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!

A big project on a windy day

River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | February 4, 2021

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

Volunteers
David Marks
Ruby Marks
Gabrielle Stadem
Sarah Gaffney
Anna Tolle
Bri Grosskopf

Summary of the Day
For our second double-header field day at River Garden Farms, we were at a new location on the road to River Garden Farms HQ. We had planned 2 SLEWS projects here for this year, hoping that 2 classes of students would each adopt a section of the hedgerow for their 3-day project. Alas, COVID-19 had other plans, but we were lucky to have a dedicated group of volunteers come out to get this project started!

We started our cold and windy morning by watching a planting demonstration by Joanne Heraty of Yolo County Resource Conservation District, and we learned with semi-recent rains we had some of the easiest digging all year ahead of us! Remember, this was meant to be a double SLEWS project, so this hedgerow was LONG! By the end of the first shift (lunchtime) we had finished maybe ¾ of the planting, so our afternoon crew arrived and finished the planting portion. Once all 480 plants were installed, we set to work on installing the irrigation system, laying out the line and following up with emitters. By the end of second shift, we were halfway done with emitter installation – I told you this project was ambitious!

Looking forward to our last double field day at River Garden Farms next week where we will mulch along this hedgerow.