April 30, 2009

Pinellas County Extension’s May 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 May are:

Solutions in 30:
May 6th - Strong Families Work together in Tough Times
May 13th - Parenting Teens in Tough Times Part 1
May 20th - Parenting Teens in Tough Times Part 2
May 27th - Managing Stress in Tough Times

Commercial Horticulture:
May 19th - 4 hr ID Card Holder Training
May 19th (1pm-3pm)- 2 hr ID Card Holder Training
May 19th (3pm-5pm)- 2 hr ID Card Holder Training
May 21st - Limited Pesticide License Training and Testing

Sustainable Living:
May 6th - Green Office Webinar
May 19th – Green Purchasing Webinar
May 21st – Lighting Your way the Energy Efficiency Webinar

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.

April 27, 2009

Federal Stimulus Funding Available for Energy Efficiency Home Improvements

By James Stevenson, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

The recently-passed Stimulus Bill (The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) contains changes and additions to previous energy efficiency tax credits. These changes include:

· an extension of credits available for 2009 to 2010,
· a credit amount increase from 10% to 30%,
· credits formerly ascribed a dollar amount have been converted to 30% of the cost of the project
· maximum credit has been increased to $1500, except for some major projects like geothermal heat pumps, solar panels and solar water heaters
· the $200 maximum per window has been removed, but windows must meet stricter efficiency requirements than before

So what are you going to buy?

Windows and Doors
Exterior windows and doors that effectively reduce leakage, improve insulation and reduce heat transfer are eligible for credits. Exterior doors and windows are given a “U-Factor” rating. The U-factor is a measure of the heat transfer through a window or door (or skylight) and indicates how well the product insulates. The lower the U-factor the greater the resistance to heat flow in and out and the better its insulation value. U-factor values range from 0.25 (most efficient) to 1.25. To qualify for tax credits, windows and doors must have a U-factor of at least 0.30.

Another performance rating is the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient or SHGC. This measures how well a product blocks out the sun’s heat. As with the U-factor, the SHGC is most efficient and effective when the rating is a lower number. SHGC is measured on a scale from 0 to 1 and values typically fall in the 0.25 – 0.80 range. As with U-factor, to qualify for tax credits, the SHGC must be at least 0.30.

The information on energy performance may be found on the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) label that is required of all windows and doors. The NFRC is an independent non-profit organization that provides standards and consistent labeling for energy efficiency for the industry supplying windows, doors and skylights.

Storm windows and doors are also eligible for tax credits. The credit, as for external windows and doors would be 30% of the total cost (NOT including installation) up to $1500. Storm windows and doors must simply be in compliance with the 2000 International Energy Conservation Code or the 2004 supplement of the 2003 Code. This information would be found on the Manufacturer Certification Statement. This is a signed statement made by the manufacturer of a window/door that certifies that the product or component qualifies for the tax credit. If you purchase storm windows/doors, be sure to keep a copy of this statement, although it is not necessary to submit a copy with tax returns.

Water Heaters
If your water heater has been working for the past 10 years or more, it might be time to retire it. Water heating is often the third largest energy expense in the home (after heating and cooling) and can account for 13-17% of your utility bill (FCS3277, 2008.) There are tax credits to cover 30% (up to $1,500) of your purchase of a gas, oil, or propane systems. For these systems, check for the EnergyStar label, and for an Energy Factor of greater than or equal to 0.82. The Energy Factor (EF) is the ratio of useful energy output from the water heater to the total amount of energy delivered to the water heater. The higher the EF is, the more efficient the water heater (FCS3277, 2008.)

Solar water heaters also qualify, but they must derive half of the energy necessary to heat the water from the sun. Luckily here in Florida that is not much of a problem!

Roofing and Insulation
As with most of the other qualifying home energy-efficiency improvements, there are tax credits for 30% or up to $1,500 (installation not included) for roofing and insulation improvements. All EnergyStar rated metal and asphalt roofs qualify.

In addition to the above products that can help your home become more energy efficient and reduce your monthly energy bill, there are others that qualify for Federal tax incentives.

Make sure you have done your research when making any home improvement purchases, and if you are interested in tax credits, the links below should be helpful.

Federal Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency – EnergyStar
Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit – IRS Form 5695
Tax Incentives Assistance Project
Energy Efficient Home Series – University of Florida /IFAS Extension

April 24, 2009

FDA sets up database of recalled pistachio products

By Janice Wade-Miller, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

At Pinellas County Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences want you to be aware of all potential food hazards so that you can make knowledgeable decisions about the food you buy for yourself and your family. In an effort to keep you informed, we are releasing the following FDA pistachio update. Please follow the FDA’s instructions so that you are not affected by this foodborne illness.
The list of recalled pistachio products associated with a California processing plant where salmonella was found continues to grow. As it did with the ongoing peanut recall, the Food and Drug Administration has set up a searchable database of pistachio products that today features 73 products. That pales in comparison to the 3,878 recalled peanut products. Both recalls are expanding daily.The most recent pistachio recalls were made by Publix, Kroger and Whole Foods supermarkets.The pistachios used in the recalled products were supplied by Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc., which is recalling pistachios from the 2008 crop year. The FDA is advising consumers not to eat any brand of shelled or unshelled pistachios, or any food products containing pistachios, such as baked goods, trail mix, and other snack foods, until the agency determines the scope of the Setton recall.
The FDA’s ongoing list of recalled pistachio-containing products can be found on the website below.

If you have any questions or concerns on this issue, please call us at 582-2100 and we will do our best to help you.

April 20, 2009

Some Common Nutrient Deficiencies of Plants in the Home Landscape

Andy Wilson, Senior Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

Plants need 16 essential nutrients to grow and remain healthy. Deficiencies of any of these can interfere with a plant’s normal appearance, growth and other characteristics. In this article we will look at 4 very common nutrient deficiencies of plants in our area, potassium, magnesium, manganese and iron deficiencies.

Potassium is used in large quantities by plants. It is important in healthy root growth, flowering, tolerance to drought and other environmental stresses. Potassium deficiency is especially common in palms.

The symptoms vary somewhat with different kinds of palms but in general, potassium deficiency causes a premature yellow to orange discoloration of the older lower fronds, with browning of the tips of the leaflets. On some kinds of palms, like the Canary Island date palm, yellowish translucent spots also appear in the older fronds.

Potassium deficiency is also very common on orchid trees on which it produces yellowing between the veins in the leaves (called interveinal chlorosis) with some browning at the edges of the leaves and often some areas of browning between the veins of the leaves also. With mangos the older leaves brown at their tips in a way that could be easily mistaken for a fertilizer burn or browning from drought injury.

Potassium deficiencies can usually be corrected with applications of complete fertilizers or by applying potassium supplements like sulfur-coated potassium sulfate. Mild to moderate potassium deficiency on palms can usually be corrected by applying an 8-2-12-4 palm fertilizer (specifically that analysis and with micronutrients that are in the sulfate form) at least 4 times per year.

Magnesium deficiency is very common on many kinds of plants grown in our area including some kinds of palms, ornamentals, citrus and vegetables. Magnesium is a component in chlorophyll, the green pigment that is found in plants. Plants deficient in magnesium usually show a premature yellowing of the older, lower leaves that begins at the edge of the leaves and works inward or with an interveinal chlorosis of the older leaves.

Magnesium deficiency is very common on Canary Island date palm. Magnesium deficiency in palms can be confused with potassium deficiency, however, in palms magnesium deficiency doesn’t cause browning of the leaflets whereas potassium deficiency does. Often both deficiencies are present.

Magnesium deficiency is also very common on poinsettias, often appearing late in the summer. As with many other plants, magnesium deficiency causes a yellowing of the older leaves, beginning at their edges and moving inward. On poinsettias, unlike palms, after the yellowing begins, the edges of the leaves begin to turn brown and roll up and die. Eventually the leaves drop from the plant and a poinsettia plant that is severely deficient in magnesium may eventually be bare of leaves along the lower parts of the stems with only a few leaves left at the stem tip.

To prevent or control magnesium deficiency, magnesium sulfate can be applied to the soil around the plants. For plant beds the amount usually recommended is about 2 cups (one pound) per 100 square feet of bed area. For palms, about 2 to 5 pounds per palm is needed per application. Magnesium sulfate can usually be purchased where fertilizers are sold. Kieserite is a slower release, longer lasting form of magnesium sulfate that is preferable where available.

A third common nutrient deficiency of plants is manganese deficiency. Although “manganese” and “magnesium” have similar spellings, deficiencies of these two nutrients produce different symptoms. Manganese deficiency produces a yellowing between the veins of the leaves and, unlike magnesium deficiency, the symptoms begin on the newer growth. Manganese deficiency is quite common in some kinds of palms, in which it is often called “frizzle top”, since the deficiency causes the new growth to be stunted and burned in appearance. Palms can eventually die if manganese deficiency in not corrected. Manganese deficiency can be corrected with soil applications of manganese sulfate, in some cases supplemented with spray applications of solutions of manganese sulfate.

A forth deficiency is iron deficiency, and like manganese deficiency produces yellowing between the veins of the newer leaves. The main difference in the appearance of these symptoms is that the green veinal areas produced by iron deficiency are relatively narrow while those produced by manganese deficiency are broader. Iron deficiency is very common on azaleas, gardenias and ixoras.

Being aware of these common nutrient deficiencies can help you to take action to correct them more quickly if they develop in your landscape.

Nutrient Deficiency Symptoms of Woody Ornamental Plants in South Florida

April 13, 2009

Walking Trees

By Betty Lipe, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

Have you ever heard of the term “walking trees”? It was inspired by the red mangrove, Rhizaphora mangle. The red mangrove grows along the water’s edge and is easily identified by its tangled, reddish roots called prop roots. These roots have earned mangroves the title “walking trees”. The mangrove appears to be standing or walking on the surface of the water.

Black mangrove, Avicennia germinans usually occupies slightly higher elevations upland from the red mangrove. The black mangrove can be identified by numerous finger-like projections, called pneumatophores, which protrude from the soil around the tree’s trunk.

White mangrove, Laguncularia racemosa, usually occupies the highest elevations farther upland than either red or black mangroves. Unlike its red or black counterparts, the white mangrove usually has no visible aerial root systems, although in the right environmental conditions, they will grow pneumatophores and prop roots. The easiest way to identify the white mangrove is by its leaves. They are elliptical, light yellow green and have two distinguishing glands at the base of the leaf blade where the stem starts. The glands, called nectarines, excrete sugar attracting and feeding many insects.

Mangroves are one of Florida’s true natives. They thrive in salty environments because they are able to obtain fresh water from saltwater. Mangrove systems help purify the water in estuaries by filtering the runoff that flows into the estuaries from upland regions. The relationship between mangroves and their associated marine life cannot be overstated. By trapping sediment, mangroves actually stabilize the soil while the roots and vegetation help prevent shoreline erosion. The mangrove prop roots create a maze-like “nursery” beneath the water where young crabs, shrimp and small fish such as snook and mullet can swim, but the large fishes that prey on them cannot. The prop roots also provide a place for oysters, barnacles and anemones to attach while birds like the top of the trees as roosting sites. Mangroves provide a multi-tiered habitat for a diversity of wildlife.

Tampa Bay is in the northern range of the mangrove swamp ecosystem. This is due to sensitivity to freezing temperatures. Mangroves can reach a height of 80 feet, hence the name mangrove forest. Mangroves help to buffer the storm waves and winds and provide protection to inland areas. Mangroves can be naturally damaged and destroyed, but there is no doubt that the human impact has been most severe. Scientists have been able to evaluate habitat changes by analyzing aerial photographs from the 1940’s and 1950’s and comparing it to current satellite imagery and aerial photography. Frequently the changes illustrate loss of mangrove acreage, particularly in the Tampa Bay area. As one of the ten largest ports in the nation, Tampa Bay has lost over 44 percent of its coastal wetlands acreage of both mangroves and salt marshes in the last 100 years. As mangroves are removed, invasive species such as Brazilian pepper and Australian pines have taken hold, further reducing the amount of native habitat.

Today mangroves on public and private lands are protected through local ordinances because of their value to the surrounding ecosystem. For further information on laws protecting mangroves go to

Florida 4-H youth learn about mangroves and their ecosystems through the Forest and Marine Ecology projects and competitions. For more information on the 4-H marine programs go to: For information on the 4-H forestry program go to


April 10, 2009

Managing in Tough Times - Controlling Stress Through a Healthy Lifestyle

By Jan Wade-Miller, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

During tough economic times, our stress levels increase, which makes eating well and being active more important than ever. Balanced nutrition is essential to overall good health, but it also can affect your ability to cope with stress. Stress can be a problem in itself. But stress can sometimes lead to unhealthy lifestyle patterns—which lead to more stress!

Can Certain Foods Increase My Stress?
You may not realize that there are substances which produce dietary stress in what you regularly eat and drink. For instance:
Caffeine is a stimulant. It mimics the effects of adrenaline.
• A high sugar intake may increase stress, putting you on a blood sugar roller coaster.
Chronic dieting and fasting can also add to dietary stress by placing extra demand on your hormonal system to maintain adequate body fuel levels in the face of inadequate food intake.
Some of the above substances are low in nutrients plus they rob your body of its stores of nutrients. Some also stimulate heart rate, affect mood, behaviors and brain chemistry and may compound the health issues associated with stress. Enjoy sweets and caffeine occasionally but avoid them during the day as you can experience huge dips and surges in your energy levels.

What Foods Should I Give Up?
You shouldn’t have to give up any food unless you have a particular health problem. Put variety into your eating plan. Make sure you eat from all the major food groups daily, including lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

What Foods Will Help with Stress Management?
The B-vitamins support the entire nervous system. The B-vitamins are also essential to energy production, provide support to the immune system and help maintain regular blood sugar levels, which may become high due to stress. Foods that contain B-vitamins include Brewer’s yeast, liver, soy, broccoli, legumes, fresh meats, unprocessed, whole grain foods, lentils, salmon, corn, nuts, sunflower seeds, egg and citrus fruit.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant. Most people know that vitamin C helps improve immunity, but it also has been found to reduce blood pressure and reduce the actual symptoms of stress. Foods that contain vitamin C include citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, melon, tomatoes, broccoli, mango, and red and green bell peppers.

Protein-rich foods help maintain a stable blood sugar. Eating them slows down the rate at which sugar is released into your bloodstream and keeps your blood sugar balanced. It also keeps you feeling full longer, making you less likely to grab for a high-calorie sweet snack. Food such as cheese, milk, yogurt, eggs, fish, meats, legumes (beans and lentils), peanut butter, poultry and tofu should be included in your diet.

Magnesium helps with muscle relaxation and heartbeat regulation. Studies have shown that it helps with insomnia and anxiety, two issues common in people under chronic stress. Foods that contain magnesium include dairy, meat, eggs, fish, seafood, green leafy vegetables, nuts, tofu, and whole grains.

Essential fats like omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids can only be obtained through our diet. They promote the flow of nutrients into cells and allow waste products to escape from the cells. Seafood such as salmon and other oily fish contain omega-3 fatty acids and appear to help relieve mild depression. Food sources of these essential fatty acids include nuts (almonds, walnuts), oils (canola, flax, soybean), oily fish (salmon, sardines, tuna), and seeds (flax, pumpkin).

Other stress fighting tips?
  • Go for walks. Regular exercise will burn calories, relieve stress and increase your sense of well-being.
  • Take a long, relaxing, warm bath
  • Take a yoga class to stretch those tense muscles
  • Use deep-breathing exercises
  • Stretch to help relieve tension
  • Develop a support network to rely on in times of need
  • Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings concerning the stressors in your life
  • Listen to music
  • Read for pleasure
  • Learn a simple meditation technique
Using some of these ideas can make a big difference in your physical and emotional reactions to the stresses in your life.

Stress Management: Understanding Stress
Stress Management: Strategies for Individuals