Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lots Going On

 As some may have noticed, my blogging frequency has been a bit inconsistent over the last year. I’ll admit to it, but won’t make any excuses. It’s just the way things go sometimes. While content has been a little slow on the blog, I have been staying active (outside of my day-time job) with various other projects and personal goals – and on that note, I would like to share some of my latest accomplishments over the last year or so.

My latest and current involvement is with the Virginia Master Gardener Program. I’ve always enjoyed and had a love for gardening ever since I was a child working in my dad’s garden. Now, as a Master Gardener, it’s an opportunity to share that joy and knowledge with others in my community.

VCEMGI’m officially half way through the program after completing the 50 hours of classroom training. Interns are required to volunteer an additional 50 hours during their first year before becoming an official certified Master Gardener. It may sound like a lot but the hours are easy when it’s something you enjoy doing, and the volunteer opportunities are endless. I’ve already racked up quite a few hours already and see no issue completing the requirement way ahead of schedule. If interested in learning more about the Master Gardener program visit your local Cooperative Extension office or website.

VMNLOGOtidewaterchapterPrior to entering the Master Gardener class, I completed the a similar curriculum that’s more focused on the natural history of Virginia, known as the Virginia Master Naturalist (VMN) program. As an amateur naturalist looking to learn more, I knew this training was meant for me.

For those unaware, the Master naturalist program is a volunteer program consisting of educators, citizen scientist and stewards helping to conserve and manage its natural resources and public lands. The program is organized into regional chapters that are overseen by statewide committees. My local chapter is the Tidewater Master Naturalist (TMN). The basic training course is tailored to fit its local environment and community, so no two courses are exactly the same.

Similar to the Master Gardener program, the process for becoming certified typically takes 6 to 12 months and requires the completion of classroom training and then completing the required 40 hours of approved volunteer service. If you’re from VA, check out a list of local chapters in your area here.  Most other states offer this program as well.

I signed up for evening classes last spring and leaped in with others that shared the same enthusiasm about nature as I did. My favorite part of the class was the field training. Our class was involved in lots of fun activities like hiking the trails in First Landing State Park.

Hike, First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach, VA

While there, we met up with a group of folks from the Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory to witness and learn about their bird banding program.

Yellow-rumped warbler

Another field trip had us birding with local legendary birder Bob Ake in the Great Dismal Swamp.

Great Dismal Swamp, Hiking

I still have more hours to complete prior to certification, but the fun has just begun!

Explore the opportunities in your own community to see if one or both of these programs would be a good fit for you.


Visit us on Facebook:

Suffolk Master Gardener Association:

Tidewater Master Naturalist:

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sunflowers in the Garden

 One of my favorite summertime annuals is the sunflower. Sunflowers come in a wide variety of sizes and colors. They begin blooming in late summer and provide lots of color at a time when lots of other blooms begin to fade. However, the main reason I enjoy growing them in my own garden is for their wildlife value.

Sunflowers are great companion plants planted near a vegetable garden. They attract lots of pollinators as well as other beneficial insects that help contribute to the overall health of the garden. They also attract lots of butterflies and would make a great selection for the butterfly garden as well. As sunflowers mature, birds, especially finches, love to feed on their protein-rich seeds. It’s an all-around great summer annual for the attracting wildlife to the garden.

Many varieties nowadays come in various colors and have more than one bloom on the stalk, like these ‘Sunny Babe’ Sunflowers.

Sunny Babe Sunflower

A new sunflower I added to my own garden this year is Tithonia, aka Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundiflora). While it is related, it’s not a sunflower in the conventionally known sense. It’s slightly shorter in height and has larger, bushier leaves coming out of its stem. The center part of the flower is yellow as opposed to the regular sunflower's brownish color. Many compare the flower to the looks of a dahlia, but the color ranges in different varieties are only found in the red-yellow-orange portion of the spectrum. It’s native to Mexico and Central America.

This flower is an excellent attractant for butterflies, hummingbirds and lots of other pollinators.

Tithonia, Mexican Sunflower, Tiger Swallowtail

Tithonia, Mexican Sunflower, Butterfly

These guys grow to a height of 5 to 7  feet! I’ll definitely be saving seeds from these for next year.

This was a volunteer sunflower that came up near my birdfeeder filled with sunflower seeds. Notice the large shaped disk.

Large Sunflower, Sunflower seeds

This sunflower was definitely bred for seed production. This variety (unknown) would make an excellent choice for attracting birds to the backyard. I’ll try to save some of these seeds for next year if the birds don’t beat me to it first.

Sunflowers are an all-time garden favorite that provide that feel-good cheery aspect to the garden. They are remarkably tough and easy to grow. Give them a try in your own garden.