weeds by Elaine Ingham

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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 Matilijasyh@gmail.com 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 http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/best-birds-your-garden?page=0,1

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 http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/best-birds-your-garden?page=0,1

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 . . . http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/what-is-a-native-plant/

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 http://suddenoaklifeorg.wordpress.com


Predators in the Garden by Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens

Even though our weather here in Ojai CA is quite different than the east coast, here is a great post by Pat Sutton, author, educator and naturalist with pictures by Clay Sutton. Thanks for helping us to better understand our wildlife in the native habitat garden.

Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens
Garden Predator — Sharp-shinned Hawk
001-SS s-sigSharp-shinned Hawk in the Sutton’s wildlife garden

Some folks are upset, indeed appalled, when a hawk raids their garden or feeders. Others consider it an amazing opportunity to watch the age-old interactions of predator and prey. Many or most raids are unsuccessful, but sometimes they score and possibly right in front of our eyes.

Predators are opportunistic

Predators are opportunistic, always on the hunt for easy pickings. It is no wonder that our wildlife habitats are frequently just the ticket, supermarkets to hungry predators.

If you’ve ever had a hawk targeting your wildlife garden or your winter bird feeder, it is probably a Sharp-shinned Hawk or its larger cousin the Cooper’s Hawk. Sharp-shinned Hawks are in the group of hawks known as Accipiters, the bird-eating hawks. They are forest hawks and prey on songbirds. They have long tails and stubby-rounded wings, a structure best suited for chasing songbirds through the forest. The rudder-like tail enables them to zigzag through dense vegetation after prey. They are ambush predators and, if not successful in the first attempt, will not pursue prey at length.

Sharp-shinned Hawks are birds from the northern forest. During the summer months they breed from Newfoundland south to New England (and down through the Appalachian Mountains), west across southern Canada to eastern Alaska and south through the Rocky Mountains. They are a rare breeder in northern New Jersey, but completely absent from Cape May where we live in the summer months.

Autumn is another story. In the fall Sharp-shinned Hawks migrate south. Fall and on through the winter, gardeners and those who maintain songbird feeding stations throughout the United States become quite familiar with them.

002 - RedCedar w-sigBe sure to include evergreens in your landscape plan. Cover is crucial, here a Red Cedar.

We’ve always considered it a compliment when a predator visits our wildlife garden

With the super abundance of critters in our wildlife habitat (songbirds, insects, reptiles and amphibians, moles and voles and shrews, rabbits and squirrels), it is only a matter of time before predators discover this surfeit of food.

Wildlife gardeners do not want to make it too easy for predators. Brush piles, still-standing wildflower gardens through winter, and islands of evergreens should always be part of the landscape plan. Consider it as leveling the playing field and not giving the hawk an unfair advantage.

Our yard was bare when we bought our home 35 years ago. We immediately planted young Red Cedars, White Pines, and American Hollies. Many were seedlings that we transplanted. Today these trees offer robust cover from bad weather and hungry predators. We put an ugly chain link fence around our yard to fence in two rambunctious English Setters, who otherwise would have been gone like the wind. We let Virginia Creeper and Poison Ivy, seeded by the birds, creep up and through the fence. Today it is a living fence offering crucial additional cover and food.

003 - Garden w-sigStll-standing wildflowers and evergreens in Sutton’s wildlife garden

A sizable brush pile is composed of fallen limbs and a few discarded roadside Christmas trees (skeletons now several years later). This brush pile is the ultimate retreat for most songbirds when a hungry hawk shoots through our yard. The evergreens, our living fence, and the brush pile have saved many a songbird’s life as they’ve escaped deep inside and out of a hawk’s reach.

Predators face life or death challenges every day

In the natural world predators face life or death challenges multiple times each and every day. Many predators fail, especially in the first year of their life. Immature Sharp-shinned Hawks are taught to hunt by their parents, but then they leave the family group and migrate south in the fall. Now they are on their own. Some thrive, sharpening their hunting skills day-by-day. If an immature Sharpshin does not get the hang of it, it will surely starve. It is that basic. Some studies have shown that 75% of the immature hawks (young of the year) do not survive the first year of their lives. If they do make it through that first year of their life, the chances are good that they will live a long life.

Fall migration is one of the hardest periods in an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk’s life. They are migrating using instinct to lead the way, heading to somewhere they’ve never been. Concentrations of available food, safe places to rest, and the final destination are all unknowns.

Our wildlife gardens are like supermarkets to hungry predators

To a hungry hawk our wildlife gardens are like supermarkets and likely to draw them back again and again.

Predators take prey constantly, but rarely do people witness it. In our own yard we find many “fairy rings” of Mourning Dove feathers, perfect circles of their feathers. This tell tale sign marks the spot where a hungry hawk sat and plucked the prey before feasting on the meat.

We once watched a Cooper’s Hawk take a winter-weakened Northern Mockingbird in our yard. It was busy preparing its meal when suddenly a Red-shouldered Hawk attacked it. We initially thought the Red-shouldered Hawk meant to steal the Cooper’s Hawk’s prey, but it soon became apparent that the Redshoulder was after a bigger meal, the Cooper’s Hawk itself. Predators can easily become prey themselves if they let their guard down. Larger predators often consider smaller predators as tasty treats.

Admittedly it was painful the time when a Sharp-shinned Hawk took one of our Downy Woodpeckers, another time a Northern Cardinal. But the other day no tears were shed when a young Sharp-shinned Hawk caught and fed on a European Starling outside our window.

A friend shared his tale of a hungry Sharp-shinned Hawk visiting his wildlife garden. All the songbirds flushed quickly and successfully into his several-year-old and sizable brush pile. The Sharpshin would land on top of the brush pile mountain and literally bounce up and down, trying to shake the tangle of twigs and branches. It then glared down inside. Songbirds didn’t budge from deep inside the brush pile. But the Sharpshin continued to bounce and glare. This show happened not once but often and entertained our friend’s family for most of that winter. Often it went away hungry. The moral of this story is to not let a predator have too easy a time in your wildlife garden. Be sure to provide lots and lots of cover!

Consider the many (all too many) bare and sterile yards full of non-native shrubs, little-to-no natural foods in the way of berries or seed heads for songbirds, no cover at all. Sometimes stretches of sterile habitats in the way of side-by-side-by-side developments spread across the landscape. This being the case, it should be no surprise that our wildlife habitats full of songbirds will see heavy predator visitation.

004 - PurpleFinch w-sigWhen we create a wildlife habitat we can not pick or choose who comes to dinner

Predators are part of the package. We can not pick or choose who comes to dinner and who does not come into our well-crafted habitat.

Sit back and enjoy the show of nature unfolding. See it as a privilege to watch a predator doing what it does naturally, what it needs to do in order to survive. Remember that predators target the weak or old or sick, the most vulnerable member in a group of birds, the slow poke. It may hurt us to watch, but the remaining songbird flock is stronger for it.

Share the most memorable and / or most painful accipiter kill in your wildlife garden.

Pat Sutton, of Cape May NJ, is an author, educator, and naturalist who has taught gardening for wildlife workshops and led tours of private wildlife gardens for over 30 years. She shares her passion around the country at festivals and conferences and is available to speak to your group or organization.

© 2013, Pat Sutton. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

Garden Predator — Sharp-shinned Hawk

Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens: Healthy gardens for a healthy planet with native plants, sustainable landscaping, ecological restoration, and creating welcoming habitat for wildlife.

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6362 McCallum St, Philadelphia, PA 19144, USA

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