A day of mulching at Sequoia Farms

Davis High School at Sequoia Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 8, 2019

Participating School
Davis High School

Partners/Landowners
NCAT
Solano Resource Conservation District
Sequoia Farms

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

Summary of the Day
For our final Field Day with Davis High school, we were back where our project started – at Sequoia Farms in Dixon. On our first Field Day, we planted 600 plants along the perimeter of this organic walnut orchard. Today, it was time to remove weeds around the plants and apply a thick layer of walnut shell mulch. This will help reduce future weed growth and retain water around the plant, giving these native plant species a better chance at survival.

For our final Field Day with Davis High school, we were back where our project started – at Sequoia Farms in Dixon. On our first Field Day, we planted 600 plants along the perimeter of this organic walnut orchard. Today, it was time to remove weeds around the plants and apply a thick layer of walnut shell mulch. This will help reduce future weed growth and retain water around the plant, giving these native plant species a better chance at survival.

After our opening circle and a game of PVC golf (in which students work together to transport a golf ball through pieces of PVC pipe to a designated target), we set off to the property perimeter and began our task of the day. Students observed the vast differences between the organic Sequoia Farms orchard and the conventional walnut orchard nearby – most due to the cover crop Sequoia Farms had planted. Cover crops are plants used to improve soil health, increase biodiversity, improve water availability, control weeds, and more, and are especially important in organic agriculture. Students immediately the increased number of insects and birds on the Sequoia Farms side, and wondered aloud why the other orchard looked so barren.

As students pulled weeds and surrounded plants with buckets of mulch, Rex Dufour of the National Center for Appropriate Technology led mentor groups in a nitrogen sampling activity. Each group of students cut and weigh sections of cover crop, and did calculations to estimate how much nitrogen was in their sample, and the orchard as a whole. This will give Sequoia Farms a better idea of how much nitrogen the cover crop is contributing to the orchard which well help them better manage their farm.

After mulching about 300 plants, we headed back to the workshop area to build barn owl boxes. Barn owls are cavity nesters, and with so much agriculture in the Central Valley, naturally occuring tree cavities can be difficult for nesting owls to find. These nest boxes provide suitable habitat for nesting owls, which in turn help with pest control for Sequoia Farms. An all-female group of students finished constructing their box first, announcing that they did it for “women everywhere” – after all, it was International Women’s Day!

After lunch, David Lester of Sequoia Farms gave a talk on organic farming practices, and how they manage their orchards. He helped provide the students with context of how their work will positively impact not just the environment, but also their farming operation.

To end the day, students interviewed mentors to learn more about their education and career paths, and wrote a thank you note to someone who made their SLEWS experience possible. I was proud to see students asking mentors about internship opportunities in their respective fields.

Thank you to all who made these Field Days possible!

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.