December 30, 2009

Ring in the New Year with Solutions for Your Resolutions

Attend Pinellas County Extension’s January Classes

Pinellas County Extension offers residents a wide variety of classes to help them make sustainable decisions.

Be sure to check out our lunch break on-line classes, Solutions in 30. Each week this month you will learn about or rediscover green jobs in Pinellas County, financial incentives available from geothermal energy for your home or business, getting in good financial shape for the New Year and what it takes to grow a successful vegetable garden.

Solutions in 30:
January 6, 2010 - Introduction to Vegetable Gardening
January 13, 2010 - Getting in Good Financial Shape for the New Year
January 20, 2010 - Green Jobs
January 27, 2010 - Geothermal Energy

Commercial (Pesticide/FNGLA/ISA) CEUs:
January 14, 2010 - Roundup License Training - LCLM
January 21, 2010 - Best Management Practices
January 29, 2010 - I. D. Cardholder

Lawn & Garden:
January 9, 2010 - Common Lawn & Garden Problems
January 16, 2010 - It Starts with Soil
January 19, 2010 - Florida-Friendly Landscaping Design & Maintenance
January 23, 2010 - Planting, Setting & Growing
January 26, 2010 - Water-Wise
January 30, 2010 - Pests and Harvesting

Sustainable Living:
January 29, 2010 - The Basics of Climate Change

Pathways Adventure Series:
January 23, 2010 - Vegetable Gardening Fun

You can register for classes on-line at Please look for the “Online Class Registration” button on the right hand side near the top of the page.

December 28, 2009

Easy Resolutions to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient

By James Stevenson, Extension Specialist, Urban Sustainability, Pinellas County Extension

Part I: HVAC Systems

Are you looking forward to saving money in 2010? Are you ready to finally make those changes that will make your home more energy efficient? UF/IFAS Pinellas County Extension would like to help. In 2010 we will be offering classes and workshops on energy efficiency, alternative energy and the incentives that are available to help you achieve your goal. In the mean time, here are some easy and affordable steps you can take to begin streamlining your home into an energy-efficient one.

According to the University of Florida, the average home devotes 40% or more of its monthly energy towards the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system. In Pinellas, this figure may be slightly higher, as many of our homes are older and less energy-efficient than homes built in the 1980s and later. As for the remaining 60% of your bill, approximately 20% goes to lighting, 15% for heating water, and about 10% is attributed to refrigeration. That leaves 15% for other appliances, TVs, computers, and energy you don’t even get to use. This is “phantom energy” and a great target for savings; but more on this later.

As the biggest energy consumer, it is important to make sure the HVAC system is running as smoothly and efficiently as possible. The cheapest and easiest way to reduce the HVAC system’s power-draw is to adjust the thermostat. Setting the thermostat to 76ºF in summer and 68ºF in winter will show significant savings, and by using ceiling fans in summer, the indoor temperature will feel like 72ºF. It is important to note, however, that ceiling fans only make a difference if you are in the room with the fan. It is the breeze we feel on our skin that keeps us cooler; therefore it is not recommended to run ceiling fans when the home is unoccupied. Set fans to run clockwise in winter, to draw heated air back down into the room, and counter-clockwise in summer for that cooling breeze.

Making sure the air filter is kept clean is another easy way to keep the HVAC system running smoothly. Make a note on your calendar to check them once a month, and be sure to replace them as needed.

A low-cost modification that can help you achieve savings is in the form of a programmable thermostat. These devices are easy to install, and allow you to set the times and temperatures in your home. Make sure to compare several models, choose an EnergyStar® rated model, and be sure to select a thermostat that will be easy for you to use. There are three basic types of these thermostats, the 7-day model that allows for the greatest flexibility (good for families with children with all sorts of schedules,) a 5 + 2 model that uses one set schedule for the week and one for the weekend (good for people who work away from home during the week,) and a 5+1+1 model that allows for one schedule during the week and a flexible schedule on the weekend. Enlist the help of a qualified HVAC contractor to install this device if you are uncomfortable with the small amount of wiring that is involved. Here is the EnergyStar® recommended setting:

Programmable Thermostat Setpoint Times & Temperatures
SettingTimeSetpoint Temperature (Heat)Setpoint Temperature (Cool)
Wake6:00 a.m.≤ 70° F

≥ 78° F


8:00 a.m.

Setback at least 8° F

Setup at least 7° F


6:00 p.m.

≤ 70° F

≥ 78° F


10:00 p.m.

Setback at least 8° F

Setup at least 4° F

(Source: Note: The national standard of a 78ºF may show the most savings, but studies have shown that mold may begin to grow at temperatures above 76ºF. See Mold Happens and Basic Mold Prevention for more information.

It would be good to mention here, the program run by our local energy provider, Progress Energy Florida, called the Home Energy Check. This is a free service offered by Progress, and can be completed online, over the phone or as a visit paid to your home by a qualified inspector. Essentially, this head-to-toe evaluation of your home’s energy efficiency will give you a clear idea of where changes will be most effective. After completing a Home Energy Check, you will qualify for Progress Energy’s many financial incentives for increasing your home’s energy efficiency. We will discuss incentives, including local, state and federal more in-depth in a future article.

Finally, the ultimate investment towards an efficient HVAC system is an upgrade to a newer, more efficient, EnergyStar® model. If you have had a Home Energy Check, Progress will pay up to $150 to replace a less-efficient heat pump and up to $350 to replace strip heat in your home. In addition, if you install an efficient heat pump AND participate in other Progress programs (the Duct Check Program or the Insulation Check Program) you will receive an additional credit on your electric bill.

We look forward to bringing you more on energy efficiency, incentives and the latest information on alternative energy in 2010. On February 20 we will be hosting Doug Gregory, UF/IFAS Faculty from Monroe County, who will be discussing the technicalities of installing solar power in the home. Join us for Solar Power in the Sunshine State from 10:00-12:00. Register online from our home page.

Energy Efficient Homes: Easy Steps to Improving Your Home’s Energy Efficiency -

Energy Efficient Homes: Air Conditioning -

EnergyStar®’s Heat and Cool Efficiently -

Progress Energy’s Home Energy Check -

December 22, 2009

Be Aware of Water Use

Wilma J. Holley, Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Program Educator, Pinellas County Extension

Most of us take water for granted. Water is piped into our homes and landscapes; we turn on the faucet or irrigation system and there it is. Water conservation goes way beyond watering efficiently, which is the second principle of the nine major principles emphasized by Florida Yards & Neighborhoods. Naturally, checking our irrigation systems for leaks and misdirected or broken heads, making repairs, and calibrating the system to apply ¾” per application are all good practices.

We can do more, including following local water restrictions. The Tampa Bay area has been in a four year drought. While we have had some recent rains the drought is not over. We can still see the effects of it in our lakes, rivers, and groundwater. Recently the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) eased water restrictions from Phase III to Phase II. We are still limited to one day a week watering before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m. and will need above normal rainfall this winter to bring our levels up enough to lift restrictions further.

Another thing SWFWMD is asking homeowners to do is “Skip a Week” of irrigation during the winter. If you have an automatic system, simply turn your irrigation timer off the week you are skipping and then back on the week you are watering. Also watch the weather, and if we receive ½” or more of rain on the week you are scheduled to water – don’t!

Plants and grass do not require as much water in the winter. The weather is cooler, there is less evaporation, and most plants are not actively growing. Therefore skipping a week of irrigation is the best thing you can do for your yard.
“Overwatering does more than deplete the water supply; it also makes plants more prone to disease and pests. By choosing and operating a watering system correctly, you can reduce water bills, decrease plant problems, and lower maintenance requirements. For example, the more you water your lawn, the faster it grows and the more it needs to be mowed. It’s also more likely to develop fungal problems that require treatment with fungicides.” The Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Handbook A Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Publication

Average American families use 100-175 gallons of water a day, delivered to them. In some parts of the world an average family uses only 5 gallons of water a day and they have to walk miles for it. To fully appreciate our own water sometimes it helps to understand what others go through. I have included this website for that reason: .

We can’t solve the world water crisis by ourselves; yet, we should be willing to contribute by following carefully considered water restrictions, keeping our irrigation systems in proper working order, and skipping a week of irrigation. That is an insignificant price to pay to have water readily available. We can’t ignore the water shortage and pretend it will simply go away – we should make water conservation a part of our every day lives.

Watering restrictions are set by SWFWMD; however, counties and utilities sometimes impose tighter restrictions, so it is wise to bookmark your utility website and check back periodically to keep up to date with your local water restrictions. Following is a link to the SWFWMD website which has a link to each county and utility within their District:

To learn more about the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Principles mentioned and more things you can do to use less water in your landscape go to:

December 14, 2009

Gift Cards: Tips for Consumers

By Karen Saley, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

Gift cards have become and easy and convenient way of gift giving and like many of us you are probably going to be picking up a few during the holiday season. As convenient as gift cards are they do have their drawbacks. Here are a few things you should be aware of before deciding to purchase a gift card.

FEES: Some gift cards may not have fees, but others do charge various types and amounts of fees. Some fees may be paid in cash, but most often fees are simply deducted from the value on the card. These fees may include:
· Purchase Fees that are charged when you buy a gift card. These are in addition to the money you pay in exchange for the value on the card.

· Monthly Fees or other regular charges (such as service fees, administrative fees, or maintenance fees) that are deducted from the gift card balance.

· Inactivity Fees that apply if you do not use the card within a certain time period (for example, a monthly fee that is deducted from the gift card balance if the card’s value has not been used up within 6 months after the card is purchased).

· Transaction Fees for using the card – either for all transactions, for a high number of transactions, or for certain types of transactions (for example, ATM withdrawals).

· Miscellaneous Fees for balance inquiries, replacing a lost or stolen card, or other services related to the card.
EXPIRATION DATES: Check to see if the card has an expiration date. If a gift card expires before you use it, you will most likely loose it. If there is an expiration date, you should find out if a new card can be issued to you and if there are any fees for issuing a new card.

LOST OR STOLEN CARDS: If a card is lost or stolen you will want to know if you can get a replacement card and if there is a fee for doing so. You will also want to find out if someone else uses the card after it is lost or stolen, would that money be credited to the replacement card. Always keep the receipt for the gift card purchase, and record the card number in case you or the person who received the card as a gift needs a replacement card.

WHERE YOU CAN USE THE CARD: A store gift card can only be used at the designated store or sometimes at stores under a parent company. VISA® or MasterCard® gift cards can be used at many locations around the world. Some gift cards can even be used to get cash at an ATM.

TRUST: Remember that a gift card is only as good as the store or institution providing it. You are trusting that the company is financially stable and will honor the card whenever it is presented. Before purchasing a gift card you may want to make sure the company is not be being sold or going into bankruptcy.

PROBLEMS AND COMPLAINTS: If you experience a problem with your gift card you want to know it will be taken care of. Check for a toll-free number to reach a customer service representative that can help you with your problem.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: When giving someone a gift card, be sure to pass along all this information to the recipient so they understand all the conditions that go along with the card.

December 10, 2009

Pinellas County Launches New Green Business Designation

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

Pinellas County and the University of Florida Extension Service have partnered to launch a new program that offers a green designation for local businesses. The Green Business Partnership designation uses a voluntary assessment of business operations that encourages conservation of natural resources, waste reduction and energy conservation. The good news for local businesses is money saved through going green.

Local businesses have embraced the concept of green practices, recognizing the benefits for cost savings on energy, reduced water use and waste reductions. “Being green” makes good business sense. Businesses can attract customers that appreciate the extra effort to reduce environmental impacts.

To learn more about this new designation, sign up for a Webinar on Tuesday, Dec. 15. Mary Campbell, director of the Pinellas County Extension and Urban Sustainability Agent, will explain the criteria of the program, and provide an easy overview of how to complete the assessment and become a “Green Business Partner” in Pinellas County. Beginning at 12:30 p.m., the hour program is offered on-line, and participants use their own computers. Cost for the program is $15.00. Follow-up for businesses seeking the designation will be provided.

Just what is a “green business”? A green business employs practices to reduce waste, save resources and promote sustainable practices. It often is as simple as having a recycling program, bringing hazardous materials to an approved facility for disposal and reducing water consumption with low flow toilets. Businesses can pick the practices that save the most money and are the most cost effective to implement to customize the program to fit their needs. Extension staff provides guidance and training to help each business reach their goal.

After completing the self-evaluation checklist available on the Extension website, Pinellas County staff will provide support to implement many green practices and help maximize the ability of businesses to operate in a sustainable way. When all criteria that are applicable are implemented, the Green Business Partnership will be awarded and the business will be eligible to use the Green Business Partnership logo provided. This badge of honor can serve to highlight green business practices to those customers that would choose a green business among competitors.

There are several key areas of focus for the green business designation and these include general business policies, energy conservation, waste reduction and water conservation. The designation requires a business commit to developing practices that promote awareness of green practices within the company through employee training and company policies. Pinellas County Utilities will provide a waste assessment and review of hazardous waste disposal practices. Recycling can reduce waste disposal costs through a net reduction in disposal costs. Recycling saves natural resources, energy and water. Buying in bulk can reduce packaging waste and reduce costs. Green purchasing reduces exposure to harmful chemicals and makes healthier work environments. Savings are also achieved through more efficient inventory control and storage.

As energy costs escalate, businesses are looking for ways to reduce energy consumption. Progress Energy offers a business energy audit as part of the designation and some businesses are able to reduce energy consumption by 20% through the implementation of specific strategy. Lighting and heating and cooling systems can be made more energy efficient, which saves money. Energy Star certified computers and other equipment provide a third party certification for energy efficiency.

As a Green Business Partner, participants will have access to professional advice and training, listing on the Green Business Partner website and special recognition by Pinellas County.

For more information on the Partnership program, visit, and go to the on-line registration to sign up for the Webinar (register before Dec. 14). Call Mary Campbell at 727-582-2100 for more information.

December 8, 2009

Family Strategies to Enjoy the Holidays

By Jean Rogalsky, 4-H Agent, Pinellas County Extension

The holiday season should be a time of joy and creating memories to last a lifetime. Instead it often is a time of stress for parents who try to create the perfect holiday or who worry they can not provide enough to make the holiday memorable for their children.

As families find themselves in the middle of the holiday preparations during tight financial times, financial worries will continue to build. The American Psychological Association's (APA) Stress in America survey finds that Americans cite financial concerns as a leading source of stress.

According to the APA survey, approximately seven in ten Americans report that money is a significant source of stress. In addition, over sixty percent stated they experienced stress from work and the economy. More than half cited family responsibilities as a significant source of stress in their lives. With adults stressing over the economy, their jobs, and their family responsibilities, how can they handle the additional pressures of the holiday season?

Parents may not realize how much their children are in tune to the adults’ feelings or how much stress the children themselves are feeling. Parents should pay attention to the stress their children may experience during the holidays. The APA Stress in America survey found that “children are nearly two times more likely to worry about financial concerns than their parents realize. Specifically, 30 percent of youth say they worry about their family having enough money, while only 18 percent of parents report that this is a source of stress for their child.”

Since our children are reporting stress and concerns about money, parents need to be role models for managing stress. Please take time to consider the following strategies to manage holiday stress and enjoy the season with your family:

~ Plan self-care and personal time into your schedule. Spending some time on yourself can keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

~ Dance with your children (at home, of course) or take time for recreation. Physical activity can help relieve stress.

~ Think about the meaning of life. Ask your children what they think is important. Be sure to pass on family stories when families had to make do with a lot less. Find a favorite holiday story to read; the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder are good choices.

~ Try to take some off. Spending time with family and friends is important. Plan a time for family baking or decoration making and expect to make a mess.

~ What better way to teach your family the meaning of life than to volunteer as a family. Helping others who are less fortunate can put hardships in perspective and can build a stronger family.

~ Holiday traditions are great, but if observing them adds too much stress, create a new tradition. As the saying goes, “If we do it twice, it is a tradition.”

~ Ask the children which observances they like the best. Let each child pick an activity each week.

If holiday stress starts to get you down, remember the 2008 responses of 4-H club members when asked what they enjoyed the most about the holiday season. Over 90% responded that the best times were the times they spent with their families.

Adapted from Fighting the Holiday Blues published by Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida/IFAS:
American Psychological Association:,

November 25, 2009

Pinellas County Extension Makes the Holidays Bright with the Gift of Knowledge!

Attend Pinellas County Extension’s December Classes

Pinellas County Extension offers residents a wide variety of classes to help them make sustainable decisions.

Be sure to check out our lunch break, on-line classes, Solutions in 30. Each week this month you will learn how to use living Christmas trees and holiday plants, tips to make your office or work environment more “green” and how to reduce financial stress during the holidays.

Solutions in 30:
December 2nd - Reducing Financial Stress During the Holidays
December 16th - Green Office

Pathways Adventure Series:
December 5th - Nature’s Holiday Ornaments

Lawn & Garden:
December 15th - Rain Harvesting Workshop

Commercial (Pesticide/FNGLA/ISA) CEUs: Fall Pest Update
December 1st - Fumigation
December 1st - CORE
December 1st - General Household
December 1st - Termites
December 9th - Lawn / Turf Ornamental Pest Control
December 9th - CORE

Sustainable Living:
December 11th - Financial Incentives for Energy Efficiency
December 15th - Pinellas County Green Business Partnership

You can register for classes on-line at Please look for the “Online Class Registration” button on the right hand side, near the top of the page.

November 23, 2009

Common Citrus Problems

By Jane Morse, Commercial Horticulture Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Rust mites: A common occurrence this time of year is to see oranges that have brown, rough areas. This is most likely rust mite damage (unless it smells rotten). Rust mite damage is nothing to worry about as it doesn’t affect the taste of the fruit, it just makes the outside not look completely orange.

If you want perfectly orange rinds, spray your trees in March or April with a horticultural oil (use an oil that lists paraffinic oil as the active ingredient). Always read and follow directions exactly as indicated on the label of pesticides.

Leafminers: This is another common problem on citrus. Leaves will look misshapen and one can see serpentine tunnels on the leaf surface. Mature trees are not harmed by this slight damage to their leaves. Not much control is available. Either accept the damage and do nothing, or during the spring growth flush spray the tree with horticultural oil twice, spaced two weeks apart. Very young trees can be hurt by the loss of leaf surface that leafminers cause. Young trees should be treated with horticultural oil during the spring growth flush.

Citrus scab: Water is the single most important factor affecting the severity of this disease. This disease only needs to be controlled on fruit intended for the fresh fruit market. It is only a serious disease on certain varieties of citrus. It mainly affects lemon, Murcotts, Minneola and Temple varieties and if often a problem on grapefruit. Avoid overhead irrigation that spreads scab. Install drip or micro- sprinkler irrigation. Copper sprays also can be applied 2-3 weeks after petal fall, and again 2-3 weeks later to control scab.

Greasy spot: This can be seen on both the top or the underside of the leaf. It looks just like a spot (or many spots) of grease. The main impact of greasy spot is reduction of tree vigor. This is a disease that occurs in the summertime from infected leaves that have fallen on the ground. Once you have greasy spot, the cheapest, simplest, most effective control strategy is to remove and destroy the infected fallen citrus leaves near tree. Make sure you pick up and dispose of these infected leaves. Leaving them around the tree or using them as mulch will cause the disease to recur. Make sure the old infected leaves are destroyed before summer rains occur. Spray the tree with horticulture oil between June 15th and July 15th to control this disease. Copper sprays can also control greasy spot.

Foot rot: This is a very common disease. The first symptoms of foot rot are water soaking of the bark in irregular patches and oozing of varying amounts of gum. Over time, the diseased bark dries out, settles, cracks and weathers off, with the wood beneath the bark stained brown. The canopy may show nutrient deficiency symptoms, especially nitrogen, reduction in leaf and fruit size, leaf drop and dieback, and a general reduction in tree vigor.

The fungus that causes this disease belongs to a group of organisms called “water molds,” which do well under high soil moisture. Symptoms usually occur after heavy rains or excess watering which promote infection of plant tissue. This same fungus also causes brown rot to occur on fruit.

Although mulching can prevent weed growth and conserve water, piling mulch up against the tree trunk makes your tree prone to infection by limiting air circulation. It also provides a path for the fungus to get from the soil to the tree. Anything you can do to encourage air circulation at the base of the tree will help. Prune low hanging branches that scrape the ground (this will also help to control brown rot of fruit) and remove plant and soil debris from around the trunk. Since this fungus usually enters the tree through wound tissue, be very careful when hoeing, mowing or weed whacking around the tree. Any wounds made to the tree can allow infection to occur.

If your tree has already developed foot rot, scrape off the brown, discolored bark and surface wood until you reach healthy wood and paint the exposed area with a copper paint.

Want to know which tools to use for pest and disease management? Homeowners usually only need to apply horticultural oil, insecticidal soap or copper fungicide to control pests and disease.

There are many beneficial-bugs that help to keep pest-bug populations under control. By using horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps most of the beneficial-bugs are saved, while the pest bugs are killed. Beneficial-bugs do us a great service and help to keep most pest-bug populations under control. Using hard chemicals that kill all bugs, including the beneficial-bugs, can actually cause an explosion of pest-bugs to occur. So stay away from the hard, conventional pesticides, especially those that keep killing for a long time. You do NOT need them and they usually make the problem worse.

For other questions about plants call or visit the UF/IFAS Pinellas County Extension Service. Our Lawn and Garden help line is available Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 9 AM to noon and 1 to 4 PM at 727-582-2110. Visit our website at:, or come to our office located at 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo. We are open M-F from 8 AM to 5 PM.

Information for this article was obtained from: Your Florida Dooryard Citrus Guide: Common Pests, Diseases and Disorders of Dooryard Citrus.

November 16, 2009

Before You Shop for the Holidays

Vestina F. Crayton, Extension Specialist – Urban Sustainability, Pinellas County Extension

Whether you believe that we are in a recession or not, most will agree that being an informed and smart consumer is important. With the overwhelming media coverage on climate change, being ‘green’ and the need for renewable energy sources, an increasing number of consumers are becoming more aware and concerned about the impact their daily activities are making on their health, finances and the environment. To address these growing concerns, buyers are diligently searching for ways to improve their quality of life without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Research has shown that if everyone on the planet consumes at the rate that the United States is, it will take four earths to replenish the resources to sustain one earth.

This holiday season, buyers can make a difference by simply making better purchasing decisions.

From fruit to hand lotion, retailers are boasting the environmentally friendly benefits of their goods. While these claims are good and will excite the eager buyer, you must be aware of the possible shortcomings of these claims. Always remember, the retailer’s main objective is to sell their goods.

Here are a few key things to consider before you make that purchase. Whenever practical and possible remember to:
~ Buy locally.

~ Buy
fair trade products.

~ Buy low volatile organic compound (VOC) products. If it is time to replace living room
furniture or flooring, make sure you look for products that use low VOC coatings and sealants.

~ Buy
Energy Star appliances and electronics.

~ Don’t forget to take your own reusable bags to the store.

~ Buy in bulk. In addition to saving you money buying in bulk reduces the amount of packaging needed.

~ Buy recycled products.
Products should have the above mentioned attributes clearly visible on the label. If it does not, ask the sales person to assist you with finding these products.

Think outside the box and be creative with your gift giving this holiday season. For example:

Charitable Contributions – There are many reputable organizations that can help you give your hard-earned dollars to a worthy cause. You can contribute in your name or in a friend or family member’s name. The possibilities are endless. From helping to drill a well for underserved countries where clean water is a luxury, to donating funds to help fight global warming.

Re-Gift - Newlyweds often receive two of the same thing or a gift that does not meet their current needs. Consider giving that extra toaster or those plaid shower curtains to someone on your list.

Donate Your Time – As a family, you can pledge to donate a determined number of volunteer hours to a local organization in need. There are many opportunities right in your own backyard. If you are having trouble identifying a place to volunteer, contact your local Extension office for assistance. Volunteerism is the perfect gift to give to your community and it will also strengthen your family bond by enhancing your teamwork skills.

Before you shop this holiday season, take a moment to think about the potential impacts your purchases can make, do your research, and be innovative.

Hammer. M. & , Papadi. J. 2002, Enviroshopping: Buy Smarter FCS 3158 Retrieved from

Environmental Protection Agency

Energy Star

Charity Navigator

November 9, 2009

Tis’ the Season- Food Safety Tips for the Holidays

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

Soon the smell of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie will fill the air. Family and friends will be gathering around the table for those special holiday dinners. Food safety is something we normally don’t think about when we are busy preparing for the holiday feast. But handling and serving food safely is important to prevent to keep you and your guests healthy during the holiday season.

Here are some simple food safety tips to keep in mind.

Plan ahead and properly defrost your turkey. The rule of thumb for defrosting a turkey is 24 hours for every 5 pounds of bird. Always defrost in the refrigerator and not on the kitchen counter. You can always choose a fresh turkey which should be purchased no more than a day or two ahead of when you plan to cook it.

Cook to proper temperature and use a thermometer. This is the best way to when food is done and to ensure that any potential bacteria are destroyed. For more information on thermometers and internal cooking temperatures check out the following publication.

Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of preparation. Leaving food out too long is one of the biggest holiday food safety problems. After dinner is finished, many of us enjoy catching up with family and friends that we haven’t seen in awhile and forget about the time. However, when food sits out for more than two hours above 40 degrees it is prime for bacterial growth. Therefore, it is important to get food in the refrigerator as soon as the meal is finished. When storing leftovers put them in 2-inch deep, shallow containers and make sure the refrigerator is not over-packed so there is plenty of air circulating around the food so it can be properly cooled. When storing the leftover turkey, cut the meat off the bone. This will allow it to quickly cool to the proper temperature, as well as make it easy to store.

Wash your hands thoroughly and often throughout food preparation. Washing hands is one of the easiest ways to minimize bacterial contamination and keep your food safe. Aim for washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water. Use a water temperature that is comfortable for you. Research has shown that water temperature is not as important as the actual mechanical action of hand washing.

Wash all fresh produce. All produce should be thoroughly washed before eating. This includes produce grown conventionally or organically at home, or produce that is purchased from a grocery store or farmer's market. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking. Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended.

Use care when reheating leftovers. One of the best parts of the holidays is enjoying the leftovers. Always reheat the leftovers to 165 degrees to make sure any bacteria are destroyed. Use those leftovers within 2 to 3 days or freeze them for longer keeping.

For more information on food safety go to

Our best to you and your family for a happy and safe holiday season.

November 2, 2009

Safety Net

Janet Golden, 4-H Agent III, Pinellas County Extension

Today's youth are as comfortable on the internet as previous generations were in brick and mortar gatherings. Youth not only look for information but also develop their own web sites and pages providing information about themselves. In fact many youth know much more about the internet than their parents, especially the social networking aspects. Think about internet as a big city or town with lots of places to go and things to do for young people. Now as a parent would you ever let your child wander free in any city or town without some guidelines or without you there depending on age? I am sure your answer is ‘no’, so the same should hold true for the internet. The following are a few guidelines to teach your youth safety on the web.

~ Make sure your child understands that the internet is not anonymous. Many times young people have email addresses and/or screen names that give away too much information about themselves. Be sure that these never contain their name, town, school, school mascot, favorite sport or activity, or family member names.

~ Chat rooms are very popular with tweens and teens. Remind your child that people online are not always who they say they are. There are many predators that use the internet to engage youth, so just because they say they are a 12 year old girl does not mean it is true. It is important to monitor your child’s chat sessions and/or talk to them about who they are chatting with online.

~ Keep the computer in a family area of the home and not in the child’s room. This allows the parent to monitor and provide support while their child is on the internet. Remember there are not only sexual predators online, but also predators looking to steal identities. Youth are a popular target because they or their parents are less like to run a credit check to see if their identity has been stolen.

~ Understand copyright regulations. Parents are responsible if their child is downloading music and movies without paying for them. It is illegal and you and your child need to understand the regulations.

~ Explore the internet with your child. As I mentioned before, many youth know the internet better than adults so take them time for them to teach you a few things.
If you would like to explore this topic further join me on Wednesday, November 25, 2009 from 12:15-12:45 for a free webinar called Safety Net.


October 28, 2009

Give Thanks for a Crop of New Classes

Attend Pinellas County Extension’s November Classes

Pinellas County Extension offers residents a wide variety of classes to help them make sustainable decisions.

Be sure to check out our lunch break on-line classes, Solutions in 30. Each week this month you will learn or rediscover ways to make your life Greener

Solutions in 30:
November 4 - When Vegetable Gardens Go Bad
November 18 - Protect your Credit During the Holidays
November 25- Safety Net

Commercial (Pesticide/FNGLA/ISA) CEUs:
November 4 - Best Management Practices
November 16 - Best Management Practices @ PTEC in St Petersburg
November 20 - Limited Pesticide License Training and Testing

Lawn & Garden:
November 7 - Compost Happens
November 7 - The Good the Bad and the Ugly of Vegetable Garden
November 11 - Orchids @ Palm Harbor Library

Sustainable Living:
November 17- The Basics of Climate Change
November 17- Green Job Market in Pinellas County

Pathways Adventure Series:
November 7 - Going Native

You can register for classes on-line at Please look for the “Online Class Registration” button on the right hand side near the top of the page.

October 26, 2009

An Ocean of Change

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

There are many environmental impacts attributed to climate change. As scientists begin to understand all the impacts caused by the burning of fossil fuels and build-up of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere, changes are occurring within our oceans.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been researching the impact of CO2 on marine ecosystems. The oceans have absorbed about 50% of the CO2 released from the burning of fossil fuels. This causes chemical reactions that lower ocean pH (measurement of acidity). This has caused an increase in acidity of about 30% since the start of the industrial age through a process known as “ocean acidification.” A growing number of studies have demonstrated adverse impacts on marine organisms.

When CO2 reacts with seawater, the reduction in seawater pH reduces the availability of carbonate ions, which play an important role in shell formation for marine organisms such as corals, marine plankton, and shellfish. This could have profound impacts on some of the most fundamental biological processes of the sea in coming decades. Some of the smaller calcifying organisms are important food sources for higher marine organisms. Declining coral reefs due to increases in ocean temperature and acidification would have negative impacts on tourism and fisheries. Abundance of commercially important shellfish species may also decline and negative impacts on finfish may occur. This rapidly emerging scientific issue and possible ecological impacts have raised serious concerns across the scientific and fisheries resource management communities.

As human processes of energy production and transportation continue to build CO2 levels in the atmosphere, scientists are uncertain what the continuing impacts of ocean acidification will be. We do know that CO2 will continue to build up and oceans will continue to absorb it without intervention. The U.S. is the third largest seafood consumer in the world. Coastal and marine commercial fishing generates as much as $30 billion per year and nearly 70,000 jobs. Healthy coral reefs are the foundation of many of these viable fisheries, as well as the source of tourism and recreation revenues.

Reduction of the use of fossil fuels is a key to reducing the impacts of climate change. Energy conservation, renewable energy production, new transportation options, and better gas mileage for cars are just a few of the solutions. Preserving the health of our oceans is critical to maintaining critical food production for the world.

Climate Change Basics Webinar: November 17, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm – On-Line Registration

NOAA Ocean Acidification -
What is Ocean Acidification?
EPA Climate Change

October 6, 2009

Green at Work: Special Online Series, October, 2009

Join us every Wednesday in October from 12:15-12:45 for an informative series of presentations on being green at work. Experts from various Pinellas County Government departments will share information and tips on how to reduce your environmental impact at work. Many of us are already in the habits of saving water, electricity and recycling at home, but those same practices are just as important in the workplace. Problem is, there is often a lack of resources and commitment in a shared environment. These free presentations will help identify barriers to green practices and suggest ways to overcome them.

On October 7th join Pinellas County Utilities Solid Waste education specialist Tom Roberts for “Cutting Waste at Work.” PC Utilities already has a successful and popular program of the same name in place, and this is available to businesses throughout the county. Tom will explain how this free program works, and will also review the updated Pinellas County Recycling Program.

Some of the benefits of Cutting Waste at Work include: saving money by lowering disposal costs, enhancing your company’s image by demonstrating a commitment to sustainability and improving environmental quality by reducing litter and pollution.

Pinellas County Extension Urban Sustainability Specialist Vestina F. Crayton will provide research-based insight on green purchasing at the office on October 14th. Facts about the value of using green products, how to identify a green product and what the real costs of common materials used at work will be revealed.

These live, online classes are interactive, and you will be able to ask specific questions of our experts throughout.

Are you aware of the air quality in your office or workplace? According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend 90% of our time indoors, yet the quality of the indoor environment is often overlooked. One of the factors that contribute to the quality of indoor air is the presence of hazardous chemicals in the workplace. In addition, handling of these materials can cause problems. Rodney Bolt, Safety Specialist with Pinellas County’s Risk Management Department will provide an overview of where hazardous chemical may be hiding in your workplace, how to safely store, handle and dispose of them, and how to avoid having them in the first place!

On October 28th, James Stevenson, Pinellas County Extension Urban Sustainability Specialist will cover energy conservation in the workplace. Did you know that a PC left on overnight wastes about $50 a year? How many PCs are in your office? Do the math and imagine what you could do with that saved money!

To register for these classes click the “Online Class Registration” button on the front page of and select the “Solutions in 30” tab. You will be walked-through the easy registration process for each class you wish to attend.

We recommend signing-on about 15 minutes prior to the class’ starting time in order to make adjustments to your PC or Mac’s volume settings (you will need speakers or headphones to hear this presentation.)

We look forward to welcoming you to our Green Office Series.

October 5, 2009

4-H National Youth Science Day

By Andrew Yuan, 4-H Youth Mentor, Pinellas County Extension
Next Sunday marks the start of National 4-H Week, the one week out of the year where 4-H is given even more attention and extra celebration. The event is from October 4th to October 10th so mark your calendars.

If you don’t already know, 4-H is a national youth organization dedicated to teaching youth invaluable life skills with a focus on “hands-on” learning. With a motto of “to make the best better” and the popular slogan of “learn by doing” the Florida 4-H program has been going strong for 100 years with the celebration of the Florida 4-H Centennial this year of 2009. 4-H has always been evolving with the times which can clearly be seen with its most recent initiative of the 4-H SET programming which consists of curriculum and events focused on science, engineering, and technology. The 4-H SET programming is still reaching numbers of about 5 million youth a year after its launch and a new curriculum developed by the University of Florida titled “Butterfly Wings” was recently released. The new curriculum teaches youth ages 9-13 about environmental science, citizen science, butterfly biology, identification, habitats, and monitoring.

National 4-H Week will also be off to an interesting start with the 4-H Emblem making its debut appearance in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series race, sported on the back of car driven by Jeff Gordon. This exciting event is just of the tip of the week’s celebration. The real highlight of the week will be the highly anticipated second annual

4-H National Youth Science Day (NYSD) on October 7, 2009. This one day out of the year exemplifies all of the goals of the 4-H SET initiative as youth in 4-H all around the country do the same experiment to learn about a relevant topic. This year’s experiment is called “Biofuel Blast.” Youth all around the country will have the opportunity to learn about alternative energy sources, an extremely important topic in the current global situation. Through the experiment, youth will be making their own biofuel, ethanol, through the simple reaction of yeast and sugars. The main materials for the experiment are balloons, yeast, a plastic container, and corn syrup. Complete kits were available through the National 4-H Mall for any 4-H groups interested in the experiment but the procedure can even be carried out safely from the home with all materials available in local grocery stores.

4-H is well on its way to another successful National Youth Science Day and another successful year with National 4-H Week and new developments always on the horizon.

National 4-H Website
“Butterfly Wings” Curriculum News
4-H Emblem NASCAR News
4-H National Youth Science Day

September 23, 2009

Don't Get Spooked!

Attend Pinellas County Extension’s October Classes

Pinellas County Extension offers residents a wide variety of classes to help them make sustainable decisions.

Be sure to check out our lunch break on-line classes, Solutions in 30. Each week this month you will learn or rediscover ways to make your office Greener

Solutions in 30:
October 7th - Cutting Waste at Work
October 14th - Green Purchasing
October 21st - Chemical Hazard Reduction
October 28th - Energy Conservation

Commercial (Pesticide/FNGLA/ISA) CEUs:
October 3rd - Best Management Practices

Lawn & Garden:
October 20th - Rain Harvesting Workshop
October 28th - Compost Happens

Sustainable Living:
October 15th - The Basics of Climate Change

You can register for classes on-line at Please look for the “Online Class Registration” button on the right hand side near the top of the page.

September 22, 2009

Mold Happens

Vestina F. Crayton, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

For those of us who love sunny days and sandy beaches, Florida is the perfect place to live, work, and play. Not only does Florida provide one of the best environments for water and sunshine loving people, it also provides the perfect place for mold to live, work, and play.

What is mold?
Mold is a type of fungus. It needs warm temperatures, moisture and nutrients to grow and thrive. In order for mold to reproduce, it must produce spores. These spores are released into the atmosphere and are circulating almost all the time. This means, the risk of breathing in these spores is high.

Mold is a fact of nature. Implementing the following four control measures will help minimize mold problems:

*Temperature Control - Keep your indoor temperature below 77 degrees. The optimum temperature for mold growth is between 77 and 86 degrees.

*Moisture Control - Moisture can originate from outdoors and indoors.
o Although you can not control outdoor sources, you can make sure water spills are dried immediately or within 24-48 hours.
o Consider the relative humidity (RH) level. Keeping the RH level below 60% is best. You can purchase a budget-friendly ($10-$50) RH meter from your local home improvement or hardware store.

*Particulate Control – Mold, like any living organism, needs a nutrient source to survive. Soap scum, dirt, and organic materials found in paper products provide a smorgasbord for mold. Dusting, vacuuming with a HEPA filter and cleaning with environmentally preferable products frequently will keep the particulates under control.

*Ventilation – Introducing outside air into your interior spaces is an option if the nighttime temperature outside is 55 o F or below. Check your local forecast. If you live in a naturally humid climate, use air conditioning.

Moisture Removal
Alternating between cycles of heat and air conditioning will help take the moisture out of the air.

*Use 80 o F for the heat followed by two to three hours of 65 o F air conditioning. Continue repeating the alternating cycles until optimum indoor air quality is achieved.

*Dehumidifiers can be used. See the Energy Star chart below for a quick operating reference.According to Energy Star “Dehumidifier capacity is usually measured in pints per 24 hours and is determined by two factors: the size of the space that needs to be dehumidified and the conditions that exist in the space before dehumidification. Use the chart below to estimate the capacity you are looking for.”

Condition without DehumidificationArea (Sq. Feet)
Moderately Damp (space feels damp and has musty odor only in humid weather) *1014182226
Very Damp (space always feels damp and has musty odor. Damp spots show on walls and floor.)1217222732
Wet (space feels and smells wet. Walls or floor sweat, or seepage is present.)1420263238
Extremely Wet (laundry drying, wet floor, high load conditions.)1623303744

* Numbers indicate the capacity in pints per 24 hours. Read the label to determine what capacity you will need based on the area.

Tips for Rooms in the Home

*With all the shampoos, conditioners, body washes and skin exfoliating products we use it is important to clean and dry our bathroom surfaces. The residue and soap scum buildup provides a buffet for mold and mildew

*To keep the relative humidity low, take cooler showers. This can also help to reduce the amount of energy required to heat the water for that must have hot-shower.

*Identify and repair leaky pipes
*Wherever water comes in contact, apply caulking to keep the water out. Such areas would include around the perimeter of the sink.
*Consider louvered doors to allow the flow of air.
*Moisture absorbing material such as desiccants can be used. However, it may not be practical if high humidity is a problem in the rest of the home.

According to the experts, homeowners should check their water heater, washing machine hoses, and bathroom tile grouts for water leaks. These are the main three areas for water damage in the home (Lankarge, 2003).

For Renters
Report all leaks to the appropriate personnel-building owner or manager. Although there are no federal standards for mold or mold spores to measure compliance, sampling can be done to ensure adequate removal and remediation. Sampling should follow the guidelines issued by a professional organization such the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).

Hyun-Jeong, L., Pearl, V. (2007). Moisture Control in Your Home. Part 1: The Basics. UFIFAS EDIS publication FCS3256

Hyun-Jeong, L., Pearl, V. (2007). Moisture Control in Your Home. Part 2: Room by Room. UFIFAS EDIS publication FCS3257

Hyun-Jeong, L., Pearl, V. (2007). Basic Mold Prevention. UFIFAS EDIS publication FCS3255

United States Environmental Protection Agency

Energy Star

September 14, 2009

Toxic Plants

Jean Field, Extension Specialist, Horticulturist II

Poisonous plants have been on the planet since time began, providing us with properties used in medicines and poisons alike. Our contact or ingestion of poisonous plants can cause varying results from a minor skin rash or itchy eyes to difficulty breathing, coma and even death.

How can people and their pets be poisoned by plants?

*Eating plant parts: seeds, roots, flowers, bark, sap, leaves
*Touching plants, their leaves, sap, seeds, flowers, etc...
*Inhaling the pollen from blooms or smoke from burning plants
*Cooking food on the branches of poisonous plants
Let’s take a look at some of the more common plants found in our landscapes that are poisonous to us and our pets.

Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius) One of the worst invasive exotic plants in central and south Florida, the Brazilian pepper causes more damage than simply choking out native ecosystems. Contact with this plant produces a rash similar to its cousin, Poison Ivy. When it blooms, it causes breathing difficulty in some people. The rash can cause inflammation of the eyes and face. Pruning the plant while in bloom is especially irritating. Eating the berries can cause vomiting and stomach irritation.

Cycads: King Sago (Cycas revoluta) is a favorite palm-like plant that is popular in Florida landscapes. Female plants produce red seeds and, if eaten, can cause bloody diarrhea, coma and paralysis. A local veterinarian explained how dogs that eat Cycad seeds go into liver failure. If eaten by humans, seeds of all Cycads are highly toxic and protective gloves should be worn when handling them. Crushed seeds have been used as a fish poison in Australia, the native country of these Cycads.

Lantana (Lantana camara) This popular butterfly-attracting perennial contains poisonous compounds in all parts of the plant, especially the leaves and green berries. A reported death of a child in Tampa resulted from eating the green berries. Handling the new leaves cause a skin rash in sensitive people. Livestock and pets are vulnerable to poisoning from eating leaves, stems and fruit.

Oleander- (Nerium oleander) I am always thankful when new residents to Florida ask me about the toxicity of the Oleander as this showy plant is quite deadly. Always keep children and pets away from eating any part of this plant! Eating one leaf can kill an adult human and children may be poisoned by carrying flowers around in their mouths in play. Skin rashes can occur on sensitive individuals who come in contact with either the green or the brown leaves. Deaths have occurred in people who roasted food on Oleander stems. It is a beautiful and tough plant for the landscape that should be used with extreme caution.

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) A great source of wildlife food and brilliant fall color, Poison Ivy has driven many a hiker to an itching frenzy after brushing against the leaves. The oily sap found in all parts of the plant spreads easily by either direct or indirect contact. Direct contact results from touching the plant. Indirect contact, perhaps the trickiest to avoid, comes from touching animals or clothing that have sap on them. Touching someone’s gardening gloves or their clothing can transfer the Poison Ivy sap to you. Itching and swelling may appear in a few hours to a few days. Approximately 25% of people are not susceptible to poisoning from Poison Ivy, but repeated exposure may cause sensitivity. Eating of the berries and leaves has caused stomach upsets and even death. It’s a good idea to learn what Poison Ivy looks like, especially as a seedling, so you can avoid it at all costs.

Yellow Allamanda (Allamanda cathartica) This ever-blooming plant can be found in either vine or shrub form. The spiny, porcupine-like round seed pods are poisonous if eaten and the white sap can cause skin rashes in sensitive people. If you plant this beauty in your garden, be sure the non-sensitive person does the pruning. Keep fallen seed pods out of the reach of pets and young children

Protect your pets: Make a list of the plants in your landscape to determine if they are toxic to you and your pets. If you are unsure, contact us at the Pinellas County Extension: 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo (727) 582-2110 or check the web resources below. A local veterinarian described the symptoms of plant poisoning in pets: “Most of our plant poisonings are due to ingestion. Symptoms include vomiting, anorexia, yellow mucous membranes (gums, whites of the eyes) and lethargy”.

If you suspect someone has been poisoned, immediately call the local Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222. Their website contains information on poisonous plants, insects and snakes.
Post this information on your refrigerator to have it in a pinch.

We may not be aware that many plants in our own back yards have toxic properties. Until you know if you have toxic plants, keep pets and children from eating suspect leaves, seeds, fruit and other plant parts. Wear long sleeves when pruning or carrying vines and branches to protect your skin. A little research up front can prevent itching, burning and the potential of severe illness from affecting your family and beloved pets.

Printed Materials Referenced:
Cycads, David L. Jones, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993
Guide to the Poisonous and Irritant Plants of Florida, Fl. Extension Service, Circular 441
Poisonous Plants of the Southern United States, Florida Extension Service
Poisonous Plants around the Home, University of Florida, Bulletin 175D

Web Sites Referenced:

August 31, 2009

Plant Health Starts With the Soil

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

Did you know there are more than 70,000 different kinds of soil in the United States?

With all these different kinds of soil you can imagine the variations of their soil properties. How much water or nutrients they hold, their pH and drainage can all be wildly different. Unfortunately for most Florida gardeners our soils are mainly sand. Sand does not hold on to much of anything, so water, nutrients and pollutants flow right through and into our ground water.

Soils are also characterized by their alkalinity (high pH) or acidity (low pH). Most plants prefer soils in the 5.5 to 6.5 pH range, which is slightly acidic. This is also the pH range where most plant nutrients are easily available to plants. When soil pH is either above or below this optimum range plants may start to show nutritional deficiencies (hunger signs) or toxicity symptoms.

Our Florida coastal soils tend to be very alkaline, whereas soils that formed under pine flatwoods can be very acidic. Sea shells, marl and limestone are very high in calcium and are the main reason for our coastal soils being so alkaline. Some calcium-rich building materials such as concrete and stucco can also raise the soil pH. Plants grown in alkaline soils are commonly lacking these plant nutrients: iron, manganese, zinc and boron.

To determine your soil pH you can send a sample to a trustworthy lab such as the University of Florida Extension Soil Testing Laboratory ( Once you know the pH of your soil you can choose the plants best suited to your soil, or understand why some plants are not growing well. Strongly alkaline soils are generally a greater problem in landscapes and proper plant selection is very important. Acid-loving plants such as azalea, ixora, gardenia and blueberry will never do well in an alkaline soil. There is no way to permanently lower the pH of soils formed from high calcium materials, so proper plant selection is critical for plant health.

The University of Florida Extension Soil Testing Laboratory (ESTL) can also provide a fertility analysis. This test tells you how much phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) are in your soil. This report also includes pH, lime and fertilizer recommendations for selected lawn and landscape plants based on your soil sample.

To avoid damage to your landscape plants, always have your soil tested for pH and/or lime requirement before adding lime or sulfur to the soil. If you want to grow plants that are not suited to your soil pH, consider growing them in pots with another soil amended to provide the proper pH.

How to Collect a Soil Sample
1. Identify the area to be sampled. Turf areas, vegetable gardens and ornamental beds should all be sampled separately. Also, any problem areas (such as depressions, rocky areas, etc.) should be sampled separately to avoid contaminating samples from good areas.

2. Using a shovel (or soil probe), remove soil from 10 to 15 locations within the sampling area. Soil should be removed from the top 6 inches. Walk in a zigzag pattern, stopping occasionally to remove soil for the sample.

3. After taking each sub-sample, remove any plant material or mulch and deposit the soil into the plastic bucket. Mix the soil in the bucket to ensure it is well blended.

4. Spread the soil out on a newspaper or paper grocery bag and allow it to dry thoroughly.

5. Once dry, pack approximately 1 pint of soil (fill to the dotted line) into a soil sample bag (available free from your county Extension office). Alternatively, you may pack soil into a zip-top plastic bag.
Soil samples being submitted to the Extension Soil Testing Lab (ESTL) should be accompanied by a completed Landscape & Vegetable Garden Soil Test Information Form ( ) or you can pick up the form at the Extension Office, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo. The ESTL offers two soil tests for the home lawn, landscape and vegetable garden. Test A ($3) includes soil pH and lime requirement analyses; Test B ($7) adds analysis of phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg). Include your check or money order for the test you’ve chosen, along with the form and your soil sample.

If using another soil testing lab, you should contact it first to obtain instructions on how to submit soil samples. Be aware that private laboratories may not use soil tests that are calibrated for our region.

August 26, 2009

Fall into Knowledge!

Attend Pinellas County Extension’s September Classes

Pinellas County Extension offers residents a wide variety of classes to help them make sustainable decisions. Be sure to check out our lunch break on-line classes, Solutions in 30.

The classes being offered in September are:

Solutions in 30:
September 2nd - Incentives for Saving Energy
September 9th - Healthy Home, Healthy Family
September 16th - Don’t get Scammed!
September 23rd - Saving Money by Going Green
September 30th - Green Office

Lawn & Garden:
September 9th @ 2:00pm and 6:15pm - Exploring the World of Bromeliads
September 9th - Landscaping for Wildlife
September 16th - Hurricane Preparedness for the Landscape
September 23rd - Gardening with Wildlife
September 24th - Drought Tolerant Plants
September 26th - Compost Happens
September 30th - Managing Common Landscape Problems

Sustainable Living:
September 12th - Healthy Home, Healthy Family

4-H Youth Development:
Starting September 17th – Embryology 101

You can register for classes on-line at Please look for the “Online Class Registration” button on the right hand side near the top of the page.

August 24, 2009

An Alien Invader

By Dale Armstrong, Coordinator Florida Yards & Neighborhoods

Brazilian pepper, Schinus terebinthifolius, is a fast-growing, multi-trunked shrub or tree that can grow to 30 feet or more in height. In the past, it has commonly been called “Florida Holly”, probably because of the attractive clusters of red berries produced in winter. However, it is neither from Florida nor is it a holly. It is in fact, an alien species from Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.

Actually, we refer to a non-native species as an exotic rather than alien. And when an exotic has the ability to outgrow native species in Florida, we call it invasive. Brazilian pepper certainly qualifies as invasive. Most likely everyone has seen thick growths of Brazilian pepper where virtually all other plants have been smothered and died. Since there are no natural controls here other than freezing temperatures, Brazilian pepper grows unrestrained in south and central Florida.

Controlling this runaway plant in natural areas is difficult and costly, especially in large, remote areas. There isn’t a park or preserve in Pinellas County that does not have to deal with controlling Brazilian pepper and other non-native invasive species. In the home landscape many homeowners do not realize that their Brazilian pepper tree may be spreading thousands of seeds throughout their neighborhood and into natural areas via birds and other wildlife. And when an owner does become aware of the nature of this tree and is interested in getting rid it, the process tends to be expensive. Trees can be cut down and removed, but the stump and roots will re-sprout if not completely removed or treated with herbicides.

You can help by learning to identify Brazilian pepper, both seedlings and mature plants. Many seedlings grow amongst existing landscape plants and are watered, fertilized, and pruned along with other plants in the bed by unsuspecting homeowners and landscape company personnel. Removing seedlings while small is much easier and less costly than dealing with a large tree or shrub later. Brazilian pepper is in the same family as poison ivy, so use caution if you personally handle any part of the plant.

There is much information available to you about Brazilian pepper and other invasive plant species. Certainly Pinellas County Extension is an excellent source for literature and advice from staff, but in addition I have included other resources below.

August 20, 2009

Back to School on a Budget

By: Karen Saley, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

Summer fun is almost over and it’s time to start thinking about getting the kids ready for school again. With all the other bills you may be having to deal with right now, the thought of buying all those school supplies, books and clothes may being weighing heavy on your mind.

According to the National Retail Federation, the economy has changed some of our shopping habits. We’re looking for more sales, using more coupons, buying more store and generic brands and overall spending less.

To help you keep back to school spending to a minimum here a just a few tips.

First and probably most important…have a plan and a budget. Make a list of all the things that your kids need to get them in shape for the new school year. A list will help you remember what you need to buy and keep you from making those impulse purchases. Then make sure you set a dollar amount. Setting a dollar amount and discussing it with you kids will keep all of you on the right track to staying within your budget. Having a plan and budget will save you time and energy. Another little tip is pay with cash. There is no point in doing all the bargain hunting only to charge the items and pay interest on the purchase. Paying with cash will also help keep you from overspending; handing over the greenbacks always hurts a little more than whipping out the credit card.

Before you head out the door and start trekking through all those stores, start at home. Take an inventory of what you already have laying around the house. Gather up all those pens, pencils, erasers and half used notebooks. You probably already have a calculator, backpack and other durable goods from previous years. Remember, recycling is an easy way to save money.

Now it’s time to actually start shopping…but where to start?

Those wonderful dollar stores are a favorite of mine. You can load up on notebooks, pens, pencils and all the other classroom paraphernalia you need for a fraction of the cost of buying it at drug stores and box stores.

Thrift stores are a good source for note books, binder, calculators and sometimes, even books. While you’re there, you can probably find a bargain on a backpack, lunch box or water bottle.

Garage sales are another place to find some great deals on everything from small electronics, to school supplies to clothing.

Speaking of clothing, thrift stores are a goldmine where you can find some real bargains. Shirts, slacks, dresses, jackets and more can be had for as little as a couple of dollars. Many of these stores even carry the latest name brand clothing. So if you have a child that likes the latest fashions, you may be in luck.

Discount outlets can be a great source for inexpensive clothing. Again, name brand clothing as well as off names can be found in these stores at significant savings. In exchange for the great prices, you may just need to invest a little time to search the racks for those great pieces of clothing.

Consignment shops are another great resource for finding trendy clothing. Some people just get tired of wearing the same clothes and decide to get a little cash for those items. Many times clothing in consignment shops shows very little wear and tear.

Trading with friends is another way of saving some big bucks. Kids have been lending their clothing to each other for years. Why not make it a game involving a bunch of friends and trade some of those clothes you’re a little tired of. What may be old and boring to someone else can be fresh and new to your kids.

Thankfully, there are not too many electronic devices that are essential for school. Calculators can be found at a reasonable price at many discount stores or you may know someone who has a slightly used one sitting in a drawer. Computers are another electronic device that can be found for much less than the going retail price if you do a little shopping. Manufacturers recondition some models due to small design flaws that do not really affect the overall performance of the machine. These reconditioned models can sometimes save you a substantial amount of money.

Don’t forget to check newspaper circulars and internet sources for sales and coupons. If you plan on shopping at one of the popular retail stores, check their website for coupons and sales before you go.

Get your kids involved in the back-to-school shopping experience. Just think. They will have had their first lesson in reading, writing, and arithmetic before the school bell actually rings.

August 17, 2009

Solar Power in the Sunshine State (Part II)

By James Stevenson, Extension Specalist, Pinellas County Extension

Photo-voltaic Electricity Generation

In Solar Power in the Sunshine State (Part I), we explored the benefits of including solar power in your overall energy-efficiency package. We then looked closely at the various water-heating systems that can save you approximately 20% of your monthly power bill.

This time we will cover making electricity from sunlight and some of the many ways switching to solar can make you money.

Converting sunlight is to electricity is a fascinating and only slightly complex process.

Light from the sun is referred to as solar electromagnetic radiation. This radiation is made up of little bundles of energy called photons which can behave like waves (think: microwaves and radio waves) as well as behaving like an object with physical properties. The wave-like radiation is broken down into five categories based on the wavelengths; these include familiar UV radiation as well as visible light.

When the photons behave like objects they can produce electricity. When these “solar fastballs” strike certain atoms, they can knock them with such force as to disrupt the electrons associated with those atoms. This disruption causes a release of energy and makes the electrons “excited”. When these “excited” electrons move in a particular direction this is referred to as “current.” Sound familiar?

The current produced is Direct Current (DC), which needs to be converted to Alternating Current (AC) for practical use. In order to do this you need a photovoltaic (PV) device. PV converters have very few parts: a surface covered with a material made up of “excitable” electrons, a simple magnet to move those electrons in one direction, a converter that will change DC power to AC, and the most important part: the Sun.

Currently the most popular material used to provide electrons for knocking about is silicon. Now, silicon is a pretty abundant material, it is what sand is made of. But getting PURE silicon is a tricky and expensive procedure. This makes PV systems costly. Other concerns with silicon are the production process and environmental impacts. However compared to the environmental, social, and geo-political impacts of our dependence on oil as our primary energy source, and solar comes up looking pretty good! In addition, materials other than silicone are being researched, with some success.

Some think that the heat of the sun is somehow a factor in producing PV electricity. Interestingly, the system works a bit less efficiently in extremely high temperatures. Therefore, even though the desert southwest of the US may receive more hours of daylight than Florida, the heat there makes PV systems much more inefficient, therefore making Florida nearly perfect for efficient solar energy production.

There are incentives for including solar energy, both thermal and photo-voltaic into your energy system. Any solar energy system, including the more affordable water-heating systems, is not subject to sales tax. In addition, you can claim 30% of the total cost of the project (including installation) as an income tax write-off as long as the system is operational by December 31st 2010. There is currently a measure before the Florida lawmakers that would prevent the addition of solar technology from adding to a home’s value and driving up the taxable value of that home.

If you are interested in learning more about Solar Power in the Sunshine State, please join us on Saturday, August 22nd here at Pinellas County Extension for a solar energy workshop. Experts from Progress Energy and the Solar Source Institute will be giving lectures and answering questions from 9:30 – 12:00. In addition several local vendors of solar products and services will be displaying their good in a mini-trade show, all right in our main auditorium.

This class is $15 and registration is required by Thursday, August 20. We can not accept walk-ins on the day as space is limited. To register, visit and select the “Online Class Registration” button. Then look for the Sustainable Living tab. We hope to see you there!