This fall, I was lucky to help break ground on a major pollinator project with LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards. The project involves a 4-acre oak savannah restoration adjacent to the LangeTwins vineyards and tasting room and has many amazing partners.
The LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards is a fifth-generation wine-grape producer in California’s Central Valley, with over 7,500 acres in production. Xerces first started working with LangeTwins in the spring of 2022, although the vineyard has been a pioneer in sustainable farming in the region for nearly 50 years and launched its first large-scale habitat restoration project in 2004. In addition to extensive habitat restoration work, LangeTwins has built dozens of bird boxes, installed numerous solar arrays, and is now experimenting with electric-powered vineyard equipment and integrating livestock grazing into their vineyard production.
Choosing a site that connects existing habitat gives wildlife a boost
LangeTwins reached out to Xerces for assistance with this project because they are specifically interested in supporting declining pollinators, such as monarchs and bumble bees, as well as attracting beneficial insects to the vineyard for natural pest management. They also wanted to create connectivity between vineyard habitat features and the nearby Jahant slough, which feeds directly into the mighty Mokelumne River.
Through a series of meetings and site visits, we were able to identify an appropriate location for the winery’s next large-scale restoration project: a 4-acre field adjacent to a natural riparian area. This flat, grassy field nestled between the slough and a county road in a pocket of deep, fertile soils presented the perfect opportunity for high-quality restoration. Over the next 7 years, this field will be transformed from a space that is dominated by weeds and provides little in the way of natural habitat, into a diverse native oak savannah, rich in blooming plants that support pollinators and other wildlife.
Sheet mulching offers organic solution to clear soil for planting
As with implementing any great habitat restoration project, step one involves preparing the site for planting. This primarily includes reducing competition from weedy species, improving the quality of the topsoil, and ensuring new plants are able to receive adequate water. This typically happens before a single new plant goes into the ground.
LangeTwins hosted a field day that was all about site preparation, specifically ‘sheet mulching’, which is an organic, low-maintenance, and no-till method. Sheet mulching kills off existing vegetation and prevents seed bank germination through smothering, and improves soil health through layering carbon and nitrogen-based materials.
For this project, we started with a layer of cardboard on the bottom, threw a generous amount of compost over the cardboard, and ended with a thick layer of wood chips and shredded bark on the top. In time, and with moisture, these layers will start to break down and mix, providing a nutrient-rich and weed-free environment for new plants.
All cardboard for the project was sourced in-house. The slip sheets used in packing and shipping glass wine bottles for the winery were perfect to use for sheet-mulching and a great way to recycle/reuse the materials. We also used over 100 yards of mulch and nearly 50 yards of compost to complete the job. That’s a lot of sheet mulching!
Community rallied for field day to restore pollinator habitat
The fall field day included not only Xerces and LangeTwins staff, but also an army of high school students from Lodi High School who were participating in the Center for Land-Based Learning’s Student and Landowner Education and Watershed Stewardship (SLEWS) program. For two decades, the SLEWS program has worked to engage high school students in habitat restoration through a series of hands-on field days at real project sites that develop science skills and environmental stewardship in youth. The SLEWS program is committed to assisting with the implementation of the entire 4 acre project.
LangeTwins staff are especially excited to be working with local youth, as it is their sincere hope that this generation can cultivate a deep connection to the land. If the students who participated in this first field day were any indication, this generation is off to a great start! Not only were these youth a lot of fun to work with, but they were engaged, inquisitive, and incredibly hard-working. They filled me with hope for the future.
Additional volunteers and educators participating in the field day included naturalists from Point Blue Conservation Science, scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and speakers from Cal-Waste Recovery, a family-owned waste recycling business. Over the course of the day, we managed to complete the sheet mulching for all of the area to be planted this year.
At Xerces, we feel inspired by the work of LangeTwins to bring healthy pollinator habitat to their family vineyard, and build community in the process. We can’t wait to get started with the planting, currently scheduled for March 2023!