Matilija Schoolyard Habitat (SYH)

Providing Habitat for Wildlife (Photo below courtesy of Audra Arbas )

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%








AFTER sheet mulching on October 1, 2011,

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

Benjamin Vogt: How to Garden for Wildlife

New post on Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens

How to Garden for Wildlife

by Benjamin Vogt

I was working on a handout for a presentation, and as I went along I realized just how much I’ve learned in the five years that I’ve had a garden–and not all of those was I aware that I was gardening for wildlife, and what I could yet do. So I want to share the refresher, and please do add or take away in your comments as you see fit. (All of the images are from my prairie-esque Nebraska garden.)

Main back garden just before it hit 22 degrees. Yes, much wildlife shelters here in all 4 seasons.

1) Never use chemicals of any kind.

2) Use native plants. Plant thickly to conserve water and kill weeds.

3) Have a water feature.

Never have I seen so many birds at the fountain this year. 2.5″ of rain in the last four months.

4) Garden for insects – they are the base of the food chain & all life. (Ex. birds only feed insects to their young.)

5) Embrace bees and wasps – they’re too busy pollinating to sting. Honest!

6) Spiders, preying mantis, and other predator bugs are signs of a healthy garden and kill pests FAST. Love them.

That wasp was so intent on nectaring, it missed something.

7) Don’t cut down or “clean up” the garden in fall, wait until early March.

8) Use the spring cut down as mulch and to create bee houses (I cut hollow joy pye weed stalks into 6″ lengths, bundle, and tie to the fence for mason bees).

9) Fall leaves are free soil—they’ll break down over winter & be warm homes for hibernating insects.

Liatris mucronata and indian grass.

10) Diversity – grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, trees.

11) Diversity II – groundcovers, short plants, tall plants, big blooms, tiny blooms… create a varied habitat for 4 seasons of life.

A skipper on eupatorium altissimum.

12) Host plants for butterflies: milkweed, zizia, baptisia, wild senna, side oats grama, willow, elm, oak.

13) Fave nectar plants: milkweed, aster, joy pye weed, mountain mint, ironweed, culver’s root, goldenrod, coneflowers, baptisia.

Signs of a healthy garden, and a child’s playground.

Benjamin Vogt | October 9, 2012 at 9:25 am | Categories: Native Plants, Pollinators,Sustainable Landscaping, Wildlife Garden, Wildlife Management | URL:

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Soil Types and Testing

Characteristics of Different Soil Types

It can be argued that no two soils are ever exactly alike. Although this is true, it is useful to group soils into categories. Three major categories of soil dominate our area. These are:

Sandy soil

Loam soil, and

Clay soil

To figure out what type of soil you have, there are several easy methods. The first, called the rope test, requires that you squeeze a moist, but not muddy, one inch ball of soil in your hand. Then rub the soil between your fingers. Sandy soil feels gritty and loose. It won’t form a ball and falls apart when rubbed between your fingers. Loam soil is smooth, slick, partially gritty and sticky and forms a ball that crumbles easily. It is a combination of sand and clay particles. Clay soil is smooth, sticky and somewhat plastic feeling. It forms ribbons when pressed between fingers. Clay soil requires more pressure to form a ball than loam soil, but does not crumble apart as easily.

A second test is called a jar test and is very easy to do. Here’s what you’ll need:

1 clean quart jar and tight fitting lid

clean water

soil sample

First, find an empty, clean quart jar (an old mayonnaise jar works very well for this test.) Fill the jar about 2/3 full with clean water.

quart jar with water.gif (8016 bytes)

quart jar with water and dirt.gif (7979 bytes) Next, take a sample of soil (break the large clods apart so it will fit through the jar opening) and fill the jar and water until the jar is nearly full, leaving about �” of air space at the top. Screw on the lid and shake it vigorously for a minute or two, until all the soil particles are broken down into suspension in the water.

Now, allow the suspended soil to settle for about a minute, and place a mark on the side of the jar at the top of the layer that has settled out. This is the sand layer is comprised primarily of sand and larger particles. Set the jar aside, being careful not to mix the sand layer that has already settled and wait approximately an hour. Now, place a mark on the side of the jar at the top of the next layer to settle out. This is the silt layer. Again, place the jar aside for a full day, being careful not to shake or mix the layers that have settled out. After 24 hours, or when the water is once again clear (more or less), place a mark on the side of the jar at the top of the final layer. This is the clay layer. The percentage of each layer tells you what kind of soil you have.

Type of Soil Example of Test Jar

Sandy soils are found throughout Southern California, but are very common near the mountain foothills, along rivers and streams and certain coastal areas. Sandy soils are typically comprised of approximately 80 – 100% sand, 0 – 10% silt and 0 – 10% clay by volume. Sandy soils are light and typically very free draining, usually holding water very poorly due to very low organic content.

quart jar with sandy soil.gif (26180 bytes)

Loam soils are also common in Southern California, particularly in the valleys and flat areas (flood plains) surrounding rivers and streams. Loam soils are typically comprised of approximately 25 – 50% sand, 30 – 50% silt and 10 – 30% clay by volume. Loam soils are somewhat heavier than sandy soils, but also tend to be fairly free draining, again, due to typically low organic content.

quart jar with loam soil.gif (25539 bytes)

Clay soils are very common in certain areas, particularly around urban areas where fill soils have been used to establish grade in subdivisions and developments. Clay soils are typically comprised of approximately 0 – 45% sand, 0 – 45% silt and 50 – 100% clay by volume. Clay soils are not typically free draining, and water tends to take a long time to infiltrate. When wet, such soils tend to allow virtually all water to run-off. Clay soils tend to be heavy and difficult to work when dry.

quart jar with clay soil.gif (25169 bytes)

via Soil Types and Testing.


Another version

Really want to try something with the soil? Take a quart jar and put normal soil (no top soil, or organic matter) in the bottom third.
Next fill with water to within 1 inch of the top and put the lid on and shake it and set it down and write down the measured amount
that falls out in the first 10 seconds–gravel, then 10 minutes–sand, then the next morning–clay


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