Virtual Green Breakfast with Clean Fairfax

Saturday, July 11, at 9 AM – 10:30 AM

Hosted by Clean Fairfax and Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District

Snuggle up in the comfort of your own home, with your breakfast and beverage of choice, while joining us online to hear from Jen Cole, Executive Director with the Clean Fairfax Council. While you have been safer at home, have you thought about ways to be greener at home too? Learn why it is important to reduce waste production and consumption and steps we can all take in our day-to-day lives to make our world a little more sustainable.

This event is FREE.

If you have environmental stewardship events that you would like to promote, please send them to Laura.grape@fairfaxcounty.gov and she will share them during the webinar. Face-to-face interaction and networking are two things that make our Green Breakfasts so special. We miss seeing you all and look forward to a time soon when it is safe for all of us to gather again.

Join the meeting, by clicking the following link and using the meeting number and password, included below: 

https://northernvirginiasoilwaterconservationdistrict.my.webex.com/northernvirginiasoilwaterconservationdistrict.my/j.php?MTID=m7ba10ee8ebc650dcdd65ccc8c7dbed8e

Meeting number (access code): 126 436 0508 

Meeting password: Fj2Qdg (352734 from phones and video systems)

To listen to the presentation from a phone, dial 1-415-655-0001

Access Code: 1264360508#

Password: 352734# 

Board of Supervisors Approves a Major Initiative to Enhance County Properties with Native Plants!

Members of Audubon Society of Northern Virginia (ASNV) won a big victory on June 9 when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an amendment to the county’s comprehensive plan to apply natural landscaping to county properties. This will formalize natural landscaping as official policy for the county and is the culmination of many years of effort, led by ASNV.

The vote was 8 to 0, with Supervisors Dan Storck and Rodney Lusk absent because of a Black Lives Matter march in the Mount Vernon area. Previously, the Planning Commission had voted for it unanimously on May 14.

ASNV believes that Fairfax County is the only jurisdiction in the region to adopt this approach as formal policy in a comprehensive plan. Adoption of this amendment means that natural landscaping, which largely uses native plants and trees, will be used on most county properties, especially as the county builds or remodels buildings and grounds.

Lessons from the Living Landscape — Our Home Habitat: Webinar, August 3rd

With: Rick Darke 
When: Monday, August 3, 7:30 PM
Fee Options: $5, $10 or $15
To register, click here

Rick Darke and his co-horticulturist wife, Melinda Zoehrer, have been creating and tending their home garden for more than a quarter century. The garden is a living laboratory, devoted to proving how residential landscapes can be beautiful, manageable and joyfully livable while sustaining a vibrant diversity of plant and animal communities. In this presentation Rick will share insights and strategies from what continues to be an inspiring journey.

Rick heads RICK DARKE LLC, an independent design firm focused on conservation-based landscape design and management. His work is grounded in an observational ethic that blends art, ecology and horticulture. His projects include parks, botanic gardens, community landscapes and residential gardens. His many books include The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, co-authored with Doug Tallamy. For further info visit rickdarke.com.

Sponsors: Audubon Society of Northern Virginia and Plant NOVA Natives.

Butterflies, Waterwise Gardening, Groundcovers and more – Webinars abound!

The Hospitable Gardener
When: July 17, 10-11:30am
Are you interested in inviting butterflies to visit your garden? This talk will help you learn how to be a good host to Lepidoptera, providing cultural tips and plant suggestions to help your winged guests feel at home. Learn more and register.

Groundcovers
When: July 22, 11am-12pm
Do you have spots in your landscape that turf won’t grow, have high erosion potential or you would like to add a little seasonal interest, color and texture? Plan to attend this seminar to help you choose the right groundcover for each place in your landscape. Learn more.

Fruit Trees and Berries for the Urban Landscape: Part II – Natives
When: July 24, 10-11:30am
From shade to supporting wildlife, erosion control, and screening, you can choose a fruit crop to suit your home garden. Learn about growth habits, pros and cons, and how to acquire and care for these native plants. Learn more and register.

Waterwise Gardening
When: July 31, 10-11:30am
We will discuss which plants can best survive our long, hot summers, how to group plants to take advantage of existing water sources, and use of water gardens, rain barrels, and best landscaping practices. Learn more and register.

Soil Your Undies Campaign

The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District is challenging residents all across Fairfax County to bury a pair of cotton underwear as part of a campaign to promote soil health awareness. How does it work? Just bury a pair of cotton underwear and dig it back up after at least 60 days. It’s the quick and dirty way to test the microbial activity in your soil. The more the underwear is deteriorated, the healthier your soil!

Although you can use the Soil Your Undies Challenge to check your soil health at any time, the 2020 NVSWCD Soil Your Undies Challenge runs from July to September 2020.

JOIN THE CHALLENGE!
Step 1: Look for a place where you want to study the health of the soil. Make sure you are only studying sites on your property or with the permission of the landowner.
Step 2: Bury a pair of white cotton undies (or any white cotton clothing item) 3 inches under the soil’s surface. Be sure to take a “before” photo.
Step 3: Don’t forget to mark your study site with a flag or other easily-identifiable marker!
Step 4: Wait at least 60 days (this is the hard part…)
Step 5: Locate your marked study site and dig up your cotton undies. Be sure to take an “after” photo.
Step 6: How healthy is your soil? Healthier soils have a lot of microbial activity, and the healthy fungi and bacteria in the soil will break down your cotton undies. The more degraded your undies are, the more microbial activity you have in your soil, and the healthier your soil is.
Step 7: Share the results of your citizen science project! Email your photos and any notes you may have to conservationdistrict@fairfaxcounty.gov, and share your results with us on Facebook @nvswcd and on Instagram @NorthernVirginiaSWCD. We’ll be sharing our results with you, too!

Learn more about the challenge and soil health here.

Introducing Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR)

Jerry Nissley

Many of you know that effective 1 July 2020, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) changed its name the Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) to encompass the greater expanse of their responsibilities.

After reading the notice, I poked around their web site and found a link to Virginia wildlife resources that is interesting on several levels.

Topics include Virginia Wildlife, which describes many of our state’s fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. A link to Wildlife Habitat provides resources on how to build backyard habitats that attract and help sustain wildlife in our communities. Restore the Wildlife describes how folks can get involved with restoration projects around Virginia. There is even advice and phone numbers on what to do with injured wildlife and so much more.

New department icon

So please take some time to review the resources provided by the new and improved DWR. They do a great job at providing state level information, and they sell cool t-shirts too!

Annual Butterfly Count at Clifton Institute

Saturday, July 25, 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Join Clifton Institute, as they host their 25th annual butterfly count and celebrate their 18th year of collaboration with the North American Butterfly Association. 

Novice and experienced butterfly enthusiasts are needed! Citizen scientists will be assigned to small teams, led by an experienced butterfly counter. Teams will survey a variety of sites within our count circle.

Fee: $3 per person (Children 8 and older may participate for free, when accompanied by a parent.)

Register here

Native Plant Landscaping: Three Factors for Success

Margaret Fisher, Plant NOVA Natives

For anyone who wants to help the birds and butterflies but is not an experienced landscaper, a few design concepts can help make the difference between a random collection of native plants and a beautiful but manageable landscape that supports our local ecosystem. Three major considerations come into play.

The first is the understanding that basic garden design principles apply to any garden, whether using native plants or not. For example, the human eye has trouble with randomness and will rove around seeking meaning and a place to rest. You can control that process by adding repetition, lines and focal points, which can be provided by plants and also by human-made objects such as pots, walkways, or benches. Since most plants only bloom for a short while, for consistent beauty it helps to choose plants with contrasting size, form and foliage and not just interesting flower colors.

The second consideration is maintenance. Some people are allergic to weeding while others find it a relaxing pleasure. Either way, no one has infinite time to put into it. When adding new planting areas, there is a lot to be said for starting small. For maximum ecological benefit for a minimum or work, you could simply add a small grove of native trees, or swap out the non-native shrubs for native ones. Gardening in the shade is always easier than in the sun where plants and weeds grow so much faster.

The third consideration is the needs of the critters you are trying to help. They don’t care how your property looks, but they do have other strong preferences. For example, the more plant diversity, the more biodiversity in general. It is also useful to provide clusters of the same plant species since that will increase the foraging efficiency of the bees. A diversity of plant height is also important – from the canopy trees to the ground – for critters such as birds that nest at different levels. The closer you can come to reproducing the original plant communities, the more your home habitat will contribute to a functioning local ecosystem.

The above examples are just a few of the many helpful tips you can find on the new Plant NOVA Natives web page on garden design. The campaign is also planning a series of quick virtual “workshops” where you can ask your questions of garden designers – sign up for campaign updates to get notifications of the dates. And be sure to sign up for the August 3 talk by Rick Darke, co-author with Doug Tallamy of The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden.

My $20 Dollar Stay-At-Home Ecology Kit

By Michael Walker

This past winter I had a wide variety of birds at my feeder including several charming Carolina wrens. For their size, they often “ruled the roost” and I was interested in having them nest in my yard, so I created some brush piles and bought two small “wren” houses. I was never a Boy Scout skilled at making bird houses and I knew my dad would be disappointed that I did not make the houses myself but being concerned about the loss of a finger on the power saw, I went unpainted pre-fab.

In mid-January, I hung each birdhouse with wire in shrubs about 4 feet above the ground since I read that wrens like to nest “low.” They were about 25 feet apart, one in a viburnum and the other in a magnolia. Over time I noticed some black-capped chickadees took an interest in one house and the other bird house was filling up with small sticks though I never seemed to be able to determine what bird was doing this work. I had lots of chickadees and Carolina wrens at the feeder along with cardinals, juncos, tufted titmice, nuthatches, blue jays and even crows. But the tenants of this property remained a mystery despite by best detective work.

As late spring approached, I finally identified the elusive residents of the other house: house wrens! For about two weeks they were very active, shuttling food into the box opening. Despite my best efforts, I never did get to see any of the baby birds. I hope they all fledged safely.

Chickadee house bedding

When activity ceased, I decided to clean out each birdhouse in the event another tenant wanted to have a go at family life. Each birdhouse has a convenient slide out base. When I carried each bird house to the table to remove the base, I was astonished to find that both houses were still fully occupied! Dozens of small angry ants were crawling out of the birdhouses onto my hands and arms. In addition to a healthy ant colony the chickadee birdhouse was filled with beautiful soft green moss. It looked like the moss one would find on the forest floor in Canada. No twigs or straw only this beautiful moss and lots of it for such a tiny bird couple to gather.

Wren house twigs

The vacant wren house, also loaded with thousands of ants, had no moss but was filled nearly to the top with twigs and feathers. After the ants made their frenzied escape, carrying away eggs and larvae, I pulled apart the nesting material to do a citizen science inventory of the sticks and twigs. There were over 460 sticks and twigs. Some as long as six inches

An enviable magic trick for a tiny bird, small nest box opening and no exterior perch! Of additional interest were the more than 50 feathers, some pure white, others black that were obviously not house wren feathers.

Wren house flotsam

And the ants! To get into the bird houses they had to climb up the branches of the shrub and carefully navigate a Wallenda-like high-wire into the nest box. Which ant explorer looked up from the dirt to see the empty bird house hanging in the air, beckoning exploration like we see with the moon or mars. Which ant pioneer was the first to cross the thin wire? How do they find their way up the tree without Google maps? How many individual trips did each ant make from ground to nest during the duration of the colony?  And what could we learn from the altruism that guides the cooperative spirit of these tiny relics from the Cretaceous?

Much, much to ponder on a summer evening on day 108 of the 2020 pandemic!

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve Service Opportunities

7400 Georgetown Pike (use 7500 for GPS location)
Great Falls, VA

Cleanup Days

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is an ecologically and globally unique preserve and home to remarkable plants and wildlife. Join their Stewardship team and partake in their upcoming volunteer cleanups. Volunteers under 14 years old must volunteer with a parent/guardian. Limited spots per event

Sign up here

Natural Resource Projects

The park is in need of volunteer support to complete several resource management projects. All projects are outdoors and vary by season. Duties may include walking on hilly trails, lifting, planting, weeding/pulling invasives, using work tools, building/assembling, and labeling/reporting. Project details and meeting location will be sent prior to the work day. All volunteers must dress appropriately and follow park etiquette.

Sign up here