Category Archives: Urban Agriculture

photo credit: Meredith A. Muckerman

Accolades for Virginia Cooperative Extension

It was a clean sweep for Virginia Cooperative Extension at the George Mason University Go Gaga for Green awards for its efforts promoting environmental sustainability. VCE staff and volunteers won in all three award categories, Individual, Organization and People’s Choice.

Extension Agent and Unit Coordinator, Jennifer Abel, was awarded the Arlington Green Patriot Award for her sustainability efforts both professionally and personally. Jennifer actively volunteers for several local environmentally focused organizations including the Mt. Vernon Group of the Sierra Club and ACE R4 task force. In 2011, Jennifer co-founded the award winning Energy Masters program. In the five years since its inception, more than 150 volunteers have retrofitted almost 600 low income apartments to improve energy efficiency and reduce tenants’ utility bills. The program now operates in both Arlington County and the City of Alexandria. To learn more about the Energy Masters program, visit

Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia took both the Organization and People’s Choice awards. The non profit works with Extension Agent Kirsten Conrad Buhls and supports VCE volunteer efforts to educate the public about sustainable landscape management practices and home food production. MGNV support funds 5 demonstration gardens around Arlington and the City of Alexandria. The public can visit the gardens to learn more about various plants and gardening techniques. MGNV has also developed the Tried & True Native Plant fact sheets that provide homeowners with detailed information on how to incorporate native plants into the home landscape. To find out more about MGNV and the Tried & Trues, visit

Virginia Cooperative Extension’s varied programs are all supported by community volunteers. No experience is required to volunteer; VCE provides training and volunteer resources. Interested volunteers can find out more at

Fairlington Day Festivities

Virginia Cooperative Extension participated in Fairlington Day this past weekend. Agents and volunteers showcased Extension Arlington’s many faces by preparing delicious healthy eats, giving tours of the food gardens, organizing 4-H kids’ activities and providing information on the many great programs we coordinate. Getting out into the community and sharing information is what we do so if you have an event coming up that you would like us to participate in, please get in touch with our Marketing and Communications Associate,


It’s National Volunteer Week! THANK YOU! And How to Get Involved…

This week we celebrate National Volunteer Week.
It is time to say THANK YOU to all our volunteers.
Cooperative Extension relies on volunteers, and we believe that active citizen involvement in our programs ensures success.  The work of volunteers at state and local levels helps leverage our paid faculty and staff resources into a much greater impact and benefit for the people of Virginia.

For Extension Volunteer Stories see

Get Involved
There are many ways you can get involved as a volunteer with Cooperative Extension to bring your talents and skills to benefit the community.  Some of them are listed below. If you are interested in volunteering, but not sure in what way, contact our offices: Arlington 703 228 6400 and Alexandria 703 746 5546.  Staff will be happy to help you find a way to share your time and talents.

Here’s how to get involved volunteering locally with Cooperative Extension programs:

Arlington and Alexandria Extension Leadership Council (ELC)
The Arlington and Alexandria Extension Leadership Council is composed of interested residents, Cooperative Extension staff, and county and city liaisons who identify community issues and help ensure programs are responsive to real needs. Also, the ELC advocates in support of local programs and staff, and promotes greater awareness of the work of the Extension staff and volunteers.  The ELC meets every two months. If you are interested in joining, please contact the Arlington or Alexandria Extension Office and come to an ELC meeting. ELC 2014 Brochure

.4-H Youth Development
4-H stands for head, heart, hands and health.

DSC01047 - reduced version

Every 4-H program benefits from this integrated approach to civic engagement and hands-on learning – and the dedication and service of caring volunteers.  If you are interested in contributing your time to help further the development of youth in our community, please contact Reggie Morris, 4-H agent for Alexandria or Emily Reiersgaard, 4-H agent for Arlington,

1271206_997012492221_1218650293_o reduced version


Master Gardeners
Master Gardeners encourage and promote environmentally sound horticultural practices through sustainable landscape management education and training.
Kirsten picking greens

Here serving Arlington and Alexandria we have the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia.  Master Gardeners training will be offered in the fall. For details contact: Agriculture and Natural Resources agent, Kirsten Buhls or Arlington’s Interim Master Gardener Coordinator, Jocelyn Yee

Arlington Regional Master Naturalists
The Arlington Regional Master Naturalist program is part of a statewide corps of volunteers providing education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities. If you’re interested in becoming an Arlington Regional Master Naturalist, go to


Master Food Volunteers
Master Food Volunteers help support Extension’s family and consumer sciences (FCS) agents through education and outreach programs related to food preparation, nutrition, food safety, and physical activity. Contact FCS agent Katie Strong for information about programs and trainings in the Arlington and Fairfax area.


Arlington Energy Masters
Arlington’s  innovative Energy Masters program promotes a more energy efficient and sustainable Arlington community. We engage professionally trained volunteers in retrofitting, weatherization, and water conservation techniques serving low-income apartment residents. If you are interested in applying for the 2014-2015 program later this summer, please complete the volunteer interest form.


Master Financial  Educators
Financial volunteers receive a comprehensive training on budgeting, retirement planning, home buying, and many other finance topics, instruction in counseling techniques. Volunteers can choose to help individuals or community groups with financial education programs – including learning to reconcile debts, set goals, budget spending, and organization to improve money management skills. Please contact Jennifer Abel for details of the next training.


Volunteering Counts!
Here is how volunteering counts in Arlington and Alexandria.
In 2012: the Arlington and Alexandria staff and volunteers of Virginia Cooperative Extension reached over 50,000 people with 650+ education programs.  850+ active volunteers contributed over 32, 000 hours. That outreach was conducted with a local office staff of about a dozen people. That’s the power of volunteers!

Interested in volunteering statewide or at national level for Virginia Cooperative Extension? See:




Spring Break? Register now for the Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit

If you’re interested in conversations about urban agriculture, and would like to meet growers, sellers, consumers, health professionals, planners and others investing in growing your food closer to your city: consider registering for the mid-April Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit:

Register Now for the
Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit, Nourishing Our Cities’ Future
in Lynchburg, Virginia
on Tuesday April 15 & Wednesday April 16, 2014

For agenda, registration and lodging info go to

Highlights  of the Urban Ag Summit will include:

  • First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe to give keynote
  • Screening of Dan Susman’s documentary film Growing Cities-A Film About Urban Farming in America for early birds on the evening of Monday April, 14, 2014
  • Tour of Lynchburg Grows

For further background on the Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit check out Virginia Tech’s News:

And on the note of celebrating Agriculture  – rural and urban – March 25th is National Agriculture Day:
“On this National Agriculture Day, we thank the farmers, ranchers, and others at the heart of American agriculture, an industry that provides for our food and fiber needs, supports one in twelve jobs, and drives our nation’s economy.”

~ Secretary Tom Vilsack
Read his full statement:


Have You Seen This Bug? Look Out for Kudzu Bugs and Report Sightings

Cooperative Extension in Arlington is participating in a statewide survey to determine the presence of Kudzu Bugs in Northern Virginia.  Traps will be installed in suitable garden sites to try to detect their presence. If you see this insect at your home or elsewhere please report it to the Arlington Virginia Cooperative Extension Horticulture Help Desk at 703 228 6414 or email to  And if you have further questions, please contact Kirsten Buhls, Arlington’s Agriculture and Natural Resources agent,, 703 228 6423.

Glencarlyn Library Demonstration Garden in Arlington is part of statewide research being conducted by Virginia Tech that seeks to track the spread of the invasive Kudzu Bug into Northern Virginia.  For the next 6-8 weeks VCE Master Gardeners will be checking a white bug trap in the library garden to see if we find this bug here in Arlington.


Click on the link for full identification details of the Kudzu Bug and see photos.


Oblong, olive green adult Megacopta cribraria aka the Kudzu Bug are 4 to 6 mm long   Photo

Kudzu Bug Distribution in Virginia Aug 9 2013                             

Background to Kudzu Bugs
In October 2009, large aggregations of Kudzu Bug (Megacopta cribraria (F.); Heteroptera: Plataspidae), also known as bean plataspid, lablab bug, or globular stink bug, were discovered on the exterior of houses in nine northeast Georgia counties.


Also see these two 3-minute videos about Kudzu Bugs in Spanish
or in English

By 2010,  Kudzu Bug was confirmed in more than 60 Georgia counties.  This insect that is native to Asia feeds on kudzu, wisteria, and other members of the bean family.  It has become a serious pest of soybean crop fields as far north as 21 counties in Virginia and 3 southern Maryland counties.

Megacopta cribraria is related to the brown marmorated stink bug.  Adult Kudzu Bugs are 4 to 6 mm long, oblong, olive-green colored with brown speckles, and produce a mildly offensive odor when disturbed.
In its native Asia, one of M. cribraria’s preferred hosts is kudzu, an invasive vine introduced into the U.S. more than 100 years ago.  While the good news is that the invasive vine Kudzu appears to be a primary host in North America, M. cribraria is expected to spread into most areas where kudzu is established.   The bigger concern is that this insect will become another nuisance pest. Similar to behavior of brown marmorated stink bugs, kudzu bugs seek secluded sites like the inside of your home as temperatures fall and daylengths shorten in the fall.  They overwinter as adults and emerge in the spring, as temperatures increase,

Control of M. cribraria consists of the following:

Exclusion: place screening over any possible entries into house and ensure that they are tight and well seated, without holes. Be sure to screen soffit, ridge and gable vents. Stuff steel wool into pipe entry points and make sure that all doors are tight fitting.   Kudzu bugs on a window frame. Photo courtesy

Insecticide: The insects congregate on sunny south facing outdoor walls in the fall and insecticide applications can be made to stop this.   Consult with a certified pesticide applicator who has the equipment needed for broadside applications of nuisance insect control products. Repeat applications may be needed but microencapsulated and wettable powder formulations will last longer. Indoor pesticide applications for M. cribraria are not recommended.

Mechanical:  Vacuum and bag insects, gather them and place in hot soapy water, avoid crushing them as long lasting odors and staining of surfaces may result.

Biological:  Encourage natural predators by planting a wide variety of plants.  Assassin bugs are known to feed on M. cribraria, and other native predators may emerge.  Removal of  source plantings like kudzu and wisteria can reduce numbers of bugs in your vicinity.

Further details:

Downloadable 8.5 x 11 pdf poster:
Have You Seen This Bug QR Code Kudzu Bug Poster

Inspiration and Impact:

In January, Arlington and Alexandria VA Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners and 4-H Youth Leaders and agents trained Arlington County staff on some Junior Master Gardener projects. Tomorrow staff at Westover Library are hosting Kids in the Garden – a program inspired by what they learned at the Cooperative Extension training.
The kids will plant some seeds to take home – and see how they grow…

Look out for more youth gardening activities this season at the libraries and in Arlington County Dept of Recreation after-school programs.

And let’s grow these inspirational and successful VA Cooperative Extension training programs!

Poster by Westover Library staff.

Poster by Westover Library staff.




Master Gardeners Put on Arlington County Fair Competitive Flower and Vegetable Shows

Every year Arlington County gardeners celebrate the diversity of their gardens by sharing the fruits of their labors with the public.  Both the competitive Flower and Flower Arrangements and massive-pumpkinthe Vegetable Fruits and Nuts Competitive Exhibits at the Arlington County Fair are supported by VCE Master Gardeners who serve as superintendents, judges, and administrative volunteers.  This year, Extension volunteers will preside over two shows that take in entries from hundreds of exhibitors vying for blue ribbons and maybe even a Reserve or Grand Champion awards.  Last year’s show inspired this entry from Nabih S. whose pumpkin was a huge hit.   How big was it?    Well it took two people to pick it up and the small tomato in the lower left corner will give an idea of its size. VCE booth l-r Armn,tsaa,mgnv anr,fcs,4h,Look again here for postings of this year’s winners and be sure to visit Virginia Cooperative Extension’s fair booth at L-10-11-12 and see our many interactive displays that include a Master Gardeners Plant Clinic, Master Naturalists (and you might get to visit with a snake!), Master Food Volunteers will demonstrate herbs and spices, and our 4-H program will be showing off chicks and embryology science.

See you at the Arlington County Fair at Thomas Jefferson Community Center Thomas Jefferson Community Center 3501 Second Street South  Arlington, VA 22204.  Fair hours and parking details are here:

Tancil Court, Alexandria, “I Can Shine Garden”

“I Can Shine Garden” teaches children to grow vegetables

By Alice Reid

I Can Shine

Thanks to a hard-working group of children and more than a dozen volunteers, we’ve had a productive and fun spring at the “I Can Shine Garden” at Tancil Court in Alexandria.

While the weather was still cool, the children planted seeds for collards, spinach, bok choy, and lettuce as well as peas, radishes, and carrots. For their labors, they have harvested more than 10 pounds of collards, several bags of peas, lots of carrots and so much Swiss chard and bok choi that there’s been enough to supply several dishes for the children’s after school snack. Bok choi was the big surprise. The kids went from “Hunh? What’s that?” to “Yum, we want more.”

Coming along we have four tomato plants, a handful of pepper plants, some zucchini plants, pole beans ready to climb on our teepee, and some cucumbers to compete with them. Over in our little “annex”, i.e. two abandoned tree wells in the court yard of this Old Town Alexandria public housing project, we have a watermelon patch going, and a 10 by 10 foot area that the kids planted with sweet potato slips they rooted themselves. Keep your fingers crossed that the potatoes catch on. Oh, and we have two baskets of regular potatoes coming along as well.

We are also participating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a Harlequin Bug experiment (the Organic Vegetable Garden is also participating in this experiment). The USDA is trying to find the best kind of bait to lure these voracious bugs away from collards and their other cabbage-family favorites and into traps. We have four USDA-supplied collard plants at the corners of Tancil Court. Each one has a pheromone-laced bait  hanging above it to lure the bugs. Each week the children tour the baits, count and collect any harlequin bugs that may be resting on the plant leaves. They bag and freeze any they find, and those are collected by the USDA. Tancil Court is one of several area gardens participating in the experiment.

Summer is when we focus on harvesting our crops and maintaining our garden. We’re also hoping to do a couple of projects such as making solar ovens and baking a pizza using some of our own produce.

We sometimes use healthy snacks as a teaching tool, such as serving “parts of the plant salad,” – carrot roots, celery stems, spinach leaves, broccoli flowers, pea seeds, and tomato fruits – all blended with a little ranch dressing.

This project started three years ago under the auspices of a city effort to combat childhood obesity through healthy activity, i.e. gardening, and healthy eating habits. The garden has certainly helped these children on both fronts.

Reposted from the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia blog.

A Special Visit

Written by Carrie Vergel de Dios

On Tuesday, June 4th Arlington’s VCE office was proud to welcome Dr. Edwin Jones, Director of Virginia Cooperative Extension who also serves as the Associate Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech. Kirsten Buhls started the day off by demonstrating how the Master Gardener Help Desk answers community members’ gardening questions. Next the new Arlington and Alexandria 4-H agents, Samantha Nagurny and Reggie Morris talked about their plans for youth development work in the area. Following was a presentation given by Jennifer Abel and Wendy Peichel about recent achievements in local financial education programs and the many contributions of the Master Financial Education Volunteers. Three Energy Masters volunteers, Barbara Englehart, Nabilah Haque, and Colleen Morgan next talked about the exciting work that this group has been doing over the past two years and the two awards that they have recently won.  The chair and vice chair of the Arlington & Alexandria Extension Leadership Council, Mary Van Dyke and John Woodard, then talked with Dr. Jones about local priorities.

The visit ended with a wonderful lunch prepared by Katie Strong, Hareg Tecklu, Megan Mauer, and included the special help of several Master Food Volunteers: Nancy Broff, Caroline Comport, Sue Gonzalez, Catherine Hader, and Kate McCarthy. The delicious lunch consisted of Tuna Boats (pictured below), Green Salad with Cider Vinaigrette, and  Brown Rice and Orange Salad, with refreshments of Lemon Water and Black Tea as well as Fruit Salad for dessert.

 tuna boat


It’s the Start of Cicada Season!

The buzzing insect drone of summer time is either a welcome harbinger of memories of warm evening picnics and summer fun or a frightening reminder of the destruction and damage to tree branches caused by the annual and periodic cicada. Every year as the weather heats up into mid May or June and continuing into August, we will hear the droning whine of these large insects as they go about their business of mating and laying eggs. Only the males make the sounds by rapidly flexing an abdominal tymbal muscle that rattles two hardened tymbal membranes against each other. Each species has a distinctive sound.

Although often called ‘locusts’ they are more closely related to leaf hoppers and spittle bugs. In some parts of the world they are eaten and the females are preferred for being ‘meatier’. Sometimes called ‘dog day’ cicadas, some annual cicadas that live from 2-5 years, hatch every year emerging from the soil as nymphs to climb up into trees shedding their exoskeletons as they mature into winged adults. While most species of cicada are what we call annual or unsynchronized, there are 3 species of 17 year periodic cicadas in the genus Magicicada that are common in northern areas. These synchronized periodic cicadas, or broods as they are called, belong usually to one of three species: M. septendecim, M. cassini, and M. septendecula. This factsheet contains maps that show the anticipated spread of the 2013 hatch. Brood II, while concentrated west of here, may result in increased numbers here in Northern VA. Brood X is the biggest hatch in the Northern VA-DC-MD region and is not due again until 2021 unless a phenomena called ’straggling’ occurs and then we might get part of that hatch 4 years early in 2017.

Damage by both annual and periodic cicadas is done mainly by the nymphs feeding on roots and by the female using her ovipositor to cut open a place to lay her eggs. Up to 400 eggs are typically laid 2-12 to a site at 40-50 sites. While not highly selective, trees often chosen for oviposition include maple, oak, hickory, beech, ash, dogwood, hawthorn, magnolia, willow, apple, peach, cherry and pear. Flowers, vines and shrubs include: Rose of Sharon, rose, raspberry, grape, black-eyed Susan, hollies, spirea, rhododendron, viburnum, junipers, and arborvitae. Branches ¼”- ½” in diameter are generally chosen and the damage usually results in ‘flagging’ or, the death of the end of the branch. After 6-10 weeks, eggs hatch and the ant sized nymphs fall to the ground to dig burrows 6-18” deep.

Control of damage to young trees is important and difficult to achieve. Netting to exclude the adult cicadas is helpful. Delay setting out new young trees up to 2 years before a major hatch of periodic cicadas. Remove egg masses as you find them and prune damaged branch ends after the invasion is over.
Virginia Tech has this publication geared towards fruit producers but contains good info for all. If you would like to see maps of various brood hatch locations and photos of what cicadas look like here:
Ohio State has good information here on controlling damage from cicadas here:

Virginia cicadaAdult-14W
Arlington Cooperative Extension staff can provide more information about these and other summer outdoor insect pests. You can get help finding your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office here: