August 26, 2013

Celebrate September–It’s Healthy Aging Month

Nan Jensen,
UF/IFAS Pinellas County
Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent

September is Healthy Aging Month an annual celebration designed to focus attention on the positive aspects of growing older and encourage Americans over the age of 50 to take personal responsibility for their health. Get started by taking these few simple and important steps.

Stay physically active. Regular exercise can help the risk of disease and maintain mobility. Look for daily opportunities to exercise in work and play. Walk by parking your car several parking aisles away from the store or office entrance and walk briskly! Choose an exercise you like and stick with it. Enjoy exercising with a friend.

Choose healthy foods. Eat nutrient rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods. Learn about building a healthy plate at SuperTracker one of the features on the website can help you plan, analyze, and track your diet and physical activity. Find out what and how much to eat; track foods, physical activities, and weight; and personalize with goal setting, virtual coaching, and journaling.

Take care of your financial health. It is important to be educated about budgeting, insurance, and retirement accounts as well as savings and investments. The University of Florida/IFAS offers fact sheets filled with helpful information on various financial topics. Click on Money topics to access or join one of the free monthly classes offered by the University of Florida Master Money Mentors. Register at

Connect with people regularly. Spend time with those who make you feel upbeat and you enjoy spending time with and try to do it daily. Even if you are not close by, call or email frequently to keep relationships fresh.

Give of Yourself. Be generous with your time and volunteer. You can help out at the local food pantry, teach a child how to read or become a Pinellas County Extension Master Food and Nutrition Volunteer. This training will equip you with the knowledge and skills to help others improve their lives through healthy eating and physical activity. Register at

There are many resources to help you learn about healthy aging. Go to to find out more.

August 19, 2013

Meet Brian Niemann

Brian Niemann,
Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Extension Agent 

I cannot tell you how excited I am to be returning to my home county to fill the role of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL) Extension Agent. I welcome the challenge and can’t wait to get started. In fact, you can join me for my first Rainwater Harvesting Workshop on August 31st at Weedon Island Preserve. Register online at

My family originally hails from the suburbs of Chicago, but the warm weather and sandy beaches of the Florida Gulf Coast attracted them in the late ‘70s. When I was growing up, my parents owned a landscape material yard and land clearing business, which meant I spent my summers picking up trash before dad came through with the tractor to make short work of the knee high weeds I had just waded through. By the time I was 13, I graduated to operating the tractor and Bobcat loaders under his watchful eye. I continued to work for them through high school and when college rolled around, I decided I wanted a career within the landscape industry.

I chose the Landscape Architecture path. I wanted to work with the landscape, but I didn’t want to be outside in the Florida heat every day. I spent some wonderful years at the University of Florida and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Landscape Architecture degree in 2006. After graduation, I accepted a landscape architecture position with Phil Graham & Company in St. Petersburg. During my time with Mr. Graham, I was blessed with the opportunity to work on many high-profile projects. Some of these projects include 400 Beach Drive, Museum of Fine Arts, and Ovation in downtown St. Pete.

In late 2007, a position opened up with the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program State Office in Gainesville. I had recently learned about the FFL Program and was intrigued by this very different style of landscaping than what I was currently designing. I got the job, and worked my way up through the ranks during my nearly six years of service with the state office. I wasn’t actively looking to leave Gainesville, but the opportunity to move back to my home county to run an Extension program based on Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ was a chance I couldn’t pass up.

The FFL program provides residents with information on using low-maintenance plants and environmentally sustainable practices. I'll be teaching you how you can have a beautiful landscape that could save you time, energy and money while protecting our future.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or with ideas for programs you would like to see offered in the future.

Brian Niemann
Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Extension Agent
Pinellas County Extension 

August 12, 2013

Fall Vegetable Gardening in Florida: We’re Just Getting Started Here!

Theresa Badurek,
Urban Horticulture Extension Agent
and Master Gardener Coordinator

If you come to us from up north, fall is the time of year you would normally be finishing your harvest and putting your vegetable garden to bed. That’s not the case here in Florida. Fall is a great time to garden and August is the time to get started. So, prepare before the kids go back to school and by the time the snowbirds flock south again, you can have a beautiful vegetable garden to brag about!

What to Grow Now

There are lots of crops for fall in Central Florida. Things like bush and pole beans, corn, eggplant, peppers, squash, and tomatoes are great to plant in August and September. In October and November we can plant crops such as beets, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, and strawberries. If you have not yet started your garden, it’s time to get diggin’!

Soil Preparation

We have very sandy soils throughout most of central Florida, so organic matter should be worked into your soil at least three weeks ahead of planting. If you are using compost and mulches be sure that there are no large clumps of unrotted organic material. These can harbor disease problems as well as hinder seedlings or their growth. When your conditions are right, these organic materials will be processed by microorganisms like fungi, algae, bacteria, molds, and earthworms. As they do this they make important nutrients available to your plants. For detailed information on various soil amendments, please visit: .

Seeds and Transplants

The most important thing you can do is select the right crops and varieties for our area and plant them at the right time. We are often tempted to plant crops or varieties that we know and love from some other geographic location, but these are often not suited to our unique subtropical climate. How do you know what and when to plant? Refer to the following publication, “Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” whose link is found at the end of this article. Use this to plan your garden layout and bring it with you when shopping for seeds and plants. Pay special attention to Table 4, “Suggested Varieties for Florida Gardens” and Table 3 “Planting Guide for Florida Vegetables”.

Pests and Diseases

So, how do you keep uninvited guests from eating all of your hard work in the garden? Well, you must have a regular scouting routine for pests. At every step of your gardening adventure you should be looking for signs of pests. Hopefully you selected resistant varieties from the “Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” publication (see link above) and inspected your plants for pests and diseases before purchase and planting. Learn to recognize the beneficial insects that help control the “bad guys” that cause damage. Not using pesticides will help preserve the “army” of beneficial insects in your garden. A great guide to start learning about beneficial insects is “Natural Enemies and Biological Control”: .

There are more things you can do to help prevent and control pests and diseases, though:

  • Use mulch; vegetables touching the soil may rot.
  • Good garden mulch tends to reduce damage caused by nematodes. 
  • Keep out weeds which harbor insects and diseases. 
  • Water in morning so plants are not wet at night. 
  • Dispose of severely diseased plants before they contaminate others. 
  • Hand-pick insects. 
  • Clean up crop refuse early. 
  • Rotate garden areas.

All of the usual tips and techniques apply when gardening in fall. Things like mulching to keep down weeds and scouting for pests regularly to avoid infestation are always great advice. Keep an eye on plants to make sure they are getting enough water. We usually get plenty of water from rain in the summer, but the rains usually taper off around October. Be sure to avoid letting your garden wilt in the drier weather- check the soil a few inches down near the plant roots to make sure it’s damp but not overly wet. Plants grown in containers will need more frequent watering to avoid wilting.

For even more about vegetable gardening in Florida- at any time of year- please visit the “Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” at . This handy link will give you the tools to succeed in your Florida garden any time of year, including planting dates, best varieties for Florida, and times to harvest. Once you get your fall vegetable garden in the ground you can start looking for recipes that showcase the fruits and vegetables of your gardening efforts. Enjoy!

August 5, 2013

August is National Water Quality Month

Lara Miller,
Natural Resource Agent 

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of water quality? Is it drinking water, the brown water in a nearby pond, litter scattered along the bank of a creek or stream? Chances are, if you live in Pinellas County, the body of water closest to you is impaired. This means the water body is not meeting water quality standards set by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. At this time, nearly all water bodies in Pinellas County are considered impaired.
The details behind the impairment standards are complex, but what is clear is the top three causes of impairment in Florida’s waters are: nutrients, dirt and bacteria. The main way these elements enter our waterways is by stormwater runoff which occurs when water from a rain event “runs off” across the land instead of seeping into the ground. As the water moves across the land, it is capable of picking up these elements (nutrients, dirt and bacteria) along the way.


Typically nutrients have a positive association, but when it comes to water quality, that is not always the case. When nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus accumulate to unnaturally high levels in a water body they can promote the growth of algae to an undesirable level, resulting in discolored water. An overgrowth of algae can act in the same way as too much soil in the water, blocking sunlight from penetrating through the water. As the algae die they become food for bacteria and this process of decomposition reduces the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water which may lead to the suffocation of aquatic life such as fish.

The major sources of these excess nutrients are fertilizers, animal waste, sewage treatment plants, and failing septic systems. You can help to reduce the over abundance of nutrients by: having your soil tested to determine if there is a need for fertilizer applications and making sure to apply as directed by bag labels (if recommended), picking up after your pets, installing rain gardens, and ensuring your septic system (if you have one) is working effectively.


We are all familiar with dirt (scientifically known as soil). When natural systems are disturbed during land use changes such as development or agricultural production, soil can become exposed to wind and rain, allowing it to runoff into a nearby body of water. When soil enters a body of water it may become murky, preventing under water plants from receiving the sunlight they need to make food through the process of photosynthesis.

While soil is naturally occurring, excess amounts of soil entering our waterways can be harmful. There are some ways we can help prevent this from occurring. Construction workers may put up silt fences to contain the dirt and debris created as they build, and developers can design communities to leave more natural areas in place and install fewer pavements to preserve the existing vegetation. Protecting established ecosystems promotes soil stabilization because the developed root systems help to hold the soil in place and slow the flow of rainwater runoff containing soil particles.


Bacteria can be good and bad, but certain bacteria serve as an indicator that other germs and virus might be present that can make us sick. In rare cases, extreme rainstorm events may cause sewage treatment systems to reach a maximum load, forcing cities to divert overflows into nearby bodies of water. Bacteria can also come from domestic and wild animal waste of urban and rural lands.

You can help prevent bacteria from impacting our waterways by: keeping an eye out for news reports during periods of high rain, urging citizens to reduce the pressure on the sewage system; farmers can implement best management practices (BMPs) to better manage livestock manure; and domestic pet owners can pick up after their pets.

It is important to remember that water connects us all; if you live in Pinellas County, you live in a watershed. Watersheds are important to consider because they represent a larger system and emphasize how peoples’ actions “upstream” may have negative affects to communities “downstream” regardless of county lines. You can find out more from the sources below.

You CAN make a difference! Register today for Joe’s Creek Neighborhood Greenway Clean Up on Saturday, September 28, 2013. The event is sponsored by Pinellas County, Tampa Bay Estuary Program and Keep Pinellas Beautiful. If you are interested, please e-mail Keep Pinellas Beautiful at: