Back in September, I wrote about the Acorns to Oaks project, one of many projects planned and implemented by our Napa County Resource Conservation District (RCD) in partnership with volunteers, other organizations like Friends of the Napa River, landowners, and farming companies.
It is time for a follow-up.
In November, I had the opportunity to join in on two acorn-planting days at the city of Napa’s 157-acre Alston Park. My share of the work began in early autumn, scouting for acorns on local native oaks.
Knowing the planting days were coming soon, I examined numerous oaks at properties I visited in the course of my work in September and October, and found no acorns on almost all of the oaks. This was a light year for acorn production, a pattern confirmed by other volunteers.
Fortunately I spotted one loaded young coast live oak, gathered about a pound of ripe acorns and dropped them off at the RCD office, where they were held in the refrigerator for planting in November.
The first planting day was Nov. 5, a cool and dewy morning. I arrived early and greeted RCD Education Coordinator Eric McKee as he and Chris Sauer arrived in the RCD pickup truck, loaded with buckets, stakes, tools, tree shelters and a few bags of acorns.
We set up a work camp by a large pile of wood chip mulch and Eric gave us, the volunteer group leaders, a quick explanation of the planting technique:
Use a hoe to clear away weeds to create a small patch of bare soil.
Cover the bare patch with a bucket-full of mulch, leaving a small bare patch at the center.
Lay two acorns on the soil surface.
Install a small stake to support a protective mesh tree shelter tube over the acorns.
That’s it! Very simple. With a decent winter of rainfall, the acorns will sprout, push their radicles—the initial taproot—deeply into the soil and manage to survive dry summers, never receiving artificial irrigation.
The volunteers began to arrive and Eric assigned me to lead a Cub Scout den. Fortunately, they arrived with parents who managed to corral the energy of the group. A former Cub Scout den leader, well over 20 years ago, I had forgotten what that energy is like.
Alston Park has huge areas, strangely barren of trees. Asked why, Eric explained it was formerly prune orchards and has not, on its own, been able to return to oak woodland after the prune orchards were cleared away.
This effort gives it a head start and it sparks imaginings of an oak woodland-to-be. Some of the families even used GPS devices to note the location of acorns they planted so they can return years later and see their trees.
Fortunately, the earth was soft and moist from recent rainfall, so the hard part, the weed clearing and staking were fairly easy.
After about three hours, the Cub Scout energy and attention span had shifted. Our group called it a day, after planting more than 50 locations, while other, older volunteers, worked on.
The next planting day was on Nov. 19, a rainy morning. I donned my rain suit and met with the volunteers, this time consisting of more grown-ups. Working there, in the rain, I was happy to see a group of about 20 young adult AmeriCorps volunteers arriving in rain gear and ready to work.
In spite of the rain suit I ended up pretty much soaked to the skin, with arms tired from hauling buckets of chip mulch. That’s a good kind of “tired”. In a half-day we planted over 200 oak-trees-to-be.
At our most recent RCD meeting, Executive Director Leigh Sharp provided us with “2016 At-a-Glance,” a bullet-list of about 25 accomplishments of the Napa RCD for the year.
The list includes projects completed in areas of vineyard land conservation planning, outfall storm water quality monitoring, fish population monitoring, upland riparian habitat restoration, creek cleanup events, students served by LandSmart, and many other worthy efforts.
Included on the list: 1,662 native oaks planted. The current goal is 5,000.
The RCD and a host of volunteers are hard at work helping to conserve this jewel of the planet we call Napa Valley.