Creating wildlife habitat on a school campus

Grant Union High School in the GEO Academy Garden
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | April 1, 2021

Funded by
Sacramento Municipal Utility District SHINE Award

Summary of the Day
A little over a week after our first SLEWS Field Day at Grant Union High School we were back for our second day, which took place over the students’ spring break. Our first day had been spent clearing out the planting area and enriching the soil, so the site was ready for the next step of its native habitat transformation – installing the plants!

At our opening circle, each student shared which superpower they’d most like to have and introduced the group to a plant we’d be installing that day or one they’ve already seen in the GEO Garden. Then we headed out to the planting site to get started.

The first step was using rakes to level the ground and break up any large clumps of soil. Then students worked together to install the irrigation line. Once this was done, the students were challenged to set up the planting area based on the planting plan their teachers had provided. Roles were assigned – project manager, assistant project manager, etc. and students had long and lively discussions about the best way to lay out the plants. Once they finished, teachers provided feedback and students adjusted the plant layout to better follow the planting plan. Students made indentations at each planting site and filled them with water to saturate the soil before planting per the garden manager’s instructions.

We took a break for a burrito lunch to give the water time to sink in. After eating, students finished digging holes and planted all of the plants. Students installed an emitter at each plant to ensure it would receive the proper amount of water, and added spaghetti tubing where necessary to make sure the water would reach the plant. Finally, we put a layer of mulch around the plants to discourage weed growth and increase water retention. We finished just in time for a quick closing circle before sending students off to enjoy the rest of their spring break. I’m looking forward to our third and final field day later this year, when hopefully we can get more students involved with the project!

SLEWS with students – FINALLY!

Grant Union High School in the GEO Academy Garden
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 23, 2021

Funded by
Sacramento Municipal Utility District SHINE Award

Summary of the Day
A SLEWS Field Day? With High School students? What has been the program-standard for the past 19 years of SLEWS became an impossibility in our 20th year due to COVID-19 – until now.

As everyone surely recalls, the beginning of last fall was filled with uncertainty. How long would distance learning last? Weeks? Months? All year? Would students be able to participate in SLEWS at all? Grant Union teachers had these same questions and contacted me at the beginning of the school year with the great idea to do a SLEWS-style restoration project on their high school campus. This would take the trickiest part of in-person COVID-safe field days (transportation) out of the equation, allowing students to participate in SLEWS as soon as they were allowed on campus again.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) awarded us funding to complete this project, but as of March, in-person instruction has still not resumed. We are nearing the end of prime planting season, so we wanted to get going on the project, and we found a solution to make this happen with Grant High School students!

Our Grant Union High School Thousand Strong interns have clearance to be on campus and were eager to help us get this habitat restoration project off the ground. The goal of the first field day was site preparation, and we set to work after an opening circle that included a round of “two truths and a lie”. Two students were tasked with digging a trench to extend the irrigation system to reach our project area while others cleared out (and composted) the sycamore leaves littering the site. Then we worked together to turn all the soil and get it ready for enrichment. Our planting area is adjacent to the incredible Grant Union GEO Academy garden, so we took advantage of this resource to give the soil a boost. Students were instructed on how to clip the cover crop to create green compost which will be incorporated into the soil along with compost from the GEO compost piles.

Next week we will return to turn this beautiful soil into a native plant hedgerow!

Finishing another season of restoration at River Garden Farms

River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | February 18, 2021

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
River Garden Farms
Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation

Volunteers
Mandi Finger
Felisia Castaneda
Peter Johnson
Joe Hardie
Bri Grosskopf
Griffin Capehart

Summary of the Day
February 18th marked our final SLEWS Field Day with Yolo County Resource Conservation District, and we were back for our third double-header at River Garden Farms. On our previous field day, we spent two shifts planting 480 plants, including installing protective cartons and an irrigation system. Today it was time to mulch these plants to discourage weed growth and improve moisture retention. Like we did at Capay Valley Lavender, we were able to repurpose byproducts of the farm (in this case, rice straw) to accomplish this important task! As we mulched, we also did quality control – checking that emitters were working properly, and anchoring stray protective cartons.

As volunteers worked to place large mats of straw around each plant, River Garden Farms employee Arturo followed along towing a trailer full of straw bales. These weren’t your ordinary straw bales, either, they were gigantic! Arturo ensured that straw was always available when we needed it, and did a great job matching our pace. We were thankful that our COVID-19 masks provided protection against all the dust and debris from the straw as we made our way down the future hedgerow!

The morning shift of volunteers was able to mulch the majority of the plants, which the afternoon crew quickly finished up. Then we got in our vehicles to regroup at a new project site. The Sacramento River flows through River Garden Farms, and they wanted to beautify a ¼ acre levee area adjacent to their headquarters while supporting conservation efforts. The solution? Plant native wildflowers on the levee.

We took to the levee, using hoes to scrape away patches on the surface of the earth, sprinkling wildflower seed mix, and patting down before moving on to create more patches. By the end of the afternoon, we had finished seeding our project area, covering about 33% of the area in native wildflower seeds. I can’t wait to see the transformation when the flowers bloom – it’ll be an explosion of lupines and phaecelia!

Thank you to our partners, funders, and volunteers for helping us to keep our SLEWS restoration projects moving forward, even when working with students is not possible. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a more typical SLEWS season next fall!