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 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

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.

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.

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.

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.


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 (

Organic Produce: Most & Least Commonly Contaminated

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:
The city of St. Petersburg has slightly different watering restrictions for water customers. Information can be found on the Internet at:
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:
St. Petersburg:
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 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”.