Good to Know
Feeding backyard birds can bring joy to winter days
In the winter when perennial plants are sleeping, there is still enjoyment to be found in the garden.
“Our wild bird friends can be very colorful and are fun to watch from the comfort and warmth of your home,” said horticulturalist Mark Viette of Augusta County.
Bird feeders can be kept outdoors all year to entice hungry birds.
“Birds have a high metabolic rate and use a massive amount of energy for flying, so they spend a big part of their lives either eating or searching for food,” Viette explained. “Hanging a bird feeder in your yard can help provide a convenient source of nourishment for local bird populations.”
The trick to attracting a variety of birds to your home is to install an assortment of feeders and food choices, he said. And bird feeders and bird foods make thoughtful holiday gifts.
Platform feeders are perfect for ground-feeding birds such as juncos, mourning doves and sparrows. Tube feeders filled with black oil sunflower seeds bring in titmice, chickadees, cardinals and white- and red-breasted nuthatches. Finches enjoy thistle seed feeders, and suet feeders attract four different species of woodpeckers, as well as nuthatches, chickadees and wrens.
In addition to bird feeders, Viette said, it’s important to provide a source of clean, fresh water for birds throughout the winter months. “You can buy a simple birdbath heater to keep the big water troughs from freezing,” he explained. “Bluebirds will flock to this open water source all winter long.”
Consider planting seed-, fruit- and berry-producing trees, shrubs and perennials to provide a natural food source for birds and give them some great hiding places.
Seasonal salsas offer fun flavors for cold days
Salsa often is served as a summer snack, but it can be enjoyed year-round using seasonal ingredients.
Salsa has been America’s favorite condiment since 2000, when its sales surpassed ketchup. According to the Statista Research Department, almost 215 million Americans used store-bought salsa in 2019.
Though traditional salsa always uses a tomato base, chiles and spices, people are giving it a creative spin with unique flavor combinations and ingredients.
“You can use just about anything and create a salsa, and a lot more people are willing to experiment and try their own combinations,” said Sandy Stoneman, an Extension food safety agent in Wythe County. “I’ve seen someone make a butternut squash salsa.”
Virginia offers plenty of local, seasonal winter produce that can be made into salsa, such as sweet potatoes, apples and winter squash. Many herbs also are available during the winter and can be added for a deeper flavor.
“The heartier, warmer flavors are great for winter,” Stoneman said.
Here's a tasty alternative salsa which uses canned black beans, corn, cilantro and onions. Just like traditional salsa, it is served with chips or as a topping for meats.
Mount Vernon: A love letter to sustainability and conservation
The land at Mount Vernon is more than a setting for the story of George Washington’s life. It’s a character with an enduring role—just as the nation’s first president intended it.
Visitors can observe the sprawling acreage and witness his intelligent land management and conservation practices. Washington’s love of the land led to an ongoing narrative of sustainability, experimentation and respect for the soil.
Set against the backdrop of the Potomac River, George Washington’s Mount Vernon is open year-round. Guests can tour Pioneer Farm, where tobacco, wheat, hemp, flax and vegetables are still grown in the demonstration farm plots, representing a few of the 104 crop varieties once grown on-site.
Also on the farm is Washington’s innovative 16-sided threshing barn, which was designed with just enough space between floorboards to allow horse-tread grains to slip through for easy collection.
Mount Vernon’s five 18th-century farms were comprised of 8,000 acres. Washington’s experimental approach to conservation set the stage for other farmers to foster a sustainable relationship with the environment. He wrote the script on innovative land management practices like composting, growing cover crops and rotating crops.
Washington was devoted to the improvement of the soil and protection of trees. He believed that the land needed to rest, bringing utility back to the fields.
Today, guests can peruse the estate gardens, including the Fruit Garden and Nursery, Upper and Lower gardens and the Botanical Garden. Each site is still a showcase of Washington’s agricultural philosophy—natural, yet thoughtfully designed.
When visitors enter the garden enclosures, they are strolling the same gravel and brick paths that George and Martha Washington did 250 years ago.
Visit Mount Vernon
To learn more about George Washington’s Mount Vernon, plan a visit or book a specialty tour, see details at mountvernon.org.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily from November through March, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from April through October.