February 27, 2012

National Nutrition Month March 2012
“Get Your Plate in Shape”

Emily Minton, Dietetic Intern,
Bay Pines VA Healthcare System

National Nutrition Month is a nutrition campaign focused on promoting the development of healthy eating and physical activity habits. National Nutrition Month started as a weeklong event in 1973. By 1980, the campaign grew into a month long event. Each year a new educational theme focused on healthy lifestyle choices is chosen. This year’s theme is “Get Your Plate in Shape.”

With the recent introduction of MyPlate, the new food guidance system, this year’s theme is a great way to give people the tools they need to build a delicious plate full of a variety of healthy and tasty food from the five food groups; Vegetables, Fruit, Grains, Protein Foods, and Dairy. So, how can you get your plate in shape? Use the following tips to get started.

Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Eat a variety of vegetables. You can choose fresh, canned, or frozen items. If you use canned vegetables, look for low sodium products. Fruit makes a great snack or a light dessert. When using canned fruits, choose products that are packaged in water or 100% juice.

Make at least half your grains whole. Look for products that are 100% whole-grain. Rice, pasta, cereal, crackers, and bread all have 100% whole-grain options. If you aren’t sure if the product is 100% whole-grain, check the ingredient list.

Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk. Instead of whole or 2% milk, try low-fat (1%) or fat-free (skim) milk. These two options have the same amount of essential nutrients like calcium and less fat and calories than whole or 2% milk. Also try other low-fat or fat-free dairy products such as yogurt, cheese, and ice cream.

Vary your protein choices. There are a variety of foods found in the protein food group. Try to vary your choices during the week. Foods to pick from include seafood, nuts, beans, lean meat, poultry, and eggs. Remember to keep your lean meat and poultry servings small, about three to four ounces, the size of a deck of cards.

Cut back on sodium and empty calories from solid fats and added sugars. Replace sugary drink with water and choose 100% fruit juice instead of fruit-flavored drinks like fruit punch. Compare the amount of sodium in different products and choose foods with the lowest amounts. Add flavor to your food with different herbs and spices instead of salt and cut back on desserts, pizza, and other high fat foods.

Enjoy your food but eat less. When eating out, ask for a box and bring half of your meal home. Also try looking for lower calorie options. Many restaurants put special marks next to healthier choices. Make sure to keep an eye on your side dishes! Instead of fries, ask for steamed vegetables, salad, or a baked potato. Try cooking at home more to have total control over what goes into your food and how much you make. Avoid large portions by using smaller dishes. Keeping a food log is a great way to analyze your daily intake and work on problem areas.

For more information on how to “Get Your Plate in Shape,” visit the National Nutrition Month’s homepage at or visit the MyPlate SuperTracker at to create your own personalized eating plan.

February 20, 2012

Spring Cleaning in Your Landscape

Theresa Badurek
Urban Horticulture Extension Agent

Spring is here, and that means it’s time to prune many plants. There are a variety of reasons to prune, but the most important thing is to do it right. Part of that is having good timing. Pruning should be a regular part of your landscape maintenance and should not be put off until the landscape is overgrown. Overgrown plants may grow tall and leggy with little foliage near the ground. Once you wait this long they cannot be pruned to the desired size in a single pruning without severely damaging the plants. These plants will need to be pruned back gradually over a period of several years. So, keeping up with maintenance pruning is step number one.

Cold Damage
You can now prune those woody plants that were damaged by our few nights of freezing or near freezing temperatures. You will want to watch for new leaves sprouting along the branches and prune back to this point. Take care to maintain the natural shape of the plant; when correct pruning is done it should not be noticeable that you did it. You may find that some of your more cold sensitive plants will need to be pruned back to the ground. It will take them a bit longer to recover, but be patient.

Flowering Shrubs and Trees
Once azaleas, poinsettias, and camellias finish flowering they should be pruned. Pruning encourages new growth and produces a more compact, bushier plant. There is still time to prune out dead growth and crossing limbs on crape myrtles, but try not to remove the new sprouts since the flowers will be forming on this year’s new growth. Contrary to what you may have heard, pruning is not necessary for crape myrtles to flower. Simply prune them lightly to maintain a natural form. If necessary, heavy pruning of hibiscus is best done now as well. The new growth should produce flowers in about five to six weeks. Light maintenance pruning may be done any time of year to keep plants at desired heights.

Fruit Trees
One should always remove suckers below the bud or graft union on citrus, avocados, mangos, or any other grafted plant. These shoots will grow fast and rob much needed nutrients and water from the desirable upper portion of the plant and will not produce the desired flowers or fruit.

Only dead fronds should be removed from palms. Palms put on an average of one new frond per month during the growing season, although this varies greatly from one species to the next. The reason for mass removal of healthy green fronds is because it is more convenient for the pruner to remove everything and not have to prune the tree again for 6 to 12 months. It is not healthy for the palm. Constant leaf area removal results in damage and decline and eventual death of the palm from weakening. Do not let anyone talk you into removing more than the dead fronds or you may be contributing to the death of your palm. The “hurricane cut” you hear about for palms will actually make the palm more vulnerable to damage in the event of a hurricane or wind storm.

For More Information
Consult the University of Florida/IFAS Extension publication, Pruning Landscape Trees and Shrubs on the Internet at: for additional detailed pruning information, including techniques, illustrations, and time of year for pruning all kinds of trees and landscape shrubs.

February 13, 2012

Pinellas County Extension Shines a Light on Energy Consumption

James Stevenson
Sr. Extension Specialist,
Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project

Through its Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project, Pinellas County Extension is promoting a new gadget that aims to get citizens more energy conscious and eco-friendly.

The Kill-A-Watt™ Energy Monitor is a simple tool used to see how much energy the devices in a home are actually using, whether they are on or off. Users simply plug the monitor into an outlet, plug an appliance into the monitor, follow The Kill-A-Watt’s instructions and watch it work. The monitor measures various aspects of electrical consumption, from voltage of an outlet to watts and kilowatt hours. Users can find out exactly how much energy and money is being consumed by most of their household electronics.

Pinellas County Extension and the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative have come together to make these Kill-A-Watt monitors available for check-out at their libraries to make the assessment of personal energy consumption even easier. Stop by your local library to check out a monitor and discover how much energy could possibly be saved in your home.

Extension specialists will also be holding upcoming classes at select libraries to further explain how the monitors work and to give easy tips to make a home more energy efficient in an effort to decrease electric bills and increase environmental friendliness.

To sign up for a class, visit and click on the date of the class you would like to attend. The class is free and registration is very easy.

It is estimated that Americans waste about $5 BILLION dollars on stand-by energy loss. Stand-by energy is the energy consumed by electronic devices when they are “off.” During the past decade, we have seen a tremendous amount of devices that consume energy when not in use. Just think of all the portable electronics that require charging that most of us own today. Those chargers and power adaptors (or “wall warts”) may be consuming electricity even when the device is not attached! Try to look for the little green or red lights lit up on the electronics throughout the house—even when turned off—and then ask yourself how those little lights are being powered. By sheer volume, those small amounts of wasted energy certainly add up.

The Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory operated by the University of California tested hundreds of electronic devices that were turned off to search for phantom energy loss. Their results were surprising. A full list of their results can be found here but some of the most shocking came from seemingly innocuous sources. Of 52 desktop computers tested, standby power use ranged between 0 and 9.21 watts when “off.” In sleep mode the energy use was between 1.1 and 83.3 watts/hour, averaging 21.13 watts/hour in sleep mode. Set-top digital cable boxes with DVR consumed around 44 watts/hour whether on, off, recording or not. Similarly, wall-charger units are thought to consume as much as 65% of their capacity even when not charging a device.

By using a Kill-a-Watt energy monitor you can discover what devices in your home might be consuming energy when not in use. The monitor is plugged into an outlet, and then the device you want to test is plugged into the monitor. By selecting the “WATT” switch on the device, a screen displays what that device is using at that minute. You can leave the device (let’s say a DVD player) plugged into the monitor for 24 hours, and get an idea of how much the DVD uses when in use and in stand-by mode by selecting the “kW” switch. A DVD may consume 13 watts of electricity in stand-by mode. That may only be pennies a day, but imagine how many DVD players exist in Pinellas County, in Florida, and in America.

UF’s state specialist for housing and community development, Dr. Randy Cantrell, recently installed a similar device in his home in order to expose his family to various practices that consumed electricity. He cautions everyone to keep an open mind when using such devices because although his wife was intrigued, she preferred to blow dry her hair without guilt and interruption of viewing how much electricity she was using. The point is that small steps should be taken forward and backward in your pursuit of improving the efficiency of your home. Although the power monitor is no longer used in his household, all members are much more aware of the information that it revealed to them while it was in use.

Solutions to this “phantom energy” loss may be to simply unplug devices when not in use. If you do not use the automatic brew feature of your coffee maker, unplug it! That little clock is wasting energy. It is important to use computer settings to completely shut down after a period of inactivity. And the “peripherals” that accompany PCs and TVs; the printers, speakers, game consoles, etc., together consume a lot of your watts. A “smart strip” power strip can take the guess-work out of this energy loss. Smart strips detect when a device (TV, PC) goes into stand-by mode and will completely power off the peripherals. Learn about the Kill-a-Watt, smart strips and more at one of our classes.

We hope to see you at one of our upcoming classes, but if you decide to check a monitor out on your own, we’d love to hear about your experience. Email and let us know what you discovered!

Upcoming Kill-a-Watt Classes 2012:
Tuesday March 13, 7pm-8pm, Dunedin Public Library
Saturday March 31, 1:30pm-2:30pm, Clearwater East Branch Library
Thursday April 12, 6:30pm-7:30pm, Safety Harbor Public Library
Thursday April 26, 1:30pm-2:30pm, Oldsmar Public Library
Monday May 7, 1:00pm – 2:00pm, St. Pete Beach Public Library


Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory/Standby Power

Randall Cantrell, PhD, Housing and Community Development, Assistant Professor, University of Florida Family Youth and Community Sciences

Florida Energy Systems Consortium, Whole-House Systems Approach to Energy Efficiency

February 6, 2012

There May be a Robot in Your Junk Drawer

Keri Hannukainen
4-H Youth Mentor

As many of you may be aware, Governor Rick Scott strongly advocates the STEM fields as vital sources of economic growth for the country. The exponential growth in the science industries in the past few years has opened up unprecedented opportunities in both job markets and scientific advancement. 4-H is ahead of this curve and has been pursing project areas in the sciences for many years now.

This year, the 4-H program has expanded another branch of study for the 4-H curriculum: robotics. Prompted by the declining trend in our nation’s science, engineer, mathematics, and technology workforce, 4-H has developed a comprehensive robotics program as part of the National 4-H’s goal to engage one million new young people in science by the year 2013. In order to achieve this goal, 4-H Robotics is currently being delivered through 4-H clubs, camps, school enrichment, and after-school programs nationwide. Using this curriculum, 4-H members will engage in service learning and community service projects, develop leadership and citizenship skills, and develop numerous life skills taught in 4-H clubs nationwide.

The Junk Drawer Robotics track is a three-level series that encompasses the spirit of engineering and the thirst for knowledge that drives 4-H members towards success. According to the national 4-H website, “in each module of this track, youth will learn about a different aspect of robotics and design and build a robot using what they have learned. This track emphasizes developing knowledge and…skills as participating youth design and build their own robots.” In order to keep track of their achievements and receive additional information, the “youth will use their Robotics Notebook to record their learning experiences, robotic designs and the data from their investigations.”

The activities and their complexities in the Junk Drawer Series vary according to the level of the book. As the series progresses, the activities naturally become more complicated as they build upon the knowledge learned throughout the series. None of the activities, however, require the use of a computer. The materials used in this program are mostly common household items such as rubber bands and paperclips. This simplicity of these parts fosters the ingenuity of the 4-H members, challenging them to innovate and to explore in order to create fantastic products.

At Level One: Give Robots a Hand, the youth learn how to think like engineers. The youth learn to communicate the same idea through various methods and how robots manipulate objects. Using all of this knowledge, the youth then construct a robotic arm.

The activities in Level Two: Robots on the Move teach the youth about friction, electric circuits, electromagnetism, gears, and buoyancy. The 4-H members will then construct an underwater ROV using the skills they have learned throughout the book. Most importantly, however, the youth will learn about the constraints of a budget. The youth will be asked to create a robot as efficiently as possible—a task that all engineers must do.

The activities in the Level Three: Mechatronics teach the youth about different types of circuits, sensors, binary, logic, components, and processors. In addition, the youth will learn the basic elements of programming and instructions for robotic computer control. As their final activity, the youth will design and construct their final robot.

On the web site, there is a sample activity from the Level Two: Robots on the Move workbook. This activity teaches 4-H members how to construct a Clipmobile. The following is a description of the activity from

In this activity, you learn about friction, about the engineering design
process and how understanding friction and design can help you build more
efficient machines. Like all the modules in Junk Drawer Robotics, there are
three types of activities; (1) To Learn activities where you learn about how
things work - the science behind robotics, (2) a To Do activity where you learn
about engineering and design their own solution to the Clipmobile Challenge, and
(3) a To Make activity where you apply technology as you actually build and test
your design.

Since many of the activities require multiple participants, it is highly recommended that this curriculum be used as a Club project book. Average Joe’s and French Villas 4-H Club will be using the Junk Drawer Robotics series as its club project book this year. If you are interested in using the Junk Drawer Robotics series, please contact the 4-H Extension Office.

This exciting and challenging series tests the ingenuity of the youth, forcing them to persevere in order to succeed. Unlike other do-it-yourself kits, the Junk Drawer Robotics series challenges 4-H members to innovate and explore, instead of merely following instructions. Moreover, this series places the focus upon science and engineering in order to engage 4-H members in these rapidly expanding and desperately needed job fields.