January 27, 2010

Grow Your LOVE for Learning with Extension Programs

Attend Pinellas County Extension’s February 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 how to protect your child from cyberbullying, solar energy in the sunshine state, how to kick start your garden for the spring and teaching your kids to be money-smart.

Solutions in 30:
February 3, 2010 - Cyberbullying and Cybercitizenship
February 10, 2010 - Teaching Your Kids to be Money Smart
February 17, 2010 - Solar Power in the Sunshine State

Families and Consumers:
February 8, 2010 - Focus on Finances

Commercial (Pesticide/FNGLA/ISA) CEUs:
February 3, 2010 - Best Management Practices

Lawn & Garden:
February 2, 2010 - Concepts of Landscape Design
February 6, 2010 - Reaping the Rewards
February 10, 2010 - Rain Harvesting Workshop at 2:00 pm
February 10, 2010 - Rain Harvesting Workshop at 6:15 pm
February 16, 2010 - Landscape Design Clinic
February 23, 2010 - Landscape Maintenance
February 24, 2010 - Garden Design

Sustainable Living:
February 4, 2010 - Green Job Market in Pinellas County
February 13, 2010 - Greening Child Care Facilities
February 17, 2010 - Pinellas County Green Business Partnership
February 18, 2010 - GreenStar ADVANCED
February 20, 2010 - Solar Power in the Sunshine State

Pathways Adventure Series:
February 6, 2010 - Herbal Essence Experience

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.

January 25, 2010

Easy Resolutions to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient

By James Stevenson, Sustainability Educator, Pinellas County Extension

Part III: Plug Load and Phantom Power Load

In previous articles, we have looked at ways to save energy and money by helping the biggest users of electricity, the HVAC system and water heater, operate more efficiently. The chart on the right shows the break-down of an average home’s energy use. What we will concentrate on in this article is the overall draw of power from various appliances (Plug Load,) and the mysterious and slow-killer, Phantom Power Load.

These two factors can represent up to 25% of your home’s energy consumption. Therefore any savings that can be made could make quite a difference on your electric bill.

Plug Load
We’ll start with appliances, and the amount of energy they draw. Older appliances like refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers, room air conditioners, etc. may not be as energy efficient as newer models. This is due in part to newer, energy efficient technology and to the inefficiencies that build-up in any appliance over time. By now you may have purchased a new, energy-efficient refrigerator several times over, simply by adding up the wasted energy you’ve already paid for! The extra refrigerator in the garage could possibly be the older one from inside that started being less efficient and thus was banished to the hottest, dirtiest room of the house—creating a situation where it has to work even harder (that is, draw much more electricity) to keep those Diet Cokes cool!

If it is time to replace an old appliance, (and there are incentives right around the corner) please consider these three different cost factors when looking at the price—which is, for most of us, the deal maker/breaker.
1. Purchase Price – OK, this one is pretty easy to understand. Refrigerator A costs $X and Refrigerator B costs $2X and is more energy efficient. It is likely that many of you may say “let’s get the cheaper one and go home” but did you consider the “hidden”

2. Upkeep Cost – Have you heard the expression “you get what you pay for?” Of course you have. And it is true. A quality-built appliance will generally have much lower maintenance costs. Items like refrigerators tend to choose the worst possible moment
to break-down (like the eve of a holiday with the whole family coming…sound familiar?)

3. Energy and Water Costs – These costs will certainly not be DECREASING in the near (or distant) future, so preparing now for increased utility rates makes quite a lot of sense. Look for the EnergyStar®
and Florida Water Star™ logos when making an appliance purchase to ensure you are buying a product that will perform to your highest expectations AND use fewer resources.

In April of this year, the Florida Energy and Climate Commission will begin a two-week Florida EnergyStar® Appliance Rebate Program. This short-lived program will allow for a 20% rebate on the purchase price of an EnergyStar® rated appliance. For more information on this exciting offer, see our Thinking Green post from December 1, 2009.

Phantom Power
For some reason, over the past twenty years or so, manufacturers of electronic equipment and gadgets have included little red and green lights on their products. They don’t really DO anything, except let you know they are on. How very convenient! Not. What all these little lights ARE doing, however, is using your money to light your way around the house in the middle of the night. No thanks. If you are not using a piece of equipment, then unplug it. You’ll KNOW it is off then! Use a power strip to make turning several pieces of equipment off at once. Make a ritual of slaying the energy phantoms (or “Vampires” as they are called) every night before bed.

"Energy vampires are everywhere in your home," said Bill Eberle, Efficiency and Innovative Technology Analyst for Progress Energy Florida. "And they are using energy 24 hours a day, which can add up quickly to five percent of your monthly energy bill."

We hope you have learned a few energy efficiency tips in these last few articles. We will continue to bring you the latest news and research-based information to help you make decisions about your home’s energy use and how to make the most of opportunities available.

Join us February 20 for Solar Power in the Sunshine State. Doug Gregory, UF/IFAS Monroe County Extension Specialist will provide an overview of solar technology and how to decide if it is the right choice for you. On March 20, we will host experts from Progress Energy who will explain the various incentives, rebates and credits available from the company to make energy efficient changes to your home. Pinellas County extension specialists will provide information on state and federal incentives as well. Sigh up for either class by visiting our online registration site


Energy Efficient Homes: Appliances in General -

My Florida Home Book 2.7: Saving Energy in the Home -

Progress Energy Warns Against Energy Vampires -

January 22, 2010

Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ Online Challenge Press Release

Barbara O’Neill, Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management
Rutgers Cooperative Extension

Just in time to keep those New Year’s resolutions to improve health and personal finances, Rutgers Cooperative Extension is launching its new online Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ (SSHW) Challenge Web site with “SSHW Worldwide Challenge 2010.” This free six-week program, open to anyone who enrolls online, will be held from Sunday, January 17, through Saturday, February 27. Prizes will be awarded for participants who report the highest point totals.

To sign up for the SSHW Challenge, follow the “Challenges” link on the Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ Web site at Set up a user name and password and download a simple one-page user’s guide with instructions about how to proceed. Enroll in the Challenge titled “SSHW Worldwide Challenge 2010.”

The SSHW Challenge is part of Small Steps to Health and Wealth™, a national Cooperative Extension program developed to motivate Americans to take action to simultaneously improve their health and personal finances. SSHW was built around a framework of 25 research-based behavior change strategies. The Challenge was originally developed in a “paper and pencil” format with printed worksheets and is now available online.

It has been well documented that, when people monitor their behavior and measure their how they’re doing, they are often inspired to do better and achieve positive results. Participants in a SSHW Challenge are “on their honor” to report their activities accurately. If they “cheat” on reporting their points, they are only cheating themselves by not following the recommended daily practices.

The SSHW Challenge is based on the performance of ten recommended practices on a daily basis: five that involve health and nutrition and five that involve financial management. Ten points are given for performing each one for a maximum of 700 points per week and 4,200 points for the entire challenge. “The Challenge is a great way to convert ambitious New Year’s resolutions, like losing weight and saving money, into daily action steps,” noted Barbara O’Neill, Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management for Rutgers Cooperative Extension.

The five daily health and nutrition practices are:

~ eat at least 4 cups of fruits and vegetables
~ get at least 30 minutes of exercise
~ drink water or unsweetened beverages instead of sugar-sweetened
~ walk 10,000 or more steps with a pedometer
~ and learn something new about health and nutrition

The five daily financial management practices included in the SSHW Challenge are:
~ save a $1 bill (or more) and/or pocket change
~ invest $5 or more per day (including automated retirement savings plan deposits)
~ track money spent throughout the day
~ eat lunch prepared at home
~ and learn something new about personal finance.
The latter activity, for both health and personal finances, can be accomplished by visiting Web sites, attending seminars, or by reading, listening to, or viewing media reports.

As participants enter their personal data, they will see their point totals for each day of the week and for each of the ten activities described above. They’ll also see a bar graph that compares their personal progress to the average scores of everyone else participating in the Challenge. Daily motivational messages will also be provided to participants. Paper tracking forms can be downloaded to keep track of daily activities until they are entered online.

Doing even one of the ten recommended daily practices is a great way to get started on the path to better health and improved financial security. The more SSHW Challenge activities that are performed by participants, the better. To sign up for “SSHW Worldwide Challenge 2010,” visit

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January 19, 2010

Ask Extension Your Questions

The University of Florida/Pinellas County Extension has just launched a new online program called Ask Extension to help you get immediate answers any time of the day to your frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the following subject areas:

· 4-H Youth Development
· Commercial Horticulture
· Florida Friendly Landscaping
· Health and Nutrition
· Money Matter
· Sustainable Living
You can get answers to your questions by visiting, while also having access to research based fact sheets, websites, and multi-media presentations. When you go to you can use the search box or choose a category to view the FAQs. If you cannot find the answers to the your questions then select the ‘contact’ link in the tool bar at the top of the site and submit a question. If you provide your name and email address a response will be sent to you directly, as well as included on the site. By asking questions that are not currently on our site, you are helping us build our question base, thereby helping others who are looking for the same information. You can also help us evaluate our site by selecting ‘helpful’ or 'not helpful’ after reading the response to the question and by posting a comment.

It is the goal of the University of Florida/Pinellas County Extension to provide you with the most up-to-date research-based information and Ask Extension is another way of making that possible. If you have any questions about this site please contact (727) 582-2100 and ask for the Distance Education department.

January 11, 2010

New Foods for a New Year: Adding new fruits and vegetables to your diet.

By Wendy N. Brown, Dietetic Intern, Bay Pines VA Healthcare SystemPinellas County Extension

Bored with the same foods from day to day? Want to try something new? Reach for a fruit or vegetable! Fruits and vegetables are low in calories, contain an assortment of vitamins and minerals, such as iron, vitamin C, and potassium, and may reduce the risk of some diseases.

The following are five helpful ideas to help you get started.
1. Vary the variety. Any type of fruit or vegetables is good: fresh, frozen, dried, canned or 100% juice. A mix of different textures, colors, and taste will add diversity to each meal. When choosing fruits and vegetables that are canned or dried look for lower sodium options and fruit that is canned in its own juice rather than heavy syrup.

2. A good cup or two will do. Depending on your physical activity level, the average adult American needs two cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables per day (based upon a 2,000-calorie intake), with higher or lower amounts depending on the calorie level. An example of one fruit serving is a large banana or eight large strawberries. For vegetables, one cup chopped cucumber or twelve baby carrots are considered one serving.

3. For everything there is a season. Fruit and vVegetable availability is based upon where you live and the season of the year. Some foods available year round include: avocados, bell peppers (green, red, orange, yellow), mushrooms, papaya and spinach. During the winter months (December, January, and February), apples, brussels sprouts, grapefruit, kiwi fruit, winter squash (acorn, butternut) and sweet potatoes are readily available. So, explore your options, be creative in your choices and try one or two new fruits/vegetables per week. For more information on locally grown produce go to

4. Remember the Rainbow. Add variety to your meals by choosing from a range of colors: red, yellow/orange, green, white, blue/purple or tan/brown. Each color of the fruit or vegetable provides many different important nutrients our bodies need, such as antioxidants. The antioxidants found in red foods, such as tomatoes and grapes, protect cells from harmful damage and help to keep our hearts healthy. Antioxidants vitamins A and C found in orange/yellow foods and help to reduce the risk of heart disease as well as helping to maintain eye health. Many other nutrients as well as those mentioned above are found in other fruits and vegetables. The more of a variety of these fruits and vegetables you consume, the more variety of powerful nutrients you put into your body.

5. Be creative with your meals. Find innovative ways to incorporate new fruits and vegetables into your meals. Add a vegetable or two to soups and casseroles, drink 100% fruit juice instead of soda, add two to three fruits to a salad for a colorful topping or include a new vegetable in a sandwich wrap. Search through cookbooks or family recipes and find new ways to include new food items with your favorite dishes.

For more information about fruit and vegetable nutrition go to:

Start the New Year off right by finding creative ways to include new fruits and vegetables into your daily diet.

January 7, 2010

Easy Resolutions to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient

By James Stevenson, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

Part II: Heating Water

A charming colloquialism has worked it way into our language. I often hear people refer to a “hot-water heater.” In fact, it is a cool-water heater; hot water really does not need to be heated at all! Whatever you call it, the water heating system in the average home can consume up to 20% of your energy expenditure.

Last time we looked at no-cost and low-cost ways to make your HVAC (heating ventilation and air conditioning) system work more efficiently. Hopefully you’ve made a few changes and have started seeing a difference in your energy costs. Now we will explore ways to make your current water heating system run smoothly and efficiently. We will start with a few tips and tricks that won’t cost you much at all:
1. If your water heater is older than 10 years, it is probably time to replace it with an energy-efficient (EnergyStar® rated) model. Also, if your household has changed since the unit you are currently using was purchased, perhaps it is time to down-size. Certainly a young family of four will use much more hot water than a couple with an “empty nest.”

2. Locate the owner’s manual. If you have misplaced it, it is likely that it will be available online or from the dealer. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the anatomy of your system, locate the thermostat. Setting the temperature to 120ºF will provide you with plenty of hot water for bathing and washing clothes. Dishwashers are designed to work best at 140ºF and newer models have pre-heating elements. You may need to determine if your dishwasher has one of these elements. Speaking of elements… be aware that most tank-style water heaters have two heating elements and it is important that they are both set to the same temperature.

3. Drain about a quart of water out of the storage tank every three months or so. In our hard-water area, sediment can build-up and cause to unit to run less efficiently.

4. Install a timer, so the unit will not be working when you don’t need it (for instance overnight or during the day if you are out of the house.) This would function like the programmable thermostat recommended for HVAC efficiency.

5. Take advantage of Progress Energy’s EnergyWise program (part of the very popular Save the Watts campaign.) In this arrangement, Progress will install a device to electric equipment in your home (your choice, usually HVAC and / or water heater.) This device is controlled by Progress Energy and can cut power to devices in the event of an unusually high energy demand in the community. Progress Energy suggests that you could save over $145 a year by participating in this program.

6. Insulating the unit and pipe work to prevent heat loss though these areas. Older units are particularly poorly insulated, newer models are usually pre-insulated. UF suggests insulating the first 3 – 4 feet of pipe work leaving the storage unit.

7. And of course, practice water water saving techniques: use low-flow faucets and showerheads, take quick showers, wash full loads in the clothes and dish washers, etc. it will all add up.
If you do decide to replace your water heating system, you have an abundance choice. Depending on your lifestyle, number of people living in your home, and other factors, different systems may be best for you.

Perhaps it is time to make the change to solar water heating. If you install a solar water heater before December 31st of this year, you will qualify for Federal Tax Incentives of 30% of the cost of the project. In Florida solar equipment is, at the time of this article, exempt from state sales tax. But this may not last forever. In addition, Progress Energy will give you $450 in upfront credit if you install a solar system, and $60 in credits every year.

For more information on the different types of water heaters and how to choose the one that is right for you, see Energy Efficient Homes: Water Heaters from the University of Florida.

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

Energy Efficient Homes: Water Heaters -

EnergyStar®’s Residential Water Heaters -

Progress Energy’s Home Energy Check -

January 4, 2010

Citizen Science

By Andrew Yuan, 4-H Youth Mentor, Pinellas County Extension

Citizen science is a way for everyone to be scientist. It is an approach to experimentation or data collection that allows everyone to get involved in the scientific method. The main principle of citizen science is to take advantage of the existing workforce and turn the common citizens into researchers. With just a little bit of direction, anyone can become a scientist.

The way it works is a group scientists or even just one scientist creates a simple set of instructions for data collection and then distributes it to the public. Once the “citizen scientists” have finished their job, the scientists in charge compile all of the data. For example, one of the most popular citizen science projects and the longest running project is the Christmas Bird Count. The annual event hosted by the Audubon Society, since 1900, has groups of volunteer bird watchers identify and count all of the birds observed in a single day within the period of December 14th to January 5th. The data is compiled by the leader of the group and submitted to the Audubon Society which uses the information to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America.

The greatest thing about citizen science is that the work is easy enough for anyone to do, even small children. Most tasks are designed for people of all ages. Many of them don’t even require any experience or can be performed under the guidance of a seasoned veteran. Often times all of the necessary information is made available with the project. Methods of identification or collection are clearly outlined. Tools may be provided or participants are told where to obtain them or how to construct the tools themselves. Nowadays citizen science especially has room to flourish since information can be so easily transmitted via the email and internet. Also, complex calculations can be carried out by powerful computers. Because these projects are so accessible, citizen scientists comprise some of the largest research teams in the world without the hefty cost of hiring individual scientists. Even errors made by the citizen scientists are minimized by their large numbers as opposed to additional costs and wasted time that result from the mistake of a scientist in a smaller group.

How can you get involved? Citizen science projects are sprouting up left and right and many have been going on for years. Projects can be easily found online or it might turn out that you already know some citizen scientists and didn’t even realize it. Once you have found something interesting, the process could be as easy as printing out a data table and getting out into the field. One such project that is pertinent to Floridians is documenting and controlling the invasive Cuban treefrog population. Some of the other projects you may find are measuring rainfall, identifying birds, tracking stars, or even measuring dinosaur bones! The 4-H youth development organization is also creating opportunities for youth to become scientists through the 4-H SET (Science, Engineering, and Technology) initiative. One of the latest curricula to be added is the Butterfly WINGS project. In project Butterfly WINGS, youth get to practice citizen science firsthand by learning to identify butterflies and keep track of butterflies in the area. At the same time, youth learn environmental science through studying butterfly habitats and biology.

Through citizen science everyone can do their part to contribute to scientific research. Citizen science even promotes global cooperation by bringing together the common people of different countries. Projects might be just for fun but some of the results could be of global significance. Whether it is a passion for science or the thrill of participating in an actual scientific study that draws you in, don’t miss your chance to become a citizen scientist.


The Citizen Scientist

The Big Deal With Citizen Science

Citizen Science Cuban Treefrog Study

Citizen Science Projects

Christmas Bird Count