throughout the day. You may soon see Grant Union students on TV if you’re a fan of PBS!

It is always a pleasure to work with this fantastic group of students. I was once again impressed by their kindness to their peers and ceaseless positive attitudes. Can’t wait for Field Day #3!

Planting and salmon spotting along Putah Creek

Winters High School at Winters Putah Creek Nature Park Extension
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 11, 2018

Participating School
Winters High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Putah Creek Council
City of Winters

Mentors
Corey Shake, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS
Karin Young, Education Program Manager, Putah Creek Council
Marisa Alcorta, Apprenticeship Program Manager, Center for Land-Based Learning
Nick Gallagher, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA

Summary of the Day
Two weeks after installing a complete irrigation system, Winters High students returned for a day of planting trees and shrubs. After a rainy first Field Day, we were rewarded with picture perfect weather for Field Day #2!

It was chilly in the morning, so students warmed up with hot cocoa before we gathered for our opening circle. A game of “Where the Wind Blows” allowed us to identify commonalities within the group and learn new things about the members of our SLEWS team. Mentor groups learned to identify redbud, toyon, coffeeberry, valley oak, interior live oak, and bay – 6 of the native plants we’d be planting to create native habitat. Then it was time for “Steal the Native Plant”, a lively planting day tradition in which students race to be the first to correctly identify a native plant and earn points for their mentor groups.

Alex Tremblay and Tanya Meyer of Yolo County Resource Conservation District led a planting demonstration where students learned how to properly dig a hole, pack down the soil, and install a plastic tube that will protect the young plants from wind, critters, and weed control. Students set off in mentor groups to begin planting, and found that digging was quite time consuming – luckily, Brandon Baker of Yolo RCD was busy using an auger (a piece of heavy machinery that resembles a giant drill) to dig holes for the larger shrubs and trees. Students followed with native plants and before long students had planted an impressive 177 plants – 135 trees and 42 shrubs! Since these students are Winters locals, they will be able to watch these trees and shrubs grow for years to come.

After lunch, Amy Williams of Putah Creek Council led students on a tour of a nearby mitigation area that is protected due to the presence of elderberry trees. The trees themselves are not protected, but the endangered and endemic Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle depends on the tree for every phase of its life cycle. Students also recognized mature forms of some of the plants they had just planted. They noticed redbud trees with seed pods, the familiar lobed leaves of Valley Oaks, flowering coyote brush, and a dazzling toyon displaying thousands of bright red berries! Though they had just planted these plants, it can be hard to imagine what the space will look like when the plants are tiny and hidden by tree tubes. Seeing the plants fully grown allowed students to realize the impact their work will have on the area in coming years.

We hiked down to the creek where students spread out to reflect on the day by writing and drawing a “Postcard from the Field”. When it was time to head back, several students wanted to keep writing! As we headed back to the bus, mentor Corey Shake pointed out something very exciting – a spawning salmon. We missed them on our first Field Day, but on this day everyone got to see the adult fish that has come to Putah Creek to breed – a thrilling end to a great second Field Day!

 

A little mud never hurt anyone…

Sacramento Charter High School at Clark Ranch 1
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 5, 2018

Participating School
Sacramento Charter High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers Farms
Bruce Clark

Mentors
Bob Ream, retired
Dana Stokes
Jess Rudnick, UC Davis graduate student
Lea Pollack, UC Davis graduate student
Sarah Gaffney, UC Davis graduate student

Summary of the Day
We prepared for a bit of mud on our field day at Clark Ranch but we didn’t anticipate just how much mud Tuesday night’s rain would create! It was a muddy, sticky, day – but a ton of fun.

After putting on the now-ubiquitous yellow raingear and mudboots, we crossed a metal footbridge to our location for the day – Clark Ranch. The Rominger Brothers Farms team farms the land owned by Bruce Clark, and our project site was alongside a young almond orchard. After some breakfast and hot chocolate, we opened the day by learning a little more about each other and playing “Group Juggle”, a name game. We also got a introduction to our restoration project – planting native plants on the edges of Clark Ranch to increase biodiversity.

Students learned the name of 5 of the plants we’d be planting – buckwheat, sage, fuschia, wild rose, and manzanita – before competing to see who could be the first to identify the species. Sacramento High students were awesome at this – we didn’t have one misidentification through the whole game!

Alex Tremblay of Yolo RCD gave a planting demonstration before mentor groups set off in opposite directions, spreading out along the previously installed irrigation line. To say conditions were muddy would be an understatement – shovels, trowels, and gloves were quickly covered in sticky goo which made planting quite a challenge, especially as some of the plants were quite large. The farm manager intended to have a crew come in to finish the work that students were not able to complete. Much to everyone’s surprise, Sac High students finished the entire project – 230 plants!

After all that hard work, students enjoyed a lunch of burritos before reflecting on the experiences of the day as a group. Before long, it was time to shed the raingear and head back to school.

I can’t wait to see how much our plants have grown when we return at the end of January!

A productive day at River Garden Farms

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 4, 2018

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Audubon CA
River Garden Farms

Mentors
Aaron Haiman, Environmental Scientist and Tribal Liaison, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy
Esther Tracy, Environmental Scientist, Department of Water Resource
Fanny Ye, Soil Conservationist, NRCS
Jacob Byers, Partners Biologist, Sacramento NWRC

Summary of the Day
We had an ambitious project in line (no pun intended) for our first SLEWS day this year at River Garden Farms – installing a complete drip irrigation system! This includes rolling out irrigation tubing, “stapling” it into place, measuring the line to place a flag every 10 feet (marking the areas where plants will go), cutting 12 inch sections of spaghetti tubing and connecting emitters, and finally poking holes in the drip line to attach the spaghetti tubing and emitters which will provide water to each plant. As one student said, it “looks like a long sprinkler”! River Garden Farms had prepared 4 1000 foot sections – nearly a mile –  of line, but anticipated that SLEWS students would install just 2 of these sections.

Upon their arrival, students changed into rubber boots before walking past two former SLEWS sites on the way to their project site. After our opening circle, mentor groups divided up to tackle various tasks – two groups rolled out drip irrigation tubing, which was a knotty challenge, while two other groups followed them, measuring, flagging, and stapling the line into place. A fifth group assembled spaghetti tubing and emitters in the meantime, and other groups joined as they returned. This task was especially challenging – the cold weather meant the plastic spaghetti tubing was quite stiff. The completed emitters were then installed along the dripline. We still had plenty of time after completing 2000 feet of an irrigation system, so why not continue?

By the end of the morning, students had fully installed an impressive 3000 feet of a drip irrigation system, with another 500 feet of dripline rolled out – 1500 feet more than we thought possible! After lunch, mentor Jacob Byers introduced the group to the site of the two former SLEWS projects at River Garden Farms, and discussed project planning, and impact on the area – he was part of the team that planned these restoration efforts. Students wanted to know if the project will be continued by even more students next year! To finish the day, the group spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the day in their field journals – it was difficult to get them to stop!

Thanks for a great day, Florin High, mentors,  and River Garden Farms and Audubon CA staff!

Inland Empire Students Head to the Mountains for a SLEWS Meadow Restoration Project

SLEWS | San Bernardino County | Oct. 26, 2018

Location of Field Day:
Sky Park Santa’s Village, Skyforest, CA

Participating School:
Citrus Valley High School

Mentors:
Natural Resources Conservation Service
– Tomas Aguilar-Campos
American Bird Conservancy – Rachel Smith
Santa Ana Watershed Association – Mari Archer
Orange County Water District – Cameron Macbeth
IERCD Staff – Susie Kirchner, Brian Robey, Alma Eichman, Shari Tindall

Field Day Overview:
30 students from Citrus Valley High School visited Sky Park Santa’s Village to support their efforts in improving the properties’ meadow habitat, which had in the previous decade served as a dumping ground for bark beetle infested trees. We started the day with our favorite warm up game – a rock, paper, scissors tournament. In this game, students compete against their classmates, teachers, and mentors in the traditional game of rock, paper, scissors . However, when a person loses the game to another, they then become a cheerleader for the winner of that round and must chant their name. Eventually, there are only two remaining winners, each with a group of cheerleaders they have picked up along the way, and the final battle occurs.

After the quick warm up, we provided the students an overview and safety discussion and jumped right into the project work for the day. Students planted (and mulched) over 40 native plants, collected seed to distribute in other parts of the site, and removed invasive weeds. We were lucky to be accompanied by a former U.S Forest Service Botanist, Gina Richmond, who guided the students and provided information on each of the plants.

After lunch, we transitioned into learning about forestry and forest health. Especially after this year’s severe fires, it felt like a relevant topic to be sharing with students on how to assess a forest and make recommendations on how to improve its resiliency. Led by our NRCS District Conservationist, Tomas Aguilar-Campos, we showed students how to perform a fixed-radius plot survey to determine the stocking level of a forest and the health of individual trees. We also asked the students how Sky Park could improve their fire resiliency, some of the answers included, “trimming tree limbs”, and “removing trees, especially smaller trees”.

To wrap up the day, we couldn’t leave Sky Park Santa’s Village without having a little fun in the park! Students were able to try out the archery course before heading down the hill back to school. We are looking forward to welcoming these students back for another SLEWS trip in the Spring.

 

An impressive day of planting at Sequoia Farms

Davis High School at Sequoia Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | November 30, 2018

Participating School
Davis High School

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District
National Center for Appropriate Technology
Sequoia Farms

Mentors
Amanda Lindell, UC Davis graduate student
Arthur Barros, UC Davis graduate student
Claire Kouba, UC Davis graduate student
Elaine Swiedler, California Farm Academy Apprenticeship Program Coordinator, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
After a very rainy Thursday, I was concerned about the weather for Davis High’s first Field Day at Sequoia Farms, an organic walnut orchard located in Dixon. Luckily we were treated to a gorgeous day, with a bit of mud for good measure!

Since the orchard perimeter was too muddy to access by vehicle, students donned yellow rain bibs and mud boots for the walk to our field site. On the way, students got an up close view of the orchard, and asked great questions about walnut grafting (“Why does the bottom of the trunk look different than the top?” – we prefer to eat English Walnuts, but native Black Walnuts are more resistant to regional diseases and pests; fusing them together gives farmers the best of both worlds) and walnut growth (“Where are all the walnuts?!” – they had recently been harvested).

At our opening circle, mentors and restoration partners introduced themselves and their education and career paths, and we played a game of “Group Juggle” to learn everyone’s names. Rex Dufour of NCAT gave a great presentation on some of the beneficial insects that our plants will help attract. Then we split into mentor groups to learn the names and characteristics of 6 of the native plants we’d be planting including toyon, coffeeberry, deergrass, rabbitbrush, lilac and coyote brush. We played a game called “steal the native plant” where mentor groups competed to be the first to identify the native plant.

Next it was time to learn how to plant! Rex Dufour gave an informative demonstration on the best way to plant these natives to give them the best chance at survival and groups of students spread out with their mentors to get started. Davis students completed way more of the work than we thought possible and by the end of the morning they’d planted 600 plants!

After lunch, each student chose a walnut tree to lean against as they reflected in their Field Journals, writing a postcard to themselves about the day. After the walk back to change out of raingear, we had a brief closing circle to end the day. Students remarked that they would remember the hard work they did, and that they felt helpful and productive restoring the ecosystem.

Rain or shine, we lay the line!

Winters High School at Winters Putah Creek Nature Park Extension
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | November 27, 2018

Participating School
Winters High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Putah Creek Council
City of Winters

Mentors
Corey Shake, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS
Denise Colombano, UCD graduate student
Karin Young, Education Program Manager, Putah Creek Council
Marisa Alcorta, Apprenticeship Program Manager, Center for Land-Based Learning
Nick Gallagher, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA

Summary of the Day
This year we have a SLEWS project in our hometown of Winters – with Winters High School! This project is part of the Winters Putah Creek Nature Park, on land donated to the City of Winters by PG&E. Putah Creek Council and Yolo County Resource Conservation District are involving several groups with the restoration projects, and we’re excited to have SLEWS be part of the process.

On the rainy Tuesday after Thanksgiving, we held our first Field Day at this site. The goal for the day was lofty – installing almost a mile of drip irrigation! Having an irrigation system installed before planting will give our plants the best chance of survival, and because drip irrigation provides each plant with an individual water source, will help prevent excess weed growth and reduce evaporative water loss.

After breakfast and opening circle, students worked as a team to roll out the irrigation tubing. This involved each student carrying a 20-40 foot section of the line – sometimes up to 1000 feet total! Once all the sections of line were rolled out, we divided into mentor groups to install emitters and staple down the line. Groups worked in teams to measure every 20 feet to place a flag (the location of the trees and shrubs we’ll plant in two weeks), poke holes in the line, secure the line to the ground, and install an emitter – this will ensure that each plant receives 2 gallons per hour of water when watered.

We weren’t sure students would finish the entire line – again, it was almost a mile in length, and rain was coming down! – but to our surprise they finished the work at noon on the dot. Perhaps the promise of a burrito at the finish line was good motivation?

Despite the rain, students were excited to walk all the way to Putah Creek to look for spawning salmon after lunch. On the way one student commented on how nice the area will look once the oak trees are planted. Mentor Karin Young of Putah Creek Council led a discussion on salmon breeding habits, Putah Creek Restoration, and why we are seeing salmon in this watershed. Unfortunately we didn’t see any salmon today, but  many students remarked that this was their favorite part of the whole Field Day!

Thank you to all mentors, partners, and students for being troopers on a wet Field Day – we walked over 4 miles in our work according to one mentor’s FitBit!

A very blustery day at Clark Ranch!

SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | November 8, 2018

Participating School
Grant Union High School

Location
Clark Ranch 2 in Davis, CA – the southern of two projects at this site

Partners/Landowners
Yolo Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers Farms
Bruce Clark

Mentors
Amelia Munson, UC Davis graduate student
Jen Metes, Research Associate, Consero Solutions
Julea Shaw, UC Davis graduate student
Ha Truong, NRCS Agricultural Engineer
Mandi Finger, Associate Director, Genomic Variation Lab

Summary of the Day
The morning of our first SLEWS Field Day of the season brought an unexpected and unwelcome surprise – 25 MPH winds! Luckily, Grant Union students arrived with great attitudes and were eager to get started on the restoration task of the day.

Using a barn as a windbreak, students enjoyed breakfast before we gathered together for a SLEWS tradition – the opening circle. Bruce Rominger, President of Rominger Brothers Farms, joined us to introduce the project site and talk about how the restoration work the students were about to begin would positively impact his almond and walnut orchards. Students, mentors, restoration partners, and Center for Land-Based Learning staff introduced themselves, and we played a game called “Where the Wind Blows” to identify commonalities within our group.

After opening circle, it was time to brave the wind and get started on our project for the day – installing a drip irrigation system! Drip irrigation will provide each plant with an individual water source, preventing excess weed growth and conserving water. Staff from Yolo Resource Conservation District showed the mentor groups how to poke holes in the line to push in “emitters”, which will regulate the water flow to each individual plant. Each group installed emitters on a section of the planting area, and when everyone finished it was time to check their work. Alex Hasbach, Farm Manager of Rominger Brothers Farms, turned on the irrigation system much to everyone’s amusement – in spots where emitters weren’t properly installed, water shot everywhere! Luckily, Grant students did an excellent job and there were few of these “sprinklers” to be found.

Finally it was time to break for a much-anticipated (and much-deserved) burrito lunch. After lunch, Caring for Our Watersheds Coordinator Beth Del Real led students in an activity to help them visualize the earth’s water supply, and why water conservation is so important. Students were each given a blank puzzle piece representing an area of land to develop as they wished – some built giant mansions, others created water reservoirs, and one student even built an ice cream shop! Once we assembled the puzzle, we had a great visual of a watershed and discussed how the developments they made might affect the water supply.

Thanks for an incredible first Field Day, Grant Union students, mentors, and project partners!