December 28, 2010

Resolve to be More Knowledgeable in 2011!

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 online classes in January, “Solutions in 30.”

Solutions in 30:
January 5, 2011 - Green Living Resolutions for 2011
January 12, 2011 - Solar Power in the Sunshine State
January 19, 2011 - Become a V.I.P. at Brooker Creek
January 26, 2011 - Low-Cost, No-Cost Ways to Lower Your Power Bill

Commercial (Pesticide/FNGLA/ISA) CEUs:
January 5, 2011 - Best Management Practices
January 6, 2011 - Roundup License Training – LCLM & LLO Review
January 25, 2011 - Landscape Pests and Solutions(IPMU)
January 28, 2011 - Root to Shoots Tree Program

Extension Programs:
January 2, 2011 - Bird & Wildlife Walk
January 5, 2011 - Morning Nature Hike
January 11, 2011 - Focus on Finances
January 13, 2011 - Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project
January 13, 2011, 2:00 pm - Flowering Shrubs
January 13, 2011, 6:15 pm - Flowering Shrubs
January 25, 2011 - Restoring Nature’s Balance
January 25, 2011 - Calculating Your Ecological Footprint

You can register for classes online at

December 20, 2010

The verdict on Vitamin D: Am I getting enough?

By Spencer Webb, CSCS, Dietetic Intern, Bay Pines VA Health Care System, Pinellas County Extension

With a nickname like “the sunshine vitamin” you would think most of us living in the sunshine state would have no problem getting enough vitamin D. Since 2000, the public has received conflicting information about the amount of vitamin D we should be getting to stay healthy. To help clarify this issue, the United States and Canadian governments asked the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) to examine the current information on health outcomes associated with vitamin D and calcium, as well as updating the recommendations for our daily intake.

Where do we get vitamin D?
We get vitamin D from the sun, food and supplements. The food sources of vitamin D are somewhat limited since it is only found naturally in mushrooms, egg yolks, and in some types of fish, like salmon and sardines. Beginning in the 1930’s, milk sold to consumers was fortified to combat a bone deformity called rickets. This disease resulted in a “bow-legged” appearance in individuals who consumed low amounts of vitamin D when they were children. Other foods like orange juice, breads and cereals have been added to the list of fortified foods.

The good news about vitamin D, and what makes it unique, is that we can make it in our bodies. When exposed to sun, the skin makes a compound that is converted to vitamin D in the liver and kidneys. We need 10–15 minutes of direct sun on our face and arms, without sunscreen, two to three times a week to make enough vitamin D.

Another source of vitamin D is supplements. Supplement companies have been cashing in on the controversy. According to the Nutrition Business Journal, sales for vitamin D supplements rose 83% in 2009, generating over $240 million.

Why do we need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D plays an important role with calcium and phosphorus in maintaining the health of teeth and bones. It also keeps the immune system functioning. Vitamin D has been studied for its possible connections to several diseases and medical problems, including diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Based on the conflicting and mixed results of the studies, there is currently no evidence to confirm that vitamin D has any impact on these conditions.

How much do we need?
New intake recommendations (Recommended Dietary Allowances - RDA) for vitamin D have been recently released. Below is a table with those new recommendations.

Life StageVitamin D (IU/day)
Children and Teens600
Adults, up to age 70600
Adults, ages 71+800
IU = International Units

It is possible to get too much?
The IOM recently stated that while many Americans don’t get enough vitamin D from the foods they eat, most still have enough in their body, since they can make it from exposure to the sun. This means that the average American probably doesn't need to be taking large amounts of supplements as they have been shown to be toxic in large doses. The upper limit is 4000 IU and less for children younger that 9. Certain people like the elderly, dark-skinned individuals and people with liver and kidney disease may not get enough form the sun so they may benefit from fortified foods or a supplement.

To learn more about this vital nutrient, visit these websites:

National Institute of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS)

December 7, 2010

District asks homeowners to "Skip a Week" of irrigation this winter

Overwatering in winter can encourage pests and disease

The Southwest Florida Water Management District is encouraging residents who irrigate their lawns to "Skip a Week" of watering during the cooler months of December, January and February.

According to research by the University of Florida, grass doesn’t need to be watered as often during the cooler months. One-half to three-quarters of an inch of water every 10–14 days is sufficient. In fact, if your lawn has received any significant rainfall, then you can turn off your irrigation system and operate it manually as needed.

“Overwatering in the winter can encourage pests and disease in your lawn," said Sylvia Durell, Florida-Friendly Landscaping project manager. Skipping a week of watering is as easy as “off” for residents with irrigation timers. “Turn the timer to ‘off’ for the week that you want to skip, and ‘on’ for the week that you want to water,” said Durell.

Homeowners can determine when their grass needs water when:
• Grass blades are folded in half lengthwise on 30 percent of the lawn.
• Grass blades are blue-gray.
• Footprints remain on the lawn for several minutes after walking on it.
Skipping a week of irrigation will help conserve drinking water supplies that the public needs for critical uses during the dry season. In fact, if everyone skipped one week of irrigation this season, it could save an estimated 1.7 billion gallons of water.

In addition to entering the dry season, the region has experienced an extremely dry fall, with dry conditions expected to continue through next spring. All 16 counties within the District are under a Phase I water shortage alert.

For additional information about water restrictions and water conservation, contact your local utility or visit the District’s web site at

December 1, 2010

Christmas Trees and Poinsettias

Andy Wilson, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

Living Christmas Trees- Southern red cedar (Juniperus virginana) and sand pine (Pinus clausa) are two Florida natives that are grown commercially for both cut and potted Christmas trees. Both southern red cedar and sand pine can be planted in the landscape after use and both are drought tolerant once established. The southern red cedar also has good salt tolerance. Want the experience of selecting your own tree to cut on a Christmas tree farm? Check out this listing of Florida Christmas tree farms from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services:

Care of Cut Christmas Trees- The single most important thing to do to keep cut Christmas trees fresh is to keep the base of the trunk immersed in water at all times once it is brought into the home. Most research has failed to show any real benefit from additives to the water like corn syrup, bleach, etc. Depending on the size of the water reservoir in the tree stand it will probably be necessary to check the water level at least once a day. The tree’s ability to absorb water is usually improved by making a fresh cut at the bottom of the trunk before placing the tree in the stand.

Care of Potted Poinsettias- If you receive a poinsettia as a gift or buy one as part of your holiday decorating, follow these tips to keep it in good condition throughout the holidays. If the pot is covered with a decorative foil or plastic wrap, punch some holes in the bottom to allow water to drain out. Water thoroughly when the soil is dry to the touch. A few minutes after watering the plant, pour out any water that has accumulated in the saucer under the pot. Poinsettias can be quickly damaged by waterlogged soil. Locate the plant in an area with bright, indirect light or some filtered sunlight. Dark locations will promote leaf drop. To keep the plants in the best condition, avoid exposing them to temperatures below 65 degrees F. More information on the care and use of poinsettias can be found in the fact sheet “Poinsettias at a Glance” available from our office or here:

Gifts for the Gardener-The University of Florida Bookstore has a great variety of books, flashcards, posters and other helpful references for the gardener on your gift list. Check out the selections here:

Among the selections is Growing Orchids: Easier Than You Think!, a DVD with lots of information on selecting and growing orchids: