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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Extension Launches New UF/IFAS Blog

The University of Florida/IFAS Extension has developed a new blog that will provide information through our on-line newsletters. In the next week, we will be launching the new site which will provide the same selection of topics for your use, plus the Extension Timely Topics. Extension Agents in Pinellas County strive to bring you the most up-to-date science on topics important to you.

Pinellas County Extension offers several newsletters in a blog format: Timely Topics, Thinking Green, Planting Pinellas, 4-H Youth Development Blog and Commercial Connection. You can sign up for blogs on the new site and access all the previous articles. If you have been receiving Extension newsletters, there should be no interruption and you will receive a notification through e-mail. Extension is the doorway to the University of Florida and provides practical education you can trust, to help people, businesses and communities solve problems, develop skills and build a better future.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

4-H welcomes fall with fresh, flavorful apples and pecans

The annual 4-H apple and pecan sale sponsored by the Pinellas County 4-H Association is now in full swing. This sale is the main fundraiser for the 4-H Association. Each year, the Pinellas County 4-H Association awards $6,000 in grants for 4-H camps and trips, 4-H Legislature, 4-H Congress and, most recently, college scholarships.

This year, the sale is featuring Yellow Delicious and Empire apples. Both varieties are excellent for baking, cooking or just eating. The apples are priced $44 for a 40-pound bushel, or $24 for a half-bushel. Pecans, halves or pieces are available in 1-pound bags. Specialty milk and dark chocolate-covered pecans are offered in 12-ounce decorative bags. All bags are $11 each.

Any 4-H member can take your prepaid order, or orders can be placed through the 4-H Association website at http://pc4hassociation.org. Orders must be placed by Tuesday, Oct. 1. Orders can be picked up from Thursday, Oct. 31 to Saturday, Saturday, Nov. 2 at the Chester Ochs 4-H Educational Center, 14644 113th Ave.N. in Largo.

Monday, August 19, 2013

It’s Rain Barrel Time Again!

We are often asked, when are you having another rain barrel class? Well, here's your chance! Join our new Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Extension Agent, Brian Niemann, at Weedon Island for this Rainwater Harvesting Workshop on August 31st at 10am.

Register online at https://2013rainwaterharvesting.eventbrite.com

Extension programs are open to all persons without regard to race, color, sex, age, disability, religion or national origin.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Florida’s Threatened and Endangered Animals

Lara Miller, 
Natural Resources Agent


You may often hear the words “threatened” or “endangered” when naturalists are talking about a particular species. You might even hear “species of special concern” or folks arguing whether it is Federally-listed or State-listed. The good news is, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has an updated report (October, 2012) to help clear up any confusion.

FWC is the agency responsible for maintaining the State list of animals. The status of these animals can be classified as Federally-designated Endangered, Federally-designated Threatened, State-designated Threatened or State-designated Species of Special Concern. As of November 2010, all Federally-listed species found in Florida are also included on Florida’s list as one of the Federally-designated assignments above. Species which are not Federally-listed, but are at risk of extinction in Florida are classified on the State list as State-designated Threatened.

All species with a State-designation were recently processed through biological status reviews. These reviews allow FWC to make decisions on the status of the species. Official status changes cannot be made until an updated management plan is approved for the species. In an effort to build consistency among the Federally-listed and State-listed species, the category of State-designated Species of Special Concern will eventually be eliminated. Once current management plans are revised, a decision will be made as to whether the species (currently listed as State-designated Species of Special Concern) will be modified to State-designated Threatened or removed from the list.

Other Federal agencies share the in authority to list species as endangered and threatened. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA-NMFS) assists with the listing of the majority of marine species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is the one responsible for administering the Federal list.

For a complete list of the listed animals from FWC, click here.

FWC is currently asking for public input on an Imperiled Species Management Plan for conserving 60 species on Florida’s Engendered and Threatened Species list. Show your environmental stewardship by getting involved and remember…

You can stay up to date on news and information affecting our environment by following your Pinellas County Natural Resource Extension Agent on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Dive into a Popular Florida Pastime!

Libby Carnahan, 
Pinellas County Sea Grant Extension Agent

A visit to Florida’s Nature Coast is like a step back in time to a Florida before high rise buildings, cell phones, and jam packed schedules. Recreational Scallop Season is a great reason for Tampa Bay residents to grab friends and family and head north. At one time scallops ranged abundantly across the state, from Palm Beach on the east coast to Pensacola on the west coast. Today, however, healthy populations can only be found in selected locations along the Gulf coast. The most popular destinations for recreational scallopers are Steinhatchee, Crystal River and Homosassa. The Florida bay scallop, a bivalve mollusk, grows and lives in the shallow (4 to 10 feet deep) seagrass beds that are common to these areas.

Recreational scallop season is open from June 29th-September 24th, 2013. Recreational scallopers between the ages of 16 and 65 must have a current Florida saltwater fishing license to collect scallops. Harvesting is allowed from the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal (in Bay County) to the Pasco-Hernando county line (near Aripeka). The bag limit is 2 gallons of whole scallops (in the shell), or 1 pint of scallop meat per person per day. In addition, no more than 10 gallons of whole scallops or 1/2 gallon of scallop meat may be possessed aboard any vessel at any time. You may harvest scallops only by hand or with a landing or dip net. Scallopers must remain in the legal scalloping area while in possession of scallops on the water, including the point where they return to land.


Be sure to follow safe snorkeling and boating procedures. When snorkeling from a boat, regulations require a dive flag displayed on your boat. When snorkeling from shore, you must keep a floating dive flag with you . Boaters should recognize your dive flag and its meaning, however always err on the side of caution and pay close attention to boat traffic in your vicinity. A full list of boating regulations can be found on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website. Always monitor local weather and tides and be prepared for unexpected summer storms.

For more information, visit the Florida Sea Grant website. To see more scallop photos and to follow up to date marine and coastal news visit the UF IFAS Pinellas County Sea Grant Extension Facebook Page.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Be a Green Business Partner

Mary Campbell, 
Extension Director

Becoming a more environmentally- friendly business is a choice that can reap big rewards. Green Business practices can help save money, attract customers, enhance your reputation and help make a business more efficient. A company policy of environmental stewardship or mission that includes sustainable practices will help create the vision. There are three main areas where a business can become more green and sustainable:
  • Improve energy efficiency and water conservation
  • Changes in work practices 
  • Recycling and waste reduction

Improve Energy Efficiency and Water conservation
There are simple ways to conserve energy and water plus save money at the same time. Implement staff guidelines for turning off computers, peripherals, as well as office and meeting room lights. Water conservation in outdoor landscapes can save thousands of gallons of water each year (see Florida Yards and Neighborhoods ).

Changes in Work Practices
To become a green business, employees need to be a part of the practice changes that will make it successful. Creating a green committee that promotes these new practices will be a good start, as well as educational programs for staff. Discussing green purchasing practices, recycling, energy conservation, double- sided copying, reduction of paper use through electronic sharing and other practices will get the team started. Start small and build on these practice changes gradually until they become habits. Develop a staff pledge program and rewards around the new practices.

Recycling and Waste Reduction
Reducing waste in an office can make a positive impact on the bottom line. Get a waste assessment to determine strategies and options from Pinellas County Utilities Solid Waste.

Develop an Action Plan

  1. Evaluate environmental programs that fit well with your vision and mission. 
  2. Communicate your environmental initiatives to customers and staff. 
  3. Report successes and get feedback.

Join Pinellas County Green Business Partnership

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

2013 Energy Symposium hosted by Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project

This FREE 3 hour symposium will feature a keynote address by Dr. Jennifer Languell, award-winning green building engineer with 15 years experience. 
Expert panel discussions will focus on water and energy efficiencies and improvements inside and outside the home.  From irrigation to PV panels, appliances to native plants, you'll get information first-hand from Duke Energy, Florida Yards and Neighborhoods, Tampa Bay Water, and much more!
Each registered participant will receive an insulated tote bag with manual powered LED flashlight, solar calculator, and educational information from UF/IFAS and our partners.
Please arrive early for check-in.  Refreshments will be provided.
Saturday September 14, 9a.m.–Noon. Pinellas County Extension, 12520 Ulmerton Rd., Largo
Seating is limited and pre-registration is required at  www.pinellascountyextension.org.

Call 727-582-2097 for more information.
Extension programs are open to all persons without regard to race, color, sex, age. Disability, religion or national origin.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Free class to save energy and money

Sign up for the FREE Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project (PEEP) class at Pinellas County Extension’s Largo office this Saturday. You will learn how to reduce your home energy bill and receive free energy saving devices, including a new LED light bulb!

Saturday July 27, 10:30–11:30 a.m.

Register at  www.pinellascountyextension.org.

While you are there, stroll through the adjacent Florida Botanical Gardens and tour historic homes at Heritage Village, free to the public.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Taking Ecosystems for Granted

Lara Miller, 
Natural Resources Agent


As promised in my last posting about fire, today I will discuss the benefits of ecosystems as a whole. Many of us enjoy recreating in nature, but are we missing out on something bigger and better? Is there more to the environment than we think? The answer is probably yes! As consumers of natural resources, it is important to understand the true value of ecosystems. By applying a monetary value to the services provided by nature, we may begin to view the world differently. Ecosystem services are benefits that people obtain from natural systems. Placing a monetary value on these services allows economists to compare the value of undeveloped land such as a park or preserve to developed land such as a shopping mall or apartment complex. In other words, we can now compare apples to apples instead of apples to oranges. The idea of assigning a value to ecosystem services is relatively new and still being developed, but it represents a big step for folks trying to conserve lands around the world.

There are four main categories of ecosystem services:

  • Provisioning services are the physical benefits nature provides such as: food, fuel, fiber, wood, biochemicals such as sap, rubber or glue, medicines, and fresh water.
  • Regulating services are the benefits we receive from supporting a healthy ecosystem, including: better air quality, a comfortable climate, water storage and purification, erosion prevention, disease control, decomposition by bacteria, and pollination by bees and other insects.
  • Cultural services are non-material benefits we receive from nature such as: cultural heritage and identity, aesthetic beauty, learning through interactions with nature, recreation, and creative hobbies such as art and music.
  • Supporting services make provisioning, regulating and cultural services possible. These benefits include natural cycles such as: the process of photosynthesis; nutrient cycling allowing the sharing of important elements between plants and animals; water cycling such as the natural filtration of ground water; and soil formation.


Some ways trees specifically benefit us include:

  • Preventing Soil Erosion - Trees reduce soil erosion by catching rainfall on leaves, branches, and bark, slowing the flow of water as it hits the ground. This allows the water to seep into the soil and enter the aquifer or the tree’s root system.
  • Reducing Energy Costs – As trees shade buildings in the summer and block cold winds in the winter, the need to use cooling and heating systems is reduced.
  • Improving Air Quality - Trees reduce the impacts of air pollution by absorbing pollutants through their leaves, intercepting particles in the air such as dust, ash or smoke, and releasing oxygen we need to breathe.
  • Increasing Property Value –Research indicates that home buyers are willing to pay more for a home with more trees versus few to no trees.1
  • Reducing Carbon Dioxide (CO2) - Trees help to reduce atmospheric carbon by sequestering (locking it up) in their roots, trunks, stems and leaves. Trees retain this carbon even after being harvested for lumber to build homes and furniture. CO2 is a greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change.

These are just a few of the ecosystem services provided by our natural systems. To learn more, click here or visit the source link below. Pinellas County Extension also developed the Traveling Tree Walk, an educational tool focused on the ecosystem services of trees. This tool can be reserve for your community online at: http://travelingtreewalk.eventbrite.com/ .

1-Source: http://treeutah.org/programs/urban-forest

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Free energy-saving classes in July

Would you like to learn more ways to consume less energy without sacrificing your level of comfort? Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project (PEEP) is offering FREE classes in various area of Pinellas County. You will learn how to reduce your home energy bill and receive free energy saving devices that will help you to save money, including a new LED light bulb. 

Register at www.pinellascountyextension.org for these classes coming up next week.
Classes for Spanish speaking groups can be scheduled by request.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Join Us at 2013 Tampa Bay Home Show!


The Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project and other Pinellas County Extension programs will be on display at the Tampa Bay Home Show this Friday and Saturday.

Visit the PEEP booth (#455) to receive a free insulated, zippered tote bag. (Supplies are limited, so come early!). Spin the trivia wheel to win a hand-powered flashlight or solar-powered calculator. Register for hourly door prizes (check back by the end of the day).

PEEP provides free information on simple ways to lower your home energy bill. Learn more at www.pinellascountyextension.org and click on Sustainable Living.


Tampa Bay Home Show
Tropicana Field

Friday, July 19, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Saturday, July 20, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. 
Free admission and parking.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Energy Savings = Money Savings

Ramona Madhosingh-Hector,    
Urban Sustainability Agent    

Saving money is important to every household and saving energy is easier than you might think. This week, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in collaboration with the University of Florida’s Program for Resource Efficient Communities launched a new tool to help homeowners identify ways to save energy.

The interactive energy tool (www.myfloridahomeenergy.com) allows users to search for and identify energy saving information for different areas of the home e.g. living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. The “Dollars & Sense” Tips provide specific energy saving strategies while the “Financing” and “Incentives” tools allow homeowners to identify and select specific, local information.

For more information on how to save energy and money, join the Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project (PEEP) for the upcoming Pinellas Home Energy Symposium at Pinellas County Extension in Largo. PEEP utilizes information published by the Program for Resource Efficient Communities and the Florida Energy Systems Consortium in its classes. The symposium is scheduled for September 14 and registration for the event is available here – http://pcsymposium13.eventbrite.com

Saving energy saves money and is good for the environment! 


Resources:

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Program for Resource Efficient Communities

Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency

Florida Energy Systems Consortium

Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project

Friday, July 5, 2013

People are Prescribed Medicine, Ecosystems are Prescribed Fire

Photo Source: www.naplesnews.com 
Lara Miller,
Natural Resources Agent


Certain ecosystems need fire to stay healthy just as people need medicine to stay healthy. Fires make an ecosystem healthier? Yes! Prescribed fires and some wildfires have a variety of benefits for the plant and animals within a natural system, and fire benefits us too. What good could come from a fire? Let’s find out!

Benefits to Plants

Many plants are adapted to survive fire, but some plants actually need fire to survive. Unlike most other pine trees, the Sand Pine (Pinus clausa) retains its lower branches which serve as a “fuel ladder” attracting fire up the entire tree to ensure it reaches all of its cones. The cones of the Sand Pine are sealed shut with a resin which is melted by the heat of a fire. Following a fire, the parent tree may die, but all of the freshly opened cones will shed seeds on bare ground and be ready to sprout and grow into new Sand Pine trees. Fires are also beneficial to plants because they open up the tree canopy, allowing more sunlight to reach the understory plants. Native plants benefit because of their unique adaptations to survive fire which their invasive or exotic counterparts may not. A fire may kill off many unwanted competitors of these native plant species, allowing natural Florida species to thrive. Fires are also important for maintaining a particular ecosystem type. For example, pine flatwoods ecosystems, dominated by pine trees and saw palmettos need fire on a 2-5 year cycle to thrive and remain healthy. When fire is suppressed or removed from this ecosystem, other unrepresentative plants will start to take over, such as oak trees. As oak trees mature, they slowly shade out the understory plants and over time will transform the ecosystem from pine flatwoods to an oak hammock. This transformation, while natural, is detrimental to the plants and animals that depend upon the pine flatwoods habitat.

Benefits to Wildlife

The Florida Scrub-Jay, an endemic species found only in Florida, is a perfect example of an animal species that needs fire (indirectly) in order to survive. This bird is a habitat specialist, found only in scrub habitat which is the most endangered ecosystem type in Florida. The key to maintaining scrub habitat is fire. Regular prescribed fires maintain the scrub oaks (3-10ft in height), bare patches of sand, and other low growing vegetations such as palmettos which the Florida Scrub-Jays prefer. Without fire, the scrub habitat is lost and the Florida Scrub-Jay struggles to survive. Most animals within fire-dependent ecosystems are well adapted to survive fires. For example, over 350 species find shelter in gopher tortoise burrows during a fire. For this reason the gopher tortoise is considered a keystone species. Following a fire event, the remaining nutrient-rich ashes are absorbed into the soil and become available for new plant growth, a benefit for the plants and animals. The fresh and tender shoots of these seedlings are a favorite for a variety of wildlife including deer, turkey, gopher tortoises, bobwhite quail and many more. Fires also clear out densely vegetated areas to allow for easier movement of wildlife through the area.

Benefits to People

It is often difficult to consider how fire could be beneficial to us when it is often portrayed as a natural disaster, but allow me to explain. Land managers actually fight fire with fire. In addition to the benefits mentioned above, land managers may conduct regularly scheduled prescribed burns to reduce future fire hazard by reducing burnable fuels (dead leaves, branches, trees, etc.). In other words, prescribed fires help to burn off the buildup of dead and dry wood before these fuels accumulate to a dangerous level and pose a serious threat in the face of a future wild fire. Fire needs three elements to occur: fuel, oxygen and heat. By conducting regular prescribed burns, the amount of fuel is kept low, preventing a future wild fire from becoming a major threat to us.

We may not directly connect the health of our ecosystems to the quality of our lives, but we could not survive without them. It is critically important for natural resource managers to maintain healthy ecosystems for the benefit of plants, animals and people. Prescribed fires and manageable wildfires are an extremely valuable tool which keeps natural systems functioning in a way that benefits all life. Find out more from my next blog about ecosystem services.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food

Mary Campbell,
Extension Director and Community Resource Agent

How much do you know about where your food comes from? Is it important to you whether you are supporting local Florida agriculture? Learning about food and farming in our communities is an important way to understand sustainable living. Local food systems enhance the social relationships between farmers and consumers; support small and family farmers; keep local agricultural economies viable; maintain genetic diversity of food crops; and preserve natural resources, rural land areas, and wildlife spaces.

Floridians are buying more food grown locally or regionally and retail sales are higher here than in other states, according to a University of Florida study. The survey showed that local food represents about 20% of all Florida food purchased for at-home consumption, except restaurant take-out food, said Alan Hodges, an Extension scientist with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Consumers realize there are health, quality and economic benefits to locally grown food. Among all Florida households, 62 percent bought local foods at farmers’ markets, 53 percent from retail supermarkets, 28 percent from restaurants, and 5 percent from community-supported agriculture or other direct transactions. Because there is no accepted definition of what constitutes “local” food, Hodges’ survey allowed respondents to define the term – and most often defined it as food produced within 100 miles of the consumer, he said.

To watch an interview with Hodges about the local food study, visit http://tinyurl.com/bycexkd to see Hodges and others from the larger project discuss local food, visit http://tinyurl.com/axjxosm. The larger project investigates ways of connecting farmers and consumers. It’s supported by a specialty crops block grant obtained by the UF/IFAS PIE Center. Information about the larger project is available at http://piecenter.com/localfood.

A USDA program launched in 2009: Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food supports local food systems and understanding of the benefits of local and regional support for agriculture. There is an interactive map of farmer’s markets and other information on the website.

Resource: UF/IFAS Extension Local Foods

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Free Home Energy Classes This Week

Sign-up today to attend a Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project class.  At this 60 minute PowerPoint presentation, you will learn how much energy is wasted in the home every day, around the clock.  Participants receive free equipment and materials to help cut energy costs, and save money each month. 

Friday June 7, 1:30–2:30 pm
at the Salvation Army at the corner of 4th St. and 14th Ave. South in St. Petersburg.

Saturday June 8, 10:30–11:30am
at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Clearwater
For more information, call (727) 582-2097.

Extension programs are open to all persons without regard to race, color, sex, age, disability, religion or national origin.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Introduction to Aquaculture Workshop


Libby Carnahan
UF/IFAS Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent

Investing in commercial aquaculture in Florida can be financially rewarding, but it can also be disastrous without the proper research. Aquaculture is one of the most technically demanding and financially risky forms of “agricultural” production that exists. To learn more about the opportunities and potential pitfalls associated with investing in Florida aquaculture, the Pinellas County Extension Office and UF/IFAS Florida Sea Grant is offering an Introduction to Aquaculture Workshop on Wednesday, June 12th.

The workshop is open to the public, and is specifically intended for individuals who have an interest in development or growth of aquaculture–related businesses. The workshop will also provide a good overview for educators interested in teaching aquaculture to youth or adults. Aquaculture extension specialists from around the state, and a representative of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Aquaculture, will present current information on the status of aquaculture in Florida, pros and cons of specific business ventures, an overview of state regulations, and a discussion of resources available to support these businesses.

The workshop will be held Wednesday June 12th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg, Florida. Pre-registration is required and can be accessed at http://aquacultureworkshop.eventbrite.com . A $10 registration fee includes lunch and materials. For more information, contact Libby Carnahan lcarnahan@ufl.edu or (727)453-6522. For more information on aquaculture in Florida visit http://www.flseagrant.org/aquaculture.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Tell us what you think!


Pinellas County Extension Sustainable Living Team wants to know what you think!

Please click on this short survey link today to help us improve our blog. We appreciate your participation and value your input.



Seminole Discussion Group on Recycling and Sustainability

This Monday, June 3, 2013  
10 a.m. to 12:30
 
Seminole Community Library Program Room 
9200 113th St. N
Seminole, Florida 33722

Come join in the final meeting of this season. 
Two speakers are planned for this meeting:
  • Jeremy Hockenbury, Director of Public Works, City of SeminoleJeremy will give a power point presentation concerning  sustainability techniques used in urban forestry.
  • Natalie Leggette, Public Works Supervisor of Horticulture, City of South Pasadena, will share some tricks and little known methods used in  horticulture. She will also distribute an information sheet and some seeds for you to take home.
Following these presentations, the group will celebrate a zero-waste lunch. Please participate by bringing a lunch dish to share. Also, bring your own plate, utensils, and cup.
NOTE: The Library snack bar has been closed due to renovations. Kindly bring your beverage, too.


Special Guest: Representative Larry Ahern may stop by to wish everyone to have a lovely, sustainable summer!

For more information and to RSVP, contact Mary, queenofrecycle@hotmail.com .

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tell Us What You Think!


Pinellas County Extension Sustainable Living Team wants your feedback! 

Please participate in this short survey to help us improve our blog. We appreciate your participation and value your input.


Friday, May 24, 2013

It’s Getting Hot, Hot, Hot!


Ramona Madhosingh-Hector   
Urban Sustainability Agent  

Despite our love for Florida, we’re not always happy to endure the long hot summer. Home air conditioning (AC), a modern luxury, accounts for more than 40% of our utility bill and if your system is not working efficiently, you will spend considerably more. To ensure that you are not overpaying to stay cool this summer, use these simple tips to maximize your savings.

  1. Maintenance – AC maintenance is key to protecting your investment and ensuring that you stay cool all summer long. For a fraction of the cost of repairs, an AC professional will check ducts, coils, and overall performance of your AC system. Be sure to use a licensed company when you conduct periodic maintenance on your unit and replace your filters monthly to optimize performance.
  2. Thermostat Setting – The recommended indoor temperature during summer months is 780F. Setting your thermostat higher than 78 actually results in increased cooling costs (8% for every degree). To maximize your savings, use ceiling fans and dress appropriately for the summer months – this will help you to feel cool even if you set the thermostat up 1 or 2 degrees. Remember that ceiling fans cool people not rooms.
    Installing and using a programmable thermostat will help you regulate the temperature settings while you are away at work and when you are asleep. Look for the Energy Star label and ensure that the unit is compatible with your AC system. 
  3. Window treatments – To minimize the work that the AC system must do, shade windows that are facing the sun. You may use window curtains, blinds, or window film to help reduce the cooling load – this means that your AC will work less to keep your house cool.
  4. Control moisture – Warm air enters your home through poorly sealed windows and doors, kitchen and bath vents, and through entry/exit openings. To reduce heat and humidity entering your home, be sure to seal any visible cracks and openings in your windows and doors and use your kitchen and bath fans sparingly.
  5. System Upgrade – There are many factors that go into upgrading the AC system, e.g. unit efficiency, number of occupants in the home, and occupant lifestyle. The SEER or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio is an indication of how efficient the AC system could be. Federal regulation mandates a minimum SEER 13 for residential air conditioners – upgrading from a 9 SEER to 13 SEER can reduce your air conditioning costs by over 30%. Be sure to hire a licensed contractor to upgrade your unit and remember that “bigger is not always better” – your contractor can help you choose the appropriate unit for your home.

Following these simple, cost-effective tips during the upcoming hot summer months will help you stay cool, avoid costly repairs, and save money on your utility bills. For much more information about air conditioning in your Florida home, check out this EDIS publication.

Resources:

Department of Energy
Energy Star
Florida Building Code
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

Friday, May 17, 2013

Think Locally, Act Neighborly: Invasive Species Know No Boundaries

  
Lara Miller,
Natural Resources Agent  

If you have ever had to battle an invasive species in your yard, you know the challenges they present. The bad news is, not only are they in your yard, but your neighbor’s yard, the park down the street and the preserve across the way. Did you know there is a Florida Invasive Species Partnership (FISP) to help us manage these pests?

The FISP facilitates the formation of Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs). These CISMAs focus on invasive species prevention, education/awareness, early detection & rapid response, monitoring, and integrated pest management.

There are a total of 17 CISMAs in Florida with more to come! Pinellas County falls under the Suncoast CISMA also including Hillsborough, Manatee, and Sarasota counties. Their mission: to address the threat to native diversity by coordinating and increasing efforts to eliminate or reduce invasive, non-native plants and animals across public and private boundaries.

Educational opportunities and CISMA Work Days occur throughout the year. During a recent event, Exotic Species Day at Brooker Creek Preserve, volunteers removed tuberous sword ferns and Caesar’s weed to provide space for native species to reestablish their roots. Another educational program, “Invasive Species & the Law” will be held on Wednesday, May 29th in Sarasota County. All of this information and more can be found on Suncoast CISMA’s website: http://www.floridainvasives.org/Suncoast/index.html

There’s more! If you have an exotic species as a pet, but no longer wish to care for it, you can attend the upcoming “Pet Amnesty Day” at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve on Saturday, July 13th. This program is run through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to help exotic pet owners who can no longer give the optimum care for their pet. Undesired pets are brought to this event and are handed over to trained exotic pet adopters. This event aims to reduce the number of nonnative species being released into the wild.

If you’re tired of dealing with invasive species, join your local CISMA and get involved. You can make a difference!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Stay Safe at the Beach

Libby Carnahan,
UF/IFAS Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent

Safety First

As summer draws near, many of us will make plans to head to the beach. The beaches of Pinellas County are a wonderful place to enjoy time with family and friends, take part in watersports, or just relax. However, before you head to the beach, it is important to keep safety as your number one priority. Below are some easy tips you can follow to keep you and your family safe.

Do Not Solely Rely On Lifeguards

Swimming in a pool is NOT the same as swimming at a surf beach with crashing waves, winds and currents that can change suddenly. It is always best to rely on the buddy system and never swim alone. Parents should stay close to young children, even if they are good swimmers. If you are not a confident swimmer, it is best to remain in shallow water and beware of steep drop offs. Lifeguards are a great resource when available, but should not be relied upon. Most of our local beaches do not have lifeguards, so we need to vigilant to prevent accidents.

Beware of Rip Currents

Rip currents are powerful currents that form when water rushes out to sea in a narrow path. Telltale signs of a rip current include differences in water color and water surface compared to surrounding water. If you are caught in a rip current, the most important thing is to remain calm and NOT try to swim against the current. You should swim parallel to shore until you are out of the current. For additional information on Rip Currents, visit http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov/tips.shtml.

Monitor the Weather

Living in Pinellas County, we all know that a summer day can change from sunny and calm to a thunderous storm in a matter of minutes. Keep an eye on the weather forecast including severe weather warnings in your area. Know the meaning of and obey warnings represented by colored beach flags. Different beaches may use different colors but a commonly used series include those pictured.

Be Flexible

Remember, you go to the beach to enjoy yourself. If conditions are not good for the beach, be prepared to change your plans.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Savvy shoppers use labels

Ramona Madhosingh-Hector
Urban Sustainability Agent

Savvy shoppers always know how to get the best deals! They’re armed with knowledge, coupons (if available) and patience. If you’re an eco-conscious consumer, then you’re probably already familiar with these labels, if not, it’s time that you become familiar.

EnergyGuide – This label provides information on capacity, estimated operating costs, estimated annual consumption and energy efficiency rating. The label is based on standard tests conducted by manufacturers that compare annual energy use of different models. It also shows the average costs of operating and owning the appliance over the course of a year. By law, manufacturers are required to put labels on the inside or outside of the appliances and if you don’t see the yellow label, ask a salesperson for it.



Energy Star – This blue and white logo is placed on appliances that meet the strict standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Energy. It indicates those appliances that use less energy, save the consumers money, and protect the environment.



GREENGUARD – This label helps buyers identify products and materials that have low chemical emissions and can improve the quality of air in which the products are used. This label is used on building materials, finishes, interior furnishings and cleaning products.

GREEN SEAL – From paper towels to food packaging, household products to construction materials, Green Seal certification considers the total environmental impact of the product. The Green Seal certification process looks at the manufacture, purchase, and use of environmentally responsible products and services.


The Lighting Facts label on light bulb packages gives you information that you need to compare different bulbs. The label helps you determine brightness (lumens), annual energy costs, light appearance (warm or cool), wattage (energy used) and expected bulb life.

Labels are valuable shopping tools when you’re looking to upgrade an appliance, replace a light or light fixture, or choose a cleaning product. Knowledge is power so shop confidently–look for labels, read labels, and use them to help you make a better purchase.

Resources:
www.energystar.gov 
www.ftc.gov/appliancedata
www.energysavers.gov
www.greenseal.org
www.greenguard.org
www.lightingfacts.com/ftclabel

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Seminole Discussion Group on Recycling and Sustainability

This Monday, May 6, 2013  
10 a.m. to noon
 
Seminole Community Library Program Room 
9200 113th St. N
Seminole, Florida 33722

Come hear Andy Karpinski–
ONE PERSON'S JOURNEY TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE LIVING


Andy's PowerPoint presentation will highlight his 30 years of experience in–

  • using less gas and electricity
  • using solar energy at home
  • growing better vegetables and fruits
  • craeting less waste
  • reusing more materials
  • catching rainwater


Bring along a friend or two to this exciting meeting.

For more information and to RSVP, contact Mary, queenofrecycle@hotmail.com.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Brooker Creek Exhibit Hall and Welcome Center closed through next Wednesday


Cleanup from burst water supply line
  
The Brooker Creek Preserve Environmental Education Center Exhibit Hall and Welcome Center will be closed through next Wednesday, April 17, due to flooding from a burst water supply line. The extended closure will provide time for cleanup and evaluation of the extent of moisture damage that may have occurred.

The classroom building and restrooms are not affected by the flooding and will remain open for all previously scheduled activities. Trails will also be open to visitors as usual.

To learn more about Brooker Creek Preserve and its upcoming programs and events, call (727) 453-6800. To register for programs and events, visit www.brookercreekpreserve.org. Videos featuring Brooker Creek Preserve can be viewed at www.youtube.com/pcctv1.

For more information on Pinellas County services and programs, visit www.pinellascounty.org or create a shortcut to www.pinellascounty.org/mobile on any smartphone. Pinellas County government is on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Pinellas County complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Tracking Your Weight on the Go

Nan Jensen,
Family and Consumer Sciences Agent

Whether it’s getting rid of those “extra winter pounds”, getting in shape for the beach or having more energy, keeping track of what you eat and your daily activity can go a long way in helping you achieve your goals. There are a number of good weight management apps that make it easy to keep tabs on your calorie intake and stick to a healthy eating plan.The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics features a review by registered dietitians of some of the most popular apps on its website eatright.org. Below is a summary.

Weight Management App Reviews
Registered dietitians review the top-rated free iPhone and Android apps for weight management.

  • Calorie Counter
    Tracks food, exercise, weight and all the nutrients listed on a Nutrition Facts label. Includes daily inspirational articles, healthy recipes and an easy-to-understand help section. RD Rating: 4 stars
  • Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker by MyFitness Pal
    Tracks a combination of fitness goals and nutrition analysis features to help you lose weight. RD Rating: 4.5 stars
  • Calorie Counter by MyNetDiary
    Allows user to personalize a calorie limit for weight loss, gain or maintenance. RD Rating: 3 stars
  • Calorie Counter: Diets & Activities
    Features a classic food diary that tracks calories, water, fitness and the time each food item is consumed and an option to create your own diet and physical activity plan and an Integrated Body Tracker. RD Rating: 4 stars
  • Calorie Tracker by Livestrong.com
    Food and fitness diary designed to help you achieve your diet and nutrition goals, whether you want to lose, maintain or gain weight. RD Rating: 4 stars
  • Daily Burn
    Keep track of calories consumed and track workouts to see how much energy is burned. RD rating: 2 stars 
  • Diet Assistant
    Diet Assistant provides diet plans for those who want to gain, lose or maintain their weight. RD rating: 2 stars  
  • eaTipster
    Created by the Dietitians of Canada, eaTipster delivers daily healthy eating tips to your mobile devices. RD rating: 5 stars
  • Lose it!
    Keeps track of foods you eat with this detailed food database; primarily for people wanting to lose weight. RD Rating: 3 stars
  • My Diet Coach
    Touted as a tool to "win the mental game of dieting," My Diet Coach is designed to keep dieters motivated and committed to meeting their weight loss goals. RD Rating: 3 stars
  • Sparkpeople Food and Fitness Tracker
    Fitness and food tracker for people looking to lose a half-pound to 2 pounds per week or to maintain weight. RD Rating: 4 stars
  • Thryve
    Thryve is marketed as a mobile food coach. Originally designed as a way to identify food intolerances, Thryve captures what and how much you eat and your mood after a meal. RD Rating: 2 stars
  • Weight Watchers Mobile
    Follows the Weight Watchers plan step by step, using interactive tools, finding local meetings and creating shopping lists. RD Rating: 2 stars


Friday, March 29, 2013

No Fooling! Free Energy Classes and Kits in April!

This PEEP is not a marshmallow bunny. 
It's the Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project!

This Monday, come see Greg Plantamura (Sustainability Educator from Pinellas County Extension) present a free one hour class on lowering your electric bill, at the monthly Seminole Discussion Group on Recycling and Sustainability. 
Click here to pre-register and receive a free energy-saving kit, including an insulated tote bag!

Also at the discussion Group, enjoy an informative presentation by Laney Poire of the Crowley Natural and Cultural History Center from Sarasota.


April 1 at 10 a.m.–Noon

SPC Seminole Community Library Program Room 
9200 113th St. N
Seminole, Florida 33722

PEEP will also be coming to the following locations. Click the dates to register.

For more information call 727-582-2097.

Extension programs are open to all persons without regard to race, color, sex, age, disability, religion or national origin.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pinellas County 2014 Budget Community Forum comes to St. Petersburg College Seminole

As county officials begin preparing next year’s budget, Pinellas County is getting the public involved by bringing the 2014 Budget Community Forum out to the community on Wednesday, April 10, in partnership with St. Petersburg College Seminole.

An open house will be set up in the SPC Digitorium common area from 5:30 to 7 p.m. There, visitors can browse information booths set up by the various Pinellas County departments.

Residents can meet with county officials and their county commissioners, ask questions, provide feedback and learn more about county services.

From 7 to 8 p.m., an eTownHall will take place inside the Digitorium in front of a live audience. County commissioners and the county administrator will respond to comments and questions from the community as they discuss the budget, strategies for the future and the vision of the community as a whole.

This year’s event will be moderated by Bay News 9 senior anchor Al Ruechel.

The eTownHall can be viewed live in the Digitorium, online through the Pinellas County website or over PCC-TV on Bright House Channel 622, Knology Channel 18 or Verizon Channel 44. Large screen viewing areas will be set up at other SPC campuses as well.

Questions to the panel can be submitted via the online blog, Twitter, by calling (888) 409-5380 or via written submissions from the audience.

The eTownHall blog will open 9 a.m. on Monday, April 8, for those who want to submit their questions and comments in advance.

For more information, to view the program or submit a question to the blog, go to www.pinellascounty.org/etownhall.

The St. Petersburg College Seminole campus is located at 9200 113th St. N. in Seminole.

For more information on Pinellas County services and programs, visit www.pinellascounty.org, now with LiveChat, or create a shortcut to www.pinellascounty.org/mobile on any smartphone. Pinellas County government is on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Pinellas County complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Urban gardening takes root


Imagine walking out the door of your home, and just a few steps away was some of the tastiest food you have ever eaten. Fresh. Crisp. Vibrant. Full of flavor and vitamins.

This isn’t some type of gourmet’s dream – it’s the reality of urban gardening. Even in highly populated Pinellas County, you can have the garden of your dreams that takes less work, encounters fewer problems and produces more crops with the right know-how.

That’s where the folks at the county’s Extension Service come in. The agents who work at Extension are trained by and have the backing of one of the most renowned agriculture universities in the United States – the University of Florida. They are also keenly attuned to the unique conditions that Florida gardeners face.

For instance, residents can find a bumper crop of information about getting their gardens off to a good start. Proper site location, soil preparation and crop selection can prevent issues from sprouting up later, reducing the need for fungicides, herbicides or other chemicals. From seeds in the ground to harvest time, farmers can bring their questions, concerns or samples to extension for a diagnosis and information on the best way to fix the problem and get ready for record growth.

Of course, a bounty of fruits and vegetables is great, but the enjoyment can be short lived without advice on how to cook, preserve or freeze the bounty for enjoying at some later date. For the tasty morsels you want to cook right now, get advice on how to build a balanced meal that is both nourishing and tasty.

Gardening isn’t just about plants, either. The number of people raising chickens in Pinellas County is growing, and they are getting the freshest eggs for their recipes. Extension agents can also help the aspiring chicken farmer with the know-how to get their brood off on the right wing.

Where to begin? You can visit the Pinellas County Extension Service online at http://pinellascontyextension.org to access all of the resources. Lawn and garden help is also a call away at (727) 582-2100 and then pressing the number one. The line is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 9 a.m. until noon and 1 to 4 p.m.

If you are the more up close and in person type, swing on by the Pinellas County Extension Office at 12520 Ulmerton Road in Largo, or check out the Pinellas County Master Gardener Plant Clinic at the Palm Harbor Library, 2330 Nebraska Ave. in Palm Harbor.

If you visit the Ulmerton Road location, be sure to stroll through the abundant gardens located near the building. There, you can watch as volunteers harvest the many different botanical bounties and get ideas for your own garden.

Urban gardening classes are also offered. Be sure to click, call or stop by for the latest information on what’s coming up.

Gardening in Florida? You will dig it!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Avoid having the most expensive lawn in the neighborhood

Following water restrictions saves big dollars 

The Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Government Board has unanimously voted to implement a Modified Phase III Extreme Water Shortage in the Tampa Bay area, effective March 13, 2013. Watering at restricted times in Pinellas County will result in a fine of $193.00.

Customers can avoid fines by familiarizing themselves with the new rules. If you choose to use a sprinkler timer, check to make sure it is operating correctly and has the appropriate times. One fine can quickly make your lawn maintenance the most expensive in the neighborhood.

Some of the features of the new restrictions include:
  • Watering 1 day per week (Monday to Friday) 
  • Reduced hours before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m. 
  • Car washing one day per week on your regular watering day 
  • Fountains can operate 4 hours per day 
  • Low volume irrigation during authorized hours only 

Addresses with
“house numbers”
May only
irrigate on …
Ending in 0 or 1Monday
Ending in 2 or 3 Tuesday
Ending in 4 or 5Wednesday
Ending in 6 or 7Thursday
Ending in 8 or 9Friday
Rights-of-way, common
areas and other
“no address” locations) 
Friday

The watering restrictions for St. Petersburg water customers located within City limits is as follows:


● Even numbered property addresses should irrigate on Saturday ONLY
● Odd numbered property addresses, or locations with no address, should irrigate on Sunday ONLY
● Irrigation is allowed between 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. or 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. on the assigned day

These mandatory restrictions apply to properties using potable (city) water, private well water, and private connections to surface water sources (lakes, ponds, etc.) for watering. These restrictions do not apply to irrigation with reclaimed water.

More information can be found online at
www.stpete.org/WateringRestrictions or by calling 892-5300.

For more information about the Modified Phase III Extreme Water Shortage restrictions, please visit www.pinellascounty.org/utilities and click “Watering Schedule” on the menu.

To receive important notifications by email, customers are encouraged to go to Utilities My eAccount and add or update their email address. To access your account, visit www.pinellascounty.org/utilities and click on the Utilities My eAccount button. For more information, contact Customer Service at (727) 464-4000.

For more information on Pinellas County services and programs, visit www.pinellascounty.org or create a shortcut to www.pinellascounty.org/mobile on any smartphone. Pinellas County government is on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Pinellas County complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Sinkhole Story

Click for large view
Lara Miller,
Natural Resources Agent

You’ve heard it in the news and you’ve seen it in your neighborhood, sinkholes are happening, but why? Underneath your home, garden or business is a layer of Karst topography or landscape. This Karst topography is made up of limestone rock which is composed of a mineral called calcite. Calcite is a mineral developed from fossilized remains of sea creatures that died and sank to the ocean floor 25 to 60 million years ago. Over these millions of years, shell remains became compacted into layers of whitish rock we know as limestone.

Karst topography is the reason Florida has sinkholes, springs, disappearing streams and even caves. Rainfall that percolates or seeps through the soil absorbs carbon dioxide and reacts with decaying vegetation along the way which leads to water that is slightly acidic. This acidified water slowly dissolves limestone rock as it moves through spaces and cracks underground, creating a network of cavities or holes. These holes serve as a sink for more acidic water, leading to larger cracks and voids over time. Sinkholes form when the underlying layer of limestone rock can no longer support the overlying elements (sediments, houses, etc.) and the earth collapses into the cavity.

Do sinkholes happen naturally or are humans contributing to these events?

Natural factors can contribute to ideal conditions for sinkholes to form. For example, a heavy rain following a long period of drought can cause enough overlying pressure in certain areas to cause the earth to cave in. Higher levels of pumping or removal of groundwater can also contribute to the formation of a sinkhole, especially during long periods of time with little to no rain.

Aside from the obvious damage sinkholes can cause, are there any other concerns?

Sinkholes may contribute to water quality problems if rainwater is not filtered by the soil and plants before reaching the aquifer, our underground source of drinking water. In an ideal scenario, rainwater will be caught by the leaves, branches and bark of trees and vegetation before it hits the ground. These obstacles slow the momentum of rainwater allowing it to seep into the soil to be filtered by the natural system before entering the aquifer. In the case of a sinkhole, rainwater flowing into the cavity may reach our aquifer without being filtered and result in reduced water quality.

Resources and additional information:

http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/hydrology/sinkholes/brochure.pdf

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/dh399

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