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December 29, 2008

Poinsettias

Jean Field, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

With Christmas just around the corner, Floridians are shopping at local nurseries and garden centers for the fiery red bracts of the traditional holiday plant, the Poinsettia. No other flower displays such a brilliant splash of red color during the festive weeks of December and January than this member of the spurge family, Euphorbia pulcherrima.

History
Native to southern Mexico where they become ten foot shrubs, Americans can thank Mexican Ambassador Joel Poinsett for bringing the Poinsettia to the United States in 1825. The Ecke family of Southern California began growing them on their farm in the early 1900’s as a cut flower and Christmas plant. Today there are over 100 varieties available in red, white, pink and enticing combinations of the three. Look at the tag in your next potted Poinsettia. Most likely it was shipped from the Ecke farm near San Diego, as 85% of the Poinsettias shipped from the United States originated at the Ecke farms outside San Diego.

Flowers
The part of the plant commonly referred to as the flower isn’t a flower at all, but a modified leaf or a bract. These bracts change color to the spectacular hues of red, pink or white that brightens the coffee tables of our homes during the winter holidays. The true flowers are yellow pollen-bearing and grow in the center out of little green cups called cyathium. Take a close look at these flowers next time you buy Poinsettias as an indicator of plant freshness. Flowers that have shed their pollen will soon drop their colorful bracts. Plants with pollen-covered flowers will hold their bracts much longer.

Non-poisonous
Poinsettias are NOT poisonous, contrary to what you may have been told by well-meaning neighbors. The white latex sap in the stems can give dermatitis to sensitive people, however, according to the national information center for poison control centers, the plant is not considered poisonous or toxic. A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50 pound child who ate 500 bracts would have developed a bad stomach ache at best. Poinsettias also are not poisonous to your dog or cat. According to the ASPCA, "poinsettia ingestions typically produce only mild to moderate gastrointestinal tract irritation, which may include drooling, vomiting and/or diarrhea." So, you may want to keep the plants out of reach, but you need not fear a fatal reaction if part of the poinsettia is eaten.

Indoor care
A bright, cool room works best for healthy, blooming indoor Poinsettias. A dark room or a hot patio will result in leaf drop and loss of colorful bracts. Ideal temperatures for best leaf and bract retention are day temperatures of 70-75 degrees and evening temperatures of 60-65 degrees. Keep them out of drafts. Water when the top 1 inch of soil dries out to the touch. Do not let Poinsettias sit in standing water.

Outdoor care
In central and south Florida, Poinsettias can be planted outside in a sunny, well drained site. Be sure and provide 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness each night after October 1st or they won’t bloom. Fertilize with a complete slow-release fertilizer monthly from March through October at the rate of 2 pounds per 100 square feet. Be sure and apply magnesium sulfate (Mg) to each plant twice a year at the rate of 1 teaspoon per square foot or 2 cups per 100 square feet. Magnesium deficiencies are unsightly and are much easier to prevent than to control.

Cuttings
Make your own Poinsettia plants by taking 6” cutting of the new growth with your sharp, clean pruners. Immerse the cut end of the stem in hot water for 1 minute, then dip the stem immediately in cold water to seal it. Place 2-3 cuttings in a 1- gallon pot with well-drained, fresh potting soil and place it in a warm, bright location not in direct sunlight. As the root ball grows, gradually increase light and decrease water. Within a couple months you will have a new potted Poinsettia to plant outside or share with a lucky friend.

Poinsettia Trivia


  • $220 million dollars worth of Poinsettias are sold during the Christmas season

  • 80% of Poinsettias purchased are by women

  • 80% are purchased by people 40 years of age or older

  • 90% of the world’s Poinsettias are exported from the United States

  • 85% of potted plant sales during the Christmas season arePoinsettias

Brighten the porch or the dining room of a friend this Christmas season with the gift of a Poinsettia. With bright light and moderate temperature and water, this cheerful native from Mexico will brighten your home for months to come.

References
Poinsettias For Florida, Indoors and Outdoors: Robert J. Black, Rick K. Schoellhorn
Perfect Poinsettias: UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service
The Poinsettia Pages: University of Illinois Extension http://hort.ufl.edu/gt/poinsettia/poinsettia.htm
http://www.pauleckepoinsettias.com/
Poinsettias No Longer in the Dog House - http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/county/smith/tips/house/poinsettiaMyth.html

December 22, 2008

Finding the Help You Need with Volunteer Projects

Jean Rogalsky, 4-H Youth Development Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Everyone needs some help some time. Whether you are part of a government agency, a non-profit, or the PTA, there are times when additional people are needed to get the job done. For example, the school fund raiser will require a number of people to organize, promote, and facilitate the project. There is usually one person who chairs the committee responsible for finding volunteers and assigning them tasks. It goes without saying that a community can accomplish so much more when volunteers come together to organize and host an event. So, how does one convince people to donate time and energy from their already busy schedules to assist in a special project?

Just as it is true with other activities, if you want to find and organize volunteers, you must plan and be organized. Much has been written on the research that has occurred in the area of volunteer development. Several volunteer management models exist. While someone looking for just a few volunteers to help with a school or club event may not think following a model is necessary, most principles laid out in the models hold true no matter the size of the project or the number of volunteers required. After studying the models, it is apparent that the research supports good planning and common sense as the tools to successful volunteer management.

Florida 4-H faculty have embraced the ISOTURE model. The ISOTURE model was developed by Dr. Milton Boyce, former National 4-H Program Leader, USDA. The acronym stands for the steps of Identification, Selection, Orientation, Training, Utilization, Recognition, and Evaluation. These steps offer a systematic guide for anyone to develop a volunteer program, whether it is for a large organization or a one-time club fundraiser.

ISOTURE

Identification - the process of identifying the positions and finding people who have the skills and attitude essential to fill specific positions. After you identify the tasks, create a role description for each one. This will let potential volunteers know which skills are needed and the time commitment. Write an interesting description to attract more people.

Selection - the process of studying the skills of prospective volunteers and determining their match with existing positions. Asking one or two people to do a particular task may be more effective than sending out a general plea for help. A person may feel honored if their special talents are recognized and then agree to help. Being asked as another “warm body” isn’t as special.

Orientation - this process serves as the initial stage in helping the volunteer understand the culture of the organization and their place in it. Be sure volunteers understand the expectations of their role and the “big picture” of the project. Volunteers should feel part of the team.

Training - this is the process of providing volunteers with specific knowledge and skills to carry out their position successfully. Depending on the nature of the volunteer’s skills, experience, and position, training time will vary. This is the time where a volunteer may find out that the assignment isn’t the best fit. It is better to find out during training than after the event is over. If the experience is not positive, chances are a volunteer will not return.

Utilization - this is the process of putting the volunteer to work. Volunteers could be doing something else. Make sure there is always work ready when the volunteer arrives.

Recognition - this is the process of recognizing and rewarding quality volunteer efforts. Everyone likes to be recognizes for their efforts. Small tokens of recognition can be presented at any time, not just at the end of the event or year.

Evaluation - this is the process of monitoring the volunteer’s service and the results of the project. Most people assess an event after it is over or make notes for next time. Be sure to ask the volunteers how they feel things went. You may be surprised.

The idea of using a development model may seem daunting to some people. In reality, what the model does is set out logical steps to organizing your volunteer program for your next event.

The 4-H Youth Development Program largely owes its success to the large number of dedicated volunteers who assist who delivering the program. Volunteer development is an important part of every 4-H Agent’s work. By utilizing the ISOTURE model, Florida 4-H Agents and staff are taking positive steps to insure that Florida 4-H will remain for another 100 years.
For more detailed information on ISOTURE, please go to: http://florida4h.org/staff/Volunteering/isoture_gen.shtml

December 15, 2008

Paper or Plastic? No Thanks.

Mary Campbell, Urban Sustainability Agent, Pinellas County Extension

So what is the big deal with paper and plastic bags? These handy little totes have been around for as long as I can remember. When I was young, it was all about paper bags, which seems hard to imagine now. When did we get so sensitive to these throw away carriers and why can’t we continue to use them and then toss them away without a thought? Our diminishing natural resources, energy use, and waste production are the big three reasons why we must take another look at “paper or plastic?”

Fifty years ago, plastic bags -- starting first with the sandwich bag -- were seen in the United States as a more sanitary and environmentally friendly alternative to the deforesting paper bag. Estimates indicate that 100 billion plastic bags are used each year. Less than 1 – 3% of all plastic bags are recycled. Plastic bags start as crude oil, natural gas, or other petrochemical product. After being heated, shaped, and cooled, the plastic is ready to be flattened, sealed, punched, or printed on. Four out of five grocery bags in this country are plastic. Americans consume more than 10 billion paper bags each year in addition to all those plastic bags.

Let’s compare paper to plastic: The Winner is

Paper

Plastic

Neither

Natural Resources: Paper bags are made from trees and about 14 million trees are cut down each year to make paper bags. Plastic bags require 12 million barrels of oil to produce the 100 billion plastic bags used annually.

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Energy: It takes 4 times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as a plastic bag.

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Recycling: It takes 98% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than a pound of paper. When one ton of plastic bags is reused as something else other than plastic bags or recycled, the energy equivalent of 11 barrels of oil is saved.

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Disposal: Plastic takes up less room in the landfill, but paper is biodegradable. Some reports indicate that paper bags do not biodegrade in landfills due to a lack of oxygen. An estimated 4 billion plastic bags end up as litter each year.

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Toxins: The production of paper bags generates 70 % more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.

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Transport: Paper weighs more to transport.

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Some manufacturers have introduced biodegradable or compostable plastic bags made from starches, polymers or poly-lactic acid, and no polyethylene—though these remain prohibitively expensive and account for less than 1 percent of the market. North America and Western Europe account for nearly 80 percent of plastic bags used. Bags are increasingly common in developing countries as well. Supermarkets around the world are voluntarily encouraging shoppers to bring their own bags. Some stores have begun to provide a small, per-bag refund or are charging extra for each plastic bag.
Try to go at least one week without accumulating any new plastic bags. If every shopper took just one less bag each month, this could eliminate the waste of hundreds of millions of bags each year. Make a commitment and Take the Reusable Bags Pledge.
Resource:
UF Paper or Plastic? - http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/AE209
Take the Reusable Bags Pledge: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=96tM1FHQ4xLIV0WumVrJzQ_3d_3d

December 8, 2008

Here’s to A Happy Healthy Holiday

By Nan Jensen, Families and Consumers Agent, Pinellas County Extension



Ah the holidays are here! The parties, the tempting foods, the late nights with little sleep trying to accomplish those extra chores, visits from Aunt “M” and Uncle Mo. So much for that routine you were used to following.

Many times, the holidays and all the “extras “they bring with them can cause extra stress and take the “joy” out of what should be a joyful occasion. Here are some tips to keep your holidays happy and healthy.

Hit the grocery stores and fill the pantry with healthy foods that you and you family will enjoy. Fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals are good choices. These types of foods will help you deal with those extra stresses during this hectic season. My Pyramid http://mypyramid.gov/ is a helpful tool to use for tracking your food choices and offers helpful suggestions on making healthy ones.

Don't skip meals. And especially not breakfast! You are more likely to over-indulge in unhealthy foods such the hors d'oeuvres at an after-work party, or the "quick fix" of pizza or fries on the way home from shopping or work.

While holiday treats are often delicious they are not necessarily nutritious. When you are at those social gatherings, pace yourself when faced with tempting goodies. Seek out healthier food choices, such as the fresh fruit or veggie tray, and limit your intake of the delicious but not so nutritious items such as the cheesecake, “Pigs in a Blanket” and eggnog. And before heading out for that holiday gathering, enjoy a small healthy meal at home. You'll be less likely to overdo it on the goodies later. For information on the “calorie cost” of those holidays goodies and what activities will help you manage those calories go to http://pcefamiliesconsumers.blogspot.com/.

Stay active, even if you can’t follow your usual exercise routine. Socialize with your holiday guests by asking them to take a walk with you. After the holidays, you can return to your usual fitness routine. Also, taking a walk before a meal may prevent you from overeating.

Identify what causes you stress and find ways around it. Some people dislike crowded stores. Why not try shopping on-line or order by phone or mail from one of the great catalogues you tucked away in a drawer. Take some time off work during the week to shop when stores are less busy. Make a home-made gift or donate time or money to a charity in honor of the gift recipient. To help you manage stress anytime of year the University of Florida has some helpful publications at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_series_stress_management.

Get plenty of sleep. During this busy time of year, don't shortchange yourself on sleep. Most of us require about seven to eight hours of sleep each night, and more during periods of extra stress. That goes for the children too. If all of you are well-rested you can enjoy those special family traditions that make the holidays so memorable.

Learn to say no particularly if you are overcommitted and who isn’t? Don't feel guilty. Remember that you have the option to politely decline invitations - or cancel or reschedule a few events if need be. Save your energy for the things you feel are important.

Try to spend some “alone time” on something just for you. Just 15 minutes each day doing an activity you enjoy can help refresh and re-energize you.

Enjoy the holidays and make them happy and healthy ones.

December 4, 2008

Make a New Year’s Resolution to Register for Classes from Pinellas County Extension

Pinellas County Extension offers residents a wide variety of classes to help them make sustainable decisions. On-line registration is available for all classes. Next month look for the new Solutions in 30 lunch break on-line classes.

The classes being offered in January are:

Pesticide CEUs:
January 15th – Limited Commercial Landscape Maintenance 'Roundup'
January 27th – Best Management Practices


Families and Consumers:
January 8th – Families Cooking Together Series begins
January 9th – Families Cooking Together Series begins


Lawn and Garden:
January 22nd – FSG -Nine Principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping
January 29th – FSG - Water-Wise


4-H Youth:
January 10th – The Big Red Tomato


Sustainable Living:
January 7th - Green Office Webinar
January 15th – Green Living Webinar

You can register for classes at www.pinellascountyextension.org look for the online registration button on the right hand side.

December 1, 2008

Adjust Landscape Water Schedule During Cooler Weather

By Dale Armstrong, Coordinator Florida Yards & Neighborhoods


Many people do not realize that even in central Florida cooler winter temperatures result in little or no growth in plants and grass. I rarely mow my grass between November and March because it just does not need it. Running a mower through your yard in the winter creates wear and tear on the grass, wastes gasoline, and needlessly generates pollution.

Slower growth during the cooler weather means less water is required to keep our landscape plants happy. Irrigation sprinkler use is currently limited to one day per week with all water sources except reclaimed. Since your landscape is adapted to that schedule during warm weather, it may be that in cooler temperatures it can easily go on a two week or longer cycle between watering with sprinklers if no rain is received during that time.

You can easily make that change by turning the sprinkler controller clock to OFF and marking your calendar for the day before your watering day two weeks out. When that day arrives, if no significant rain has fallen (at least ½ inch) you may easily turn the clock to ON or RUN so it operates the next day as scheduled. The day after the sprinklers run, turn off the clock and mark your calendar again to start the manual cycle over. If temperatures have been particularly cool during those two weeks and the landscape is looking okay, you might even consider leaving the clock off for a third week.

Since this routine will get you in the habit of observing your landscape for signs of when water is needed, you should be able to save a significant amount of water and still maintain an attractive yard. When temperatures start to rise in the spring and plants have need of more water, you simply turn the sprinkler controller clock back to ON or RUN so it operates in the auto mode.

Above all, stay informed about changes in outdoor water use restrictions. The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) recently tightened water restrictions in Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Pasco Counties due to extreme drought conditions. Even watering plants manually with a hose is now limited to certain times of the day, and violators of restrictions will now be ticketed on first offense.

To learn more about these changes please read the SWFWMD news release at the first link below and keep in mind that you should also check with your water supplier for any special restrictions, such as day of the week you may water. Use the second link below to find your specific local restrictions. Look for the local government that bills you for water.

www.swfwmd.state.fl.us
http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/conservation/restrictions/local.html

November 24, 2008

Creating Happy Holidays for Your Family

By Janet Golden, 4-H Program Leader, Pinellas County Extension

Holidays are a wonderful happy time, but they can also be very stressful for families, especially children, because of the changes; the increase of social events, less time with parents because they are so busy preparing for the holidays, change in schedule, and the tons of sweets and holiday treats. The following are some tips on holiday safety, spending, and stress to ensure that you and your family have a happy holiday season.

Holiday Safety
Most parents spend a lot of time readying their homes for the safety of their kids, but with the hustle of the holidays it is sometimes overlooked. The holidays are a time of many social events and spending time at other family members’ and friends’ homes, but it is not a time to forget about some basic safety tips:

• If your child is visiting a relative or friends house without you, remember to let them know about any allergies, especially to food, that your child may have.
• Keep a watchful eye on your child when at someone else’s home, even if they are with a group of other kids. Remember that other homes may not be as careful about keeping medication and toxic cleaners locked up, there may be a firearm in the home, and pools may not meet the safety standards.
• Read the article, “Decorating Your Home for the Holidays” to review safety information on Christmas trees, gift and home decorations, and fire prevention.

Holiday Spending
The holidays are an easy time to overspend budgets and find yourself in debt afterwards. During today’s tough economic times it is more important than ever to stick to a budget. According to family resource management specialists with Iowa State University Extension, "You don't have to spend lots of money in order to have the holiday spirit. Many people overspend because they feel trapped by holiday traditions and expectations." So make it your goal this year to not get trapped. Just because you have always done something one way in a family, does not mean you cannot make changes. Have an open and honest talk with family members that you need to reduce this year. Let your children know what the holidays are really all about and that gifts are something extra. Consider the following to cut down on holiday costs:

• Set a limit on an amount to spend on each other and make sure the amount is something all can afford.
• Consider drawing names so each person only needs to purchase one gift.
• Exchange gifts of service. For example you can give someone with kids 4 hours of babysitting or if someone has handyman talents they can give those as a gift.
• Be creative and make something versus buy something.
• Discuss with children that they cannot get everything they want, so use this time as an opportunity to learn how to prioritize their wishes of what they want most. Be candid about the discussion if the items they want are too expensive.
• Have potluck as the theme for holiday parties. There is no need for you to take on the time and the expense of all the cooking.

Holiday Stress
While holidays are lots of fun, you do need to prepare yourself, and especially your children, for the emotions and stress that come before, during, and especially after the holiday. As adults we get so busy with all that needs to be done, we sometimes forget that our stress causes our children stress. Here are some ideas to cut down on stress and make the holiday season better than ever.

• Limit the number of social gatherings, holiday plays, and events you attend.While we hate to disappoint everyone, remember that too much change in a child’s schedule often causes behavioral issues. It also leaves less time to spend with your family, so think about limiting engagements to 1-2 per week.
• Have the whole family get involved in preparing for the holidays. Make a list together and delegate who needs to do what to get it all accomplished. Kids feel more a part of the whole process when you get them involved, and it lessens the stress on the parents to get everything done.
• Volunteer as a family to help another family in need or visit http://www.211tampabay.org/ and click on ‘about us’ to get a list of holiday volunteer opportunities. Helping others in need helps you to put the holidays in perspective.
• Traditions are important to kids because it puts the emphasis on the family versus gifts and social events. Kids, just like adults, look forward to traditions because it gives them a sense of security. It is never too late to start a new tradition in your home.

I invite you to comment on this blog about a tradition you have now or had as a child or to add any other tips for a happy and safe holiday season.

Website References
http://www.extension.iastate.edu/pages/communications/holiday/holiday.html
http://www.usa.safekids.org/holidaytips/pdf/Holiday%20Safety.pdf

November 17, 2008

Giving Thanks for Being Green

By James Stevenson, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

Looking forward to Thanksgiving this year may be a slight challenge for some. The economic and environmental crises of 2008 may have some of us in a bad mood. What we can do, as we come together at the end of the month, is reflect on how to prevent and possibly reverse these troubles for future generations.

A sustainable culture does not simply happen. People have to make choices to ensure a healthy, equitable, and sustainable future. The events of the recent past have shown us the real message of sustainability; that there are real consequences when you attempt to use more of a resource than you have.

But Thanksgiving is not the time for this doom-and-gloom. We can look at ourselves and our society and give thanks for what we as Floridians and Americans have achieved. The growing green “movement” has become less of a cause and more of an ingrained and common sense approach to living.

Florida has stunning natural areas, worthy of protection. Many new developments are being created with resource efficiency driving the design. At the University of Florida the Program for Resource Efficient Communities provides expert advice and training for developers. Through programs like 4-H Youth Development and the rest of the Department of Youth, Family and Community Sciences, citizens are provided with information on healthy lifestyles from nutrition, to family economics, to leadership skills and life skills.

The University of Florida has taken the lead on providing, through its 68 Extension offices throughout the state, the research-based information we need to help us make decisions that will benefit ourselves and future generations.
In Pinellas County, we are thankful for the enthusiasm our citizens have shown for programs offered at Extension that contribute to a sustainable future. Our Natural Resources Specialists provide environmentally sound advice on keeping your yard and garden beautiful and productive. Through Florida Yards and Neighborhoods programs on rainwater collection, composting, mulching, irrigation and many other topics have fostered a community spirit of resource conservation. Our award-winning 4-H Youth Development program teaches the next generation of leaders the best ways to exist in harmony with each other and our environment. And our Families and Consumer Sciences program provides the community information on all aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

Our different program areas work together, providing citizens with the latest, unbiased and researched information from the University of Florida. There is no way our efforts could be as successful as they are without the help of hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of volunteers. These tireless assistants provide outreach, support and service in Pinellas County, equating to the equivalent of 24 full-time employees and a value of $1,000,000. We are thankful every day for these dedicated and passionate individuals.

We wish you and your family the very best this Thanksgiving, and we thank you for being a part of our Extension Family! The following publications from the University touch on the three areas of sustainable living: economy, society and the environment. How these three entities interact is the science of sustainability. How individuals do their part is the practice of sustainability.

Economy
Managing in Tough Times – This document from UF’s Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences can help you and your family plan for a more economically sustainable 2009.

Society
Evaluating Green Communities – Mark E. Hostetler, Wildlife Extension Specialist and Associate Professor, Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at UF has provided 11 questions to ask in evaluating a community. More than ever communities are coming together and creating an environment of cooperation that addresses the social, economic, and environmental challenges we and our families are faced with.

Environment
A Guide to Environmentally Friendly Landscaping: Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Handbook – This handy guide offers not only landscape advice, but practices that ensure a very light touch on the environment. Nine easy-to-follow principles provide for a beautiful, sustainable and environmentally sensitive yard.

November 10, 2008

Organic Food – Is It the Right Choice?

By Janice Wade-Miller, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

Organic food makes 2 percent of total food sales worldwide. In the United States, sales in 1997 were $3.6 billion. Sales of organic food has grown since then to $16.9 billion in 2006. Overall, the market has been growing by 20% a year since the 1990’s. Organic food is now available in 73% of conventional food stores and in 20,000 natural food stores.

Are you wondering if the claims that organic food is really better for you and your family’s health and for the environment are true? Have friends and neighbors become true believers in organic food? Have you noticed the cost difference between conventionally grown and certified organic food? How do you know whether organic food is worth the increased price? If you’ve noticed the surge in organic foods now available in your grocery store and these questions have been on your mind, I hope to answer some them here.

Deciding whether to buy organic or locally grown food is a personal choice based on health concerns as well as environmental and social responsibility. Local grocery stores and farmers' markets now stock a much wider variety of fresh fruits and vegetables than ever. Consumers can easily purchase food that is certified United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic or locally grown food. But with so many options, how do we choose the best product? Both organic and locally grown foods have their own pros and cons; there is no perfect choice. While both organic and locally grown food can be better than conventionally grown food for the environment and for our health, they also have their own drawbacks. By being aware of where your food comes from and how it is grown, it's easier to decide which type of products to buy and also which are worth the increased price. Keep in mind that produce labeled organic does not guarantee that it was grown locally. On average, fresh produce in the United States travels anywhere from 1,300 to 2,000 miles from the farmer to the consumer -- a process that creates enormous amounts of greenhouse gasses. These food miles partially cancel the benefits of organic farming. On the other hand, locally grown food purchased at a nearby farmers’ market will make a smaller impact on air quality.

Here at the Pinellas County Extension in Largo, we feature our own Market in the Park every Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm starting on November 1st. Market in the Park is more than just a farmer’s market. Each Saturday we will bring together healthy, farm-fresh local produce, delicious gourmet foods, beautiful plants and much, much more. County Extension experts and Master Gardeners will hold educational seminars on gardening, nutrition and cooking. There will be plenty of children’s activities as well. Learn More!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has put in place a set of national standards that food labeled "organic" must meet. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled "organic," a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle fresh produce or meat or process organic food such as cereals, frozen vegetables or dairy products before they get to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.

With those assurances in mind, how will you know if organic food is “better” for you and your family? First of all, you should know that the USDA makes no claims that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food. Keep in mind that organic is still organic when it comes to nutrition. The U.S. Department of Agriculture organic seal (above) means a food has been grown, harvested and processed according to national organic standards, with restrictions on use of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. Organic food differs from conventionally produced food in how it is grown, handled, and processed.

To be able to tell organically produced food from conventionally produced food, you must look at package labels and watch for signs in the supermarket. The USDA has developed strict labeling rules to help consumers know the exact organic content of the food they buy. The USDA Organic seal also tells you that a product is at least 95 percent organic. The categories are:

“100% Organic” – must contain only organic ingredients. They may display the USDA seal.
“Organic” – must contain at least 95% organic ingredients. The other 5% (excluding water & salt) must be non-agricultural substances on a USDA-approved list, or non-organically produced products that are not available in organic form. They may also display the USDA seal.
“Made with Organic Ingredients” – processed foods (pasta, cereal, breads, canned goods) must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. They may not use the USDA seal. Processed foods that contain less than 70 percent organic ingredients can list them as organic but cannot be labeled “organic”.

Single-ingredient foods
In the produce section of your grocery store, look for the word "organic" and a small sticker version of the USDA Organic seal on the vegetable or piece of fruit. Or the organic seal may appear on the sign above the organic produce display. The word "organic" and the seal may also appear on packages of meat, cartons of milk or eggs, cheese, and other single-ingredient foods.

Foods with more than one ingredient
The sample cereal boxes below show the four labeling categories. From left: a cereal with 100 percent organic ingredients; a cereal with 95-100 percent organic ingredients; a cereal made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients; and a cereal with less than 70 percent organic ingredients. Products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients may list specific organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package. Look for the name and address of the Government-approved certifier on all packaged products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. The following illustration shows examples of the labels that may be used on a wide variety of products that use organic ingredients:

And finally, are they worth the price? Here are ways to decide:

Best bets to buying organic: (High levels of pesticides in conventionally grown counterparts)
1. The “Dirty Dozen”: Apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes,
nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, raspberries, spinach and strawberries.
2. Beef – to reduce risk of exposure to Mad Cow disease.
3. Poultry, eggs and dairy – to avoid ingesting supplemental hormones & anti-
biotics linked to increased antibacterial resistance.

Marginal benefits to buying organic: (Pesticide residues rarely found on these)
1. Asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, kiwi, mangos, onions, papaya, pineapples and sweet peas.
2. Breads, oils, snack foods, pasta, cereals, canned or dried fruits - lower contaminant levels but these foods offer limited health value compared to produce, meats & dairy.

Don’t bother buying organic:
1. Seafood – no USDA certification process in place yet. As a result, mercury and PCBs can be present and still labeled “organic.” Producers are allowed to make their own organic claims as long as they don’t use ”USDA” or the words, “certified organic.”
2. Cosmetics – Unless they consist of organic agricultural ingredients like aloe vera gel, most are a combination of ingredients. The USDA allows shampoos & lotions to carry an organic label, even when water is the main ingredient.

References:
http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/local-or-organic.htm

The Inst. of Food Technologists has issued this Scientific Status Summary to update readers on the organic foods industry.
Journal of Food Science—Vol. 71, Nr. 9, 2006
Organic Foods by Carl K. Winter and Sarah F. Davis

Organic Food Standards and Labels: The Facts (http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop)

Organic Produce: Most & Least Commonly Contaminated
(http://health.msn.com/nutrition/greenarticlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100163497)

November 7, 2008

Landscape Watering Restrictions Tightened

Pam Brown, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent, Pinellas County Extension

The continuing drought conditions prompted the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) to tighten landscape watering restrictions for Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Pasco counties. SWFWMD reports that we are entering the dry season with extremely low water supplies in storage to cover our water needs. Two years of drought has left the District with a rainfall deficit of 16 inches. And, on top of this news, forecasts predict drier than normal conditions through next spring.

The current one day per week watering restrictions continue in effect with the following additional restrictions:

~ Restricting the time for hand-watering or micro-irrigation for non-lawn
landscaping to before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.

~ Postponing turfgrass renovation, such as replacing lawns, and taking other appropriate steps to avoid an increase in lawn or landscape water use.

~ Reducing the 60-day allowance for new plant establishment. During days 31-60, only every-other-day watering is allowed. Some cities or counties continue to have stricter allowances for new plant material.

~ Reducing the time aesthetic fountains and waterfalls may operate from eight hours to four hours per day. Requiring water utilities and other local enforcement officials to increase their enforcement efforts, including requirements to respond to citizen complaints and issue citations without having first issued a warning.

To access the whole press release from SWFWMD on the Internet, go to: http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/news/article/1090/
The city of St. Petersburg has slightly different watering restrictions for water customers. Information can be found on the Internet at: http://www.stpete.org/water/watering_restrictions.asp
Customers who use reclaimed water for irrigation will have different restrictions depending on the source of their reclaimed water. Please check with your supplier for current information regarding reclaimed water.

Pinellas County: http://www.pinellascounty.org/utilities/water-restrict.htm
Clearwater: http://www.clearwater-fl.com/gov/depts/pwa/public_utils/divisions/water/water_restrictions.asp
St. Petersburg: http://www.stpete.org/water/watering_restrictions.asp
Water is a precious commodity that we need to conserve at every opportunity.

November 5, 2008

On-line Class Registration Now Available

Pinellas County Extension offers residents a wide variety of classes to help them make sustainable decisions. On October 1st, the Extension started offering on-line registration for all classes.

The classes being offered in November and December are:

Commercial Horticluture:
November 6th – Limited Commercial Landscape Maintenance
December 2nd & 3rd - Pest Control Update

Food and Nutrition:
November 20th – Healthy Food and Lifestyle Choices

Lawn and Garden:
November 12th – Gardening in the Shade
November 13th – Landscape Palm Care

4-H Youth:
November 1st – Opening of the Children’s Trail
November 8th – Teening Up Session 1
November 22nd – Teening Up Session 2
December 6th – Family Fun Learning – Woodland Wreaths
December 6th – Teening Up Session 1
December 20th – Teening Up Session 2

Sustainable Living:
November 4th - Green Purchasing for Home and Work Webinar
November 13th - Green Purchasing for Home and Work Webinar
November 14th - Green Office Webinar
November 19th – Green Home Webinar
November 24th – Green Office Webinar
December 2nd - Green Purchasing for Home and Work Webinar
December 9th – Green Home Webinar
December 16th - Green Purchasing for Home and Work Webinar
December 17th – Green Living Webinar

You can register for classes at http://www.pinellascountyextension.org/ look for the online registration button on the right hand side.

November 3, 2008

New Fatal Citrus Disease Now In Florida

By Jane Morse, University of Florida/IFAS Extension Agent in Pinellas County

What is it? Like a cancer spreading through the body, this citrus disease is spreading through Florida. This new disease is known as citrus greening or Huanglongbing and it is one of the most serious citrus diseases because there is no cure. It is caused by a bacteria that infects the vascular system of plants causing citrus trees to produce bitter, inedible fruit and die.

How is it spread? Citrus greening is spread by an insect called a psyllid. The Asian citrus psyllid, which spreads the disease, was first found in Florida in 1998. It wasn’t until 2005 that the disease was first identified in the U.S. in South Florida. This disease affects all citrus varieties and causes rapid decline of trees. Once infected, mature trees decline and stop producing fruit while infected young trees never produce fruit. In China, the disease reportedly kills young trees in 1-2 years. It can also be spread by grafting with infected wood or buds.

What are the symptoms? Early symptoms are leaf yellowing that appears on a single shoot or branch. Leaves may have a mottled or blotchy appearance during the early stage of infection. As the infection progresses, affected trees will show twig dieback and they will rapidly decline becoming non-productive within 2-3 years time. Trees with advanced disease have leaves that are small and frequently show nutritional deficiency symptoms. Fruit are sparse, small, lopsided and bitter tasting. Trees in home plantings can often be in poor condition from many other causes which can make detection of this disease difficult.

What if my tree is infected? If your tree is infected with citrus greening, it is best that you destroy the tree before it infects other citrus in the area. Remember that the tree will stop producing edible fruit and die anyway. It is important to remove the source of infection (tree) immediately because once the psyllid insect (which feeds on the tree and picks up the disease) is infected it will keep transmitting the disease to new trees for its entire life. Although there is no cure for this disease, the spread of the disease can be slowed by removing infected trees.

Are there any other plants that harbor this disease? The citrus greening disease also breeds in Chinese box orange (Severinia buxifolia), orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata) and curry leaf (Murraya koenigii), so removal of these plants will also help to slow the spread of this disease.

What can I do? You can help by purchasing only certified citrus plants from registered nurseries. Be alert and look for signs of the disease or any unusual pests. Report these to your local Extension Service at 727-582-2100 or the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) toll-free help line at 800-282-5153. These sources can help you with information about proper care of citrus and also provide information about citrus greening. Remember not to bring any plants, fruits, vegetables or illegal animals into Florida as they may harbor new pests. Also, consider planting fruit trees other than citrus. You play an important part in protecting Florida’s natural environment and plant life.

For more information Google: citrus greening pest alert, or call either of the help lines listed above. To see maps showing locations of positive citrus greening samples Google: citrus greening detection maps.

Information for this article came from UF/IFAS publication “Citrus Diseases Exotic to Florida: Huanglongbing (Citrus Greening)” and DPI brochure “Huanglongbing – Citrus Greening”.

October 27, 2008

Protecting Tampa Bay

Betty Lipe, Educational Instructor, Pinellas County Extension

What is being done to protect and improve Tampa Bay? During the 1950’s significant damage was done to the natural habitats in Tampa Bay through uncontrolled development and pollution. Many of the fishery industries that depended on the bay were lost. In 1990 the nomination and designation of the Tampa Bay National Estuary Program provided the platform to assist the community to develop a plan for Tampa Bay.

They defined the following problems with the bay:
· Water quality deterioration
· Reduction of living resources
· Lack of community awareness
· Increased user conflicts and impacts from various recreational, industrial, and navigation needs
· Urban development
· Lack of agency coordination and response
· Lack of circulation and flushing
· Hazardous/toxic contamination.

The new estuary program began to organize the information and get stakeholders involved. They worked to define species or biological communities which could be used as “indicators” of
functioning bay ecosystems. The bay scallop was identified as one of these indicators.

The loss of submerged aquatic vegetative “sea grass” habitat stood out as the premier concern of all involved. In 1993 targets for restoration and protection of sea grass habitat were approved. The full report on the Environmental Monitoring Program is available at http://www.epa.gov/nheerl/arm/documents/098ptampamonitoring.pdf . Much remains to be done in the protection and improvement of the bay, but the bay scallop is proving to be one of the species on the road to recovery.

The bay scallop (Argopecten irradians) lived on the bottom, in and near eel grass. As the grass disappeared, so did the bay scallop. The water quality also affected the spawn and growth of the baby scallops. Since scallops are filter feeders, they need non polluted water to live in. Unlike oysters that can filter out the toxins and store them in their body, the toxins in the water kill the bay scallop. In 2005 Tampa Bay Watch and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program teamed up to sponsor “The Great Bay Scallop Search”, a resource-monitoring program where volunteers snorkel and search for scallops in select areas within Boca Ciega and lower Tampa Bay. The purpose of this program was to monitor and document the health and status of the bay scallop population. Volunteers found only one live scallop in 2005 due to the severe red tide. Seventeen were found in 2006 and 555 scallops were found in 2007. The 2008 Great Bay Scallop hunt occurred on August 16, 2008 and 664 scallops were found alive. As the bay scallops return, we know the bay is getting better for all inhabitants.

Open harvest for bay scallops begins along Florida’s Gulf Coast on July 1 and runs through September 10. Open harvest areas extend from the Pasco-Hernando County line and north. We do not have open harvest in Pinellas or Hillsborough County. Several years ago, the open harvest was contained to Suwannee County and northward. It is illegal to possess bay scallops on water outside the open harvest areas and it is also illegal to land scallops outside the open harvest areas. For further information on all the rules and regulations on collecting bay scallops go to http://myfwc.com/marine/bayscallops.htm

The scallops that you purchase in the grocery store as bay scallops are usually commercially fished Argopecten irradians from north Florida or further up the Atlantic coast, or Euvola raveneli, which is commercially trawled from deeper water in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.

No matter whether you collect your own scallops or get them at the grocery store remember that Tampa Bay once supported hundreds of these bivalves and hopefully one day residents of Tampa Bay will be able to harvest them again to enjoy.

Pinellas County 4-H recognizes the importance of our marine and aquatic habitats through 4-H project work and community service activities. Across the state, 4-H members are taking part in workshops to prepare for the 4-H State Marine Ecology Contest. For further information on the 4-H Marine and Aquatic programs, contact Betty Lipe at blipe@pinellascounty.org or 582-2528.

Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/nheerl/arm/documents/098ptampamonitoring.pdf

Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission: http://myfwc.com/marine/bayscallops.htm

Tampa Bay Watch: http://www.tampabaywatch.org/

October 23, 2008

Please Help Us Help You!

Here at Pinellas County Extension we strive to deliver the most current research based information available.

This year we began using blogs like this one and several others to make that information even more accessible. To help make sure that you as the reader are getting the most from our blogs we would like you to take a short survey. Please select the link below to access the online survey. Your feedback is greatly appreciated and your responses will be completely anonymous.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=U1FUx_2f3U_2favOG54FvmED7g_3d_3d

Thank you for your time and continued support.

October 20, 2008

Nature’s Deficit Spending

Mary Campbell, Urban Sustainability Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Overspending our personal budget is something we all face at one time or another. Deficit spending is the amount of spending that exceeds income over a particular period of time. It is a term we hear all too often these days. Nature also has a budget. It can only produce so many resources and absorb so much waste every year. Our current annual global demand exceeds nature’s ability to regenerate that amount in the same year. This is called ecological overshoot.

So far in 2008, humanity has consumed about 40% more resources than nature can regenerate. This suggests that “business as usual” will not continue to work for us and the focus on a sustainable future is increasingly important.

When you overspend your budget, what do you do? You borrow on future income to offset that deficit. To offset nature’s overshoot we are liquidating the planet’s resources, which will impact future generations. We now require 1.4 planets to support our global lifestyle, with countries like America exceeding 4 planets to support our current lifestyle. The result is that our supply of natural resources continues to shrink, while our waste, primarily carbon dioxide, accumulates.

The world first went into overshoot in 1986. Before then we only consumed what the planet could regenerate in a year. The depletion of natural resources has been largely impacted by population growth and the changes in lifestyles worldwide. The more we understand the impacts due to our lifestyles, the better our decision-making can be about how we impact the planet.

The Global Footprint Network (http://www.footprintnetwork.org/) developed the Ecological Footprint as a resource tool that measures how much land and water area a population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its waste. This tool has grown significantly since the first calculations more than ten years ago, and results are now used by educators throughout the world.

The research methods are well documented and a growing number of organizations are using the Ecological Footprint as an indicator of sustainable resource use. "How can we live well within the means of one planet? This is the main research question of the 21st century. Humanity is living off its ecological credit card," said Dr. Wackernagel, Executive Director of Global Footprint Network. "While this can be done for a short while, overshoot ultimately leads to liquidation of the planet's ecological assets, and the depletion of resources, such as the forests, oceans and agricultural land upon which our economy depends." Examples include collapsing fisheries, carbon-induced climate change, species extinction, deforestation, and the loss of groundwater in much of the world.

Ways to reduce this deficit spending can be as simple as energy conservation, water conservation, waste reduction, and recycling. When we have the information to make better choices, the power of many people shifting to sustainable choices will have a huge impact.

Examples of this include the new technology of compact fluorescent bulbs that use 75% less energy, low-flow toilets and shower heads, solar water heaters, reusable water bottles (Kick the Bottle Habit – Thinking Green E-Newsletter September, 2008) and any number of ways to make a smaller footprint.

If you would like to calculate your own footprint, there are on-line calculators available that also offer alternatives on shrinking your footprint. Your footprint is based on how you live: the size of your home, energy used, how you travel, the food you eat and the waste you create. Your footprint is broken down into four consumption categories: carbon (home energy use and transportation), food, housing, and goods and services.

Some changes will be easy and make good common sense and others will require improved technologies like alternative fuels and renewable energy. Our ability to reduce nature’s budget deficit will rely on our will to be innovative and create a more sustainable future for the next generation.

Ecological Footprint Calculators:
Earth Day Footprint Quiz http://www.ecofoot.org/
Redefining Progress http://www.myfootprint.org/

Resource:

Global Footprint Network http://www.footprintnetwork.org/

October 13, 2008

Be Food Safe

In the United States each year...

...76 million cases of foodborne illness occur.
...more
than 325,000 people are hospitalized for foodborne illness.
...5,000 people will die from foodborne illness.


The holidays are fast approaching and an appropriate time to remind you and your family to take these 4 important steps to keep food safe….Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.

Clean
Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food. Hand sanitizers can be used but only as an optional follow-up to traditional hand washing with soap and water, except in situations where soap and water are not available. In those instances, use of an alcohol gel is certainly better than nothing at all. For a more in depth look at hand washing and sanitizers read “Hand and Hygiene Sanitizers.”http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FY/FY73200.pdf


Cutting boards, countertops, sinks, sponges, and dish towels are among the items that need sanitizing. Making a sanitizing solution is as simple as mixing chlorine bleach and water; however, different sanitizing jobs call for different strengths.


To sanitize cutting boards - Wooden and plastic cutting boards should be sanitized periodically. Start by cleaning the surface in hot, soapy water and scrubbing with a stiff brush and rinse. Then mix one tablespoon chlorine bleach with one quart cool tap water and use this solution to rinse again. Allow the boards to air dry.


To sanitize countertops - Use a milder solution to sanitize countertops. Mix two teaspoons chlorine bleach with one quart of water.


To sanitize kitchen sponges and dish cloths - Mix 3/4 cup chlorine bleach with 1 gallon of water and allow them to soak for at least two minutes. Rinse and air-dry.


Sanitizing solutions should be mixed fresh daily as needed. Handle chlorine bleach with care, and keep out of reach of children. Too much chlorine will fade or strip out color and weaken fabric. More is not better. All brands of chlorine bleach meet the minimum standard. The more expensive brands you see in the store are charging for colorful bottles, added fragrance, and advertising.

Separate
Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry, and seafood and another for salads and ready-to-eat food.


Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices apart from other food items in your grocery cart.


Store raw meat, poultry, and seafood in a container or on a plate so juices can't drip on other foods.


Cook
You can't tell food is cooked safely by how it looks, so use a food thermometer. Thermometers are turning up everywhere in today's kitchens in all shapes and sizes—digitals, instant-reads, probes for the oven and microwave, disposable indicators and sensor sticks, pop-ups, and even barbecue forks. They're high-tech and easy to use.


Some thermometers are meant to stay in the food while it is cooking; others are not. Some are ideal for checking thin foods, like the digital. Others, like the large-dial thermometer many people use, are really meant for large roasts, whole chickens, and turkeys.


Stir, rotate the dish, and cover food when microwaving to prevent cold spots where bacteria can survive.


Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating


Use the temperature guide on page 19 in the Kitchen Companion –Your Safe Food Handbook identified at the end of the article to determine the correct internal temperature for the foods you are cooking.


Chill

Make sure the refrigerator is set to 40 °F or below. The freezer temperature should be 0° F (-18° C). Check temperatures periodically. Appliance thermometers are the best way of knowing these temperatures and are generally inexpensive.


Refrigerate or freeze perishables right away. Foods like meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or produce or other foods that require refrigeration should be put in the refrigerator as soon as you get them home. Stick to the "two-hour rule" for leaving items needing refrigeration out at room temperature. Never let these foods sit at room temperature for more than two hours—one hour if the air temperature is above 90° F. This includes items such as leftovers, "doggie bags," and take-out foods as well.


Thaw meat, poultry, and seafood in the refrigerator not on the counter, and don't overstuff the refrigerator.

To access a comprehensive guide on food safety, click on the link below.http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/cic_text/food/kitchencompanion/foodhandbook.pdf

October 9, 2008

Getting Your Garden Ready for Vegetables

By Cindy Peacock, Horticulturist, Pinellas County Extension

Growing your own vegetables can be lots of fun and very rewarding. You can also save money at the grocery store.

To get started, look at the area around your home. Choose a full sun area or and area with at least 6 hours of sun. Your vegetable garden can be in containers, earth boxes, raised beds, or in the ground. Be sure to have it in a place you don’t mind going to. If it is too far away, you may not visit it as often as is necessary. Make sure there is water close by. Vegetable gardens need water.

Once you choose a place for your garden, the weeds or grass should be removed. Clearing the area will help control any weeds that can be a problem later when you’re growing vegetables. Hand pull, use glyphosate (herbicide) or put a tarp over the area for a week or so to kill the grass and weeds. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup and other herbicides. It is absorbed by the green parts of the plant and moved to down to the roots causing the plant to die. Glyphosate herbicide does not stay in the soil therefore it will not affect your vegetables.

Use landscape timbers, brick or landscape blocks to hold the soil and compost in your plot. The garden should be raised up at least 6 inches from the ground. Add good top soil, soil mix, or good organic matter to your plot or containers. Good organic matter includes; compost, peat, manures (horse or cow), oak or maple leaves, grass clippings (no weed seeds) and mulch. Mix all of these amendments into the soil three weeks before you plant. Organic matter can help reduce the damage to vegetable plants by root knot nematodes.

Another good way to get your plot ready for planting and avoid nematodes is to solarize the plot using the sun. After you have added all your good organic matter to your plot and it looks like your ready to plant, wet the soil well and cover it with clear plastic sheeting. Seal the plastic around the edges and let it stay for 6 weeks. This will sterilize the soil by heating it and it will help to eliminate nematodes and other plant disease organisms. It is still hot and humid in September. After 6 weeks pull the plastic up and plant your seeds or starter plants right into the plot. Do not dig and disturb the plot. There is still time to do this if you choose. This will put your planting at a later date in October, but that is fine. Some of your vegetables need cooler weather to take off and grow. The very best time to sterilize your vegetable garden plot is during the summer heat.

Before you plant seeds and starter plants design your garden plot on paper. Keep a record of when and what you plant once your design is done. There are cool season vegetable and warm season vegetables. Some of them need more room to grow like; squashes and cucumbers. Some vegetables like beans and peas need a trellis to climb. Tomatoes will need a cage to grow into or you will need to tie them to a stake to keep the fruit and plant off the ground. Do some research so that you know how the vegetables grow so that you can accommodate them in your plot or container.

When planting seeds, a good rule of thumb is to plant the seed as deep as the seed is big. Planting seeds too deep may cause them not to sprout. Be sure to spread the seeds out in a row about 6 inches to a foot. Some vegetables that are best planted as seeds directly into the garden are carrots, radishes, beets, lettuce, beans and greens.

After planting your seeds and starter plants they must be watered everyday for about 15 to 20 minutes for 2 weeks and then as the plants come up you can cut back on the water to every other day. Seeds need to be moist to grow. Established vegetable plants need water 2 to 3 times a week. Of course if we get a good rain then we don’t have to water. It is recommended that you use potable water, rain barrel water or well water. Reclaimed water is not appropriate to use on vegetable plantings.

Fertilizer does not need to be applied until the plants are 4 to 6 inches high.
A good slow release fertilizer 6-6-6 or 8-8-8 is good to use.

You will experience some insects in your garden. Some of them are good insects and some of them are bad guys that can do some damage to your plants. It is important to identify them correctly before you get the sprays out. You may not have to use pesticides. Picking them off is very helpful. Be sure to identify the insects before you try to get rid of them. You can bring them into the Extension office or take a picture and e-mail us (hort@pinellascounty.org) and we can identify them for you and give you the right advice.

You can access the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/VH/VH02100.pdf. You can also watch a video, Vegetable Gardening Pinellas County Style at: http://www.pinellascounty.org/tv/pinellasplanting.htm - the video is on the right hand column.

Have fun and enjoy your vegetables. Home grown vegetables have the best taste.

September 4, 2008

On a Scale of 1-40, Where Do You and Your Teen Rank?

By Vestina F. Crayton, Education Instructor, Pinellas County Extension

Even in these challenging economic times, parents might say that providing food, shelter, and clothing is easier than knowing the proper balance of love and discipline that will produce a responsible, caring, and healthy teen. Encouraging your teen to make informed choices and allowing them to respond and experience the results of their choices, is critical in their development. Giving them the freedom to explore their independence will strengthen and empower your teen.

The Search Institute has created a list of 40 Developmental Assets for Adolescents (12-18) that identifies key characteristics of a well-rounded teen. The 40 developmental assets have been categorized into external and internal factors that influence the maturation of an adolescent. External assets refer to the tangible such as family, school, adult role models and religious affiliations. Internal assets refer to the intangible such as resistance skills, motivation, critical thinking and a sense of individual worth. Research has proven that “as the number of assets in youth increases, the likelihood of them engaging in risky behaviors decreases (Benson, et al., 1998; Kegler, et al., 2005; Leffert et. al.’1998).” Determining the best approach to equip your teen with these attributes can be overwhelming.

According to research conducted by the University of Florida IFAS Extension, the following are six ways parents can begin to build a mutually beneficial environment where parents and teens can work together.

Trust – Be confident that the values you have instilled in your teen will be a guiding force in their decision making. Showing your teen that you trust their judgment will increase their self esteem.

Respect – Like adults, privacy is important. Respect your teen’s right to privacy. Keep in mind, communication is important. Establishing two-way communication where both parent and teen are expressing their thoughts and knowing that the other is not only hearing what is being said but more importantly is listening. Showing mutual respect encourages respectful behavior in your teen.

Listen- Effective listening is an active skill that requires training. Listening is an act of engaging the ears, eyes, mind, and most importantly the heart. The ears simply hear the information. The eyes, heart, and mind process and interpret what is being said. The eyes see the communication cues such as body language and facial expressions, the heart feels the emotion and the mind logically arranges the information to generate an appropriate response. It is important that both parent and teen practice listening to one another to understand and communicate without judgment.

Limits- During this time, teens are experiencing many changes - physical, social, cognitive, and moral. It’s important to know that boundaries that are set and enforced, establish a stable environment in this flurry of activity. If a solid foundation is in place, a teen will feel secure that the decisions that they make are within the limits set by and with their parents. Having limits can serve as a gauge for teens. It allows the teen to exercise their ability to respond appropriately to any given circumstance.

Support – Remembering when you were a teen will help you provide the support that your teen needs. Be available to give advice without expectations. This is the perfect opportunity to give your teen the benefit of the life lessons that you have learned. Sharing your wisdom through your personal experiences will let your teen know that you have an idea what they may be going through without forcing your opinion.

Problem Solve – Finding solutions to problems should be a collaborative effort. This approach will show your teen that you trust, respect, and are willing to listen to their feelings and opinions on what is the best course of action to address the issue.

All six of the highlighted suggestions can work together to give you and your teen the tools needed to facilitate the evolution of a caring and confident person.

As a challenge, review the 40 Developmental Assets for Adolescents (12-18) and check off how many assets, as an adult, you possess. This is a great tool to see how you rank on a scale of 1- 40. You may be amazed and inspired.

As part of the University of Florida, Pinellas County Extension’s 4-H Youth Development program uses research-based information to help parents sharpen their skills and identify new tools to help meet the challenges of enhancing their teen’s opportunities to be the best they can be. To assist parents and caregivers, Extension offers the 4-H Family Teening –Up learning experience. This unique program engages parents along with their teens to communicate more effectively, make decisions together, and address concerns in a positive way. To learn more about this program or to participate in the next two day, 12- hour workshop call (727) 582-2450.


References

“40 Developmental Assets for Adolescents (ages 12-18)” 1997, 2006 Search Institute, Minneapolis MN
http://www.search-institute.org/

“Teening-Up” With Your Adolescent: Parenting Children Ages -16 (Based on an earlier version of Teening-Up with Your Adolescent: Ages 10-16), Empowering Teens to Build Assets, University of Florida IFAS Extension, Gainesville Florida
http://www.ifas.ufl.edu/

A Parent’s Guide through the Teen Years
http://pcetimelytopics.blogspot.com/2008_05_01_archive.html

The Teen Brain is Different
http://pcetimelytopics.blogspot.com/2008_03_01_archive.html

September 2, 2008

Hurricane Clean Up – Trees

By Jane Morse, University of Florida/IFAS Extension Agent, Pinellas County Extension

This is dangerous business. Homeowners can be seriously injured or killed trying to do their own tree work. If you are not experienced in operating a chainsaw or are not physically fit then hire a professional. If you must use a chain saw, work only on the ground. Never do any tree work that involves felling (cutting down) trees, climbing of any kind, or using ropes. These activities should be done by professionals only.

General Safety Tips:
1. Always work with a partner.
2. Assemble a well-stocked first-aid kit
3. Avoid overexertion. Overexertion is the most common reason for injury. Get help if the item is too heavy to lift easily. Remember to always use your legs for lifting and not your back.


Chain Saw Safety: Chain saws are considered the most dangerous hand tool available!
1. Keep both hands on the handles.
2. Follow manual instructions carefully to ensure safe operation and proper maintenance of the equipment.
3. Take your time. Most injuries are the result of aggressive or careless cutting. Most injuries occur when people are fatigued. If you are tired, take a break. Remember to drink lots of cool water.
4. Wear protective equipment. This includes protective glasses and face shield, a hard hat, hearing protection, gloves, leg chaps, and heavy work boots.
5. Cut at waist level or below. Making overhead cuts can lead to head injuries and death.
6. Take extra care when cutting limbs. Limbs that are bent, twisted, or caught under another object can snap back and hit you or pinch the saw.
7. Shut off equipment. When refueling, carrying a distance greater than 100 feet or through slippery areas or heavy brush – turn it off.
8. Stay away from chain saw operator. They usually cannot see or hear you approaching and if you tap them on the back and they turn around with an active chain saw, you can get cut in half or seriously injured. From a safe distance toss a glove at their back to get their attention.
9. Do NOT cut with the upper tip of the saw! Kickback occurs when the upper tip of the guide bar contacts an object and causes the saw to come straight back at the operator. It happens so fast there is no time for reaction (thus the reason for a face shield). To prevent kickback, cut with the part of the bar closest to the engine. Watch the tip and do NOT let it contact the ground, other branches, or any object.

Electrocution is one of the most common types of serious tree trimming accidents. Call the power company to report tree limbs that have fallen on a power line. Assume all power lines are energized and do NOT touch. Improper use of generators may energize lines without warning. Beware! Electrocution may occur if any part of your body touches a conductor (water, tool, tree branch, metal fence, etc.) in contact with an energized power line.

Remember to always think safety and practice safety! Your life and limb depend on it.

More safety information can be found at these web sites: www.flagsafe.ufl.edu ; http://treesandhurricanes.ifas.ufl.edu or by googling NASD tree trimming safety or NASD chain saw safety.

August 28, 2008

Green Power through Renewable Energy Certificates

By Mary Campbell, Extension Director, Urban Sustainability Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Both the Democratic and the Republican Parties have vowed to make their upcoming national conventions more sustainable or “green.” Energy use is a big part of this and, since there is not a renewable energy source available – like solar or wind energy – they intend to buy renewable energy certificates (RECs- pronounced: rěk) to offset the conventional energy used. You can’t typically pipe-in solar or wind power directly, but any event can offset the emissions generated from regular grid power by purchasing renewable energy certificates.

Renewable energy relies on fuel sources that restore themselves over short periods of time and do not diminish. Such fuel sources include the sun, wind, moving water, organic plant and waste material (biomass), and the earth’s heat (geothermal). More than 50% of retail customers in the United States now have an option of purchasing a green power product directly from their electricity supplier.

Choosing to purchase green power supports increased development of renewable energy sources which in turn may reduce the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Traditional electricity production can be a significant source of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Buying green power can provide valuable benefits such as: avoiding carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, reducing some types of air pollution, supporting the use of renewable energy and demonstrating civic leadership. RECs provide flexibility to support green power when a green power product may not be available from the local energy provider.

Renewable Energy Certificates also known as Green Tags, Renewable Energy Credits, or Tradable Renewable Certificates (TRCs), represent units of power such as kilowatt hours or megawatt hours. They are priced like any commodity, but usually based on the difference between the traditional electric rate and the green energy production cost. The cost is in addition to the cost of conventional power. In the Tampa Bay area, TECO has a renewable energy program. For each five dollar block you purchase, Tampa Electric will distribute 200 kWh of electricity generated from renewable sources to the electric grid that supports your home or business. A typical home uses about 920 kWh per month. Check on-line for the many programs available that offer Renewable Energy Certificates for both home and business. Green energy costs will decrease with improved technology and greater production. Energy conservation is still the most practical and immediate way to reduce the impacts of energy production, so get your energy audit and conserve power whenever possible.

Buying Clean Electricity http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumer/your_home/electricity/index.cfm/mytopic=10400
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumer/your_home/
EPA Green Power locator http://epa.gov/greenpower/pubs/gplocator.htm
The Guide to Purchasing Green Power http://epa.gov/greenpower/documents/purchasing_guide_for_web.pdf
Green Pricing http://www.eere.energy.gov/greenpower/markets/pricing.shtml?page=4
TECO Renewable Energy Program http://www.tampaelectric.com/environmental/renewableenergy/
Progress Energy http://www.savethewatts.com/

August 26, 2008

“Break the Fast” with a Healthy Breakfast

By Patti Neary, Education Instructor, Pinellas County Extension

School is in session and now is the perfect time to get you and your children in a regular routine of eating a healthy breakfast every morning. “Breaking the fast” after an overnight sleep is essential for children to replenish their bodies with the food and nutrients they need to learn and grow. Here are some great A+ reasons to get the day started with something nutritious and delicious to eat.

Attention: Children who eat a healthy breakfast on a regular basis are less likely to be cranky, tired, and distracted during morning instruction. Eating healthy enables them to concentrate better, pay attention for longer periods of time, listen better and also gives them energy needed for physical education activities. Children and adolescents are able to concentrate solely on learning and not be distracted by hunger.

Attendance: Children who eat a nutritious breakfast on a regular basis are absent less frequently, have improved punctuality, miss less instruction, and are less likely to have health issues.

Academic Achievement: Children who eat a good breakfast show improved cognitive function, memory, attention and recall, and perform better and have higher scores on achievement tests.

Attitude: Eating a nourishing breakfast each day can reduce the risk of obesity in children and adolescents, helping them to feel better about themselves and their appearance.

Not only is breakfast important for your child, it also is essential for you too. Be a positive role model and join your child and eat breakfast together when you can. You too will experience the benefits of eating a nourishing breakfast each day. The key to getting a good start in the morning and having time to eat is keeping breakfast simple and easy. Breakfast doesn’t have to be elaborate. Stock your pantry and have food items readily available that can be quickly put together. Whole grain foods such as cereal, bread and bagels, milk, cheese, yogurt, and fruit are good choices. Below are some delicious breakfast ideas and recipes. Remember also to check and see if the school your child attends provides breakfast.

Quick and healthy breakfast ideas:

  • Split a bagel. Layer each half with peanut butter and raisins. Bring along a carton of milk.

  • Warm up leftover pizza and serve with fruit juice.

  • Create a breakfast parfait with layers of fruit yogurt, sliced fresh fruit, and crunchy whole grain cereal.

  • Swirl applesauce and raisins into a packet of hot oatmeal. Serve with a cup of milk.

  • Microwave a frozen pancake, spread with peanut butter, top with sliced bananas, and roll it up.

  • Combine a soft pretzel, string cheese, and fresh fruit.

  • Layer one or two slices of turkey breast and a slice of cheese on a tortilla. Serve with a piece of fruit.

  • Pair a container of yogurt, half a bagel, and fruit juice.

  • Combine in blender until frothy: ½ cup lemon yogurt, ½ cup milk, a dash of vanilla extract, and two ice cubes. Complement with a slice of whole grain toast.

Quick and healthy breakfast recipes:

Yummy Banana Split
Ingredients:
1 banana, split lengthwise
½ cup low-fat yogurt (any flavor)
1 large handful granola or chopped nuts
Preparation
Peel and split banana lengthwise down the center. Place in a bowl and top with yogurt, granola, or nuts. Enjoy!

Strawberry Breakfast Sandwich

A strawberry breakfast sandwich sounds strange, but this one isn't! English muffins topped with cheese, honey, and strawberries make a delicious start to the day.
Ingredients:
8 oz. Neufchatel cheese or low-fat cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
4 English muffins, split and toasted
2 cups (10 oz.) sliced strawberries
Preparation
In food processor, process cheese, honey and zest until well mixed, or mix in bowl with wooden spoon. Spread 1 tablespoon cheese mixture on cut side of 1 muffin half; top with 1/4 cup strawberries. Repeat with remaining ingredients to make 8 open-faced sandwiches. Quick tip: Make cheese mixture ahead and store in refrigerator.

Strawberry Breakfast Parfait:

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons of graham cracker cereal or graham crackers
broken in pieces¼ cup nonfat vanilla yogurt⅛ cup strawberries, stemmed and
sliced 1 mint sprig (optional)
Directions:
In each cup, layer 3
tablespoons cereal, 1/4 cup yogurt and 1/8 cup strawberries. Repeat layers. Top
with a mint sprig.

Super Sippin” Smoothie

Ingredients
1 16 oz. container nonfat plain or vanilla yogurt
1 banana
sliced
1 10 oz. package frozen sweetened strawberries, partially thawed
¾ cup orange juice
2 tablespoons wheat germ, oat bran or rolled oats
Preparation:
Place all ingredients in blender container. Blend 30
seconds to 1 minute or until smooth. Pour into glasses. Garnish with fresh
strawberry.

Resource Links:
http://www.mealsmatter.org/EatingForHealth/FeatureArchive/index2.aspx
http://www.cppp.org/files/3/HB%20454%20Testimony.pdf
http://kidsinthekitchen.ajli.org/?nd=ada
http://www.eatright.org/cps/rde/xchg/ada/hs.xsl/home_8981_ENU_HTML.htm