Pioneer plants plenty of plugs

Pioneer High School at Yanci Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | February 28, 2020

Participating School
Pioneer High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers

Mentors
Dominic Carrillo, Development Associate, Center for Land-Based Learning
Elaine Swiedler, California Farm Academy Apprenticeship Program Coordinator, Center for Land-Based Learning
Gina Radieve, Environmental Scientist, California Department of Water Resources
Jen Metes, Conservation Programs Administrator, The Freshwater Trust

Summary of the Day
This SLEWS season, as you may recall, we had two schools working at the Yanci Ranch project site – Grant Union High School in Sacramento and Pioneer High School in Woodland. Because the ground was too dry to plug plant on Grant Union’s last day, they instead finished planting container plants and shored up the irrigation system so it would be able to moisten the soil for Pioneer students to complete the plug planting portion. Pioneer students arrived to softer soil, and ready to plant these plugs!

After a game of PVC golf, Amy Williams showed students what our restoration work would look like today. The goal will be planting some more native species including sunflower, yarrow, gumplant, goldenrod and milkweed – except this time, instead of planting plants in plastic container pots, these “plug” plants come in a tray, and are so small that planting them just requires poking a hole with a “dibble” and pinching the native soil over the top. At each marked spot, students would plant 4 plug plants, and install a protective tube secured by a stake around each to. To finish, students would apply a thick layer of straw mulch around the tubes to prevent weeds from outcompeting the native species.
Mentor groups divided along the line to conquer this project, working in pairs to plug plant, install tubes, and mulch. As they worked, students noticed several ant nests in the area and even found a tree frog!

After lunch and enjoying SLEWS-themed cupcakes, we hiked up to the top of a nearby hill for 360 degree views of Yanci Ranch. We saw our project site, earlier phases of the project that connect to our piece to create corridors for wildlife, and a beautiful view of the hills and the valley below. After taking the view in, students had time to create a thank you card for someone who made their SLEWS experience possible – be it a teacher, mentor, restoration partner, landowner, funder, or someone else. As students were working, I found an owl pellet and deer skull, both of which I showed to students during closing circle. As we finished the day, we reminisced on past field days and discussed our favorite moments of SLEWS. Many students enjoyed planting, the feeling of teamwork, visiting the earlier phases of the project, and being on top of the hill, but one student encouraged us all to enjoy the current moment with her one word answer, “now”.

Becoming native plant caretakers

Winters High School at Putah Creek Dry Creek Confluence
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | February 21, 2020

Participating School
Winters High School

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

Mentors
Carolyn Kolstad, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Josh McCabe, Restoration Coordinator at ACRT Pacific
Karleen Vollherbst, Schoolyard Habitat Program Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Lea Pollack, UCD Graduate Student
Marisa Alcorta, Apprenticeship Program Manager, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
Our final day working at the confluence of Putah Creek and Dry Creek in Winters was a hot one, but that didn’t stop us from accomplishing a TON of work.

After mentor groups faced off in a game of PVC golf, we headed down to our planting site to hear from Amy Williams of Yolo County Resource Conservation District about the plans for the day. The main goal was supporting the plants we had planted on our second field day to give them the best possible chance at survival. This was a multi-step process. First, students checked to make sure the emitter was working properly. Then, they installed protective tubes around each plant and drove a bamboo stake into the ground to keep the tube upright. They then cleared weeds around the plant and applied a thick layer of mulch to prevent weed growth around the plant and minimize water loss. There were a few areas in which plants needed to be planted as well, so we planted about 15 native plants in addition to what we had done on our second field day. As we planted, students and mentors noticed many birds around the project site, including yellow-rumped warblers, western bluebirds, and tree swallows.

After a productive morning, we had burritos for lunch and celebrated the last SLEWS day with a cupcake cake. Once lunch was finished, we moved on to mentor interviews. By now, students had been working with their mentors for 3 field days, and this gave them an opportunity to get to know them even better and ask them questions about their education and career paths. As you can see by the diverse job titles above, students were able to hear about several different lines of work and asked great questions, a popular one being, “what is the most surprising thing about your job?”.

To close the day, we shared our favorite experiences of all three SLEWS Field Days. Many students cited visiting Putah Creek on Day 1 and learning about black widow behavior with mentor Lea on Day 2 as their favorite experiences, along with mulching and planting.

Thanks for 3 awesome Field Days!

The need to weed!

Woodland High School at the Maples
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | February 19, 2020

Participating School
Woodland High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District

Mentors
Grace Auringer, Technician, Genomic Variation Lab
Mandi Finger, Associate Director, Genomic Variation Lab
Matt Clement
Matt Young, Fish Biologist, California Water Science Center, USGS

Summary of the Day
As you may recall, our SLEWS project with Woodland High School is actually two projects – two days at the Maples in Woodland, and two days at Capay Open Space Park. This was our third field day after one at the Maples and one at COSP, making it our final day at the Maples.

We had a small crew on this day which made PVC golf trickier than usual (you have to run FAST to get to the front of the group before the golf ball does!) but two groups won the game incredibly quickly. After that, it was time to group up to learn about the restoration work for the day.

Since we planted all the plants on our first field day here, our next task was to make sure these plants are given the best chance at survival. Installing “tubex” tubes around each plant will help protect them from pests, herbicides, and wind and will create a mini greenhouse for the young plants. Before installing the tubes, students checked to make sure the emitter was working properly, and created a soil “berm” on the low side of the plant to prevent all the water from flowing into the basin. But one of the biggest problems for these plants will be competition from weeds! To combat this, we mulched around each plant with a THICK (two “leaves” or “flakes” worth) of straw. This will prevent weeds from growing up around the plant, so they’ll have better access to resources like water and sunlight.

Speaking of weeds – there was already tons of cheeseweed and milkthistle sprouting up in our planting area. After a quick lesson on how to identify these pesky weeds, students set to work attacking each and every one! Students were very inquisitive as they worked – asking what benefit weeding would have for the plants, and asking to be reminded of the species we planted last time and their role in the ecosystem.

After lunch, we donned binoculars and set off to explore nearby Cache Creek. We spotted many different species of birds and took some time to relax and enjoy the view from the levee.

At closing circle, students were asked what they had learned that day. Popular mentions were how to identify milkweed and cheeseweed, how to use binoculars, and the benefits of mulching. As for favorite moments of the day, the clear winner was a surprise – weeding!

Plants under the powerlines

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 14, 2020

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
River Garden Farms

Mentors
Colin Fagan, Lab Assistant, Williams Lab
Dana Stokes
Jacob Byers, Partner Biologist, Sacramento NWRC
Miles Daprato, Environmental Steward for UCD Campus Planning and Environmental Stewardship Department
Nick Gallagher, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA

Summary of the Day
Our second Field Day at River Garden Farms was warmer than anticipated, and thought it had rained the night before the dirt road was only damp, not muddy! After a breakfast of bagels and fruit, we got moving with a game of “Where the Wind Blows” before heading over for our planting demonstration.

Planting was tricky on this day – we were planting both tiny plugs and container plants, and putting protective tubes around each plant. Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District gave a demonstration on all the necessary steps before we divided into mentor groups to play “Steal the Native Plant”, a variant of “Steal the Bacon”. Students learned how to identify sage, elderberry, coyotebrush, toyon, lupine, and wild rose before racing to be the first group to identify these native plants.

After gathering tools, mentor groups ventured out towards their assigned section. River Garden Farms had some tree tubes they wanted to reuse, but they were too small to fit around some of our larger shrubs. Students improvised to fit two tubes together to make one megatube that would fit around the plants! This was a slower process than usual, but students were meticulous in their work and did a great job planting. Some students began even naming plants as they went!

I have to hand it to Florin students for being so enthusiastic and dedicated to the project – this was the first time I’ve ever had to beg students to come back for lunch!

After some well-deserved burritos, students had the opportunity to interview all of the mentors about their differing education and career paths. I heard students asking mentors for advice and some great off-script questions, including “what’s your favorite superhero?”. One mentor, who’s in the restoration field, replied that he’d pick time travel so he could travel back in time to see what the area really was like so he’d be better at his job. Perhaps some of the same native plants that would have been around back then are once again back in the area thanks to Florin students!