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!

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!

Putting the finishing touches on a project in Rio Vista

Rio Vista High School at Petersen Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | April 3, 2019

Participating School
Rio Vista High School

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District

Mentors
Carolyn Kolstad, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Emily Snider, UCD graduate student
Karleen Vollherbst, Schoolyard Habitat Program Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Matthew Young, Fish Biologist, California Water Science Center, USGS
Luke Petersen, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS

Summary of the Day
For our third and final Field Day, we decided to spend the day at a more established restoration site to give students the opportunity to see what their project might look like in several years time. Though the site was flourishing, so were the weeds – our main project task of the day would be removing these weeds to reduce competition with the planted natives.

We played a round of PVC golf to get our mentor teams working together before beginning our restoration work. Chris Carlson explained that there would be two main project tasks that day – weeding and digging. He showed students how to identify three common weeds – cheeseweed, hemlock, and mustard – before demonstrating how to use the hoes to efficiently remove them. We also discussed the ambitious digging portion of the project – in order to install two barn owl boxes, two deep, narrow holes needed to be dug. While some mentor groups weeded, others used post hole diggers and shovels to dig a four-foot-deep hole in the earth. Once the hole reached a four-foot depth, some students were excited to test it out and climbed in up to their shoulders!

Before installing the owl boxes, mentor Luke Petersen gave a wonderful talk about barn owls and why these nest boxes are so important. Mentor groups worked together to hoist the posts into the holes as Jeff of Solano RCD secured them in place. Then it was time to mix concrete! Instead of a cement mixer, Rio Vista students used shovels to mix the concrete and secure the post. By mornings end, the area was looking nearly weed-free, and two barn owl boxes were standing tall!

Students then had the opportunity to interview mentors about their education and career paths before sitting down to reflect and write a thank you note to someone who made their SLEWS experience possible. Many students ended up thanking their mentors, who by then had spent three field days guiding them. And several students ended up writing and distributing several thank you notes!

Cheers to a wonderful last field day at Petersen Ranch!