The last volunteer SLEWS day

Wild Oak Vineyards
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | May 20, 2021

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District
Wild Oak Vineyards

Volunteers
Gina Radieve
Josh McCabe
Dominic Carrillo
Sara Lipschutz
Weipeng Wang
Samuel Flohr
Natalie Ruckstuhl
Noreen Mabini
Karyn Utsumi
Teresa Clapham

Summary of the Day
This season (our 20th!) of SLEWS has looked different than all others before it. The glaring difference? A distinct lack of high school students. I have been extremely grateful to have the opportunity to work with a fantastic group of adult volunteers, but I know all of us are eagerly awaiting the moment we can have a field day with high school students once again.

To cap off our 2020-21 season, we held a long-awaited field day at Wild Oak Vineyards in Fairfield. This was actually meant to be a SLEWS site in the 2019-20 season, but when the project was delayed we relocated to a project at Lake Dalwigk in Vallejo (blog post here: http://landbasedlearning.org/blog/2020/03/12/urban-greening-in-vallejo/). It was fun to finally make this day happen with volunteers and Solano RCD staff!

At our opening circle many volunteers were surprised to recognize each other from class at UC Davis – what a coincidence! Amy King from Solano RCD introduced us to the project site and the day’s activities, and Sarah McKibbin presented about monarch butterfly conservation and the role of farms like this one in the effort to save them. One of our volunteers shared that she had been planting pollinator plants in her apartment complex and asked for resources to continue doing so!

After our introductions, it was time to get to work. The first task was spreading piles mulch in a future planting area – this will help prevent weed growth and improve water retention in the soil to give those plants a better foundation. There was one area that didn’t have enough mulch, so half our group stayed to cart wheelbarrows full of mulch back and forth to fill in the area while the other half started the other task – weeding. Volunteers made their way along a previously planted hedgerow of native plants and used hoes to remove weeds growing near the plants. This will reduce competition between the native and non-native plants and give them a better chance of survival. We even found a patch of milkweed that had popped up on its own!

After a vigorous morning of work, it was time to break for lunch. I enjoyed spending lunch chatting with some of our volunteers – many of whom are hoping to find a career in habitat restoration! Off to a great start, I’d say. Cheers to a great, albeit strange, 2020-2021 SLEWS season!

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!

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!