Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fire Ant Origin Tracked Back to Argentina

Invasive fire ants plague most of the Southeast, rooting out native species and delivering blistering bites to whatever gets in their way. Amazingly they all likely came from fewer than a dozen stowaways that landed in Mobile, Ala., in the mid-1930s, says a University of Georgia researcher.

Using a bit of genetic sleuthing, Kenneth Ross, an entomologist with the UGA College of Agricultural Environmental Sciences, tracked the lineage of this notorious Southern pest. What he found surprised him.

“Most didn’t make it over on the boat,” Ross said. “When we look at the area around Mobile, the most probable number of queens is seven, eight, nine and at the minimum six.”

Ross worked to determine the number of queen ant colonizers with his former student DeWayne Shoemaker, who now works at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology in Gainesville, Fla.

They also used the genetic markers to pinpoint where the invasive fire ants, known scientifically as Solenopsis invicta, originated. Formosa, in northeast Argentina, looks to be the source population.

“In textbooks, they were saying Brazil,” he said, “but those ants look nothing genetically like the ones we have here.”

The Argentine queens set out on their journey accidentally, he said, either in soil or by landing on boats after their spring mating flight.

Fighting invasivesBy tracing the U.S. fire ant population back to Argentina, scientists can determine how fast and how far other fire ant colonies can grow. Currently, Solenopsis invicta fire ants cover most of the central part of South America.

This information, Ross said, can help with the development of effective management practices based on the biology of an invasive species. It can help researchers predict other species’ invasive potential, too.

Since moving out of Alabama, the Argentine fire ants have spread like wildfire. Georgia got its first colonies in the 1950s. On their own, the ants have traveled as far north as North Carolina and as far west as Texas. With a little help, such as in nursery pots and soil, they have travelled as far as California.

Five years ago, they landed in China, stowing away from the U.S. “The fire ants are hopscotching along,” he said. The Solenopsis invicta is also found in Australia and the Philippines.

Despite prevention efforts, Ross predicts the fire ants will spread to even more tropical and semitropical countries in the next decades.

Stacks of researchOwing to the fire ant’s status as a major pest throughout much of the South, an enormous amount of research has been conducted on the basic biology of the species over the past 40 years, Ross said.

Fire ants have had a large negative impact on ground-nesting birds and insects. They’ve also driven out native species of fire ants, such as Georgia’s Solenopsis xylomi.

On the positive side, fire ants feed on agricultural pests in cotton, and their presence is associated with a decrease in the tick population. They also eat dead animals and any insects they can catch.

Fire ants tend aphids, which produce a substance the ants feed on called honeydew. Because the ants favor aphids and protect them from natural predators, ants are known as indirect pests, specifically in pecan production.

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

California Guard Rescues Nation's Largest Ponderosa Pine

California National Guard's Task Force Pick came to the rescue when wildfires in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest here threatened the nation's tallest Ponderosa pine tree.

Ponderosa pines are plentiful in the forests of the western United States and are among the most widely distributed pines in North America. They have an average height of 180 feet, and they usually can live for 300 to 600 years.

When the team of about 20 Guard firefighters reached the pine's location, a few miles north of the Forest Glen campsite, they knew this tree was something special.

Standing at 240.5 feet high -- almost 24 stories -- with a trunk nearly eight feet thick and estimated at an age of 700 years, this tree had to be saved.

The significance of the tree was verified by the U.S Forest Service team member as being documented by American Forests' National Register of Big Trees.

"It was a lot of hard work and heart that went into keeping this incredible tree safe," said Army Spc. Diana Diaz. "This majestic tree has witnessed a lot of history and stands as a symbol for survival. There have been wildfires through these forests before, ... and this tree still stands. We're working hard to make sure that she makes it through this fire, too."

That task wasn't easy. With low-hanging branches, the tree was threatened by sparks and embers from nearby fires that could easily ignite the tree if the wind shifted just right.

The team of Guardsmen spent hours trimming the low-hanging threats and cleared a wide area around the tree that would eliminate any fuel source on the ground.

Two Guard members spent the entire day cutting down neighboring trees, and the rest of the team stacked piles of wood that would burn a safe distance from the tree. They also set up a water sprinkler system that will keep the cleared area moist.

"Rescuing a tree that some might consider a national treasure has been one of the most unusual missions I've ever been on," said Army Spc. David Walker. "Being here in the Shasta-Trinity Forest with the other members of my unit has been a rough, but rewarding, mission. I'm proud to be here, and I'm very proud of my fellow soldiers who are serving here with me."

Author Air Force Lt. Col. Lloyd J. Goodrow serves with the Vermont National Guard

Sandy Toes and Edisto's Loggerhead Sea Turtles

Having just arrived at our destination, we were quick to grab our swimsuits and fall out the door onto the sand of Edisto Beach, South Carolina. Slather on some sunscreen and let the vacation begin. While our expectations were high for the week, we stumbled across other finds that show us high hopes for the future.



Surrounding our beach house on the water side were two areas of orange tape. Looking closely, we could see indentations in the sand and the signs placed by the volunteers who watch the Loggerhead Sea Turtle. We sat smack down in between two turtle nests. One had been there for about 40 days and the other one about 10 days according to beach patrol Gary. Gary, who patrols the beach and is a volunteer loggerhead watcher, was eager to teach us landlubbers about the turtles.

The gracious ladies who come ashore to lay their eggs between May and August are coming home to the island of their birth. These gentle creatures can be up to three feet in size and weigh several hundred pounds. They come ashore at night to lay the ping pong ball sized eggs. Their flippers serve as a shovel and it can take an hour or more for the female to complete her nest. A typical nest will contain approximately 60-180 eggs.

The turtles are easily distracted from the work at hand. Should there be lights on the beach, or animals in the vicinity, the turtle may just crawl up and crawl back, thus exhibiting a "false crawl," whose track shape resembles a horseshoe. Gary told us she would then just abort the eggs into the ocean. A "true crawl" is one where the volunteers who walk the beach at night can locate the nest, and it has two distinct tracks.

Our second morning on the beach was thrilling. Here were new turtle tracks. Our trusty guide Gary showed us how to read the turtle tracks. In front of the nest was a huge "x" as in "x marks the spot." Gary explained the turtle patrol who had watched the turtle during the night placed the "x" to alert him of a new nest. He then placed an orange flag in the center of the nest.

Over the incubation period of the next 50-60 days, Gary and the other turtle watchers will keep a close eye on the nest. As time nears for the eggs to hatch, the sand will start to settle. A shell is then placed on top of the nest to show how much it is sinking. Experienced eyes can read those shells and determine about when the hatchlings will make their appearance. The hatchlings will boil out of the nest and head towards the ocean. The watchers are there in hopes that all of the young will make it there. Imprinting happens as soon as those hatchlings emerge. They follow the light of the moon to the ocean. If there are any lights on at the houses, the little tykes become confused and head towards the road.

Once the turtles go into the water, the males will never again touch land. Only the females will return in about 20 years or so.

Gary explained the process where the turtle watchers verify a nest. The nest will be about 18 to 24 inches down in the sand. A stick is used to verify the eggs' location. From the explanation, a gentle hand is used during this process.

Sometimes the eggs are too close to the high tide mark and have to be moved. Should the nest be moved, each egg must be individually moved without rotating the angle at which it was found. If the eggs are turned, the turtles will not hatch, or they will be deformed. While we were there, the oldest nest in front of our house had to be moved. There was an extremely high tide one night and the front part of the nest would not have been above the water line for more than a few days at most. The patrol moved the eggs about 30 feet. While this nest only had a few weeks left to go in its incubation phase, it was the only way any of the eggs will have a chance to hatch.

According to Gary, the female turtles will come ashore three or four times during the season to lay their eggs. The survival rate of the little tykes from the laying to adulthood is only about 1 in a thousand.

These animals can survive for close to 200 years. Full of grace and beauty, they are on the endangered list. Survival from predators who are natural and non-natural have severely depleted this turtle population. Over development on beaches and the loss of sandy beach for their nests have also taken their toll.

Protect the sea turtle. Give them hope. Give us hope.

Until next time,
Sandy Toes on Edisto

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Creating a Healthy Home Environment: Mold and Mildew Free

PRNewswire/ -- Each summer, as temperature and humidity rise, mold invades thousands of homes. Some 10% of the U.S. population is sensitive to mold, and invisible mold spores cause countless allergic reactions, asthma attacks, and sinus infections, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Mold also wreaks havoc on building materials. In nature, mold breaks down decaying organic matter, but in a home, it can decompose floors, walls, and other structures.

Fortunately, mold growth can be controlled. "The key to mold control is moisture control," says Steven Hong, home health specialist and president of Sylvane.com (http://www.sylvane.com/).

Hong offers the following tips for creating a healthy home environment that's mold and mildew free:

Detecting Mold

-- Recognize Visible Mold -- Mold grows in damp, dark environments. Commonly found in bathrooms and basements, it's usually slimy or fuzzy in appearance, and its color may be green, black, orange, or purple.

-- Be Aware of Hidden Mold -- Mold can grow behind walls and wallpaper, above ceiling tiles, and under sinks. If you notice a musty odor in a particular room, it's likely coming from hidden mold. You can check for mold with a Mold Test Kit.

Preventing Mold

-- Clean Up Spills Immediately -- If you have a spill, leak, or any kind of water damage in your home, clean and dry out the area immediately. Mold starts growing within 24-48 hours.

-- Keep Indoor Humidity Low -- Dehumidifiers keep the humidity low by removing excess moisture from the air. Keep your home's relative humidity below 50% to prevent mold growth.

-- Protect Your Basement -- Basements are notorious for mold and mildew. Use a basement dehumidifier to prevent mold and mildew growth.

-- Defend Your Crawlspace -- Crawlspaces are dark and damp -- ideal environments for mold. Place a plastic vapor barrier on open earth to reduce moisture. Many crawlspaces require a crawlspace dehumidifier to keep the mold at bay.

Cleaning Up Mold

-- Carefully Clean Visible Mold -- If you see visible mold growth, carefully clean it up with water and detergent. It's impossible to completely remove mold from a porous surface such as drywall; this material will have to be removed and discarded.

-- Protect Yourself While Cleaning -- The Environmental Protection Agency recommends wearing an N-95 respirator mask, gloves, and goggles while cleaning mold. Black mold or toxic mold (usually found in buildings with severe water damage) produces dangerous toxins that can cause neurological symptoms and even death. If you encounter extensive mold growth, or if you suspect that it may be toxic mold, contact a mold remediation professional.

"Indoor mold is a major cause of sinus infections, allergies, and asthma attacks, not to mention structural damage to buildings," says Hong. "But if you control your home's humidity, then mold doesn't stand a chance."

Monday, July 28, 2008

New UGA Biomass Technology Dramatically Increases Ethanol Yield from Grasses and Yard Waste

University of Georgia researchers have developed a new technology that promises to dramatically increase the yield of ethanol from readily available non-food crops, such as Bermudagrass, switchgrass, Napiergrass—and even yard waste.

“Producing ethanol from renewable biomass sources such as grasses is desirable because they are potentially available in large quantities,” said Joy Peterson, professor of microbiology and chair of UGA’s Bioenergy Task Force. “Optimizing the breakdown of the plant fibers is critical to production of liquid transportation fuel via fermentation.” Peterson developed the new technology with former UGA microbiology student Sarah Kate Brandon, and Mark Eiteman, professor of biological and agricultural engineering.

The new technology features a fast, mild, acid-free pretreatment process that increases by at least 10 times the amount of simple sugars released from inexpensive biomass for conversion to ethanol. The technology effectively eliminates the use of expensive and environmentally unsafe chemicals currently used to pretreat biomass.

The technology is available for licensing from the University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc., which has filed a patent application.

Inexpensive waste products—including corn stover or bagasse, the waste from corn and sugar cane harvests, fast-growing weeds—and non-food crops grown for biofuel, such as switchgrass, Napiergrass and Bermudagrass, are widely viewed as the best sustainable resources for ethanol made from biofuels.

“Using non-food crops that can be grown on marginal lands, like grasses, and fibrous waste streams like corn stover, is important because of the ongoing food-versus-fuel debate,” said Peterson. “When agricultural crops, such as corn or potatoes, are grown for biofuels production, the cost of the starting material may fluctuate greatly because of competing demands for food and feed. The trade-off with using a biomass like grasses is that grasses are harder to break apart than corn or potatoes, and the cost of making the same fuel, like ethanol, rises.”

Developing an efficient, cost-effective process to convert the fibrous stalks, leaves, and blades of plant wastes into simple sugars is the biggest challenge to bio-based ethanol production. Thick, complex plant cell walls are highly resistant to efforts to break them down.

Currently, woody biomass requires soaking under high pressure and temperatures in expensive, environmentally aggressive bases or acids before it is subjected to enzymes that digest it, producing simple sugars. The harsh pretreatment solutions subsequently must be removed and disposed of safely. They also cause formation of side products that can slow down the conversion of the sugars into ethanol.

In contrast, the environmentally friendly UGA technology eliminates the expense of harsh pretreatment chemicals and their disposal, and the formation of side products is minimal.

“The new technology has commercial application for the biomass industry, including producers of sugar cane, corn, switchgrass, Napiergrass and other woody biomass crops,” said Gennaro Gama, UGARF technology manager responsible for licensing this technology. “It may also help renewable energy and biofermentation companies—and local governments.

“By allowing for the use of myriad raw materials, this technology allows more options for ethanol facilities trying to meet nearby demand by using locally available, inexpensive starting materials,” he added. “This would greatly reduce the costs and carbon footprint associated with the delivery of raw materials to fermentation facilities and the subsequent delivery of ethanol to points of sale. Local production of ethanol may also protect specific areas against speculative fluctuations in fuel prices.

“It’s easy to imagine that this easy-to-use, inexpensive technology could be used by local governments, alone or in partnership with entrepreneurs, to meet local demand for ethanol, possibly using yard waste as a substrate,” he said.

Peppermint Offers Safe, Non-toxic Deterrent to Mice

NF Note: Mice can produce up to 13 litters per year. That's a whole lot of potential pitter patter of little feet on the floor- not to mention the screams piercing the air when the owners of those little feet are seen. Peppermint? Who knew? Sounds like a great and tempting idea to try.

(ARA) - The scurrying of tiny mice feet on a kitchen floor, or the not-so-subtle droppings in the corner of the living room are enough to make even the most unflappable homeowners shudder and launch into a frantic search for the mice that have invaded their home.

As the weather turns cooler, mice begin to seek cozier surroundings -- including our homes. That was the case with Paula Rohach, who discovered one day that an unwanted rodent had made itself at home in the house she shares with her husband and children.

“I first noticed the mouse while I was folding laundry in our basement,” Rohach says. “It was racing along the back wall and scampered behind a loose floor board. I dropped my laundry and ran upstairs. It completely surprised me and concerned me too because I didn’t know how many other mice were there.”

Since its introduction to the country via seaport towns, the house mouse has become widespread throughout the United States. Even seemingly well-sealed homes are susceptible to mice during the fall and winter months. Mice are excellent swimmers and climbers. They are able to jump higher than a foot off the floor and can squeeze through openings as small as 1/4 of an inch -- roughly the diameter of a pencil.

Although Rohach was able to eventually get rid of the mouse in her house, it took a good deal of work. She finally succeeded by trapping and poisoning the little critter. But it concerned her to use these poison baits, because she has two daughters and also owns a cat.

“I was scared that the kids or the cat might get their hands onto the poison trap,” she says. “Who knows what could have happened then?”

Fortunately there is a natural alternative to toxic and potentially dangerous solutions. Natural peppermint essential oil (also known as “oil of peppermint”) offers a safe, effective and humane way to discourage these damaging and potentially disease-carrying rodents from entering homes.

“Although humans find the scent pleasing, mice are repelled by the aroma of natural peppermint essential oil,” says Mindy Seiffert, senior brand manager for Aura Cacia. “The oil drives mice away without the danger of poisoning pets or young children. Also, it creates a very pleasant atmosphere for people living in the home. Peppermint has a distinctive, sweet, menthol aroma that can be both energizing and soothing.”

To discourage mice from entering your home, Seiffert recommends putting a few drops of peppermint essential oil on cotton balls and placing them around the house. Homeowners can also sprinkle the oil directly on floors and walls and items, or make a scented spray with two teaspoons of oil per cup of water.

Seiffert encourages strongly scenting areas where mice might enter homes or hide, such as underneath stairs or in a basement. Also, mice prefer to run alongside walls, so it’s effective to scent the perimeter of rooms as well.

The peppermint will remain an effective repellent as long as the scent lingers. This varies according to conditions, but it will generally last two to three weeks.

Half-ounce and two-ounce bottles of pure essential peppermint oil are available from Aura Cacia at natural product retailers nationwide and at www.auracacia.com.

Courtesy of ARA Content

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The HSUS Offers Tips for Rethinking Lawns and the Environmental, Economic and Social Benefits

Lawns. The icon of the American suburb. We spend an extraordinary amount of time and money on them, despite what they do to our environment and particularly to wildlife. Americans spend billions of dollars annually to just fertilize and water lawns, not to mention the labor to mow and the gallons of gasoline to run those mowers.

According to John Hadidian, director, urban wildlife for The Humane Society of the United States, "The costs far outweigh the benefits when you consider the lawn from a wildlife perspective. Not to mention that lawns in some cases actually exacerbate conflicts between animals such as Canada geese and humans."

Having some lawn is not necessarily a bad thing. Lawns are visually appealing and provide a springy, open surface for recreational activities and entertaining for kids, adults, and pets. The benefits make some lawn space worth keeping, but only some – not the vast areas we currently maintain.

"Mid-summer is a great time for a yard makeover. Reducing the size of your lawn and introducing wildlife habitat will save big bucks on care and maintenance, since the new landscape should require only minimal work over the long term," Hadidian explains.

Tips for wildlife-friendly alternatives:

Planting beds of native nectar, berry and seed-producing plants favored by wildlife
Creating a meadow on a portion of your property
Installing a water feature, such as a small pond
Building shelter for wildlife, such as brush or rock piles in a corner of your yard
Replacing your lawn with drought-tolerant plants (xeriscaping) in dry parts of the country
Let it grow:

The easiest way to create a natural landscape from a lawn is to stop mowing it and let native plants gradually take it over. Start with limiting your no-mow zones to the corners or less-trafficked areas of your property. Continue to mow around them to create a neat "island" look. This lends the visual appeal that tends be more acceptable to the lawn-loving public.

Clearing the turf:

To install new wildlife-friendly features, start stripping lawn away. One easy approach is simply to extend the size of existing beds when edging them – even an inch or two a year is a contribution.

If you are patient and prefer a low-cost, low-sweat method, sheet mulching is a good option. This involves covering the lawn with several layers of organic material, akin to a forest floor. Over time, the combination of smothering layers and heat will break down your lawn. By next spring, your lawn will be a distant memory, replaced with rich organic material and ready for new garden plantings that will welcome wildlife.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My 'maters are taking over...

Living on a fairly large piece of land with lots of roaming deer, rabbits and other wildlife I haven't tried to grow anything other than deer resistant plants (and even those temp the pesky animals during tough times).

This year, I decided I wanted tomatoes. Grape tomatoes and the bigger variety. There's a little plot sandwiched by bushes on one side and the driveway on the other that I figured might be somewhat safe from the deer at least.

When we bought the house the owners had flowers in the little plot and had surrounded it with one of those electric fences. I knew it was coming down when I found a poor little fried hummingbird still attached to the wiring while looking at the house. Later I found another one. I took it down within days of moving in.

I know the owners probably had it up because the deer were eating the flowers, but I thought I'd give it a shot... worst case I'd lose a few dollars worth of tomato plants.

Well, it's been a few months, my tomato plants are huge and I am overwhelmed with grape tomatoes. When I planted them I imagined these cute little plants with a few tomatoes. Ha, was I wrong. These things are almost as tall as I am and they're so dense I'm unable to find all the tomatoes. My husband calls my little patch the jungle.

I now hand tomatoes out to anyone who comes within arms length. My friends are starting to tell me they haven't finished the last batch and they're un-inviting me to stop by. I'm thinking about mailing some to my mom and dad. Maybe I could donate them to a local charity?

I also decided to grow some herbs, which was rather silly since my cooking these days consists of tossing a frozen dinner in the microwave. But they smell good and some of my friends are still happy to get some fresh basil.

I'm going to a meeting in a little bit. Guess what everyone is going to get from yours truly?

I am loving every minute of having a garden again!

A Beginner’s Guide to the Wonderful World of Tulips

(ARA) - It’s a common frustration. You buy 25, 100, maybe even 300 tulip bulbs, plant them in the fall and enjoy a great display in the spring. But the following spring, all you get is a smattering of flowers and maybe a bunch of leaves.

“What happened?” you ask yourself. “Aren’t tulips supposed to come back? My grandmother has tulips that have bloomed every spring for as long as she can remember? Did I do something wrong?”

According to Tim Schipper, owner of Colorblends wholesale flowerbulbs in Bridgeport, Conn., you are not to blame. “It’s in the nature of tulips,” he says. “Most are not strong perennializers. They don’t flower well the second year after planting.”

Why Tulips Stop Flowering
The tulip bulbs you buy and plant in the fall have been groomed to bloom. They were raised in sandy Dutch soil and fertilized in just the right measure.

When they bloomed in the spring (the same year you bought them), the flowers were cut off soon after they opened to keep them from drawing too much energy from the bulbs below. They continued to grow for several more weeks in famously cool Dutch weather. (“Holland is further north than Newfoundland, which is over 300 miles north of the tip of Maine,” Schipper notes.) After going dormant in early summer, the bulbs were dug and stored in a climate-controlled warehouse to mimic a long, hot, bone-dry summer in the mountains of Central Asia, which is where most tulips are native.

“All of this TLC yields a high percentage of flowering-size bulbs, including many top-size bulbs, the cream of the crop, which measure 12 centimeters in circumference and sometimes larger,” Schipper says. “A top-size bulb can’t get bigger, but it will get smaller, typically by splitting into two or more smaller bulbs.”

So you start with big, plump tulip bulbs and plant them in your garden. Do you have sand for soil? Do you monitor your soil’s fertility and apply just what’s needed when it’s needed? Do you have long cool springs in your climate the way they do in Holland? Do you cut the flowers off right after they open? The answer to most of these questions is most likely no.

“Under less-than-perfect garden conditions, when the bulbs split into smaller bulbs, those smaller bulbs are unlikely ever to grow to flowering size,” says Schipper. “Some may also rot due to heavy soil or excess moisture. And so your breathtaking tulip display dwindles to little or nothing. That said, I have a few red tulips that have bloomed every spring for 10 years. They just refuse to give up.”

Tulips That May Come Back
The good news is that some tulips are willing to bloom well for more than one spring. Their bulbs are slow to split or they split unevenly, so that one of the smaller bulbs is still big enough to flower. “Eventually, flowering becomes sparse, but you may get two or three good displays before you feel the need to replant,” Schipper says.

The best known of these so-called perennial tulips are the Darwin Hybrids. This group includes such well-known varieties as Apeldoorn, Oxford and Pink Impression. All make big bulbs and big flowers in bold colors. They bloom in the middle of the spring bulb season.

Almost as familiar are the Fosteriana tulips, which include the Emperor series (Red, White, Yellow and Orange). These tulips are more compact and earlier to bloom than the Darwin Hybrids, but their vase-shaped flowers are large and very showy.

Further down the list are the Greigii and Kaufmanniana tulips, which are generally shorter and earlier than the Darwin Hybrids and Fosterianas and often have attractively spotted leaves.

And finally there are the wild, or species, tulips. They are descendants or near-relatives of the tulips that can still be found growing in the valleys and on the rugged slopes of mountains in such places as Iran, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan. They are colorful, attractive and remarkably persistent in the landscape.

Spring Beauty on the Cheap
If you can buy a tulip that may flower for three years, why would you consider one that will only flower once? The answer, Schipper says, is that some of the most beautiful tulips are not good perennials. “People plant them because at 35 to 45 cents a bulb, they won’t break the bank. Compared to other leisure activities, planting bulbs is less expensive, takes less time, is longer lasting and more beautiful. When you look at it that way, even a one-shot tulip gives a great return on investment.”

For More Information
You can learn more about tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs by visiting www.colorblends.com, or you can call toll free (888) 847-8637 to request the Colorblends 2008 wholesale catalog.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Plant Now for Second Summer Vegetable Crop

The thermometer may be stuck on 95 degrees, but don’t let the summer heat beat you out of a second crop of fresh summer veggies. There is still time for another crop across much of Georgia.
The first round of summer vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, sweet corn, southern peas, snap beans, cantaloupes and eggplant were planted in March and April, and the harvest on those crops is about to wind down.

But with Georgia’s subtropical climate, the summer gardening fun has only just begun. Yep, you’ve got plenty of time for another round of summer crops before the first frost. This usually occurs around mid-October in the mountains and mid- to late November in south Georgia.
There are 110 to 120 frost-free days from late July until mid-November, so warm-season crops that mature in less than four months will usually mature in the fall, barring an early frost.

You have even more time to plant cooler-season fall crops such as leafy greens, cabbage, broccoli, carrots and radishes. These can be planted well into the fall season and some can even weather the winter.

Many gardeners make several plantings throughout the year at various intervals to have new crops maturing periodically throughout the summer. Others try to maintain the first planting and harvest tomatoes, squash and the like throughout the summer.

Rather than trying to keep the same plants producing indefinitely, it is often better to start over after the first planting plays out. This usually results in better yield and quality.

Crops like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant can be transplanted now, just as they were in the spring. For crops such as squash, cantaloupes and cucumbers, however, seeding them directly into the ground will work just as well, if not better. Snap beans, sweet corn, okra and southern peas are generally directly seeded in either season.

Don't plant the same crop back in the exact same place. Rotate your garden space to reduce potential disease problems. For instance, plant tomatoes where you planted squash this spring.
Gardeners should also rotate families of crops. Plant peppers, tomatoes or eggplant where squash, cucumbers or cantaloupes were. But don't plant cucumbers on the same ground where squash was most recently planted.

Establishing the crop will be more of a challenge than it was in the spring. Because of the intense heat, you'll need to keep the garden watered enough to reduce heat and drought stress. Apply water during the day to provide some cooling on the surface and allow the foliage to dry by nightfall.

The longer gardeners wait, the longer it will take for the second crop to mature as days get shorter and the mercury finally starts to fall. So start these crops by mid-August. Some fast-maturing crops, like snap beans, cucumbers and squash, will produce if planted by early September.

(Author Terry Kelley is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Green Gardening: Save Time, Money and the Environment

(ARA) - Everyone wants a beautiful landscape but most people feel they lack the time and expertise to cultivate the results they want. With a few simple eco-friendly changes in your fall landscape care, you can get more beautiful results with a limited investment of time and effort.

Triple Your Benefits
Cut the grass, recycle fall leaves and improve the soil with a pass of the lawn mower. Shred leaves and leave them on the lawn as you mow this fall. As long as you can see the grass through the leaf pieces, the lawn will be fine.

According to nationally known horticulturist and gardening expert Melinda Myers, “Shredding leaves and leaving them on the lawn is good for the grass and saves you time. As the leaves break down they add organic matter to the soil, improving drainage in clay soil and water holding ability in sandy soils. It’s a great way to recycle a valuable natural resource and reduce your work load. You can increase the environmental benefit even further by using an electric mower to both cut your grass and shred the leaves.”

Further improve your lawn’s health with fall fertilization. University research has shown that fall fertilization is the most beneficial practice for home lawns. Less disease problems and slower weed growth means your lawns -- not the pests -- benefit from the nutrients. Fall fertilization also helps lawns recover from the stresses of summer because it encourages deep roots and denser growth that can better compete with weeds and tolerate disease and insects.

“Northern gardeners can follow the holiday schedule and fertilize Labor Day and Halloween. Southern gardeners should make their last fall fertilization at least 30 days before the lawn goes dormant or the average first killing frost to avoid winter kill,” recommends Myers.

Use a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer, for best results. Milorganite fertilizer is slow release and resists leaching. Its phosphorus and organic nitrogen stay in the root zone for the plants to use over a long period of time. And, it is good for the environment since the nutrients resist leaching into the groundwater and nearby well. Plus, the non-staining iron promotes greening without excess late season growth that could be subject to winter kill.

Less Work, Better Results
Leave healthy perennials stand for winter. According to Myers, “The seedheads add beauty to the winter landscape and provide food for the birds. Plus, research has found perennials left standing are better able to tolerate the rigors of winter.”

Be sure to remove any diseased or insect-infested plants to reduce the source of pest problems in next year’s garden. Use any extra fall leaves as mulch. Shred the leaves with your mower and spread a layer over the soil to conserve moisture and insulate the perennials’ roots. Not only are the leaves free, but using them as mulch is good for your garden and the environment. Fall mulching gives you a jump on next spring’s landscape chores.

Shredded leaves also make a good mulch for over bulbs. Plant daffodils, tulips and hyacinths in fall for extra color next spring. Set the bulbs at a depth of 2-to-3 times their height deep. Cover with soil, sprinkle on a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer like Milorganite and water. The low nitrogen slow release fertilizer promotes rooting without stimulating fall growth subject to winter kill. The leaf mulch helps conserve moisture, moderate soil temperature fluctuations and eventually improves the soil.

Dig ‘Em In
Still more leaves? Then shred them with the mower and dig them into vacant annual flower and vegetable gardens or incorporate them as you prepare new planting beds. You will be amazed at how quickly these leaves turn into organic matter and improve your garden’s soil. Add a little slow release fertilizer to feed the microorganisms and speed up their decomposition.

Or use the shredded leaves in your compost pile. Combine fall leaves with other plant waste, a bit of soil or compost, and a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer like Milorganite to create compost. Recycling yard waste saves time bagging, hauling and disposing of green debris. You also reduce or eliminate the need to buy soil to improve your existing garden soil.

So put away the rake and find creative ways to save time and money as you put fall leaves to work in your landscape. For more information, visit www.milorganite.com and www.melindamyers.com

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tips To Help You Recycle Plastic Bags

NF Note: There are several places in Fayette County to recycle plastic bags. Check out your favorite grocery store or supercenter and look for the boxes. They are usually just outside the main entrance.

(NAPSI)-Here’s encouraging news for anyone who wants to protect the environment. Plastic bag recycling has increased significantly, and there are easy steps you can take to contribute to this important trend.

Over 800 million pounds of postconsumer plastic bags and film were recovered in 2006--a 24 percent increase from 2005, according to the National Post--Consumer Recycled Plastic Bags and Film Report.

Plastic bags are an extremely resource-efficient disposable bag choice, requiring about 70 percent less energy and generating 50 percent less greenhouse gas emissions to manufacture than paper bags--and it is easy to recycle them as more and more stores across the country offer recycling programs.

Many grocers and retailers now offer drop-off programs that allow consumers to return their used bags to be recycled. Participating stores typically place plastic bag collection bins at the store entrance or near checkout areas.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts on recycling plastic bags:

• Do recycle plastic grocery and retail bags, newspaper bags, dry cleaning bags, plastic wrap from products like paper towels and toilet paper, and all clean bags labeled with recycling code #2 (HDPE) or #4 (LLDPE).

• Do make sure bags are clean and dry.

• Do remember to remove receipts.

• Do store plastic bags safely away from small children.

• Don’t recycle food wrap or bags that contain food residue.

• Don’t include other types of bags.

The increase in plastic bag recycling is expected to continue, thanks to greater availability of at-store recycling opportunities. Recycling mandates in states such as California and cities such as New York and Chicago will help to fuel continued recycling growth.

Plastic bags can be made into dozens of useful new items, such as building and construction products, low-maintenance decks and fences and, of course, new bags.

Demand for the material is high and in most areas exceeds the available supply because many people are not aware that collection programs are available.

Recycling plastic bags is easier than ever. In addition to at-store drop-off programs, the number of municipal drop-off centers and curbside recycling programs is also increasing. For more information on opportunities to recycle plastic bags in your state, visit www.plasticbagrecycling.org.

The demand for recycled plastic is high, making plastic an extremely resource-efficient bag choice.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Visit Edisto Island SC with Sandy Toes

NF Note: Edisto Island, South Carolina, is about 40 miles from Charleston and remains unspoiled. The small beachfront community is ideal for families who want to find their place in the sand. To date, there has been no excess development on the island and everyone finds "Edislow Time." Join "Sandy Toes" and see some of the natural beauty of the island.






Click here to join Sandy Toes on a beachcombing adventure.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

New Findings Show Diverse, Wet Environments on Ancient Mars

NF Note: We thought you would be interested in this story-- even if it is out of this world!

Mars once hosted vast lakes, flowing rivers and a variety of other wet environments that had the potential to support life, according to two new studies based on data from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) and other instruments on board NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

"The big surprise from these new results is how pervasive and long-lasting Mars' water was, and how diverse the wet environments were," says Scott Murchie, CRISM's principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in Laurel, Md.

One study, published in the July 17 issue of Nature, shows that vast regions of the ancient highlands of Mars—which cover about half the planet—contain clay minerals, which can form only in the presence of water. Volcanic lavas buried the clay-rich regions during subsequent, drier periods of the planet's history, but impact craters later exposed them at thousands of locations across the planet.

The clay-like minerals, called phyllosilicates, preserve a record of the interaction of water with rocks dating back to what is called the Noachian period of Mars’ history, about 4.6 to 3.8 billion years ago. This period corresponds to the earliest years of the solar system, when Earth, the moon and Mars sustained a cosmic bombardment by comets and asteroids. Rocks of this age have largely been destroyed on Earth by plate tectonics; they are preserved on the moon, but were never exposed to liquid water. The phyllosilicate-containing rocks on Mars therefore preserve a unique record of liquid water environments—possibly suitable for life—in the early solar system.

“The minerals present in Mars' ancient crust show a variety of wet environments,” says John Mustard, a member of the CRISM team from Brown University in Providence, R.I., and lead author of the Nature study. “In most locations the rocks are lightly altered by liquid water, but in a few locations they have been so altered that a great deal of water must have flushed though the rocks and soil. This is really exciting because we're finding dozens of sites where future missions can land to understand if Mars was ever habitable and if so, to look for signs of past life."

A companion study, published in the June 2 issue of Nature Geosciences, finds that the wet conditions persisted for a long time. Thousands to millions of years after the clays were formed, a system of river channels eroded them out of the highlands and concentrated them in a delta where the river emptied into a crater lake slightly larger than California’s Lake Tahoe, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) in diameter. "The distribution of clays inside the ancient lakebed shows that standing water must have persisted for thousands of years," says Bethany Ehlmann, another member of the CRISM team from Brown and lead author of the study of the ancient lake within Jezero Crater. "Clays are wonderful at trapping and preserving organic matter, so if life ever existed in this region, there's a chance of its chemistry being preserved in the delta."

CRISM’s combination of high spatial and spectral resolutions—better than any previous imaging spectrometer sent to Mars—reveals variations in the types and composition of the phyllosilicate minerals. By combining data from CRISM and MRO’s Context Imager (CTX) and High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), the team has identified three principal classes of water-related minerals dating to the early Noachian period: aluminum-phyllosilicates, hydrated silica or opal, and the more common and widespread iron/magnesium-phyllosilicates. The variations in the minerals suggest that different processes, or different types of watery environments, created them.

"Our whole team is turning our findings into a list of sites where future missions could land to look for organic chemistry and perhaps determine whether life ever existed on Mars,” says APL’s Murchie.

APL, which has built more than 150 spacecraft instruments over the past four decades, led the effort to build CRISM, and operates the instrument in coordination with an international team of researchers from universities, government and the private sector. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft.

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a division of the Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Lighting Guidelines for Jekyll Island Beaches to Protect Endangered Sea Turtles

NF Note: Please remember "no lights on the beach" during nesting season for the sea turtles. These animals are amazing and they can use all the help we can give them.

PRNewswire/ -- The Jekyll Island State Park Authority (JIA) today announced it's intentions to set greater restrictions on lights near its natural beaches in order to protect sea turtles from the adverse effects of artificial light. The move, once approved as a new ordinance for the state-owned island, will likely be the model for beach lighting ordinances for all of Georgia's coast communities.

Artificial lighting is the light that emanates from any man-made device, such as street-lights, tree lights, beach-walk lanterns, and neon signs. This new ordinance, which strictly defines what will and will not be allowed on and near the beach, will be regulated and enforced by the JIA.

"Jekyll Island is well-known for its conservation efforts, especially through the work of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center," said Ben Porter, chairman of the Jekyll Island State Park Authority. "This is another big step towards making Jekyll Island one of the most environmentally-friendly communities on the East Coast."

The new ordinance was developed in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources with vital input from the experts at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Once approved, illumination of certain beaches will be prohibited at nighttime during the sea turtle nesting season for the protection of the nesting females and hatchling sea turtles making their way into the sea. Oftentimes hatchlings will confuse artificial lighting with the reflection of the moon, which they use as a marker to get to the ocean once they hatch.

"We were pleased to see the Jekyll Island Authority take the lead in placing these restrictions into an enforceable ordinance," said Noel Holcomb, Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources. "As Chairman of the Shore Protection Committee, I will promote the standards within this ordinance to the Shore Protection Committee as we consider beachfront projects for permitting under the Shore Protection Act."

Lighting may still be operated during the nesting season if the light, or reflection, is not directly visible from the beach. But the majority of the lights will be low-intensity lighting, such as amber or red LEDs, red neon lights and "Turtle Safe Lighting," which are coated and compact florescent lamps under 13 watts. Additionally, the ordinance states that tinting will be installed on all windows and glass doors within line-of-sight of the beach.

The new ordinance was announced by the Jekyll Island Authority at its regular meeting on Monday. The "first reading" of any new ordinance must be posted for public review, anyone interested in reading the proposed ordinance language can view it on the Authority's Web site at www.jekyllislandauthority.org . The Jekyll Island Authority is expected to adopt the new ordinance at its regular meeting in August.

Encouraging Residents to Get Moving

NF Note: Come on Fayette County, let's get moving! There are numerous great places to walk in the county. The Peachtree City Cart Paths System is just one of them. Walk, we can do!

More than 3,000 Georgians exercised their way across the state this spring, so to speak, logging more than 500,000 virtual miles during the first session of the Walk Georgia Program.

Sponsored by University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, the program is designed to help Georgians increase their physical activity, log their progress online and get communities involved.

“Friends and family challenged each other and used the program as an anchor,” said Sidney Law, UGA Extension coordinator in Washington County. “People who joined a team with their coworkers made it a group event and really increased their bond and morale.”

Not just for walkers

In addition to walking, activities such as aerobics, biking and gardening could be logged, too. The time spent exercising was converted into virtual miles. Participants could then use the miles to plot their courses.

From the mountains to the coast, they traveled online and learned interesting facts about counties along the way. The exercise logs gave participants concrete evidence of their accomplishments.

Washington County resident Mike Adams logged in hundreds of miles in the program and lost weight in the process.

“This walk across Georgia has motivated me to get back some things I have lost touch with, such as exercise,” Adams says. “I have lost 30 pounds since the first of the year and more so since the walk started. I will miss this when it’s gone, but I plan to continue walking for the rest of the year and hopefully the rest of my life.”

Motivating communities

Participants found ways to keep the whole community motivated, said Joann Milam, UGA Extension agent in Washington County. She wrote a weekly newspaper column about the program and participants in her county.

“The program really motivated people and made them accountable if they got off track,” Milam says. “Even if people weren’t motivated at first, the program got them hooked.”

Elaine Miller, who helped coordinate the program in Muscogee County, organized a kickoff event at the local park to get participants pumped up for the program.

“An elderly couple came in and signed up as a team together,” Miller said. “At the end of program ceremony, the woman said Walk Georgia is what it took to get her husband out of the house and moving. They are an exercising couple now, and had it not been for this program, they wouldn’t be.”

Session two coming up

The first session of Walk Georgia has ended. Registration for the next session will be August 24 through September 14. The fall program will run until November 1. To learn more, visit the Web site at www.walkgeorgia.org.

For more information on this and other Extension programs, contact your local UGA Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1 or visit www.ugaextension.com.

By Allie Byrd
University of Georgia

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Five Environmental Questions Never Asked

(NAPSI)-Simple "green" living ideas are everywhere-from billboards to T-shirts-but there are less common, yet equally important, environmental issues.

1. What is the impact of composting?

Composting, the process of converting organic materials into soil, is a simple way to reduce garbage by one-third and preserve living organisms. According to Com posters.com, compostable waste makes up 30 percent of garbage in the United States. In 1999, the EPA recorded that 64 million tons of materials were saved from landfills by composting and recycling. Now, just think how much waste can be saved if composting becomes as common as recycling. Web sites such as Compost.org provide easy-to-use home-composting guides. Did you know tea bags, coffee grounds and corn husks can be composted?

2. Can print cartridges be recycled?

Yes. In fact, many manufacturers offer print cartridge recycling free of charge. For example, HP offers free recycling for its ink and toner cartridges through the HP Planet Partners program and makes sure all HP cartridges returned through Planet Partners are recycled and diverted from landfills. Many companies that refill or remanufacture print cartridges are private and not required to disclose end-of-life recycling processes. A Gartner Research study stated: "While the use of remanufactured supplies can reduce initial acquisition costs and prevent cartridges [from] going to landfills, organizations must understand that many remanufacturers do not have proper disposal practices, and their efforts may not be environmentally sound." No matter where you buy print cartridges, be sure to research the company's recycling policies and standards.

3. Paper or Plastic?

Many people know that plastic is harmful to the environment. Recently, the city of San Francisco implemented a ban on using non-recyclable plastic bags in grocery stores, saving nearly 5 million bags a month from landfills. Plastic bags are not the only villain; paper bags require more than double the amount of energy to manufacture and transport than plastic bags, according to the Environmental Literacy Council. The trend is catching on, and cities across the nation, such as Seattle, are working towards "green" fees for disposable bags and encouraging the use of reusable bags in grocery stores.

4. Is it important to purchase organic cleaners?

Harmful pollutants in cleaners put people at risk in their homes and negatively effect water and air quality. Organic cleaners have less toxicity, low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and are biodegradable. According to the EPA, cleaners with high VOC content contribute to smog formation. Ingredients containing phosphorus or nitrogen evaporate into the air and pollute bodies of water, affecting numerous wildlife species. It's important to think about organic cleaners when cleaning a home but also when searching for professional cleaning services such as housekeepers, car detailing and dry cleaning.

5. How do I know what can be recycled?

Understanding what can and cannot be recycled is a significant step toward helping the environment. Many people spend 40 hours a week sitting at a desk, where throwing away paper becomes habitual. Sticky notes can be recycled; tissues cannot. Food wrappers or soiled products cannot be recycled. Magazines, soda cans, juice bottles (both plastic and glass) and even most lotion bottles can be recycled. You may be surprised what can be recycled, even things without a recycle symbol can sometimes be recycled, such as dry cleaning wire hangers and worn-out tennis shoes. Web sites such as World.org provide simple recycling-education tools. Keep a "recycle only" container at your desk for one month. You may be surprised at how many workplace items are recyclable.

You can learn more online at EPA.gov and Compost.org.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Industry Leaders to Provide Backyard Makeover

BUSINESS WIRE--Belgard, a leading U.S. producer of concrete block and hardscape products, will launch a national sweepstakes on August 10 entitled “Invite the Unexpected,” coinciding with its advertising campaign to provide a professional, one-of-a-kind backyard makeover for the sweepstakes winner. Joining forces with Belgard are KitchenAid, Bevolo Gas and Electric Lights, and Oldcastle Surfaces.

The winner will have a landscape architect visit his or her home to develop a custom backyard design. Belgard and Oldcastle Surfaces will then provide paver and retaining wall products to begin construction on the hardscape portion of the design, such as water features, bars and/or countertops. Kitchen Aid will provide a built in grill package, refrigerator and preparation unit with an outdoor sink. Bevolo Gas and Electric Lights will provide outdoor fixtures and lighting.

To enter the sweepstakes, fill out a registration form, which will be available at www.bepreparedforcompany.com beginning August 10. Additional details and the official rules are also located on the website.

“With the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) predicting the demand for luxurious outdoor environments to rise over the next 10 years, we wanted to show customers a charming upgrade that adds beauty and value to their home,” said Ken O’Neill, Vice President of Belgard. “In support of Belgard’s commitment to providing beautiful hardscape products for home and business owners nationwide, we wanted to team up with the industries’ best products to provide our customers this ultimate luxury.”

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Nuclear Power Means Clean Air

(NAPSI)-A growing number of people, particularly environmentalists, are taking a second look at nuclear power as a clean, sustainable and safe source of electricity that can significantly reduce global warming, pollution and energy dependence--and meet our ever-increasing demand for energy.

One woman, a staunch environmentalist and skeptic about nuclear power, made it her mission to find out the truth about this energy source. Gwyneth Cravens spent nearly a decade immersing herself in the subject.

“When I began my research, I had assumed we had many choices in the way we made electricity, but we don’t,” says Cravens, author of “Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy.” “Wind and solar have a role to play, but nuclear is the only large-scale, non-greenhouse-gas-emitting source of electricity that can be considerably expanded while maintaining only a small environmental footprint. About 20 percent of our electricity comes from nuclear power, but about 75 percent comes from plants burning fossil fuels, mostly coal and natural gas. In contrast, nuclear plants do not burn anything nor do they emit harmful, heat-trapping gases into our atmosphere and pollutants that kill 24,000 Americans annually.”

Despite these facts, a 2007 survey found that fewer than half of Americans strongly associate nuclear power with clean air. Many misperceptions and fears persist. Here are a few of the most common myths and facts:

Myth: The “smoke” coming from nuclear plants is harmful to health and the environment.

Fact: The “smoke” that people see coming out of nuclear power plant cooling towers is water vapor like you see when you breathe out on a cold day.

Myth: Living near a nuclear plant is dangerous due to radiation contamination.

Fact: A little-known fact is that natural background radiation from rocks, soil and water is around us all the time. In fact, a person living within 50 miles of a nuclear plant receives less radiation from it in a year than from eating one banana. In addition, surveys have shown there is no increase in radiological-induced cancer in people living near nuclear facilities.

Myth: Nuclear energy is not safe.

Fact: All U.S. nuclear plants--for example, Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, N.Y.--are regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and are designed with numerous safety systems, each with multiple, redundant components--first to prevent accidents and second to minimize accidents should they occur. In the 40-year history of the industry, there has never been a death or injury to any member of the public due to an accident at a U.S. nuclear power plant.

Nuclear power is seen by many as a safe, clean-air solution to America’s growing energy needs.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Wal-Mart Commits to America's Farmers as Produce Aisles Go Local

NF Note: We applaud the efforts to bring local produce to our grocery shelves.

PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Wal-Mart today (July 1, 2008) announced its commitment to source more local fruits and vegetables to keep produce prices down and provide affordable selections that are fresh and healthful. The retailer also reported that partnerships with local farmers have grown by 50 percent over the past two years -- one example of the company's efforts to support local economies, cut shipping costs and provide fresh food offerings.

Today, hundreds of growers across the United States provide produce sold in Wal-Mart Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets, making Wal-Mart the nation's largest purchaser of local produce. During summer months, locally sourced fruits and vegetables that are both grown and available for purchase within a state's borders make up a fifth of the produce available in Wal-Mart stores.

"Offering local produce has been a Wal-Mart priority for years, and we're taking it to a new level with a pledge to grow our partnerships with local farmers. We're committed to purchasing locally grown produce whenever possible," said Pam Kohn, Wal-Mart's senior vice president and general merchandise manager for grocery. "Increasing the amount of local produce in our grocery aisles -- and adding clear locally grown signage -- reflects our dedication to offer the freshest products possible at great prices."

Wal-Mart announced its locally grown commitment in a Supercenter in DeKalb County, Ga. today. The event featured an in-store farmers' market with growers on hand to educate customers about produce. Just in time for the Fourth of July, Georgia Wal-Mart Supercenters have many of the ingredients customers need for a locally grown celebration: sweet Georgia-grown Vidalia onions for their Independence Day burgers, Georgia cantaloupes and watermelons for a fabulous fruit salad, and Georgia peaches for cobbler. A complete list of locally grown produce available by state is at http://www.livebetterindex.com/.

"Georgia is proud of its family farmers who lead the production of many important fruits and vegetables like our famous Georgia peaches and watermelons," said Donnie Smith, Governor Sonny Perdue's Agriculture Liaison. "Thanks to Georgia producers and companies like Wal-Mart, Georgia will continue to be recognized as a trusted provider of high quality fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products to feed America's families."

Georgia onion farmer Delbert Bland is one of the growers who participated in the Decatur event. His family farm has been in operation in Glennville, Ga. since the 1940s, and he is featured on in-store signage in the Atlanta area.

"We are proud to see our onions sold in Wal-Mart stores across Georgia and knowing that we are helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is an added value," said Bland. "Our business would not be where it is today without the support of Wal-Mart."

Economic Impact

Wal-Mart estimates that it purchases more than 70 percent of its produce from U.S.-based suppliers, making the company the biggest customer of American agriculture. This year, Wal-Mart expects to source about $400 million in locally grown produce from farmers across the United States.

Wal-Mart's relationships with U.S. suppliers also extend beyond its support of local agriculture. Beyond produce, Wal-Mart partnered with 61,000 U.S. suppliers in 2007 and supported millions of supplier jobs nationally.

Shortening the Distance from Farm to Fork

Beyond the benefits to consumers and economic opportunities for farmers, Wal-Mart's commitment to locally grown produce is helping to reduce "food miles" -- the distance food travels from farm to fork. It is estimated that in the United States, produce travels an average of 1,500 miles from farms to the homes of consumers. Through better logistics planning, better packing of trucks and local sourcing, Wal-Mart expects to save millions of food miles each year.

In addition, Wal-Mart is working with state departments of agriculture and local farmers to develop or revitalize growing areas for products like corn in Mississippi and cilantro in Southern Florida which had not grown there before or which were once native crops.

New In-Store Presence

Wal-Mart now highlights locally grown produce in its stores across the country. Customers will find it easy to recognize locally grown fruits and vegetables with signs that include official state-grown marks, indicating approval by their state's agriculture department.