A day of irrigation along two creeks

Winters High School at Putah Creek Dry Creek Confluence
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | November 1, 2019

Participating School
Winters High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Valerie Whitworth and Michael Barbour

Mentors
Corey Shake, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS
Josh McCabe, Restoration Coordinator at ACRT Pacific
Lea Pollack, UCD Graduate Student
Marisa Alcorta, Apprenticeship Program Manager, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
Our second Sac Valley SLEWS day of the year brought us to the confluence of Putah Creek and Dry Creek in Winters, CA. Landowners Michael Barbour and Valerie Whitworth have been working with Yolo County Resource Conservation District to plan a habitat restoration project in an area that was damaged by fire in October 2018. This will increase biodiversity in the area as well as provide habitat for pollinators and the wildlife of the creek. We were happy to involve Winters High School students with this project, walking distance from their school!

After students arrived on foot and enjoyed breakfast, we gathered in our opening circle to introduce ourselves and the project goals, and learn names with a round of group juggle. From there Amy Williams of Yolo County Resource Conservation District led us towards the creek to teach us about a very important plant – blue elderberry. There are special rules and protective measures surrounding this plant. Why? It is the only host plant for the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle, a federally protected species of insect. Its habitat has been greatly reduced due to agriculture and urban development. To protect the beetle, the blue elderberry plant is protected from disturbance, trimming, and removal. Our project site has a sizeable elderberry shrub in the middle of it, so we took extra precautions to make sure it was not damaged during our work.

To start our project, we had to move a bunch of brush that was in the way of our project site. Though there was a sizeable amount of cut branches, students and mentors made extremely short work of it. Next the entire class gathered together to lay out the longest irrigation line. This is a group effort – students space themselves about 20 feet apart and carry the line all the way to the end as the spool of irrigation tubing unspools. One this line was “stapled” down, students got in their mentor groups to divide and conquer.

One group worked on installing emitters on existing oak trees, another created a “grid” of irrigation for the pollinator meadow, and the other two groups laid out 3 more lines of irrigation in the main planting area, taking care around the elderberry of course. By lunch time, students had installed 2500 feet total of irrigation and installed 280 emitters!

Once we were done eating, we ventured down to Putah Creek where Amy and mentor (and biologist!) Corey Shake talked about the significance of the creek and the wildlife that calls it home – especially spawning salmon! We even saw some wildlife of our own on the field day including western fence lizards, a fuzzy caterpillar, beetles, and birds. After exploring the creek, students found a quiet spot to sit and reflect on their first field day in a field journal. This low energy activity was probably a welcome end to the day – a mentor’s fitbit tracked that we walked 4 miles while working throughout the field day, not even counting the students’ walk to and from school!

Wind and rice and everything nice

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | October 29, 2019

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
River Garden Farms

Mentors
Colin Fagan, Lab Assistant, Williams Lab
Dana Stokes
Miles Daprato, Environmental Steward for UCD Campus Planning and Environmental Stewardship Department
Nick Gallagher, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA
Ryan Bixenmann

Summary of the Day
On Tuesday, October 29th, the Sacramento Valley SLEWS season began! Florin High students made the journey to River Garden Farms in Knights Landing for the third year in a row. This time, rather than planting hedgerows alongside a levee road, students gathered in the middle of a walnut orchard. Powerlines above the orchard make a strip of land unsuitable for trees. River Garden Farms saw this as an opportunity to create a corridor of native vegetation to increase biodiversity and provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators. Yolo County Resource Conservation District helped plan the project – 5 parallel rows of plants, with the outer two being mostly deergrass and the inner 3 being native shrubs and vegetation. The irrigation line was already in place, and students would be tackling the rest of the project.

After warming up with hot cocoa and breakfast, we got familiar with each other’s names with a game of group juggle. Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District introduced the group to the project and the task of the day – removing flags where there would not be plants, and installing emitters and spaghetti tubing onto the irrigation line. Students divided into their mentor groups and tackled the project at hand, despite very windy conditions. Much to everyone’s amusement, the hot pink irrigation poker tools that Alex initially made fun of turned out to be the best tool for the job and were highly sought after!


Though it was windy and sometimes challenging to access the irrigation lines through the weedy overgrowth, students had incredibly positive attitudes throughout the morning and it was truly a joy spending time with them. Some mentor groups even came up with team names to stay motivated – I believe I heard one group call themselves “the Scarlet Dragons”.

After lunch, students boarded the bus to make their way to River Garden Farms’ Tyndall Mound Warehouse. Warehouse Manager Joe took showed students how they weigh and sample shipments as they head out on the trucks before leading us on a tour of the rest of the facility. The highlight was DEFINITELY the warehouse – students were able to climb and play in an enormous warehouse full of loose, unhulled, dry rice! The rice drying machine was also fascinating – rice slowly travels downward over many, many stories as airflow helps it to dry out. 

We had to end the day in a hurry to get students back to school on time so we went around our closing circle to share just one word to describe the day. What was by far the most popular word? FUN!

A Rainy Spring day at Petersen Ranch

Rio Vista High School at Petersen Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 20, 2019

Participating School
Rio Vista High School

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District

Mentors
Carolyn Kolstad, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Emily Snider, UCD graduate student
Matthew Young, Fish Biologist, California Water Science Center, USGS
Luke Petersen, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS

Summary of the Day
The first day of spring was the second day out in the field for Rio Vista students at Petersen Ranch, but the weather turned out to be more wintry than we’d hoped – it was a light steady rain for most of the day, and windy as well. So windy, in fact, that during opening circle the pop-up canopy that was sheltering the breakfast table went tumbling across the field! It took several mentors chasing it down and affixing it to the side of the truck before we could continue.

We played a round of group juggle to familiarize ourselves with names before Chris Carlson of Solano RCD demonstrated our tasks for the day. It was too muddy to access our original site, so we were at a different location on Petersen Ranch to put the finishing touches on an existing project – weeding around previous planted trees and shrubs, planting grass and forb plugs, and installing emitters for all of these native plant species. Students worked through a rainy morning before breaking for lunch. Most students ate their burritos sheltered by the RCD trailer!

After lunch, there was a fun surprise – mentor Matt Young and his colleague MJ Farruggia had caught some fish near our field site. MJ showed students several species of native and non-native fish including mosquitofish, largemouth bass, Sacramento pikeminnow, and bigscale logperch. Groups rotated between MJ and Matt, who explained what he does as a fish biologist while teaching students how to use a casting net. Students were thrilled to catch Western mosquitofish and a fathead minnow in the drainage ditch near our planting site and almost every student remarked that this was their favorite part of the day!

We didn’t get the weather you would expect on the first day of spring, but mentors were so impressed that they didn’t hear one complaint or even comments about the unpleasant, rainy weather.

Restoring wildlife habitat with Florin High School

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 12, 2019

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Audubon California
River Garden Farms

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

Summary of the Day
After donning the now-ubiquitous yellow rainsuits, Florin High students gathered with mentors and River Garden Farms staff to begin their final Field Day at River Garden Farms. After a fun round of PVC golf, we tromped through the mud to the site of our first Field Day. Students worked hard last December to install a complete drip irrigation system, and today it was time to plant the native shrubs and milkweed that will make use of this water.

Students worked in mentor group to plant native shrubs, with milkweed plugs planted as “associates” next to these larger plants. “Two years from now there will be something here” one student remarked, “we should come back here for graduation!”. And he’s correct – though the hedgerow doesn’t look very impressive yet, these plants will continue to grow and eventually provide habitat for pollinators and other native species.

Once sections of plantings were complete, students began installing Wood Duck nest boxes along the hedgerow. Since there are relatively few trees in this agriculture-heavy area, it can be difficult for Wood Ducks to find suitable nesting habitat. Students worked together to pound 10 posts into the ground along the planting area and affix wood duck nest boxes to each. Perhaps next season, some of these boxes will be occupied!

With such a long irrigation line, we realized by the end of the morning some students had walked over 3 miles, planting all the way! Florin students planted an impressive 125 native shrubs and 150 milkweed associates, and installed 10 wood duck nest boxes by lunchtime. Students found worms, frogs, hawks, turkey vultures and even a dead skunk!

After lunch students interviewed mentors about their education and career paths, before we gathered for closing circle. More students than ever before said their favorite part of SLEWS was making new friends and working as a team with their mentor groups. What a fantastic project with fantastic students!

A day of habitat creation in San Diego’s Tijuana River Valley

SLEWS Program | San Diego County | February 23, 2019 | Field day 2

Participating School
Mar Vista High School

Location
Tijuana River Valley Community Garden in Southwest San Diego

Mentors

  • Samantha Cook, San Diego State graduate in Sustainability
  • Christine Lambert, Associate Archaeologist & Project Manager, Petra Resource Management
  • Emanuel Storey, San Diego State doctoral student in Geography
  • Thomas Strand, Environmental Planner, Chambers Group, Inc.

Land Manager
Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County

Summary of the Day

Mar Vista students and their teacher arrived for our second SLEWS field day on a sunny morning following a rainy period. The site was pretty muddy, but no one seemed to mind too much! Students mingled and snacked while the team geared up for the day’s activities.

We kicked things off with an invigorating game of Where the Wind Blows, which got everyone moving and laughing. We then headed off to the hedgerow for our morning of restoration work. Last field day, the hedgerow was divided into four sections – one for each mentor group. Groups returned to their sections to observe the plant life already in the hedgerow. They then spent some time weeding around existing plants and where new plants would be planted (thanks to the rain, weeds were plentiful – especially in section 4!). The groups then planted the plants allocated to their section – 45 native potted plants and ten mulefat cuttings taken from the surrounding area were planted. After planting, students created a watering basin and mulched around each new plant.

The Community Garden is located in a historically agricultural area. Although few farms remain, there are several stables in the area, including one adjacent to the garden owned by the family of a teacher at Mar Vista! The teacher, Mr Jara, rode by the garden during Field Day 1 and saw the students, and invited us over for a tour on our next field day. After our planting project, we headed over to the horse ranch to meet some of the horses and hear about what goes on at the ranch. Students (and mentors) even got to take turns riding a horse!

After our tour, we returned to the garden for lunch – we had burritos in response to a request from the students. Following lunch, we built native bee nesting blocks and installed a barn owl box. At the first field day, groups decided which project they would work on this time. Three selected bee boxes, and one selected the owl box. Students had lots of fun using power tools to drill holes in the nesting blocks and attaching a roof. They even decorated their nesting blocks before installing them within the hedgerow. The group that installed the owl box had an interesting time examining the box, which had been used before and still had remnants from the previous inhabitants! They attached a metal pole to the box, dug a hole for the pole, and erected the box. Hopefully by the next field day we’ll be able to observe wildlife utilizing their new habitat.

By the time the owl box had been erected and the nesting boxes installed in the hedgerow, we could see the bus pulling up. How was it 2pm already? After a quick group poem to reflect on our day (each participant said one word that summed up their experience of the day), the students headed back onto the bus.

We all had a great time and are excited for Field Day 3!

Accomplishments:

  • 55 native plants planted in the hedgerow
  • Weeding and mulching of the hedgerow
  • 3 native bee nesting blocks and 1 barn owl box installed on site

Mar Vista High participates in San Diego County’s First SLEWS program!

SLEWS Program | San Diego County | January 26, 2019 | Field day 1

Participating School
Mar Vista High School

Location
Tijuana River Valley Community Garden in Southwest San Diego

Mentors

  • Samantha Cook, San Diego State University graduate in Sustainability
  • Christine Lambert, Associate Archaeologist & Project Manager, Petra Resource Management
  • Emanuel Storey, San Diego State University doctoral student in Geography
  • Thomas Strand, Environmental Planner, Chambers Group, Inc.

Land manager
Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County

Summary of the day
RCD staff and our team of mentors greeted students from Mar Vista for our first field day at the Tijuana River Valley Community Garden (TRVCG) and our first ever SLEWS program!

It was a sunny January day, and students mingled and shyly snacked while everyone got settled in. A game of Group Juggle to learn names helped break the ice and get people smiling. It being our first field day, we spent some time going over the SLEWS program, the history of the site, and what participants could expect over our three field days together. We then did another activity to get to know each other – everyone selected a bird, mammal, plant, herptile, or weed card and shared two interesting things they learned about their chosen species, as well as their favorite place in nature.

We then took a quick tour of the community garden, the ¼ plots on site, and our carbon farming demonstration plot before arriving at the native plant hedgerow (dense, woody vegetation planted in a linear design to achieve a natural resource conservation purpose) where we will be concentrating our field day projects. Students broke up into their mentor groups and surveyed the section of the hedgerow assigned to them. They observed the number of living, dead, and damaged plants; any evidence of wildlife; the condition of the irrigation lines; and presence of mulch on the ground. This was done in preparation for the planting and mulching project for Field day 2. It was great to hear excitement from the students as they encountered lady bugs, butterflies, and even a tiny lizard.

Following our exploration of the hedgerow, each group took two soil samples from within their section of the hedgerow – one to be sent to a lab, and one for a mason jar soil particulate test. Before taking the samples we discussed soil characteristics, the different reasons for testing soil, and that different plants have different needs from the soil. In line with the SLEWS norms we agreed on that morning, everyone participated and got their hands in the soil.

After lunch, we did a reflection activity called Postcard from the Field then reconvened for closing circle before the students got back on the bus.

We really enjoyed our inaugural SLEWS experience and can’t wait for Field Day 2!

Accomplishments
– 8 soil samples taken for the hedgerow.
– Hedgerow surveyed for living/dead/damaged plants in preparation of planting.

A strong start at Jack Rice’s

Sacramento Charter High School at Jack Rice’s
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 30, 2019

Participating School
Sacramento Charter High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Jack Rice

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
Sacramento High students got a change of scenery for their second Field Day – instead of working at Clark Ranch in Winters, we went to a property in Woodland! Landowner Jack Rice has been working with Natural Resources Conservation District and Yolo County Resource Conservation District to edge his property with native plant species. The first step to this process is installing an irrigation system, and Sac High students arrived enthusiastic to contribute to this project.

As students changed into rubber boots and enjoyed breakfast, excitement started to build about the animals on the property including a dog named Zorro and a horse named Ranger. Students asked Jack many questions about his animals and property before gathering for our opening circle. After a game of “Where the Wind Blows”, mentor groups were given a bucket of irrigation supplies to explore. Especially after planting along an installed irrigation system on their first Field Day, students were quickly able to figure out how to close the end of the tube, poke holes, and install emitters. This was great practice for our restoration activity of the day!

After meeting Ranger the horse, it was time to start our restoration work. We needed to first lay down the irrigation tubing that will transport water along the edge of Jack’s property. The entire class worked as a team to accomplish this – one mentor group helped Brandon Baker of Yolo County Resource Conservation District work the “spooler” to uncoil the tube, while all other students, mentors, and teachers grabbed a section of the line and walked it along the planting area. Through this process, we were easily and accurately able to lay down 1800 feet of tubing, even rounding the northeastern corner.

Jack had done his best to move the large amount of mulch covering the area, but there was one area he couldn’t access. It needed to be cleared so that the next group of students can plant in soil, not mulch. Sac High students grabbed shovels and made short work of this before dividing back into mentor groups to finish the job. One group measured in 10-foot increments and placed flags along the line while the other three groups spread out to install an emitter at each flag, and secure the line to the ground as they worked. After installing 180 emitters, students seemed tired and we thought that might be enough work for one morning…until one student spoke up, “we’re all already here! We might as well keep going!”. She was able to convince the entire class to dig a trench that will help connect the irrigation line to the water supply, and they finished this extra project before lunch!

After a well-deserved break, students had the opportunity to interview our volunteer mentors. Apart from working alongside students on the restoration work, mentors are a wonderful resource for students to learn more about different career paths in environmental sciences and more. Every student had the opportunity to ask mentors questions about their professional journey and as I was walking between groups I overheard one student ask, “What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do?”. Even though these students are Freshmen in High School, they are already thinking about their futures!

A rainy day at River Garden Farms

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 15, 2019

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Audubon California
River Garden Farms

Mentors
Aaron Haiman, Environmental Scientist and Tribal Liaison, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy
Esther Tracy, Environmental Scientist, Department of Water Resources
Fanny Ye, Soil Conservationist, NRCS
Xerónimo Castañeda, Conservation Project Associate, Audubon California

Summary of the Day
Our second day at River Garden Farms wins the award for wettest Field Day of the season so far! As soon as students arrived we had them gear up in rain gear and mud boots before having breakfast under a canopy. We did an opening circle and played “Where the Wind Blows” to learn more about each other, before playing a round of “Steal the Native Plant” to learn more about some of the species we’d later be planting.

On our first Field Day we installed a drip irrigation system, but unfortunately this area was too muddy for us to access this time. Luckily, Dominic Bruno (Assistant General Manager of River Garden Farms) had another project up his sleeve – maintaining the native plant hedgerow that classes of SLEWS students help install in years past. He demonstrated the proper way to trim the deergrass bunches, plant milkweed seeds, and replant some of the plants that did not survive.

Two mentor groups set off, clippers in hand, to trim the deergrass. One group pretended they were working in a barbershop, giving “haircuts” to the bunches of deergrass on the levee. As one student put it, “we gave haircuts to 33 customers and not a single one left us a tip!”. Two other groups ventured in the opposite direction, replanting some of the plants from previous years that hadn’t survived. Finally, the fifth group worked on planting “companion” milkweed seeds next to established plants. These milkweed plants will be a crucial resource for migrating monarch butterflies. By the end of the day, Dominic estimated that students trimmed 45 deergrass, planted 100 milkweed plants as associates, and replanted 50 native trees and shrubs!

The rain continued to come down throughout the morning, so we decided to shelter for lunch. After taking off raingear, students loaded back up onto the bus to ride to the shop area for lunch. On the way, avid birder and mentor Aaron Haiman led the students in a birdwatching activity facing some flooded rice fields. Flooding the rice fields breaks down the rice stalks for the following growing season, but also creates artificial wetlands that provide habitat for migratory birds. River Garden Farms has added another level of restoration to this effort, growing “Fish Food” for young salmon in the Sacramento River. You can learn more about this awesome project by watching the short film “A New Way Forward” at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miIhs-mc_40.

Students enjoyed lunch in River Garden Farms’ shop area, eating at tables amongst rice harvesting machinery storage. Students especially enjoyed warming up by the heater after a chilly, wet day!

A change of scenery for Davis High

Davis High School at Dry Arroyo Creek
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 11, 2019

Participating School
Davis High School

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District

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

Summary of the Day
Our second Field Day with Davis High School brought us to a new location – Dry Arroyo Creek between Dixon and Winters. There have been several SLEWS projects in this area over the years, and Solano Resource Conservation District invited Davis High students to put some of the final touches on a restoration project many years in the making.

After breakfast, we learned more about one another through a game called “Wind in the Willows”. This game allows us to identify commonalities within the group, and strengthen our bond as a SLEWS team. Then, Solano Resource Conservation District staff led us in a demonstration of our restoration task for the day – plug planting native grasses! Students learned to use a “dibble” to poke holes in the ground, insert a grass “plug” (a small clump of native grasses) and pinch the soil over the top to prevent moisture loss. The hope is that these native grasses will outcompete invasive grass species, to improve soil stability and water retention and increase biodiversity.

Once students got a hang of the process, mentor groups spread out along the bank of dry arroyo creek and began planting grass plugs every 2 feet in a grid-like pattern. These grasses will eventually grow to fill in the entire area. I had one student ask me to further explain the impact these grasses will have in the area, and I appreciated her wanting to put the project into context! There were some very impressive feats of teamwork with some students measuring, some students “dibbling”, and students following to plant the grass plugs. By lunchtime, students had planted around 2000 native grass plugs!

Students had been eager to explore Dry Arroyo Creek all morning. Lucky for them, after lunch, Sarah McKibbin of Solano Resource Conservation District led the students across the creek on a native plant walk to see some of the plants that have become established through the restoration effort. Then students were given time to explore the creek and adjacent areas in mentor groups, identifying native plants and birds. One group even found a frog in the creek! As groups were exploring, Davis High teacher Sherri Sandberg rotated mentor groups through a water monitoring activity to assess the water quality of Dry Arroyo Creek.

A sunny first day in the Capay Valley

Woodland High School at Pharm Schaer
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 10, 2019

Participating School
Woodland High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Candice Schaer

Mentors
Fanny Ye, Soil Conservationist, NRCS
Gina Radieve, Environmental Scientist, California Department of Water Resources
Miles Daprato, Environmental Steward for UCD Campus Planning and Environmental Stewardship Department
Susie Bresney, Staff Scientist, Stockholm Environment Institute

Summary of the Day
After our first Field Day was postponed due to poor air quality from the Camp Fire, we were eager to get started on our project at Pharm Schaer, Candice Schaer’s property in Guinda.

Since it was our first Field Day with Woodland students, our opening circle served as an introduction to the restoration project as well as the partners, landowners, and mentors. Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District explained the project planning process and project goals, including planting native trees and shrubs to increase species diversity, promote beneficial insects and provide nectar sources for insects and cover for wildlife. Students also met the film crew from local public television show “Rob on the Road” – they were filming this field day for an upcoming segment on SLEWS!

After opening circle, students met with their mentor groups and were presented with a bucket of various irrigation supplies and tools – tubing, emitters, pokers, cutters, and connectors. Students were given time to practice with these items in order to become familiar with the components of a drip irrigation system. Students were quickly able to figure out how drip irrigation works, and Brandon Baker of Yolo County Resource Conservation District followed up with an instructional demonstration.

The first task was to roll out the irrigation line which is a major group effort! Each student helped carry a section of the 1400 foot tube, even rounding a corner. Once the line was laid down, one mentor group measured and flagged the line every ten feet so the other two mentor groups could follow, poking holes and installing emitters. After the line was complete, we did a quality check, turning the water on so students could replace emitters that were improperly installed. Woodland students worked so hard and efficiently that there wasn’t much to fix – we were even able to measure and install emitters on an additional 200 foot section of irrigation, far exceeding the landowner and RCD’s expectations for the day.

After lunch, I was so impressed to see Woodland students picking up shovels and pushing wheelbarrows to gather mulch – landowner Candice Schaer had asked for help filling in a muddy patch and they responded with trademark enthusiasm. They made short work of that small project, and then mentor groups ventured out to identify some native plants on the property. They even recognized a few plants we had planted that day!

To conclude the day, students found an area to sit by themselves and reflect on their experience in their Field Journal. At our closing circle, many students remarked that this moment of quiet reflection was their favorite part of the whole day.