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 . 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

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 or 582-2528.

Environmental Protection Agency:

Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission:

Tampa Bay Watch:

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.

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 ( 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
Redefining Progress


Global Footprint Network

October 13, 2008

Be Food Safe

In the United States each year...

...76 million cases of foodborne illness occur.
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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.


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.

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 ( and we can identify them for you and give you the right advice.

You can access the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide at: You can also watch a video, Vegetable Gardening Pinellas County Style at: - the video is on the right hand column.

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