January 30, 2008

Technology – We All Need It

By Eric Yuan
4-H Youth Mentor

In today’s modern world the use of technology is simply unavoidable in our daily lives. Throughout our day we use technology in one form or another. Sometimes youth have an unhealthy obsession with technology and some have said it corrupts today’s youth with the violence in games and access to other negative influences available via the Internet. Although there are negatives of technology, positive aspects of technology are prevalent and need to be reinforced for its’ positive aspects. Sure, technology may be detrimental if used unwisely or in excess; however, technology can benefit youth in countless ways and is an integral part of their development as an individual.

Use of the Internet is not all simply for fun and games. Exploring the Internet can result in many positive benefits for today’s youth. Not only does the Internet allow youth to broaden their perspective of the world, it keeps youth informed on current events and allows for them to learn about events in our past, present, and what is possible in the future. macbook
Online competitions, such as LifeSmarts, allow youth to not only learn and compete about technology, but also reinforce the idea of tactful consumerism and emphasize the importance of health and environmental protection. The Internet is also an invaluable tool for networking. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Elluminate make it easy to organize any event – from parties, to meetings, to national conferences. The Internet is the ultimate tool for amalgamating resources and people in order to accomplish a goal.

Youth who familiarize themselves with technology at a young age are more likely to have an advantage academically. Today, most classes use the computer or Internet at some point during the course. Furthermore, throughout middle school and high school students often use Microsoft PowerPoint for a class presentation or Excel spreadsheet for vast mathematical calculations or to compile and sort information. Even basic research predominantly relies on Internet search engines such as Google or Yahoo. To highlight the importance of technology even more, colleges utilize computers for SAT registration, marketing colleges, and the application process. It is imperative that all of today’s youth familiarize themselves with computers and the multitude of applications and resources available through the Internet because the amount of technology used in every facet of our lives will only be augmented in the future. The use of computers and the Internet are not for youth alone. Adults are also encouraged to utilize the tools provided by computers and incorporate them into their daily lives. Everyone can benefit from incorporating technology into his or her lives.

Although the Internet certainly has the ability to be a powerful tool we must all keep in mind that the Internet can contain inaccurate and unreliable information causing adverse effects on those who rely on it. These days it is possible for anyone to start their own website and post information on the web. To learn more about the uses of the Internet and Internet safety please contact the Pinellas County Extension Office (727-582-2215) or

January 29, 2008

Four-H: A Proven Program with Positive Results

Jean RogalskyBy Jean Rogalsky
4-H Extension Agent

Youth and families in Pinellas County have a myriad of options to choose from when planning educational, social, and recreational activities. We are often asked why families should choose 4-H, or how is 4-H different from other youth organizations.
At a recent 4-H volunteer leader training, the 4-H club leaders were asked the following questions: Why is 4-H important to you and your family? Why have you made the commitment to 4-H?

2007 Demonstration DayThe responses of the volunteers were significant because not only have they embraced 4-H for their children; they have also made the commitment of their time to be a club leader. The group surveyed consisted of new and experienced volunteers. The following is a summary of their responses:
  • 4-H opens up a diverse community, outside of school and home. Youth and adults are enabled to look at things globally – not just on a small scale.
  • 4-H helps youth and adults build leadership skills and utilize the tools available (through 4-H).
  • Youth play, learn, and have the opportunity to take an interest and expand on it.
  • The opportunity for leadership development and public speaking is a wonderful aspect of 4-H.
  • 4-H community clubs offer more leadership opportunities than schools. Each club has its own set of officers and committees.
  • Learning to set goals and work on projects is so helpful as well as forming a sense of responsibility to the community beyond our friends and church.
  • Participating in a national organization with an even wider worldview.
  • Reputation, especially of those with past 4-H experiences.
  • Has the resources needed, and the curriculum is diverse.
  • Youth learn to think of others and build character. They are not in it just for themselves.
  • The 4 H’s : We can teach children helping (hands), taking care of others (health), human and non-human (heart), thinking about how they impact others – good or bad (head).

Role Models The value the volunteers find in 4-H is supported by research. According to a national research study (Learner, Positive Youth Development Study, 2007), the more often youth are involved in youth development programs, like 4-H, the more they and their communities benefit. Youth who spend more time involved in high-quality youth development programs like 4-H are more likely to experience positive youth development than other youth. These youth also contribute to their communities and are less likely to participate in risk behaviors. High-quality youth development programs ensure an environment that encourages sustained positive relationships with adult mentors, skill-building activities and leadership.

Developing these connections results in social capital and socially sustainable communities.

A variety of studies across the country have identified life skills gained through 4-H and the general impact of the program. One example, a study of 5th, 7th , and 9th-grade students (Astroth & Hayne, 2001, Goodwin, 2005), found that 4-H youth are more likely than other youth to report that they:
  • Do well in school
  • Are involved as leaders in their school and the community
  • Are looked up to as role models by other youth
  • Help others in the community

4-H youth reported that they are less likely than others to:

  • Shoplift or steal
  • Use illegal drugs
  • Ride in a car with someone who has been drinking
  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Damage property for the fun of it
  • Skip school or cut classes
In summary, research indicates that 4-H youth are busy making contributions to improve the quality of life in their families, neighborhoods and communities. Four-H attracts youth from all types of families and achieves the same positive results. Florida 4-H is a powerful, proven program that makes a positive difference for all who participate.

Is 4-H for your family?

January 28, 2008

Controlling Crabgrass

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

crabgrass If crabgrass has taken over your lawn, early February is the time to put out a pre-emergent herbicide. Pendimethalin (sold as Pendulum, Pre-M, Turf Weedgrass Control, Halts Crabgrass Preventer) provides excellent control of crabgrass and is safe at the recommended rate on mature, actively growing grass (Bahia, Bermuda, St. Augustine and Zoysia). Apply herbicide when daytime temperatures reach 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit for 4-5 days in a row, or usually about the same time that azalea plants start blooming in the spring. Plan to reapply herbicide about 2 months later for season-long control.

If weeds are a recurring problem in your lawn, follow these steps to have a healthy, thick lawn that will out-compete most weeds:

1. Start off with the right grass. Bahia is best suited for sandy, acidic soils that are subject to drought. St. Augustine is better suited for mildly acidic to alkaline soils that are subjected to salty conditions. Also choose grasses based on the amount of care that you are willing to provide. Bahia has a low maintenance level, St. Augustine a moderate level, while Zoysia and Bermuda have a high maintenance level. For areas of dense shade choose a shade-tolerant ground cover or use mulch.

2. Mow at the right height. Set those mower height adjustments high for St. Augustine and Bahia grass which should be mowed at a height of 3 to 4 inches. Dwarf St. Augustine grasses (Delmar, Jade, Seville) are mowed at 2 - 2 ½ inches. Bermuda is mowed at ½ to 1 ½ inches and Zoysia 1 - 2 inches. Proper mowing height and frequency will get rid of many annual weeds.

3. Mow often. Only 1/3 of the leaf blade should be removed each time the lawn is mowed. The shorter it’s mowed, the more often it needs to be mowed. Repeatedly removing too much of the grass blade (more than 1/3) will eventually kill the grass. Keep the mower blades sharp for the best cut. Mow when grass is dry.

4. Water only when it needs it. When 30% of the lawn starts to show symptoms of wilt (i.e. folded leaf blades, bluish-gray color, foot-prints that last for more than 10-15 minutes, and soil is dry), water the grass (unless rain is expected in the next day). Apply ½ to ¾ inch of water each time the lawn is watered. Overly wet lawns promote sedges, spurges and dollar weed, as well as root rots. When watered and mowed correctly the grass will develop a deep root system and will not require water as often. Water in the early morning when dew is still present. Watering late in the evening promotes disease development.

5. Fertilize correctly. Lawns that have been over-fertilized are much more prone to getting chinch bugs, brown patch, grey leaf spot, pythium blight, powdery mildew and thatch. Under-fertilized lawns are prone to getting take-all root rot, dollar spot and rust. Of course, if the lawn gets attacked by these insects and diseases, large areas die off, leaving a perfect place for weeds to sprout.

Fertilize St. Augustine two weeks after the start of spring regrowth using a complete fertilizer (16-4-8) containing slow-release nitrogen (e.g., Isobutylidene diurea [IBDU], Sulfur-coated urea [SCU], urea formaldehyde, cottonseed meal, or poly-coated sources). Sewage sludge products are also a slow-release nitrogen source, but avoid them if you have palms. Apply 1 pound of nitrogen to 1000 square feet of lawn (divide 100 by the first number on the fertilizer bag to get the pounds of fertilizer to apply per1000 sq. ft.) e.g. 6.25 pounds of 16-4-8 fertilizer per 1000 square feet. Apply ferrous sulfate or a chelated iron source in July. For Bahia grass apply a complete fertilizer with slow-release nitrogen in March and August and an iron source in May.

6. Scout. Watch turf closely for symptoms of disease or insect attack. Keep track of any problems on a calendar and note the location where symptoms first appeared. Knowing when to expect a certain disease or insect pest (i.e., chinch bugs, brown patch, etc.) will help to catch problems early before much damage can be done. Pest problems should be greatly lessened or non-existent when proper maintenance steps are used. Using these steps will lessen the need for pesticides, fungicides and herbicides and help to keep our environment clean.

For more information call the Extension Service’s Horticulture Help Line at 727-582-2110, visit our website at:; or visit the University of Florida Turfgrass website at

Market in the Park

Mary CampbellBy Mary Campbell
Extension Director

Market in the Park will be held in the main parking lot adjacent to Pinellas County Extension every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., beginning November 3, 2007 and running through April 19, 2008.

Farmer’s Markets are quickly gaining in popularity. As urban areas spread and local agriculture declines, small business owners have revived a traditional way to reach consumers with fresh produce and environmentally friendly products – through a local farmer’s market. At a farmer’s market you can find everything from fresh prepared foods, organic products, fresh fruits and vegetables to unique local crafts.

Green Market logoA new farmer’s market at Pinellas County Extension, the Market in the Park will offer a way for visitors to find locally made products, purchase fresh produce, support small business owners and learn about sustainable practices. Extension will combine educational programs on nutrition, horticulture and the environment, with a fun, family atmosphere at the weekly market. The goal of the market is to promote an appreciation for agriculture and its benefits to the entire community, as well as provide educational information on a variety of subjects that improves the quality of life. The wholesome and natural foods sold at a farmer’s market can promote health through better food choices.

In Pinellas County, which is the most densely populated county in Florida, local agriculture is almost non-existent. A local farmer’s market helps to bring greater awareness of the wide array of fresh produce that is available in our region. Florida has an abundance of agriculture within a short drive and local produce is both fresher and travels a shorter distance, which decreases use of fossil fuels. In the U.S., the average grocery store’s produce travels nearly 1,500 miles between the farm and your refrigerator. Even though broccoli is likely grown within 20 miles of the average American’s home, it travels an average of 1,800 miles to your table. So how does our food travel from farm field to grocery store? It’s trucked across the country, hauled in freighter ships over oceans, and flown around the world.

To keep green space close to urban areas, conserve energy, reduce climate change, and eat fresher, healthy foods, consumers should look for and buy local food products. In 2000, about 2800 farmers' markets were operating in the United States. It is estimated that more than 20,000 farmers participate in farmers' markets.

The USDA Farmers' Market webpage includes more statistics and factoids as well as information and resources on farmers' markets and a national directory of farmers' markets, go to

Also visit the FDACS site:

January 16, 2008

Think What’s in Your Drink...Extra Calories Are Often Lurking!

By Nan Jensen RD, LD/N
Family and Consumer Sciences Program Leader

watercoolerThe new year has arrived and many of us have made a resolution to make healthier food choices. Often times though, we forget about the beverages we consume. While calories in drinks are not hidden (the information is on the nutrition facts label or available) many people don’t realize just how many calories those beverages can contribute to their daily intake. There is the CafĂ© Mocha with whipped topping you stopped for at breakfast that has 400 calories. The regular soft drink you got “free” with the value meal for 300 calories, and glass of whole milk you had at dinner for 150 calories. If you add the calories up from just the beverages you just swallowed that amounts to 850 calories and you haven’t even begun to chew. Another problem with liquid calories is that they don’t trip the mechanisms in our body that makes us feel full so we often consume more calories than we need.

Watch for Hidden Sugar
Many beverages contain added sugars but the name “sugar” is not necessarily listed on the label. Terms like high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, honey, corn syrup, sucrose and dextrose are caloric sweetened and may be used in your favorite beverage.

Read That Nutrition Facts Label
The Nutrition Facts label on beverage containers is a helpful tool to use in figuring out the calories in your favorite beverage. Look at the label carefully since, there may more than one serving in the container. Below is the label on a 20-oz. bottle. It lists the number of calories in an 8-oz. serving (120) even though the bottle contains 20 oz. or 2.5 servings. If you drank the whole bottle, you would be consuming 300 calories. That caloric value is based on 2.5x 120 which equals 300.

Serving Size 8 fl. oz.
Servings Per Container 2.5
Amount per serving Calories 120

High-Calorie Culprits in Unexpected Places
Coffee drinks and fruit smoothies sound like a good choice, but the calories in your favorite coffee drink or smoothie can add up. Check the Web site or in-store nutrition information of your favorite coffee or smoothie shop to find out how many calories are in different menu items. If that need for a favorite coffee drink or smoothie kicks in follow some of these guidelines.

cup of coffeeIf you make a coffee stop:

  • Order your drink with fat-free or low-fat milk instead of whole milk.

  • Size does matter. Order the smallest size available, especially if you are going for one of the fancy coffees.

  • Extra flavoring like vanilla or hazelnut, are sugar-sweetened and will add calories to your drink.

  • Consider skipping the whipped cream on top of coffee drinks. This is an extra source of calories and fat.

  • Plain black coffee or a cup with fat-free milk and artificial sweetener is a sure bet.

At the smoothie shop:

  • Just like the flavored coffee, the smaller the better.

  • Pick the smoothie with the fewest calories.

  • Many smoothies contain added sugar in addition to the sugar naturally in fruit, juice, or yogurt. Skip the added sugar since the drink is probably sweet enough without it.

Best bets for beverage choices:
Now that you know how much difference a drink can make, here are some ways to make smart beverage choices:
  • Choose water, diet, or low-calorie beverages instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.

  • Quench your thirst by carrying a water bottle and refilling it throughout the day.

  • Don’t keep sugar-sweetened beverages in the house. Instead, keep a jug or bottles of cold water in the fridge.

  • Serve water with meals.

  • Add slices of lemon, lime, cucumber, or watermelon to perk up that plain glass of water.

  • Add a splash of 100% juice to plain sparkling water for a refreshing, low-calorie drink.

  • If you choose a sugar-sweetened beverage, make it a small one. Some companies are now selling 8-oz. cans and bottles of soda, which contain about 100 calories.

  • Be a role model for your friends and family by choosing a healthy lifestyle which includes wise beverage choices.
For calorie information on foods and beverages check out the USDA National Nutrient Database at

Make Your Yard as Green as It Can Be

James Stevenson
By James Stevenson
Extension Educator

Here at Pinellas County Extension, our departments work together to teach sustainability; that is, ensuring that we enjoy a quality of life that will be available to future generations. Perhaps you would like to “green” your life. How about using the New Year to make changes to your landscaping practices? By the end of 2008, you may find yourself with a few more dollars, a garden of beautiful flowers and a happy family.

Sound too good to be true? Consider these 10 tips for a greener, cheaper, 2008.

  1. Plant A Tree – I remember planting a tree with my father when I was a little boy. We’ve watched the tree grow over the years, and it now shades my parents’ house while providing food and shelter for birds and other wildlife. The shade from a tree planted on the west side of a building can help cut air conditioning use. Call us for a list of trees that will fit nicely into your landscape.
  2. plumbago

  3. Add Drought-Tolerant Native or Non-Invasive Exotic Plants – Unless you live on a waterway, plant selection for Florida yards are best made with drought-tolerance in mind. Many plants that have evolved in dry, sandy soil make wonderful garden additions. Call us or come by for a list of drought-tolerant plants for Florida gardens.

  4. Service Your Lawn Mower – Make sure your lawn mower is in tip-top working order. The price of gasoline does not show any signs of lowering, so we must make sure our gas-powered engines are running as efficiently as possible

  5. Reduce Lawn Area – You may decide to give up on the whole lawn idea. Think about the cost of irrigation, lawn mowing, fertilizer and pesticide which is spent on growing grass which is cut, bagged and thrown away (at a cost!). Consider converting your yard into a series of beds featuring flowers, shrubs, trees and even vegetables and herbs.

  6. Convert To, or Install Low-Flow Irrigation – If you must irrigate, choose low-flow irrigation systems. These are cheap and easy to install and put the water right where the plants need it (not in the street or driveway!).

  7. Install a Rain-Barrel – One way to save money on watering potted plants is to use what is free – rain. This spring we will be offering a rain barrel workshop where you can learn to connect clean, 55 gallon food containers to your down-spout to collect rain that falls on the roof.

  8. Get The Family Involved – Get them up from in front of the TV and spend some quality time doing light chores outside. There will be plenty of interesting discoveries to be made; bugs, flowers, butterflies, everyone will be so enthralled they won’t notice they are working!

  9. vegetable patch

  10. Grow Your Own Herbs And a Few Vegetables – Growing your own herbs is easy and rewarding. Once you start, you will never shell-out $2 for a small bag of basil that has been imported from South America and tastes of plastic. Growing a few vegetables only costs pennies for a packet of seeds, and is a great way to get kids interested in gardening (AND eating vegetables!).

  11. Compost – Putting vegetable scraps into the garbage disposal grinds them to slurry that will end up in the Gulf. And you pay to send it there! Try backyard composting of vegetable and fruit scraps, yard clippings, leaves and coffee grounds. Once rotted-down this rich organic material makes wonderful, moisture-conserving mulch.

  12. Sick Plant? Call Us FirstOur Extension educators are ready to take your call about any garden-related question you may have at the Extension Service’s Horticulture Help Line at 727-582-2110. Most people call when they have a sick plant. As we have nothing to sell, we have no need to try and foist some chemical off on you which you may not even need. Our advice may be as simple to follow as “you may wish to reduce the amount you are watering” or “sounds like you are using the wrong type of fertilizer.” Our unbiased advice comes from the many years of horticultural experience and the latest research from the University of Florida. Our Educators are available Monday through Friday from 9:00am- noon and 1:00-4:00pm .

January 14, 2008

Pruning Crape Myrtles

Pam Brown,Urban Horticulture Extension Agent

By Pam Brown
Urban Horticulture Extension Agent

Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) is a small tree that prefers hot, sunny climates. It is well adapted to our climate here in Pinellas County. Once well established, these trees are extremely drought tolerant and have low fertilizer requirements. Crapes grace us with lovely blooms in the summer. And, if pruned or trained properly, the bare trunk and branches are very sculptural after loosing leaves in early winter.
bad crape myrtle pruning
The common practice of chopping off the tops of crape myrtles is a severe pruning practice that induces excess vegetative growth, promotes sprouting at the base of the plant, creates unnatural branch structure, and results in larger but much fewer flowers. Many prune this way because the plant is too large for the space where it is planted or they see their neighbor’s trees pruned this way and feel that this must be the correct way to prune. There is also the misconception that this type of pruning is necessary to promote blooming. In actuality, light corrective pruning is all that is needed.

The best way to assure that the crape myrtle that you have planted will not grow too large for the space provided is to choose a cultivar for the mature size it will become. There are dwarf, semi-dwarf, intermediate and tree forms of crape myrtles. The University of Florida/IFAS publication Crape Myrtle in Florida ( lists cultivars by name, size, color of blooms, and disease resistance.

Flowers are produced on new growth and crape myrtles will bloom without any pruning. Pruning can produce blooms of larger size, but there will usually be fewer of them. Removing seedpods as they form during the summer can stimulate another flush of blooms before fall. Full sun is required for best flowering. So, crape myrtles planted in shade will not develop many blooms.

Pruning should be done in January or early February before new growth starts. To allow the plant to develop into the small graceful tree that it is destined to become, select one to several strong trunks originating from the ground and prune off any weaker remaining stems at ground level. As the tree grows, remove lateral branches to one-third or halfway up the plant. Also remove any branches in the developing canopy that are crossing or rubbing another branch. This will develop an open canopy, which allows air circulation that will discourage fungal disease. Any broken or dead branches should also be removed. All cuts should be made either to the trunk or to a side branch that is facing out from the center of the tree. These are called thinning cuts that should not produce a heavy flush of dense growth in the canopy. In addition, the sprouts (suckers) that grow up from the base of the tree should be pulled out while they are still green a succulent.

There are lovely examples of properly pruned crape myrtles in several locations on the grounds of the Florida Botanical Gardens.

January 11, 2008

The Non-native Animal Assault on Florida

Jeanne Murphy, Wildlife Biologist

By Jeanne Murphy
Wildlife Biologist

Florida’s mild winters, lush summers and remarkable habitats make supporting wildlife diversity a snap. Unfortunately, non-native or exotic wildlife is also supported by our beautiful Florida wind, water and land. Many animals journey to Florida accidentally on plants and in soil, on boats, automobiles, or even in ballast water that is used for stabilizing ships during travel from other countries. Some arrive in Florida through other means including the pet trade industry and illegal smuggling. While other non-natives flush into Florida benefiting from human landscape changes and native predator eradication. However these exotics surface on Florida’s feet, they may become problematic. New diseases and parasites spread to our native species, habitats soon become entrenched with non-natives, food and water resources become battling grounds, and shrinking Florida natural areas become even smaller for our Florida native wildlife.

Cuban Treefrogs:
Cuban Treefrog(Osteopilus septentrionalis)Photo Credit: Brent Hansen(Osteopilus septentrionalis)
This exotic treefrog is found throughout the southern 2/3 of the state and is likely expanding its range; it is even being found in South Carolina. The Cuban treefrog is native to Cuba, the Bahamas and Cayman Islands. It out competes our native treefrogs for shelter, food and breeding areas as well as it preys on our native amphibian, reptile and insect species. Its enlarged toe-discs are adapted for climbing and attaching to vertical surfaces. Colors are quite various—from pale tan or deep brown to occasionally bright green. They may have body markings or may be more uniform in color. In comparison to our native treefrogs, Cuban treefrogs have bumpy skin, enormous eyes and can grow up to six inches long (female). Our common green treefrog, which is eaten by the Cuban treefrog, only grows up to 2.5 inches. (Photo Credit: Brent Hansen)

African Gambian Pouch Rat:
African Pouch Rat (Cricetomys spp.)Photo Credit: spp.)
Another non-native rodent sinks its teeth into Florida—starting in the Florida Keys. Believed to be escapees from an exotic pet breeder, the African Gambian pouch rat can grow to the size of a young raccoon. This mammal is an omnivore eating just about anything it wants. Biologists are concerned that our current population will likely expand its range. This expansion may add even more pressure to declining native Keys species such as the endangered Key Largo wood rat. If this non-native rat moves into the Everglades, there is little hope for its control. Another non-native creature in the Everglades—isn’t that just what we need? Fortunately, purchasing one is now prohibited by the state and eradication efforts are being made. (Photo Credit:

Monk Parakeet:
Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus)(Myiopsitta monachus)
Beautiful green shimmering feathers under Florida’s sun should bring a smile to anyone’s face—well, as long as you like paying more for your power bills. Monk parakeets, native to Argentina, seem to be more of a challenge to humans than other animals. These parakeets originally from the pet trade industry are noisy and gregarious (live in groups) and often nest on power poles and at substations. Their adaptations to these urban environments cause power outages, utility staff overtime and additional expenses that trickle down to the energy users—us. Researchers are seeking birth control methods as possible solutions to this non-native bird’s expanding population and range in the United States. Some states even have laws against owning this animal as a pet, because most of its ‘escapes’ are due to the pet trade industry.

Through research, educational outreach and citizen action, we can attempt to realign some of the erratic balance shifts that humans have caused whether intentionally or inadvertently. Remember, pets are for the life of the animals, not until they become inconvenient. Realize that you can help protect our native Florida wildlife and ecosystems from the invading sea of non-natives—get involved!