April 30, 2010

We have a Mother Lode of Classes this May!

Greening Your Home, Common Lawn and Garden Problems, Begin Your Retirement Planning, Healthy Home and Family through Indoor Air Quality

Attend 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 in May, “Solutions in 30.” Each week this month you will learn or rediscover all about making your home interior “green” by making simple changes to your choices of lighting, materials, and cleaning products, learn about common lawn and garden insects and diseases, how to start taking the first steps toward retirement, and how the indoor air quality of your home impacts everyone’s health.

Solutions in 30:
May 5, 2010 - Green Home Interiors
May 12, 2010 - Common Lawn and Landscape Problems
May 19, 2010 - Take the Guesswork Out of Retirement
May 26, 2010 - Healthy Home, Healthy Family

Families and Consumers:
May 3, 2010 - Focus on Finances

Commercial (Pesticide/FNGLA/ISA) CEUs:
May 12, 2010 - Roundup License Training - LCLM
May 18, 2010 - Best Management Practices

Lawn & Garden:
May 1, 2010 - Backyard Composting Workshop
May 8, 2010 - Butterfly Gardening
May 12, 2010 - Container Gardening 2
May 12, 2010 - Container Gardening 6
May 22, 2010 - Rain Harvesting Workshop
May 25, 2010 - Mini Palm School for Master Gardeners
May 26, 2010 - Bromeliads, Easy and Beautiful

Urban Wildlife:
May 1, 2010 - Florida Coyotes – Live Safely with a Predator

Sustainable Living:
May 1, 2010 - Going Green 101: What is Sustainability?
May 11, 2010 - Clean Marina and Boatyard Workshop
May 18, 2010 - The Five Biggest Myths About Climate Change
May 20, 2010 - GreenStar ADVANCED
May 22, 2010 - Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project

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 29, 2010

Has Debt Got You Down?

4/29/10 |
Karen Saley, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

There are few things worse than being in debt and having creditors constantly calling. If you find yourself in this situation there are some things you should know to protect yourself and your sanity. Although you may owe the debt, you still have rights. The Federal Trade Commission enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices.

Let’s first define “debt collectors.” Under the FDCPA, the term means someone who regularly collects debts owed to others. The doctor’s office that provided you with the service and calling on behalf of themselves is not considered a debt collector. However, the lawyer or collection agency that is trying to collect money for your doctor would be considered a debt collector.

Debts not covered. There are debts that the FDCPA doesn’t cover such as debts you incurred to run a business. It will, however, cover personal, family, household, medical, and credit card debt.

What about old debts? There may be some confusion about whether or not a debt collector can attempt to collect on a debt that is very old. Debts that are very old are called “time-barred” debts and state laws prohibit collectors from suing you to collect the money owed. It does not stop the collector from still trying to collect the debt; they just can’t sue you or threaten to sue you in order to collect the debt. Based on Florida law, a time barred debt is one that is generally four to five years old. There are some stipulations regarding collecting time-barred debts that you should be aware of. For more information specific to Florida law contact the State Attorney General’s Office at

You have the right to ask a debt collector to stop calling you. The telephone can be an easy form of harassment, but there are laws in place to prevent debt collectors from abusing this form of communication. They cannot call before 8am or after 9pm and they cannot continually call with the intent to annoy. You have the right to request that a debt collector stop calling you entirely. The request must be in writing and it is advised that you make a copy of the letter for your records and send the letter by certified mail, return receipt. Once the debt collector has received your letter they can no longer contact you unless they are notifying you of a specific action they will take, such as filing a law suit.

Privacy is a concern for many people with debt. Debt collectors are allowed to call your family, friends, and neighbors but only to ask for your address, home phone number, and where you work. They cannot continue to call third parties for more information or discuss your debt with them. The exception is if you have an attorney handling your case. Debt collectors can and should deal with them, not you.

If a debt collector is calling you, they have five days after initial contact to send you a written “validation notice” which will explain how much money you owe, who the creditor is, and what steps you can take if you believe the debt is not yours. Be cautious about what you say to a debt collector. You may reactivate a time-barred debt simply by acknowledging that you owe the debt or agreeing to make some form of payment, no matter how small.

Harassment, false statements, and threats are not allowed. Debt collectors cannot use abusive language, imply that documents are legal if they are not, misrepresent themselves as attorneys if they are not and threaten violence against you or claim they will have you arrested if you don’t pay your debt. If you do owe a debt that you have not paid, a debt collector can notify you that they will be filing a law suit against you and must follow through with it. They can’t just use it as a threat to intimidate you.

Being in debt is a difficult and frustrating situation and not a place most of us would intentionally put ourselves. If you find yourself overburdened with debt, take steps to talk with your creditors and work out an agreeable plan to pay the debt before it gets turned over to a collection agency or attorney. If debt collectors are already calling you, the best thing you can do is be well informed of your rights. This will not make your debt go away, but it will make taking care of them a bit easier.

For more information on your rights visit or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.

April 28, 2010

Tracking the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

4/28/10 |
Heather Hammers, Sea Grant Coastal Marine Agent, Pinellas County Extension

As many of us may or may not be aware, a terrible accident took place on April 20, 2010 off the coast of Louisiana where an oil rig, the Deepwater Horizon, exploded spewing out oil out of the sea floor. Eleven of the 126 workers aboard at the time are missing and presumed dead; the rest managed to escape. The cause of this explosion has not been determined. As of Monday afternoon, an area 48 miles long and 39 miles was covered by oil that leaked from the site of the rig.

How is this spill going to affect our coasts, water, and wildlife? How far will the oil spread and what areas are in the most danger? These questions are difficult to answer due to confounding factors such as wind and ocean currents that that are driving the oil. The major objective at this moment is shutting off the flow of oil. The owner of the rig has been unable to shut off the oil flowing from 5,000 feet below the surface. As a result, the slick is continuing to grow. On Sunday, robot submarines were deployed to shut off the valves responsible; we are waiting to hear if this strategy has been effective. Another option will be to mobilize two rigs to drill a relief well if needed—a process that could take months.

BP plans to collect leaking oil on the ocean bottom by lowering a large dome to capture the oil and then pump it through pipes and hoses into a vessel on the surface. Getting the equipment in place could take some time. Another confounding factor is that this system has only been deployed in shallow water but never deployed at 5,000 feet of water.

Where is this slick heading with regards to Florida? Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are predicting that the slick will be pushed more toward the east, away from the Panhandle but pointed toward Florida’s peninsula. If interested in tracking the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, visit To learn more about how oil is actually captured, please refer to my FAQ on “Ask Extension”, "How to Collect Oil after an Oil Spill?”

April 26, 2010

Preparing for Drought

4/26/10 |
Jean Field, Extension Horticulture Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

April Showers don’t bring May flowers in Pinellas County. In fact, our April showers are more like sprinkles. March through May is our dry spring season when the heat turns up and the rainfall becomes scarce. It is during this critical time when newly-planted or stressed plants wilt severely or die. A few precautions will help our landscapes survive until the rains of summer grace our doorsteps.

When lawns show signs of wilt (leaf blades fold in half, color changes, foot prints remain), ½ to ¾ inch of water should be applied. Since most roots are in the top 4-6 inches of soil, ½ to ¾ inch of water will wet that area and below to encourage deeper rooting. Applying more than that amount of water is wasteful.

Many established, drought-tolerant landscape trees and shrubs require little or no irrigation, provided roots are not obstructed by compacted soil, foundations, or other obstacles in the soil. If roots are confined then watering may be required during extended drought. If watering is needed, apply 1 inch of water.

Plants most vulnerable to death or severe wilting are shrubs and trees planted within the last 6-12 months. Learn more about the water needs of newly-planted shrubs here: and trees here:

There are many things we can do, and should avoid doing, during this dry season to help conserve water and keep our plants alive.
• Avoid fertilizing plants during drought stress.

• Install plants in fall, winter or after the summer rains arrive.

• Mulch plants (except Citrus) with 2-3” of organic mulch, as this helps retain water in the soil. Pull mulch back from trunks to prevent stem rot disease.

• Adjust sprinklers to water deeply and infrequently by applying ½ - ¾ inches of water when grass shows signs of wilt.

• Avoid overhead irrigation of shrubs and flower beds, if possible. Hand-water or use soaker hoses or low-volume irrigation heads like bubblers and emitters. For more details, see
Snowbird residents can reduce plant loss through the summer by doing the following:
• Hire a gardener or ask a reliable neighbor to check on newer plants and water them deeply.

• Install new plants or lawngrass in the fall when you first arrive.

• Apply granular slow release fertilizers in late February or early March.

• Avoid the tendency to fertilize just before heading north for the summer.

• Select drought-tolerant lawn, shrubs, ground covers and trees for your landscape.

• Replenish mulch each winter.
The month of May is harsh on our landscapes. With some preparation and good gardening sense, our plants will endure until the summer rains arrive in June.

For more information, check out this IFAS website:

April 22, 2010

Be a Part of the Solution; Join Us for the Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project April 24 and receive FREE Energy Saving Devices!

Pinellas County Extension, along with faculty from the University of Florida, is conducting a workshop to help area residents save money on their energy bill. The Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project benefits the end-user as well as the environment, so everybody wins. This class will provide tips and incentives on how to make one’s home more energy efficient, while still maintaining the same level of comfort. Participants will receive energy saving compact fluorescent light bulbs and energy conservation materials.

The free seminar takes place Saturday, April 24, 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Pinellas County Extension.

The program is funded with grant money provided through the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant authorized under the Federal Recovery Act.

To register for the event, visit, click Online Class Registration, then the Sustainable Living tab. Interested parties may also call (727) 582-2100 to register.

April 20, 2010

40th Anniversary of Earth Day

Ramona Madosingh-Hector, Bushnell Urban Sustainability Agent, Pinellas County Extension

“The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats and biodiversity… that’s all there is. That’s the whole economy. That’s where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world”
Gaylord Nelson

In recent times, the buzz word “sustainability” has taken hold internationally and is central to many facets of development. As we approach the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, it’s important to examine how this event can also be leveraged to spread the message of sustainability throughout the global community.

Since the inception of Earth Day in 1970, our nation and the global community has committed to protecting our environment. What started as a grassroots movement to promote environmental awareness and advocate for environmental protections has resulted in the creation of regulatory agencies; heightened awareness of environmental issues; established networks of interested stakeholders; and a global ethic of environmentalism.

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency was formed in 1970, eight months after the first Earth Day event was held in the United States. Prior to Earth Day 1970, there were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environmental resources. Within the first decade of Earth Day, our leaders committed to passing (and amending) the following legislations.
1970 - Clean Air Act
1970, 1969 - National Environmental Policy Act
1970 - Occupational and Safety Health Act
1973 - Endangered Species Act
1974 - Safe Drinking Water Act
1976 - Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
1976 - Toxic Substances Control Act
1977,1972, 1948 - Clean Water Act (Federal Water Pollution Control Act)
1980 - Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund)
These laws provided the checks and balances for resource use but since the late 1990’s; no new laws have been passed that expressly protect the environment. In light of global discussions on climate change, energy demands, and changing economic and demographic factors, it’s important to re-examine our use of natural resources.

Earth Day embodies the elements of sustainability and the opening quote by its founding father, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, highlights the connections between earth’s systems and our need to focus on the environment, economy and society. Of these three elements, individuals can have the largest impact at the societal level. As individuals, we have the opportunity to examine the footprints we’ve made on Earth’s landscape and the tolls we’ve exacted on the natural capital of the world. The sum total of our individual efforts will result in a positive additive effect – if each person makes an effort, together we can make a difference.

Fifteen years ago, at the silver jubilee of Earth Day in 1995, Gaylord Nelson challenged Earth Day observers to create a “sustainable society.” In 2010, we are still striving to meet that goal. Where do we go from here? As individuals, we must become leaders in our local communities and we must incorporate sustainable practices in our daily life. We must also encourage and support our political leaders to move beyond the environmental successes of the 70s and 80s and look towards meeting the challenges of the 21st century.

The global challenges we face cannot be attributed to one nation or to one people, instead it is due to our lack of responsibility for our actions. Last year’s Copenhagen Climate Conference highlighted that though nations have acknowledged the climate crisis, much work is still to be done in achieving a scientific consensus, developing a plan of action, and implementing strategies for mitigation and adaptation. On this, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, we should strive to realize the vision of a sustainable society that promotes healthy communities, healthy ecosystems and healthy economies. In so doing, we will once again become risk takers like the participants of 1970, and seek to change the world for all of us.

Staff at Pinellas County Extension will play our part in celebrating and promoting the message of Earth Day in local schools by focusing on water resource protection through conservation.

Participate in an Earth Day event near you and take your small step towards the creation of a global, sustainable society! Guide to Local Events

Resource links:

April 7, 2010

Florida Horse Helmet Law

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

Horseback riding is a popular activity with an estimated 30 million Americans riding horses each year. Unfortunately, each year more than 2,300 riders under the age of 25 years are hospitalized because of horseback riding injuries.

Horses are, after all, large animals weighing up to 1500 pounds and several feet tall. In addition, they can react quickly and be startled by seemingly minor distractions.

In a two year study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that of the over 100,000 riders (all ages) injured:

  • 66. % were mounted on a horse, then falling or being thrown by the horse.

  • those not mounted most often were kicked by the horse.

  • head/neck region (23.2%) most commonly injured.

  • an estimated 11,502 people sustained traumatic brain injuries.
( Source: )

These startling figures illustrate the need for increased safety when around horses. Educating riders on horse behavior is one way to increase safety. More important is the placement and enforcement of horse helmet rules while riding, at horse shows, and barns. For many years, Florida 4-H has enforced helmet rules for their Area and State shows. Page 3 of the Florida 4-H Area & State horse Shows Official rules 2010 states:

All exhibitors are required to wear an SEI or SEI/ASTM approved safety equestrian helmet with fastened chin harness in all classes and all warm-up and make-up areas. Additionally, appropriate footwear and approved helmets must be worn, with harness fastened, at all times when mounted. This pertains to the entire show grounds from the time of arrival until departure. Failure to comply may result in disqualification. (SEI - Safety Equipment Institute, ASTM - American Society of Testing and Measures)

Now it is state law that youth under the age of 16 riding horses on public land be required to wear a helmet. As is often the case, this law was the result of the death of a child. Nicole Hornstein was riding when the horse stumbled and fell, causing Nicole’s head to be slammed into the pavement. Nicole’s family and friends petitioned for the creation and passage of this bill, called Nicole’s Law. To read the bill in its entirety, go to: Florida Horse Helmet Law.

Although horse shows are excluded from the state law, Florida 4-H will continue to require helmets at its shows. Many 4-H clubs require the use of helmets whenever the youth are working with the horses at the barns. While some may complain about the heat or “helmet hair”, slight discomfort is a small price to pay to prevent injury or even death.

On April 24 and 25, thirty-seven Pinellas County 4-H members and their horses will be competing at the Area E 4-H Horse Show along with eleven other counties. It takes place at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa and is free. Spectators are welcome. For the schedule and more information on the show, go to:
For more information on the Florida 4-H horse program: