July 28, 2010

Take a Break from the Sun and Find Solutions for Your Life!

Attend Pinellas County Extension’s August 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 online classes in August, “Solutions in 30.” Each week this month there will be a special topic presented on Wednesdays at 12:15 pm in the form of a webinar.

Solutions in 30:
August 4, 2010 - Managing Stress in Tough Times
August 11, 2010 - Insect Invaders
August 18, 2010 - Introduction to GreenStar Office
August 25, 2010 - Solar Power in the Sunshine State

Commercial (Pesticide/FNGLA/ISA) CEUs:
August 11, 2010 - Best Management Practices

Lawn & Garden:
August 5, 2010 - The Fruitful Landscape
August 7, 2010 - From Your Garden to Your Kitchen
August 11, 2010 - Citrus Gardening @ 2:00 pm
August 11, 2010 - Citrus Gardening @ 6:15 pm
August 14, 2010 - Rain Harvesting Workshop
August 21, 2010 - The Insects That Invade Our Homes
August 25, 2010 - Shade Gardening

Urban Wildlife:
August 4, 2010 - Florida Botanical Gardens – Evening Nature Walk

Sustainable Living:
August 10, 2010 - Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project
August 17, 2010 - Calculate Your Ecological Footprint
August 19, 2010 - GreenStar ADVANCED

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

July 26, 2010

Frangipani Hornworm

7/26/10 |
Andy Wilson, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

Frangipani (Plumeria spp.)is a popular plant in the Tampa Bay area and much of the southern half of Florida. It produces clusters of showy flowers that are often fragrant. Visitors to Hawaii may recognize the flowers as one of those used in leis. Sometimes a colorful caterpillar, the frangipani hornworm, is also found on frangipani.

The frangipani caterpillar, also known as the tetrio sphinx or giant gray sphinx is found from Florida and some other parts of the southeastern and southwestern US though the West Indies, Mexico, Central America and South America to Brazil. In Florida, it has been found in most south Florida counties. It is also found here in Pinellas County.

The caterpillar is strikingly marked with black and yellow rings and a reddish-orange head. There is a black, one inch long, horn-like projection at the rear of the body. They can grow to a rather large size for a caterpillar, up to 6 inches long. Some entomologists have theorized that the coloration, which resembles that of the coral snake, may help protect the caterpillar from potential predators.

The frangipani caterpillar feeds on frangipani and some other members of the Dogbane Family including allamanda. On frangipani, each caterpillar can consume 3 leaves per day so that an entire plant can be striped of its leaves in as little as a few days. Once the leaves are gone the caterpillars will sometimes also feed on the plant’s branches.

At the end of the larval stage the caterpillar forms a pupal case in leaf litter or in the ground. Initially the pupa is yellow but after fully hardening it becomes a dark reddish-brown color. It is about 2 inches long.

The adult moths have brown, gray and white markings on their wings. Wingspan is about 5 to 5 ½ inches. The adult moths feed on nectar from flowers including periwinkle or vinca, Catharanthus roseus. After mating the female moths lay clusters of pale green eggs on the leaves of the host plant.

If there are only a few of the caterpillars on a plant they can often be adequately controlled by hand picking. Where there are too many caterpillars to make this practical, sprays containing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), such as Thuricide, can be applied. Unless complete defoliation occurs repeatedly, the caterpillars usually do not threaten the plant’s survival.

July 20, 2010

Heavy Oil Recovery Device (HORD) successful in the Gulf of Mexico

7/20/10 |
Heather Hammers, Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Just weeks after the first Heavy Oil Recovery Device (HORD) was successfully tested in the Gulf of Mexico off the shores of Alabama, the innovative devices are greatly improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the cleanup operation. The HORD, originally nicknamed “Tarball Retrieval Device”, is being manufactured at the rate of 8-10 units per day in shipyards in Pensacola, Fla., and Bayou La Batre, Ala. Up to 1,000 units are expected to be manufactured and put into service in the coming weeks.

The HORD has proven to be especially effective in collecting the thick, heavy oil that hampers traditional skimming methods. It is also able to cleanup the extremely light and difficult to remove sheen left on the water surface after skimming.

The brainchild of Capt. Gerry Matherne, the HORD exemplifies the adage “necessity is the mother of invention.” Matherne, a supertanker captain and second generation seaman, who is under contract with BP, realized early on that something different was needed to quickly and effectively deal with the sticky, orange globs of oil (known as tarballs) floating just under the water’s surface.

“Standard skimming methods work best on fresh oil on the water’s surface. A lot of the oil we’re dealing with on the Gulf has degraded, changing from a liquid state to a peanut butter-like consistency that floats on the surface and 12 to 18 inches below the surface,” said Matherne. “The HORD reflects creative thinking, a willingness to try new things and a can-do attitude by everyone involved with the clean-up

Matherne’s invention is essentially a single unit that acts as a filter, containment and disposal system rolled into one. A mesh bag held open by a 3-foot by 3-foot aluminum frame is dragged through the water by shrimp boats put into service as skimmers. The cage-like device scoops up surface oil and sheen, as well as the thick oil lurking beneath the surface of the water.

When the bags reach their two-ton capacity, they are switched out for empty ones, loaded onto smaller boats and transported to approved oil disposal units. The bags are later decontaminated and reused.

The total downtime for skimmers outfitted with HORDs is measured in minutes, compared to hours or days for a traditional skimmer that has to transport the captured oil to disposal units and wait to be unloaded, before returning to sea.

In addition to saving precious time, the HORD’s simple design greatly improves a boat’s maneuverability and ability to safely perform at faster speeds and in higher seas.

For more information about the Heavy Oil Recovery Device, please contact the Mobile Joint Information Center at (251) 445-8965.

For information about the response effort, visit

July 15, 2010

Cell Phones, Love ‘Em or Hate “Em

7/15/10 |
Karen Saley, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

According to the Better Business Bureau the cell phone industry was the most complained about industry in 2008 and 2009. Complaints included, but were not limited to, poor customer service, equipment malfunctions, unreliable service, and billing errors. Last year alone there were more than 37,000 complaints.

One complaint that I have heard from just about everyone I know who has a cell phone is the inability to get out of their contract. They have either wanted to upgrade, downgrade, or just get out of the contract all together only to find that they will be charged extravagant fees to do so. Cancelling your contract can cost anywhere from $150.00 to $250.00, and if you have several phones on the same plan that fee applies to each phone!

And as if being ripped off by your cell phone service provider wasn’t bad enough, for those unfortunate people that purchased their phone or plan through an “authorized retailer” things are even worse. Unbeknownst to most folks the authorized retailer is an independent company selling products and services for telephone companies. That means that they need their slice of the pie as well. Purchasing services from one of these dealers usually means signing an additional contract which could include additional fees for setup and service and hidden fees like a penalty for changing to a less expensive plan.

If you are one of the many cell phone users that is frustrated with your plan and would like to terminate your contract there are a couple of things you can do. One is to get someone to take over your contract. The cell phone companies don’t really care who pays the contract as long as it is paid. Given that, there are a number of websites that have sprung up to help people swap their contracts. Generally how they work is you post your contract information on the website where other people looking for a cell phone plan can assume your plan.

You may be asking why anyone would want your contract especially if you are unhappy with it. Well, there are several reasons. You may not be happy with your plan because it does not cover areas that you use a lot. There is someone out there that lives in the areas your plan covers. Some people would like a short term contract to see if they like the company and service they provide. If you only have a few months left on your contract it may be perfect for that person. Also the lucky person that assumes your contract will have the advantage of not having to pay the activation or setup fee.

The other way to possibly break your contract with the cell phone company is to review your monthly statements. Hidden in all that fine print may be a sentence or two that alters the original contract by changing some of the terms and conditions. Changing things like rates, charges, and how charges are calculated are referred to as “materially adverse” changes. If a company makes these types of changes you are entitled to break your contract without a penalty fee. There is a catch, of course. You must contact the company usually within 30 days of the change in order to break your contract. Some companies may only give you 14 days to respond. If you don’t meet the deadline it is assumed that you accept the changes.

Now, please understand that even though you are legally entitled to seek this course of action, your cell phone service provider does not want you to terminate your contract. The most effective way to proceed with this remedy is to speak with a supervisor, have documentation of the change handy, and use the term “materially adverse” in your request to end your contract. If you do succeed in your endeavor to terminate your contract be aware that your provider may cancel your phone service on the spot and there is a good chance you will lose your current cell phone number as well.

Additional Resources

July 9, 2010

Vegetable Gardening, It Starts With The Soil

By Cindy Peacock, Extension Horticulturist

Properly preparing your garden plot soil will help you have a successful garden. You can grow a good garden wherever weeds will grow. Avoid low, poorly drained areas that stay soggy after rains.

Vegetables need full sun to grow, at least five hours of direct sunlight per day, so choose an area that is not shaded by trees or buildings. Once you have found a full sun, well drained area for your vegetable garden plot you can start preparing the soil. Our Florida soils are very sandy and are often low in nutrients. Adding organic material (manure, compost, leaves, grass, etc.) and fertilizer can greatly improve the soil.

First, pull or kill all the weeds in the garden area. You can hand pull weeds or use garden tools to remove them. A scuffle hoe works very well. You can also use a tarp or layers of newspaper to kill weeds. Lay the tarp or newspaper out over the weeds in the garden area and let it sit for about a week. When you lift up the tarp or newspaper the weeds will be yellow and dead. Another option is to use an herbicide that contains Glyphosate. This is a systemic herbicide. It is absorbed by the green plant tissue and taken down to the roots, killing the plant. Glyphosate has no residual activity.

Once the area is cleared, you can start adding organic materials. Compost (made at home or store bought), top soil, leaves or horse or cow manure can be added. Mix the organic material in well. You can also create a raised bed by mounding the organic material up or you can build sides out of wood or brick or other materials. Raised beds require less bending to maintain and they also improve drainage.

Our Florida soils contain microscopic organisms called nematodes. Some kinds of nematodes are beneficial but we also have a few species, like root-knot nematodes, that are harmful to the vegetables that we grow. Adding organic material to the soil in your vegetable garden plot will help to reduce problems with harmful nematodes.

It’s a good idea to have your soil tested to find out the pH of your soil and what nutrients are lacking. Soil pH, the acidity or alkalinity of the soil, is important because it governs how readily available nutrients are to plants. The pH chart below shows how soil pH affects the availability of individual plant nutrients. Vegetables grow best in a pH range of 5.5 to 7.0. If your soil is below 5.5 it is too acidic and you would need to use lime to raise the pH. If the pH is above 7.0 the soil is too alkaline. Applying sulfur will lower the pH in some situations. Adding lime or sulfur can harm your soil if you apply it without determining that it’s needed based on the results of a soil test.

The University of Florida Extension Soil Testing Laboratory can test your soil for a small fee. After testing the soil, the laboratory will send you a report including information on how to adjust your soil pH if needed. More information on the soil testing services can be found here:

To learn more about soil pH go to this website:
If you have to adjust your pH with lime or sulfur mix it into your plot.

After getting your soil ready for the fall, there should be enough time to enhance your soil even more. Here are some things that can help while you are waiting for September to plant.
One of the best ways to kill soil-borne pests is by soil solarization. This technique which uses the sun’s energy to heat the soil. When you are finished prepping the soil, moisten it and then cover the soil with sturdy, clear-plastic film. Make sure you seal the edges with mulch, wood or bricks to prevent the plastic from blowing off and to keep the heat in. Keep the plastic on for 6 weeks or longer.

Do not do any additional mixing of the soil after you have lifted the clear plastic. Plant right into the prepared plot. Mixing the soil after solarization will bring soil to the surface from deeper below where the solarization was less effective. This will defeat the purpose of the solarization that you worked hard to accomplish.

Another way to help keep the nematode population down is to plant your plot with marigolds. Marigolds produce a substance called alpha-terthienyl, which can aid in the reduction of root-knot nematodes and other disease promoting organisms, such as fungi, bacteria, insects and some viruses. African (Tagetes erecta) and French marigolds (T. patula) are the most commonly used species. For best results plant marigolds as a summer crop year after year.

For more information on marigolds for nematode management go to this web page

Growing a crop to later work into the soil to improve it is called “green manuring” and these crops are called “green manures.” Planting and plowing in green-manure crops during the off-season is beneficial to the soil, adding nutrients and compost to it.

Clear your plot at the end of the growing season, (usually beginning of June for most vegetable crops in our area) or if you’re just starting out to prepare your garden soil. Black-eyed peas are a good green manure for our area. You can plant black-eyed peas in rows about 18 inches apart. Let them grow up to about a foot or two. Before they go to seed cut them down and till them in. They will decompose in the soil for 6 weeks or more. Black-eyed peas (and other legumes) add nitrogen to the soil.

To learn more about soil preparation, composting and cover crops attend the Vegetable gardening class “It Start with Soil” July 17, 2010 at 9:00 at Pinellas County Extension. The cost is $15.00 per class. Pre-register on line on our Pinellas County Extension web site.

Other classes that will help you with Vegetable Gardening.

July 17, 2010 9:00 am “It Starts With Soil”

July 24, 2010 9:00 am “Planting, Setting and Growing”

July 31, 2010 9:00 am “Pest Identification and Harvesting”

August 7, 2010 9:00 am “ From Your Garden to Your Kitchen”

July 6, 2010

4-H Intergenerational Technology Project

7/5/10 |
By Melissa Sharp, 4-H Youth Mentor, Pinellas County Extension

Through a fun and informative community service project, 4-H youth learned how to bridge the age gap between generations and teach senior citizens how to use a computer. Because of an educational training with Dr. Larry Forthun, a professor at the University of Florida and expert in intergenerational sciences, our youth learned that every generation is unique in its historical impacts and differences in learning styles and way of life. Each generation even has its own special name. They are: 
  • the Silent Era (born 1925-1942)
  • the Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960)
  • Generation X (born 1961-1981)
  • the Millenials (born 1982-2002).  
By learning about each generation and their differences, the 4-H youth could better prepare themselves to teach each the group of senior citizens.

The Silent Era (1925-1942) was very much influenced by the Great Depression, WWII, Korean Conflict, Cold War, atomic bomb, racism, McCarthyism, the growth of suburbs, vaccines and the invention of television. Their learning style is very different than the Millenials, as the Silent Era learners expect instructions to be given in very structured lectures while they do the practical application at home. They prefer facts to be presented in a logical order and prefer formality over familiarity. They like to see the “Big Picture” first.

The Baby Boomers (1943-1960) grew up in the era of the creation of Rock n’ Roll, the Vietnam Conflict, the civil rights and feminist movements, the first man to walk on the moon, and the Watergate scandal. They like to be creative and independent in their learning styles and expect opportunities to discuss and share knowledge. They enjoy team and group activities, but don’t work well authority and don’t enjoy role play.

The defining events and characteristics of Generation X (1961-1981) are a steep rise in divorce and single parenthood, more moms at work leading to “latch-key” children, the creation of MTV and rap music, the “Just Say No!” campaign, Reaganomics, cable television, personal computers, and the Gulf War. During the learning process Generation X participants need to know what the expectations are and the relevance of everything learned. They are impatient and become frustrated with busy work. They are visual learners, intolerant of instructors who can’t use technology, and need to see how learning will help to get them ahead.

Finally, the Millenials (1980-2002) saw the Monica Lewinski scandal, the school system enacting the Zero Tolerance initiative, standards-based testing and was terrorized by the massacre of Columbine. They also grew up with the consequences of the attack of September 11th and the Iraq/ Afghanistan War. They are living through the recession and realizing the historic significance of the nation’s first black president.

With this information in hand, the 4-H youth got their chance to put their knowledge to the test in their first Intergenerational Technology Class. Senior citizens learned the basics of a computer, how to use a keyboard and mouse, explored the desktop and many other useful tools. Everyone worked well together and was excited for the second part of the class.

Part II of the class dealt more with internet usage and safety, with the goal to help the senior citizens to communicate with family and friends easily and safely. Instructors and students surfed the web together to find information, explained and used internet browsers, and then took an in-depth look at how to use email. Seniors had the chance to send their first email message to themselves or family members.

The class was a success; the youth volunteers received first hand experience on how to work with a senior citizen, and accomplished the hard task of explaining something that they might find easy in creative ways so that the seniors could understand. The senior citizens were also very responsive and quick learners. They seemed to enjoy working with the 4-H’ers in a pursuit to better their computer knowledge. After these greatly successful classes the youth will still hold another session with two more classes: Part I on July 12th and Part II on July 14th.