SYH Project Update

April, 2013 CA Poppies

April, 2013 CA Poppies

April 8, 2013

Well,  the Matilija Schoolyard Habitat project has been on it’s own for about a year.  Time to take a look, how did we do?  At the beginning of the 2012-13  school year,  a new principle was hired, so it was time to look at the project with a “new pair of glasses” – – – to let it be, and evolve on it own.  Thank you Ms. Mostovoy, past principal, for the faith and confidence to “build it and they will come” style to help move this project ahead.

In February 2012,  200 native plants were “grounded” (planted in the soil and gopher baskets)  and managed to make it thru the hot Ojai summer.    Drip irrigation should always be installed right after planting, but on-site access to irrigation wasn’t available until late June, when everyone was  gone.  As a result,  the plants were hand watering over the summer  (thank you Jenny!!!).  By Sept, 2012,  it was still warm, and many plants didnt make it.   Some plants managed to survive, and the gophers were still plentiful.  Fortunately, the weeds have been managed for the last few years without the use of herbicides (after “sheet-mulching” using compost tea, cardboard and lots of mulch).

Update at of April 7, 2013:  a year later, about 50 % of the 200 native plants that were put in the ground still remain.  The CA poppies are very happy (see picture).   We received little rain this year. There was enough to water in the weed seed deposits from prior years, which are now in full bloom.

The Phase 1 area  of the Schoolyard Habitat is currently in need of some maintenance to control the weeds. It is important to pull/stomp/weed whack the weeds before new seeds set, with more mulch added to further suppress the weeds.  That should take care of it – – -no more weeds.  We want to exhaust the seed bank and not let anymore weed seeds settle in.  If not, those weeds will be with us for a long time to come.  The native plants that have made appear a little dry and could use some supplemental water since our rainfall has been light and shallow (no heavy rains).

I hope the school will be moving ahead with the original grant proposals submitted to and funded by the Ojai Valley Women’s Club, Lowe’s and U.S. Fish and Wildlife.  It was a blessing to be part of this amazing project.  Many thanks to all the volunteers and donations and many hours of planning and organizing that got it off the ground.

Renee Roth

Before and After Pictures

Before Picture of Matilija SYH

Before Picture of Matilija SYH

April, 2013 Gophers are still there and some of the weeds are back

Matilija SYH on April 5, 2013- the gophers are still there and some of the weeds are back

Time to get some rain gardens planted?

types of rain gardens

types of rain gardens

We have habitat for wildlife!

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Narrow Leaf Milkweed provides food for Monarch Butterfly Larva

“I hear…I forget
I see…and I remember
I do…and I understand”
Ancient Chinese Proverb

Scarlet Monkey Flower

We are beginning to provide habitat for wildlife— food, water, shelter and a place to raise their young. On June 30th, I was delighted by the sight of a hummingbird enjoying the Scarlet Monkey Flower, along with a pair of mating monarch butterflies on the Narrow Leaf Milkweed at the Schoolyard Habitat at Matilija JH.

a place for water

bird bath provides summer water for wildlife

When the Ventura River, San Antonio and Thacher Creeks dry up in the summer, access to water is especially important. Wildlife prefer to drink from ground level. To provide temporary access to water, we converted an old drinking fountain into a makeshift bird bath (actually, the old water fountain had been dismantled many years ago).  This provides insects and birds with access to shallow water (not deep water) which is important during the hot summer months. Who is going to keep that water flowing over the summer when students, teachers and faculty are gone?

No rain is expected until sometime in November/December (but who really knows these days?). The native plants in the Schoolyard Habitat were planted in February 2012 and still need to be watered over the summer months, once every 2 weeks, with a slow, deep water (either early in the morning or early evening once it has cooled off) until the plants get established.

Any volunteers ready to help with watering? Send an email to or call Renee Roth @ 805-798-3897

Below is desert willow in bloom, which also attract hummingbirds and grows 15-30 ft tall with a 15-25 ft spread, in well drained soil.

Desert Willow, Chilopsis Linearis

Desert Willow, Chilopsis Linearis

Best Birds for the Garden

See the article at,1

Find out how to attract these helpful birds—and why.

Birds will eat insect pests year-round in your garden, if you provide a few of the basic necessities to attract and keep them nearby. Here’s how to attract 10 of the best birds for controlling garden pests.

Bluebirds sing for spring and for their supper of garden pests. The spring diet of the western bluebird (which ranges from southern British Columbia down to central Mexico and from the Pacific to west Texas) is entirely insects, especially grasshoppers! Beetles, weevils, crickets, and caterpillars—sprinkled with the occasional ant, fly, centipede, sowbug, and snail—are the meals of choice for most bluebirds.

They prefer to nest in sunny, open areas. Their perfect nest box would be mounted on a post within 50 feet of a tree (facing it, if possible), fence, or other structure away from bushy hedgerows.

Find out how to attract these helpful birds—and why.

how to attract chickadees to the gardenChickadees
Don’t let their sweet song fool you. Chickadees and their cousins, titmice, are pest-control champions throughout the United States and Canada. As much as 90 percent of their diet consists of insects—moths, caterpillars, flies, beetles, bugs, plant lice, scale, leafhoppers, and tree hoppers.

In winter, chickadees stay on patrol, searching bark crevices for hibernating insects and the eggs of moths, plant lice, pear psylla, and katydids.

To keep chickadees and titmice on patrol in the winter, provide some suet in a mesh bag or a feeder full of sunflower seeds. In spring, provide a nest box packed with wood chips. If possible, place the nest box at the edge of a wooded area.

See the rest of article at,1

Keller Williams provides many “helping hands” for the Matilija Schoolyard Habitat!

Early in the morning on Thursday May 10, Keller Williams agents/colleagues volunteered for Red Shirt Day to provide a “helping hand” with the native plant garden at Matilija Junior High Schoolyard Habitat (SYH). They came to Ojai from Oxnard, Ventura, and Camarillo with about 50 eager volunteers, then 10 more showed up . . then maybe another 10 . . . it WAS amazing! Their energetic and spirited help, coordinated by Renee Roth, focused on weeding the entire 2/3 acre site, along with “sheet mulching” the Phase 1 and Phase 2 areas of the SYH. Their efforts will help prepare the site by suppressing weeds and improving the soil in preparation for planting the Meadow Garden and Chumash Garden in the Fall, 2012.

Sheet mulching is the process where cardboard and mulch are applied, along with water, to create a barrier that gets rid of weeds using no herbicides. The moist barrier keeps sunlight out to stop photosynthesis of the weeds. The weeds decompose and provide nutrients to the soil, which can begin retaining moisture, replicating the process of what happens in a healthy habitat. This requires six to 8 inches of mulch, which initially must be watered in, and then kept moist to support the decomposition process.

Many Thanks for your committed and hard working crew!

Renee Roth is a green educator who helped secure grant funding from US Fish & Wildlife and others to develop the site as a Schoolyard Habitat. The SYH provides an opportunity to get students outdoors to learn and explore wildlife in a natural setting on school grounds.

Screen Shot 2012-05-11 at 11.20.38 AM

Screen Shot 2012-05-11 at 11.21.45 AM



Agents taking a break to call their clients!

March 25, 2012: A rainy day at the Matilija SYH

DSC04865 big puddle of water collect on walkway

DSC04876 water is backed up in drain that is clogged with mud

DSC04866 lots of water builds up inside concrete wall

DSC04867 rain water drains thru bottom of concrete

DSC04868 puddles of water on both side of concrete wall

DSC04869 natural puddles are source of water for rain garden

DSC04871 birds


DSC04874 Water is gushing out of this drain

DSC04875 barely a trickle out of this drain

DSC04877 puddles of rain in compacted clay soil that slowly percolate in (or runoff)

DSC04878 drain in plugged near tennis courts

Come learn about the Matilija Schoolyard Habitat!

(Photo by Audra Arbas/Brooks Institute ©2012)[

Verbena "De La Mina"(Photo by Audra Arbas/Brooks Institute ©2012)

On February 3rd and 4th, 2012, Matilija students joined together with US Fish and Wildlife staff, teachers and community volunteers to plant about 250 CA native plants into the Matilija Schoolyard Habitat. Now that plants are in the ground, with little rain in the forecast, we need to begin hand watering the plants until the drip irrigation is installed.  Hand watering for the first month will provide an opportunity to monitor the plants more closely, and watch as plants “take hold” in their new environment.

Parents have been asking “What is going on with the garden?”  Renee Roth and Julie Tumamait-Stenslie will be giving tours of the SYH Garden for parents and interested community members for the next 4 Saturdays, February 11, 18, 25 and March 3rd from 9am-9:30 and on Tuesday & Thursday, February 14 and 16 at 2:00 ( for parents who arrive early to pick up their students from Matilija). We will explain the garden areas and water requirements of the CA native plants, along with the layout and future plans for the garden.  If none of these times work for you, call Renee to arrange another time.

Anyone experienced with irrigation? We will be meeting with Aqua-flo to discuss layout/design for the drip irrigation early next week.  Call Renee if you can help with the installation, or have drip line/emitters to donate.

Renee Roth


From Ojai Valley News, February 8, 2012

(Photo by Audra Arbas/Brooks Institute ©2012)

Matilija students listen to Michael Glenn of US Fish & Wildlife discuss importance of providing habitat for wildlife (Photo by Audra Arbas/Brooks Institute ©2012)

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Planting Day #1 – Saturday, February 4, 2012

Planting Day at the Matilija Schoolyard Habitat (SYH) native plant demo garden.

About the Project:  The Matilija SYH  promotes by example the use of native plants for landscaping while also providing habitat for local and migratory wildlife including songbirds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. Matilija students are working together with parents, volunteers and staff to create the outdoor classroom using CA native plants. U. S Fish and Wildlife has provided grant funds along with technical expertise and guidelines to help students get actively involved in the project.  Local businesses and volunteers have donated time, mulch, tools, equipment and excavating services to help prepare the site.

Now it is time to plant our chaparral and pollinator gardens! Come learn more about the Matilija Schoolyard Habitat and our unique chaparral native plant community, and how to save water by growing CA natives in the landscape.  Learn how the Schoolyard Habitat  builds problem-solving skills while promoting an understanding of the urban-wildland interface.  Come learn how to potect our water resources by planting natives which conserve water and support wildlife! Come learn how to plant CA natives, and about the habitat they create for wildlife. Help us! No experience necessary, snacks and drinks will be provided. Bring a shovel and wear heavy shoes, sunscreen and gloves. Volunteers to help coordinate and donations of food/drinks are also welcome. Call Renee Roth for more info at 798-3897.

Date: Saturday, February 4, 2012

Time: 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM

Where: Matilija Junior High, 703 El Paseo Road, Ojai

“Nature is good for people: Let’s recognize the right of every child to live and grow up in a wildlife-rich world.”<via The New Nature Movement.

Flyer for Planting Day #1

Ojai Trees works with students to plant trees at the Matilija Schoolyard Habitat site

December 15, 2011

What is Ojai Trees? (from the Ojai Trees web site)

We are a local Ojai Valley community forestry group. Our vision is a healthy Ojai Valley community forest that is sustainable for future generations. Our mission is to inspire people to take some personal responsibility for the community forest by participating with us. We are all- volunteer and registered as a non-profit.

How can I participate?

Why are healthy trees a benefit to me?

• Trees mean energy cost savings (cooling & heating)
• Trees increase the resale value of your property and beautify your neighborhood
• Trees provide direct health and social benefits (safer, reduce stress, less violence)
• Trees improve air quality by releasing fresh oxygen and removing carbon
• Trees help the watershed by reducing storm water runoff and stabilizing the soil
• Trees mean better business in commercial districts (shaded parking – attractive)
• Trees encourage walking and outdoor activities, and cool parked vehicles

What about the Ojai Valley’s Community Forest ?

• Ojai’ s community forest is an aging tree population that is in less than average condition.

• We need to plant new trees every year to maintain a balanced tree population. The overwhelming majority of trees (approximately 75%) are on private property, so private property owners are the largest group of stakeholders.

• Ojai’ s community forest has about 17% canopy coverage. Our goal is 25%








We did it!  Site Preparation Workday #1 at Matilija SYH

We did it! Site Preparation Workday #1 at Matilija SYH

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We had about 25 volunteers, with students, parents, grandparents and community volunteers, including Charles Duncan with the Ojai Master Gardeners and Peter Bowen and Randy Roth representing the Ojai Rotary and Matilija Principal Emily Mostovoy. . .

. . .along with 13 volunteers from the California Conservation Corps who did most of  the “heavy lifting” moving rocks, preparing pathways and the 20′ circular planter in the middle of the Schoolyard Habitat.

The CCC crew working on central planter, with a student cleaning up the cardboard ( in the shade) in preparation for sheet mulching.

Below, students, parents and a grandparent are busy spreading mulch and cleaning the cardboard to prepare for “sheet mulching” where:

1-the ground is first cleared of rocks and weeds;
2-the ground is sprayed with compost tea:
3-then a layer of cardboard is spread on top of the ground;
4- 8″- 12″ of mulch spread on top of the cardboard and watered in.

Sheet mulching provides a barrier to suppress existing weed seeds  and help retain moisture in the soil.  This allows rain water to be percolate into the soil following the “slows it, spread it and sink it” concept to keep rainwater on site and prevent runoff.

Father & son work together spreading mulch

Below students clean cardboard and move mulch onto cardboard. In the back ground, wheel barrows of mulch are being dropped onto cardboard.

The workday is finished, with pathway created down to central planter, and Phase 1 planting areas covered in cardboard and mulch wait to be watered in.

The Matilija SYH site after Site Preparation #1 Workday

Just in time for the rain.. on Wednesday, October 5 we received our first rain of the season, where 1.3″ fell onto the SYH site.  The rainwater sinks into the SYH mulched site, compared to the puddling of water under the oak tree, where the soil is compacted and takes a while to sink in.

The SYH site captures the "first flush" of rain on October 5, 2011

rain water under oak tree puddles next to the Schoolyard Habitat area

Kids in the Wildlife Garden: What is a Native Plant?

written by Christy Peterson and posted on one of my favorite websites Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens

Much of the material I write is ultimately intended for kids. “Native” and “invasive” are deceptively simple words that describe complex concepts. I know many of you are working hard to create habitat with native plants in their yard. You might find yourself in the position of sharing the concepts of “native” and “invasive” with children or curious neighbors. I thought I’d share how I explain these ideas to students.

See this link to sign up for more great wildlife posts and for the rest of the article . . .

New environmentalism needed for California water

working together to create

California WaterBlog

By Jay R. Lund

California needs a new environmentalism to set a more effective and sustainable green bar for the nation and even the world.

For decades, we have taken a “just say no” approach to stop, prevent or blunt human encroachments onto the natural world – often rightly so. Early environmentalism needed lines in the sand against rampant development and reckless industrialization and achieved widespread success. Our air and water is now cleaner even with population and economic growth. Industry, for the most part, is now accountable for its wastes.

Yet, despite these important gains, the classical environmentalism of “no” will ultimately fail. We must shift to “how better?”

Despite decades of earnest efforts and expenditures, human influence on the natural environment continues to grow, albeit at a slower rate. Native species continue to become endangered. Tens of thousands of inadequately tested chemicals still remain in use.

Carbon exhausts…

View original post 700 more words

Wholistic Tree Care – Dr Lee Klinger

Dr Klinger has focused on soil health for protecting trees,  taking time to watch, understand historical context and native peoples traditions.  He understood that fire is essential for maintaing minerals in healthy soils.  Without fire, acid builds up in soil.  Acidic soil has less nutrients available.  Raking to remove leaves reduce minerals in the soils.  The oldest part of tree is most susceptible to disease.  Nothing should touch the base of tree, which is the most susceptible part of the tree as an avenue for pathogens.  Cracks in bark are a clear sign of mineral deficiency, and are entry points for pathogens.

It is important to treat the whole organism and environment–start with soils and bark. Treatment methodology:  Azomite (volcanic ash:contains about 75  elements besides N-P-K), a soil sweetener (has azomite plus 50% of its is CaCO3 ),  treatment underneath dripline of tree. Don’t use Magnesium unless indicated.  Spread compost over tree line, water in the Azomite.

More info at