April 28, 2008

Starting a Bahiagrass Lawn

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

Argentine Bahiagrass
Some of the advantages of a bahiagrass lawn are drought tolerance, low fertility requirements, relatively few disease problems and only one primary insect problem (mole crickets). Disadvantages include tall seedheads that some people find unsightly, not much tolerance to shade, traffic or saltwater, and lower performance in alkaline soils.

There are four varieties of bahiagrass available for home lawns. These varieties are Common, Argentine, Pensacola and Paraquay. All of these may be established by seed or sod. Only two of these four varieties are best suited for lawns. Argentine is relatively dense with a dark green color. It has good insect and disease resistance and tolerates cold temperatures well. Pensacola has excellent drought tolerance and tolerates either hot or cold temperatures well, but it produces an abundance of seed heads.

The best time to establish bahiagrass is during the spring or early summer months. This timing allows the grass to become established before the cooler months arrive and growth is reduced.

Properly preparing the soil before planting is critical. This should be done whether you are planting a new lawn or replanting an old one, and whether you are seeding or sodding. The first step is to remove any debris, brush, large roots, rocks, weeds or old tree stumps. Rough grade the site so it is sloped at 1 to 2 % away from the house (1/2 to 1 foot fall per 50 feet). Poorly drained soil may require installation of drainage lines. If an area cannot be leveled, use ground cover plants other than turf grass. Control of perennial weeds such as Bermuda grass and torpedo grass needs to be done during site preparation. Several applications of a non selective herbicide are usually required to get rid of these tenacious weeds.

It’s always a good idea to have a soil analysis done whenever planting is undertaken. This will provide you with information about the soil including its pH (acidity or alkalinity). Depending on which soil analysis is done, it can also provide information about the fertility of the soil and pH adjustments that may be required. To obtain a soil sample, collect several small plugs from the top 6 inches of the soil in the area to be planted. Throw all the samples together, mix them up, then take at least a cup’s worth to be analyzed. Analysis can be provided by Pinellas County Extension. (For detailed information on collecting a soil sample: Extension can also provide the mailing materials for a more in depth analysis done by the University of Florida

Next, install irrigation equipment if desired. Add any desired soil amendments. Just make sure that all organic soil amendment materials are sterilized to prevent the introduction of weed seeds. Rototill to loosen compacted soil and improve the speed and depth of rooting. If soil amendments, lime or fertilizer have been added, till the soil deeply down to about 6 or 8 inches.

Finally, do a final grading just prior to planting to provide a smooth planting bed. The site can be hand-raked and dragged with a hand-pulled drag. Large areas can be smoothed by tractor-drawn equipment with a tiller rake or grading box and then hand-finished. Irrigation can be used to settle the soil before planting. Hand-rake to break up a crusty surface prior to seeding.

Seeding or sodding are the next step and these will be covered in my next article. Can’t wait. . . see this publication: or Google “Establishing Your Florida Lawn IFAS.”

Information for this article came from University of Florida IFAS publications:
Bahiagrass for Florida Lawns:
Preparing to Plant a Florida Lawn:

April 23, 2008

Fiber: Start Roughing It!

By Elizabeth Ledoux, Dietetic Intern, Bay Pines Health Care System
Pinellas County Extension, Family & Consumers

whole grain foodFiber is one of those nutrients that we know is important but remains a mystery to us. So…what is fiber? What are the best sources? What are its health benefits? This article will answer these and other questions associated with fiber.

The term dietary fiber refers to carbohydrates that are not digested. Fiber is found in all plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Not all fiber is the same. Soluble fiber dissolves in water forming a gel-like substance. Sources include: oats, legumes, apples, berries, nuts, and seeds. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. It plays an important role in increasing the movement of material through your digestive tract and bulking up your stool. Sources include: whole grains, bran, seeds, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots. These differences are important as it relates to fiber’s role in health benefits. Fiber reduces the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes and is involved in bowel disorders and weight control.

Fiber and Heart Disease
Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. High intake of dietary fiber has been linked to lowering the risk of heart disease. A Harvard study of male health professionals found that a high total dietary fiber (particularly cereal fiber) intake was linked to a 40% lower risk of coronary heart disease. A related study of female nurses produced similar findings. Furthermore, a strong predictor of heart disease is abnormal blood cholesterol lab values. It appears that soluble fiber reduces the absorption of cholesterol in your intestines by binding with bile, a substance produced in the liver. Your body then gets rid of it.

Fiber and Type 2 Diabetes
A high-fiber diet can be beneficial in getting your blood sugars under control. Keeping blood sugars stable is a goal everyone would benefit from. If you do have type 2 diabetes, this could be the way to keep it under control. If you don't have it, this could be the way to prevent it. Research has shown that high-fiber diets can aid in prevention. A recent study showed reductions in blood sugar values with the use of a high fiber supplement in overweight and obese individuals without diabetes. Soluble fiber has been found to produce significant reductions in blood sugar. For those with diabetes, increasing your fiber now can prevent long-term complications from diabetes and can decrease insulin requirements.

Fiber and Bowel Disorders
With the introduction of white flour came an increased prevalence of bowel disorders such as diverticulosis, hemorrhoids, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Studies have shown that a high-fiber diet helps to prevent diverticulosis, a condition that occurs when small pouches (diverticula) push outward through weak spots in the colon. A diet high in fiber will decrease the risk of complications if you have it. The same has been found for IBS and current treatment guidelines for IBS include following a high fiber diet. The bulk that fiber provides is thought to help prevent the pain often associated with IBS and aids in regularity.

Fiber and Weight Control
There is some evidence that "bulking up" could lead to slimming down. One of the reasons that fiber may have an impact on body weight is its ability to slow the movement of food through the intestines. This increase in time that foods stay in the intestines has been shown to reduce hunger feelings and overall food intake.

fresh fruits & vegetablesFiber is an important part of a healthy diet, and you should consume the recommended amount of 21-38 grams of dietary fiber per day. Most of us eat only 15 grams of dietary fiber a day. The best sources are fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes, and whole-grain foods. Here are some tips to help you increase your fiber intake:

  • Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices.
  • Replace white rice, bread, and pasta with brown rice and whole-grain products.
  • Choose whole-grain cereals. Check out for more information on whole grains.
  • Snack on raw vegetables instead of chips or crackers.
  • Substitute legumes (beans and peas) for meat two to three times per week.
  • Experiment with recipes that use whole grains and legumes.

Find out the fiber content of your favorite foods at:

April 22, 2008

All About Ants!

By Michael Pettay, Horticulturist, University of Florida/IFAS
Pinellas County Extension Educator

This is the time of year when we start to receive calls about swarms of flying ants. This makes some curious to know more about them, although most just want to know that they’re not termites! For those latter folks I say look for their little waists. Ants have them. Termites don’t. This article is actually a general information piece about ants. diagram of termite and ant

Now, generalizing about ants is problematic. There are trillions of ants crawling around out there; somewhere around 8,000 species, and life does try everything once! But, here’s the usual case: typically, everyone in the colony is female. The queen is the only fertile, egg layer in the colony. The other females are sterile, and are either workers or soldiers.

The number of males in a colony varies. Consider, for example, the carpenter ants: a common ant found in palms, fallen logs and, occasionally, your attic. A few fertile, winged males and females are born in the spring, and soon swarm out of the colony to mate in flight. antThis seems to happen when extra resources are available. The males die shortly afterwards, but not because of heart failure from all those matings. Males just have short but happy lives. So, in the springtime, until the actual flight, the colony has a small number of males.

Each female tries to found a new colony. Not all succeed. Let’s follow one queen. She seeks moist, dead wood and lays up to 20 eggs. All of the eggs hatch as sterile female workers. The queen continues laying eggs until, after a few years, thousands of sterile workers fill the colony.

Having packed the house, the queen starts new colonies. From the time the young queen founded the colony until now, no males existed. In the spring, she lays eggs that develop into winged males and winged fertile females. The new kings and queens swarm out of the colony and the cycle repeats. ant

So, you ask, how does a queen ant do that? How does she make queens, kings, and workers? Well, the queen controls egg gender mostly through the manipulation of sperm. During that wild, mating party in her youth, she acquired a supply of sperm that lasts her lifetime. She selects suitable partners and mates with several, so her internal sperm bank contains a variety of good genetic material.

A queen controls an egg’s sex by fertilizing or not fertilizing the eggs. Females come from fertilized eggs and males from unfertilized eggs. The males can mate and therefore get to be kings, for a few short days.

Females come in three, types: sterile workers/soldiers and fertile queens. A queen controls which female type emerges through the genes she passes along. Actually, she doesn’t have absolute control over this process and can’t or sterile workers would cease to exist in a few generations. The genes for sterility are expressed conditionally: they may or may not cause a female to be sterile. Genes don’t dictate what happens. Instead, genes have to be turned on and, in the case of queen ants, it's thought that food plays a major role.

The idea is that when the larvae get enough food the larva hormone levels increase and this starts sex-organ development for the adult. A queen emerges.

By the way, the genes of the father ant determine whether a worker becomes a small worker or one large enough (twice the small worker size) to be a warrior or heavy-duty worker.

For more information about ants from the University of Florida, IFAS Extension:

April 17, 2008

I scream, you scream, we all scream for 4-H ice cream!

By Beth Tobias, 4-H Agent
Pinellas County Extension
Bluebell ice cream: 4-H Centennial Cupcake

Wouldn’t it feel pretty special to have an ice cream flavor created just for you? Well, Blue Bell Creameries recently partnered with National 4-H Council to recognize the excellent work in youth development by 4-H over the past 100 years. To celebrate the 4-H Centennial, Blue Bell created this one of a kind and quite tasty ice cream flavor just for 4-H! 4-H Centennial Cupcake is cupcake flavored ice cream with chocolate frosting swirls and clover sprinkles. The packaging for the ice cream includes the 4-H logo and kids in 4-H t-shirts, making it an excellent marketing opportunity. National 4-H hopes that local 4-H communities will gain recognition from this national promotion. Here in Pinellas County, 4-H has been around since the 1920’s but we still hear from people that they did not know we are in this area so we are excited about the publicity.

The product is available in more than 15 states and has been spotted locally in a variety of grocers, so get out there and try it. If you can not find the 4-H flavor on the self, just ask for it and most stores will order it or you can go on line and order it directly from Blue Bell. A portion of the proceeds from sales of the ice cream will be going to curriculum development, volunteer and professional training, and other 4-H programs. I can not think of a better way to celebrate than with ice cream, so please join Pinellas County 4-H in the celebration.

April 14, 2008

April – Water Conservation Month

By Dale Armstrong
Coordinator Florida Yards & Neighborhoods

Perhaps you have heard that the State of Florida and many local governments have designated April as Water Conservation Month. While conserving water should be on our minds year-round, April marks the beginning of our dry season. This drier weather pattern typically lasts about three months in this part of Florida, ending when summer thundershowers commence late in June to early July.
During this drier time, warm weather may stress our lawns and landscape plants in between the mandatory once-a-week sprinkler schedule in west central Florida (reclaimed water sources are currently exempt in some communities). Selecting drought tolerant plants for your yard is one of the easiest changes you can make to minimize the impact of Florida’s seasonal rainfall. Check out these resources for more information about drought tolerant plants and Florida-friendly landscaping: and A Guide to Fltoiletorida Friendly Landscaping.

Speaking of easy changes, stop flushing money down the drain by replacing that old water-hog in your bathroom. Several of our local governments are offering rebates of up to $100 per toilet replaced with a new Ultra Low Flow toilet. The rebates are partially funded by grants from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD). For customers of Pinellas County Utilities and the cities of Clearwater, Pinellas Park, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs and Oldsmar, contact the Pinellas County Toilet Rebate office at (727)725-2604. For water customers of the City of St. Petersburg call (727)894-2044.

April 10, 2008

I Call this Meeting to Order

By Margaret Deller, 4-H Clubs Educational Instructor
Pinellas County/University of Florida IFAS Extension

group meeting
If you have ever attended a meeting that had an agenda, allowed all members an equal chance to speak, and every idea was given equal attention, then you have attended a meeting that was run with parliamentary procedure.

Fundamentally, parliamentary procedure defines how groups of self governing people, no matter how formal or informal, can most effectively meet and make decisions in a fair, consistent manner—making good use of everyone's time. Even a basic background in parliamentary principles can help you and your organization hold more efficient meetings.

In order to learn and implement parliamentary procedure in your organization you will need to do some research. The most widely used authority on parliamentary procedure is Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised. This book originally titled A Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies was written in 1876 by General Henry M. Robert. General Robert was an engineering officer in the regular Army. Without warning, he was asked to preside over a church meeting and realized that he did not know how. He tried anyway and his embarrassment was supreme. This event left him determined never to attend another meeting until he knew something of parliamentary law.

group meetingHe discovered and studied the few books that were available on the subject. From time to time, because of his military duties, he was transferred to various areas of the United States, where he discovered everyone had a different idea of what was correct. Using his experiences he wrote his own book on the subject. The most recent edition of Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised is the 10th. Each new edition issued since the death of Henry Robert, has been prepared by people who knew Henry Robert, worked with him or are directly connected to those people by professional association.

The first time you try to read Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised it can be a little scary. First, it is 700 pages long and is full of words you know being used in ways you have never imagined. But there are many resources out there to make it easier. First, you can visit the official website where you can learn how your organization can adopt Robert’s Rules in your organization and get answers to frequently asked questions. Next, you can contact your local 4-H office or club; because they use Parliamentary Procedure with all of their meetings. Yes, even youth can use Robert’s Rules. In fact, there are even games to teach you how Here in Pinellas County we even have a small how-to booklet, created by Hernando County 4-H Agent Nancy Moores, called Parliamentary Procedure Made Easy for Everyday Use.

Next time you are at a meeting that is called to order and an item for discussion is moved, seconded, and passed by majority vote; remember to thank General Henry M. Robert for giving you a voice.

April 9, 2008

Catching the Beneficial “Bug”: Pros and Cons of Probiotics

By Carolyn Reiner, Dietetic Intern, Bay Pines Health Care System
Pinellas County Extension, Families & Consumers

You may have heard advertisements for products that "help strengthen the body's defenses," "help naturally regulate your digestive system" or "help kids stay healthy." You may have also heard that "live and active cultures" in yogurt are helpful. What you might not know is that these live and active cultures contain helpful bacteria called probiotics- active cultures that help your digestive system. From yogurt to smoothies to cereal, products that contain probiotics are becoming very popular at the local grocery store.

Probiotics are “good” bacteria that help maintain the natural balance of microorganisms in the digestive tract. Our digestive tracts already contain about 400 types of bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful microorganisms and promote a healthy digestive system. Probiotics microorganisms have been around for years, but recent research suggesting they fight digestive disorders and help boost our immune system have got health conscious consumers going crazy for these beneficial little “bugs”. But are probiotics as effective as producers claim? And are they worth the money? While much more scientific knowledge is needed, including safety and appropriate use, current research supplies some promising leads.

Potential benefits of Probiotics: The main reason most people use probiotics is to prevent diarrhea caused by antibiotics which kill beneficial bacteria along with the bacteria that cause illness. A decrease in beneficial bacteria may lead to diarrhea. It may also lead to other infections, such as yeast and urinary tract infections.

Studies suggest that probiotics may help:
  • Reduce diarrhea and bloating from lactose intolerance and other causes.

  • Prevent relapse in diarrhea associated with antibiotic use.

  • Prevent infections in the digestive tract (e.g., Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a bacterium that causes most ulcers and many types of chronic stomach inflammation).

  • Control immune response (inflammation), as in inflammatory bowel disease (e.g., ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease).

Should you take Probiotics? You don't need probiotics to be healthy. However, a probiotic food product or supplement may assist with digestion or help protect against some harmful bacteria. If you want to give them a try, it’s better to get your probiotics from foods rather than supplements, which aren’t closely regulated and don’t always deliver what they promise.

yogurt food productsYogurt is a particularly good source of probiotics. Some popular probiotic yogurt products include Activia™, DanActive™, and Danimals Xtreme™; Silk Live!® soy yogurt; and Stonyfield Farms® yogurts. When buying, look for the words “live and active cultures” and check the expiration date to ensure it is fresh: the longer a probiotic-containing product sits on shelves, the more beneficial bacteria die.

While probiotics won’t help everyone, studies suggest that even healthy people may benefit from regular consumption. Probiotics are safe because they are already part of the normal digestive system and may be used everyday.

For more information on probiotics check out this website:

April 8, 2008

Free Grant Money Available!

By Richard Livingstone
4-H Youth Mentor, Pinellas County Extension

What is a 4-H Community Service Grant you ask? Well, it is a monetary award for youth led service projects and 4-H has been awarding them for the past 10 years. Did you know that any Pinellas County youth or youth-led group is invited to apply for a grant to complete a project that addresses a community need during the summer of 2008? Well now you do!

The 4-H Community Service Grants Board is holding its final funding cycle of the year during the month of June. 4-H is “taking the responsibility to create change” by encouraging youth or youth-led groups in summer school programs, camps, and recreational activities to apply for a community service grant and benefit from the many life skills developed during the process.

4-H Targeting Life Skills ModelIn a publication written by Marilyn Norman, Associate Professor in Family, Youth and Community Sciences and state 4-H Program Leader as well as Joy Jordan, Associate Professor in Family, Youth and Community Sciences, a life skill is “a learned ability and competency that assists people in functioning well in the environments in which they live.” Using the four H’s and eight subcategories of the 4-H Targeting Life Skills Model (right) youth development programs can identify the skills within the five targeted competency areas that are appropriate for the ages they serve and offer 4-H experiences to teach these skills.
To view the full report visit

Applying for a 4-H Community Service Grant is a great way for youth to gain needed life skills including youth/adult partnerships, presentation & public speaking skills, as well as earning service hours. In an impact report published by Florida 4-H surveying 628 Florida 4-Hers, results showed that youth involved in 4-H indicated greater life skills gained from 4-H experiences particularly in the areas of communications, relationships, leadership, and decision making. To view the full impact report visit

Pinellas County 4-H is working to increase civic engagement in the community using its 4-H Community Service Grants Board. Please visit our website at to download a grant application and take a look at other projects being done in your community. For more information on applying for a 4-H Community Service Grant please contact Richard Livingstone at (727)-582-2103 or

April 3, 2008

Herbal Confusion

By Allen Cordell Horticulturist II, Pinellas County Extension

We’ve all heard the old adage; “You’re in the right church, but the wrong pew!” This relates to a comparison of what is partially correct, but not absolutely accurate. Botanical confusion occurs when common, ethnic, or country names, are applied to various plants, based on their appearances, their uses, or their fragrances. However, once a plant is correctly identified by its scientific name, the native habitat, growth habit, flowering season, temperature tolerances, and cultivation, can all be accurately researched. A cook or an herbalist may inquire further regarding the plants usefulness. Does it have edible, medicinal, or economic value? Is it toxic?
A client visited our lobby, dragging a potted tree behind her. The ungainly plant had been labeled and bought as a nutmeg tree. Our staff determined the tree to be a bellyache bush (Jatropha gossypifolia). This genus, within the Euphorbia Family, is quite poisonous and should never have been sold as nutmeg. True commercial nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) is a tropical tree native to the Molluca Islands (“Spice Islands”) of Indonesia. Common names can be very misleading.

Herbal confusion can also be applied to the culinary plant cilantro or coriander. Both common names refer to the same plant, which is botanically known as (Coriandrum sativum). Chinese-parsley or cilantro refers to the plants’ bitter foliage which is picked throughout this hardy annuals’ growing season. However, when a recipe calls for coriander, it’s the pleasingly aromatic mature seeds that are called for. Another related species is tropical cilantro (Eryngium foetidum) or culantro. This Tropical American perennial has a stronger, more pungent flavor, so it is used more sparingly.

When tomatoes were first introduced into Southern Europe, early botanists considered the fruit poisonous. They were obviously wrong. They had probably equated them with such toxic herbs such as mandrake, belladonna, and henbane, which also belong to the Solanaceae Family. But, children and livestock have been poisoned by eating the poisonous stems of tomato plants.

During an online search, I had hoped to locate a seed or plant source for frankincense and myrrh. I never realized how numerous the Internet sources were relating to incense, incense burners, herbal ointments, resins, and suggested books! One party responded to my inquiry and was surprised that, being a horticulturist, I was unaware of her correct botanical answer and source. However, she was referring to sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata), a fragrant anise-scented herb from Europe, and a relative of parsley. True myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) that I was looking for is a scraggly, thorny, desert shrub, or small tree, from East Africa and India. It is famed for incense, much like its cousin frankincense (Boswellia carterii).

Another misconception that can lead to confusion is the many plants which resemble palms. The pony-tail palm, Madagascar palm, travelers’ palm, king sago, and queen sago palm are not palms at all; they simply resemble palms.

Shakespeare once said, “A rose by any other name, is still a rose.” Perhaps a plant is what we perceive it to be, based upon our own knowledge of its use and how it impacts our lives.
The International Code of Botanical Nomenclature is responsible for maintaining the scientific names of all of the known plants: