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!

An adventure across Cache Creek

Woodland High School at Capay Open Space Park
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 29, 2020

Participating School
Woodland High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Cache Creek Conservancy

Mentors
Grace Auringer, Technician, Genomic Variation Lab
Mikayla Peterson, Outreach & Watershed Education Specialist, Cache Creek Conservancy
Matt Clement, Facilities Steward, Center for Land-Based Learning
Matt Young, Fish Biologist, California Water Science Center, USGS

Summary of the Day
Our first morning in Capay Open Space Park was quick as we were trying to beat the heat – 700 beehives were near our planting area and we wanted to get as much done as we could while the bees were still relatively cold and inactive! After a game of Where the Wind Blows, we grabbed tools and headed down to Cache Creek.

To avoid walking by these 700 beehives, crossing the creek was our best option. Though the creek was shallow, it wasn’t shallow enough to make it across in our mudboots. Enter: the Argo. An amphibious ATV that works on land and water! Students donned PFDs and were ferried across in groups by Phil Zoucha of Cache Creek Conservancy.

Once everyone was across, we gathered for a quick refresher on plug planting. Students didn’t need much instruction as this was an activity we did on our first Field Day. Mentor groups each tackled a marked section and set to work plug planting – scraping away excess vegetation, “dibbling” a hole, inserting the native plant plug, and pinching the native soil over the top. Woodland High students really seem to take pride in being hard workers, and did a great job staying on task, checking the quality of their work, and helping their peers. As mentor groups finished sections, they moved to unplanted areas and even started makeshift “mulching” the plugs that were already done with the vegetation they scraped away. We planted all 1200 plugs in no time.

Before argo-ing back to the other side, we were able to spot some cool wildlife including a kingfisher, and the highlight of the day – a bird called a California Thrasher. While planting, students noticed many invertebrates including millipedes, worms, and a Jerusalem Cricket!

Our next task of the day was seeding. Depending on who you talk to in the RCD, you may hear this technique called “dinner plates” or “chia pets”. The basic technique is: clear a patch of soil (taking care to avoid native perennial grasses!), break up the soil, sprinkle seeds on top so they land about 1” apart, stir up the soil, and pack it back down. Mentor groups took on different areas of the park and planted seeds until lunchtime. Tanya Meyer of Yolo County RCD estimated we put about a pound of native seeds in the ground when all was said and done!

After lunch it was time for a SLEWS classic – mentor interviews. Sitting down and having a guided conversation with mentors about their education and career paths hopefully gets them thinking about what they may accomplish in their own lives. Students asked great questions including asking about mentor’s favorite plants, favorite college experiences, and what a “researcher” does exactly – and what they have figured out through science.

After this, students found space to sit by themselves and write and draw to reflect on the day. I saw some California Thrashers and well-planted plugs among the drawings!

With our “one word to describe the day” closing circle, popular words were “fun!” and “dibble!”. And I for one am very relieved to report we made it the whole day without a single bee sting!