Backyard Composting – An Overview from the Virginia Cooperative Extension

Ed Rishell, Master Gardener, Virginia Cooperative Extension

What Is Composting?

Composting, through manipulation and control, speeds up the natural decomposition of organic matter. It requires optimizing the conditions favorable to the mixed population of microorganisms (mainly bacteria, fungi, and actinomycetes) responsible for the decomposition. These microbes, normally found on the surface of leaves, grass clippings, and other organic materials, thrive in a warm, moist, aerobic (oxygen-rich) environment. Large amounts of organic kitchen, garden, lawn, and landscape refuse can be reduced in a relatively short time to a pile of dark, crumbly, humus-like material that makes an ideal soil amendment.

Download a PDF of the complete article.

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count!

Audubon Logo

From February 17 to February 20, you can be a citizen scientist simply by counting birds for 15 minutes. Join the GBBC wherever you see birds; in your yard, garden, park, or feeder. Count in as many places and on as many days as you like—one day, two days, or all four days of the GBBC and enter your list and location here. It’s that easy and can make a big difference for birds.

Photo: Chris Orr/Great Backyard Bird Count

National Audubon Society,
225 Varick Street, New York, NY 10014 USA
(844) 428-3826

TACF’s Pure American Program: Seedlings Available Soon!

From the American Chestnut Foundation January 2017 eSprout Newsletter.

Interested in growing chestnuts? This unique program is an easy and affordable way to learn the ‘ins-and-outs’ of growing American chestnuts.

Supplies are limited so be ready to place your order beginning February 1 for these pure American chestnut seedlings. Pricing information and ordering instructions are available on our website. Last day to order is March 31. Phone orders only, please (828-281-0047).

Pure American chestnut seedlings are available to current TACF members ONLY. Not a current member? If not, you may join when placing your seedling order ($40 minimum donation).

DISCLAIMER: Pure American chestnut seedlings are not part of the TACF backcross breeding program and they are not blight-resistant.

Roanoke Parks and Recreation to Offer Free Volunteer Tree Steward Training

Roanoke Logo

Parks and Recreation

215 Church Ave., S.W., Room 303

Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017

News Release

Roanoke,  VA – Each year, Roanoke Parks and Recreation’s Urban Forestry program trains volunteers who are interested in protecting the environment and giving back to the community. These Tree Stewards help care for young trees on city-owned property. The next free training starts on Monday, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. and registration is now open.

“Tree Stewards play a very important role in keeping our urban tree canopy healthy and protected,” said Dan Henry, Urban Forestry Coordinator at Roanoke Parks and Recreation. “Since the first class graduated in 2009, volunteers have contributed almost 7,000 hours, which has saved the city roughly $155,000.”

The 26-hour training begins with nine classes held on Monday nights. Once the in-class training is complete, volunteers join three field sessions held on Saturday mornings during the spring. The field training focuses on tree planting, pruning and tree identification. Once qualified, Roanoke Tree Stewards complete a minimum of 30 hours of work during their first year and 20 hours in subsequent years. Volunteers may also give educational presentations to adults and children.

“We make sure that our volunteers are well prepared and we like to create a supportive learning environment,” said Helen Smythers, Urban Forestry Planner at Roanoke Parks and Recreation. “We work in small volunteer groups and have a work day leader who supervises and helps answer volunteer questions.”

Unlike other cities its size, Roanoke has more than 13,146 acres of tree canopy that covers more than 48 percent of the city. Home to more than 158 different types of trees, Roanoke’s urban forest is diverse and vast. The city currently has 40 active Tree Steward volunteers and Roanoke Parks and Recreation expects to train at least a dozen more in 2017.

For more information, please contact Whitney Slightham, Roanoke Parks and Recreation Marketing and Outreach Coordinator, at or 540-853-5847.

Roanoke Audubon Christmas Bird Count December 17

How to Participate:

“There is a specific methodology to the CBC, and all participants must make arrangements to participate in advance with the circle compiler within an established circle, but anyone can participate.

Each count takes place in an established 15-mile wide diameter circle, and is organized by a count compiler. Count volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile (24-km) diameter circle, counting every bird they see or hear all day. It’s not just a species tally–all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day.

If you are a beginning birder, you will be able to join a group that includes at least one experienced birdwatcher.

If your home is within the boundaries of a CBC circle, then you can stay at home and report the birds that visit your feeder on count day as long as you have made prior arrangement with the count compiler.”

From the Roanoke Valley Bird Club website:


Roanoke – Saturday, December 17
Contact Bill Hunley ( / 774-2397 (H) / 467-3477 (C)

Fincastle – Sunday, December 18
Contact Eunice Hudgins ( / 389-4056)

Peaks of Otter – Date to be decided at a later date.
Contact Kent Davis ( / 344-8377)

Participate in as many counts as you wish. Contact the leaders above to be assigned a territory. If you are a new birder or have not done this before, you will be placed with experienced birders. There is very little walking on most of the territories – we ride the areas stopping often to look, listen and count the birds. It’s a fun day. Get to know your fellow birders and maybe discover a new territory or a new bird.

There will also be sign-up sheets at the November meeting.
Following the Fincastle count, we will meet at Woodpecker Ridge for a bowl of Barry’s soup and a tally of birds seen on the Roanoke and Fincastle counts.
Upcoming Field Trips Field Trips Chair, Linda Cory (540) 580- 5214

CBC 117 Locations: Roanoke

First Name William
Last Name Hunley
Abbrev VARO
Name Roanoke
Description center oakland blvd. & williamson rd.
Latitude 37.30
Longitude -79.94
Count Date 12/17/2016

4 Keys to Bird ID: Resource for Birding and FeederWatch

For those who are participating in FeederWatch 2016-2017 and those who are just interested in improving their bird identification skills, here is a set of videos on the 4 basic keys to bird identification from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bird Academy.


Inside Birding: Size & Shape | Bird Academy * The Cornell Lab

Inside Birding: Color Pattern | Bird Academy * The Cornell Lab

Inside Birding: Understanding Behavior | Bird Academy * The Cornell Lab

Inside Birding: Habitat | Bird Academy * The Cornell Lab

VMN Volunteer Project of the Year

This article originally appeared on Virginia Master Naturalists.

We aim with this award to recognize a project that has been created and led by a VMN volunteer or chapter and that has made significant and noteworthy positive impacts for natural resource education, citizen science, and/or stewardship within the last 1 to 2 years.  We received some terrific nominations, and all of the projects are really noteworthy.  The winning project is one that was an outgrowth of a collaboration among Virginia Commonwealth University and our program focused on the greater Richmond metro area, and it has since evolved to include 100 volunteers from at least 10 different VMN chapters and a new collaborator, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

The Vernal Pool Cooperative has volunteers finding, identifying, and monitoring vernal pool habitats in many areas of the state.  Thus far, volunteers have identified 335 vernal pools in Virginia, and their data will help fuel conservation efforts for these special habitats.  As I mentioned, many chapters are involved: Rivanna, Historic Southside, Peninsula, Shenandoah, New River Valley, and others, but since we had to choose where to give the award, we are giving it to the Pocahontas Chapter because that’s the chapter of a lead volunteer for the project, Lee Hesler.  From the beginning, Lee stepped up to assume the management of the project’s online database, and has since managed the projects’ membership, pool inventory, data collection and submission, and data archiving. He has participated on the project’s steering committee and has helped to streamline the VPCV monitoring protocols. Lee has selflessly given up many of his Saturdays to help train over 300 volunteers in the data collection and entry process during 15 advanced training classes held around the state with participants from 11 MN chapters. In addition, he has continued to monitor and enter data on his own vernal pools sites in Chesterfield Co. Lastly, Lee has recruited and trained another Master Naturalist to take over for him, as he gets ready to retire from these past three years of oversight and effort.

More Geology Sites Added to Resources Page

Virginia DMME Geology and Mineral Resources Map: An interactive geology map of Virginia from the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy.

Geology and Mineral Resources of the Roanoke Area, Virginia: A PDF version of the 1932 Virginia Geological Society Bulletin #34 by Herbert P. Woodward. It is a “…comprehensive discussion of the surface features, rock formations, structure, geologic history, and mineral resources of Roanoke County and adjoining parts of Botetourt, Bedford, Franklin, Floyd, Montgomery, and Craig counties.”

See more on the Resources Page.

A Community-Based Natural Resources Volunteer Program