Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Leaf mulching and fertilizer: A back-saving, soil-enriching way to deal with fallen leaves

(ARA) – As Mother Nature adorns the trees in your yard with riotous reds, vibrant yellows and exotic oranges, you can easily get swept up in the romance of the season – until those leaves turn brown, drop from the branches and litter your lawn. Then you start to think of the hours of backbreaking raking work ahead of you.

This autumn, why not try working with Mother Nature by mulching those leaves instead of raking, bagging and condemning them to a landfill?

Leaf mulching is a time-saving, environmentally friendly way to deal with fallen leaves. Plus, if you live in a community that has cut back on collection services due to the economy, mulching can solve your dilemma of what to do with the leaves littering your lawn.

“It doesn’t make sense to rake leaves and bag them, just to have them end up decomposing in a landfill,” says Dr. Phil Dwyer, senior scientist at The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company. “Leaf mulching recycles a natural resource and enriches the soil of your lawn for free.”

In fact, turf benefits by receiving more nutrients when you mulch fall leaves back into the lawn instead of raking them, according to a study by Michigan State University turfgrass researcher Thom Nikolai and ScottsMiracle-Gro scientists. Recycling fallen leaves saves time and money, adds nutrients to the soil, speeds spring greening and reduces weeds.

Here’s how to recycle this fall’s crop of fallen leaves:

* Remove the grass catcher from your lawn mower. Mow over the leaves on your lawn. Repeat until they are reduced to dime-sized pieces.

* Mow until you see about half an inch of grass through the mulched leaf layer.

Any kind of rotary-action mower will do the job, and all kinds of leaves can be mulched. Throughout the season, you can chop up to 18 inches total of leaf clutter with several passes of the mower. Having a somewhat thick layer of mulched leaves is okay as long as you can still see the green grass blades poking through. As leaf bits settle into the ground, microbes and worms get to work recycling them.

Once you’ve enriched your soil with leaf mulching, don’t forget that fall is the best time to feed and seed your lawn. A few simple steps can help ensure that your lawn will be strong next season and beyond:

* After mulching, feed your lawn with Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard fall lawn fertilizer to help build strong, deep roots for a better foundation and a more robust lawn next year. The nitrogen in the fertilizer will also help the mulched leaves decompose faster. Be sure to sweep excess fertilizer off hard surfaces like driveways and sidewalks.

* After feeding, spread seed where needed. To reseed your bare spots, dig up bare areas, mix in compost, sow your seeds and cover with more compost. If the weather is dry, keep the seeded soil moist until new grass begins to grow. Seeding autumn bare spots will thicken the lawn and make it more resistant to future bare spots.

To learn more about leaf mulching and autumn lawn care, visit www.scotts.com.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Fayette Students Design Scarecrow for Garden

Eighth grade select art students pose for a picture with Skatecrow before he is taken to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens for display.

Art students at Fayette Middle School have been busy scaring up a unique display for the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Scarecrows in the Garden event.

A life-sized middle schooler with a backpack and riding a skateboard, titled Skatecrow, will be one of 125 scarecrows adorning the garden October 1-31.

The eighth grade select art students, 21 in all, designed the scarecrow using chicken wire and paper mache for the body and adorned it with recycled materials such as telephone wire for the hair, bottle tops for a belt and hand-me-down clothes and shoes. The students included something from all categories of life that young adolescents love: sports, music, iPods, cell phones, snacks, etc.

Making the scarecrow was both a learning experience and struggle for the students. It took about five weeks from inception to finish.

“The students used materials for this project that they normally would not use and have learned many concepts beyond the artwork itself,” says art teacher Ellen Mitchell.

To be eligible for the eighth grade select art class, students must have a teacher recommendation and maintain an 85 percent or higher grade point average during their seventh grade year. The class lasts for one semester and is designed to offer students an opportunity to create more difficult, challenging and lengthy projects.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Conserve Georgia’s Natural Leaders Awards Serves as a Carbon Neutral Model for Sustainable Events

Governor Perdue to address state environmental issues and recognize conservation award winners from throughout the state

Wednesday’s Conserve Georgia’s Natural Leaders Awards, hosted by the Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia, will be more than an awards luncheon, it will be a model for and celebration of sustainable events and business practices.

The event, which is open to the public, concludes a morning of workshops organized by the Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia that include “Starting a Sustainability Program” and “Carbon Footprinting 101.” The awards luncheon itself will serve as a case study in how to organize and measure a sustainable business event as every aspect of the event is being measured and evaluated.

A number of tactics that the event planner, Eventologie, is incorporating to minimize the carbon footprint of the day’s program include:

· Sourcing locally grown organic, in-season foods,
· Collecting recyclable and compostable goods,
· Using bulk beverages and condiments as well as washable tableware and linens, and
· Sending paperless invitations and registration

According to organizers, these steps and purchasing carbon offsets for possibly as little as one dollar per person will result in a carbon neutral footprint for the event. The purchase of carbon offsets is made possible by support from event sponsors that include the Carpet America Recovery Effort, Elanco, TWOvital, Eventologie and Southeast Green. The program will then be used as a case study and baseline for planning and implementing future events.

“Conserve Georgia was developed to help create a culture of conservation, and it’s important for us to lead by example,” said Chris Clark, Chair of the Conserve Georgia Council and Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “Conserve Georgia’s Natural Leaders Awards provides us with an excellent opportunity to recognize citizens, businesses, local governments and other organizations for the great work they’re doing to preserve our environment and to show how easy it is to implement conservation practices in our daily activities.”

Citizens and organizations from throughout the state will be recognized for improving their communities as it relates to the conservation of energy, land, wildlife and water; the improvement of air quality; the prevention of litter; and the promotion of recycling. Governor Perdue will present the awards and address the event’s attendees on the state of conservation in Georgia.

Conserve Georgia was launched in April 2008 by Governor Sonny Perdue to create a culture of conservation. The www.ConserveGeorgia.org Web site serves as an information portal with links to dozens of conservation programs that are implemented by state agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Conserve Georgia’s Natural Leaders Awards will be held on Wednesday, September 30, at the Loudermilk Center in downtown Atlanta and hosted by the Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia, an active participant in Conserve Georgia.

For more information on the event, visit www.NaturalLeadersAwards.com. For more information on Conserve Georgia, or to nominate a program or project for next year’s Conserve Georgia’s Natural Leader Awards, visit www.ConserveGeorgia.org. For more information on the Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia, visit www.GASustainability.org.

A Culture of Conservation
The Conserve Georgia program was developed to foster a culture of conservation throughout the state of Georgia. Nine state agencies and authorities are working together with businesses, civic leaders, educational institutions, non-profit organizations and residents to make Georgia’s air, land, water, energy and wildlife resources more sustainable now and for generations to come. The program’s Web site –
www.ConserveGeorgia.org – serves as a portal to help Georgians find information on a wide range of conservation resources and programs.

Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia Free and open to any business, the Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia was established by the Sustainability Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to foster environmental leadership and recognize superior environmental performance. The Partnership offers a variety of incentives, including cost savings through increased efficiencies, potential regulatory flexibility, free technical assistance and training, and access to networking and mentoring among peers, state and local officials. For more information, visit
www.GASustainability.org.
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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Female monarch butterflies on 30-year decline in eastern North America

Female monarch butterflies in eastern North America have significantly declined over the past 30 years, a new study by a University of Georgia researcher reveals.

Andy Davis, a Ph.D. candidate in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, analyzed published overwintering and migratory data for the insect from 1976 to the present, discovering that the female to male ratio for the butterflies east of the Rockies has gradually been changing. In the late 1970s, Davis said, females made up around 53 percent of the monarch butterfly population that migrated to Mexico for the winter. Today, that number has dropped to about 43 percent which paints a dire picture for population recruitment. Davis outlines his findings in a new paper co-authored with Eduardo Rendón-Salinas of World Wildlife Fund-Mexico. The paper appears in Biology Letters, rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org.

“I nearly fell over when I saw the trend,” said Davis. It was an unintentional but extremely important finding.”

The monarch butterfly, one of the most well-known and widely-recognized insects in the world, is a flagship species for conservation. North American Monarchs can migrate more than 2,000 miles as they fly to Mexico from Canada and the U.S. for the winter. “The implications of this decline are huge,” Davis said. “Female monarchs can lay as many as 400 eggs over their lifetime, which is why the species is so resilient.”

But Davis said that as the monarch population continues to struggle because of breeding habitat loss, widespread pesticide use, and deforestation of the overwintering sites, losing a significant number of females could seriously hinder the population’s ability to rebound after periodic crashes. Davis, who studies monarchs in addition to his doctoral work, said that news of the decline has gone unnoticed until now “because no one’s ever looked at the data like this. For years, scientists have been collecting male and female monarchs at the overwintering sites and during the fall migration. When we compiled the numbers from these collections, along with the year they were made, the trend was obvious.”

At their wintering sites, monarchs cluster on trees and form massive colonies that can number in the millions. Illegal logging of these trees is a serious threat to their wintering stage, but the threats they face in their breeding range in the United States and Canada are just as important. Further, because the decline in females is also present in the fall migration, Davis says, it means that whatever is causing this decrease is happening during the breeding season in the U.S. and Canada.

“That tells us we need to look here to see what the cause is,” he said. Whatever it is, Davis explained, “it must be something that affects females more so than males. This will be the challenge for future studies to sort out. We’ll also need to monitor the numbers of females in the population closely over the next few years, at all stages of their life cycle.

This discovery just goes to show how new insights can be gained from critical re-examination of published studies, and more generally, how much we still need to learn about this amazing insect before it is too late.”

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fall decor trends feature rustic charm with homespun elegance

(ARA) - The air is becoming crisp, colors are changing and cozy sweaters are starting to make their way back into your wardrobe's rotation. Autumn has arrived, and its natural beauty shines radiantly to warm the heart and inspire fresh crafting ideas.

"This fall season, warm colors, rich textures and creative details stand out," says Susan Atchison, manager of trend development for Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores. "Interest in homemade crafts and do-it-yourself decorating projects has never been stronger."

Clever crafts can help to create an autumn atmosphere that is simply elegant or pure fun for the family. When thinking about your fall DIY projects, try some of these ideas to capture your creative spirit when decorating your home or planning your next festive get-together:

1. Fabulous fall decor with versatility and value
Start by decorating your table with exceptionally affordable wool felt. Available in plenty of mix-and-match autumn colors, felt can be sewn, glued, colored or cut – the sky is the limit.

One easy option that provides a beautiful visual presentation is to cut out shapes on a felt cloth. For example, draw scattered maple leaves all over two different colors of felt and cut out the pieces. Layer the two felt squares together on your table for a windblown, just-fallen look.

What to do with the felt leaves you just cut out? Create a harvest-themed wreath with a classic yet contemporary look. Decorate an18-inch grapevine wreath with miniature lights, felt leaves and any other favorite fall items you have around your house or yard.

2. Classic adornments with surprising details
Need a great fall centerpiece? Rethink the classic pumpkin and try decorating with unique embellishments. For a beautiful fall-themed pumpkin, choose gold-toned wire and bend to create fun leaves and vines, attaching to the pumpkin's top. If you're looking for a Halloween theme, decorate the face of the pumpkin with masks and feathers to create different characters like a witch, owl or masquerader.

One way to save money and create a cherished piece of decor you can use year after year is to decorate a reusable pumpkin like Fun-Kins. These light artificial pumpkins are easy to work with and sure to become wonderful works of art.

3. Fall food made fantastically fun
Food is a must at any fall gathering. When the temperature cools, many of us are turning on our ovens to bake delightful must-taste treats. Rich and decadent brownies are tantalizing no matter what, but how about taking them a step further? Serve them kabob-style with marshmallows, fruit and a drizzle of icing to make them irresistible. Arrange on a tray for a beautiful presentation and watch them disappear in minutes.

If you're looking for a dessert with a theme, use uniquely shaped silicone baking pans. Try baking brownies in a jack-o’-lantern muffin pan. After they cool, pop them out, turn over and decorate their faces.

4. Double your fun with homemade costumes
If a costume party is in your future, you'll need something fun that stands out. The homemade costume is officially back and allows your creativity to shine. Brainstorm with your child to figure out what you both want to be for Halloween and then hit up a craft store to get the necessary supplies. What's the newest trend for costumes? Two-in-one options that have the ability to quickly convert from one character to the next.

For example, a sparkling dress can serve as the base for both an astronaut and a robot. With simple accessories and removable changes, your little girl can attend one party as a robot and then zoom off to another as an astronaut. Plus this is a fun alternative to traditional girls' costumes without losing the glitz. Reversible options also work for double-duty costumes. For example, try keeping one side of a cape black so you can be a witch and the other side gold. Add a feathered boa and you can become a queen in an instant.

For more information and to get supplies for creating homemade fall projects, visit www.Joann.com.

Courtesy of ARAcontent



Craft Project ideas
Courtesy of Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores

Masked Fun-Kins - Owl

Supplies and tools:
* Fun-Kins carvable pumpkin
* Black mask
* Feathers: 2 Half Hackle plates, 2 Pheasant pads, 1 package Pheasant Plumage Almond
* 9-by-12-inch craft foam: black, brown, yellow, white
* Black glitter glue
* 1 1/2 yards 3/8-inch brown ribbon
* 2 gemstones
* Tacky glue
* Scissors
* 2 ball-head straight pins
* Patterns available at www.joann.com.

Directions:

1. Remove elastic from mask.

2. Glue Half Hackle feathers near the top of the mask on each side. Glue Pheasant pads to overlap the Half Hackle feathers and extend nearly to the nose of mask.

3. Cut a yellow craft foam beak following.

4. Cut eyes from black, white and brown craft foam. Glue smaller black circles to white circles and cover black pupils with black glitter glue. Cut brown circle in half for eyelids. Draw a line of black glitter glue along the bottom of each eyelid. When glitter glue is dry, glue eyes onto mask, over the feathers. Glue eyelids onto eyes as shown.

5. Fill in the area above beak with single Pheasant Plumage feathers. Cut and glue two brown craft foam triangles to the top corners for ears.

6. Tie brown ribbon through mask holes. Tie mask around pumpkin. Secure mask to pumpkin with straight pins.

Approximate crafting time: 2 hours plus drying time

Skill level 1: No experience needed


Wire-Embellished Fun-Kins

Supplies and tools:

* Fun-Kins carvable pumpkins
* Floral accent wire: gold, copper, bronze
* Wire cutter
* Round-nose pliers
* Paper and pencil

Directions:

1. Draw maple and oak leaf shapes on paper.

2. Using drawing as a guide, bend a length of floral accent wire with round-nose pliers and fingers to the approximate shape of leaf. Cut excess wire to create a 4-inch stem. Puncture pumpkin with the stem and insert leaf.

3. Using a new length of wire, create curly vines by wrapping wire around a pencil to form shape. Loop wire vines around the pumpkin stem.

Approximate crafting time: 1 hour each

Skill level 1: No experience needed

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Monday, September 21, 2009

'Smart Trash’ Could Reinvent Recycling with a Cash Incentive

Envision a distasteful trip to the curb to take out the trash as a pleasant — and profitable — stroll.

Some juiceless batteries - those are good for a few cents. An old keyboard might fetch a couple of bucks. Even that empty box of Pop-Tarts might be worth something.

No need to sort these discards: the trashcan has already done it, inventorying all contents and calculating the worth of this waste. Next month’s garbage bill could be accompanied by a check.

“Recycling and consumer waste are still managed with 1950s technology,” said Valerie Thomas, Anderson Interface Associate Professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Industrial and Systems Engineering. “Of course it can’t keep up. The flow of products out of the household needs to be managed with at least as much intelligence as the flow of products into the household. It’s sort of obvious.”

This is the concept behind “Smart Trash,” an approach developed by Thomas that has caught the attention of major corporations and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Smart Trash systems not only provide sustainable and productive ways for discarding items, but also can redefine the relationship people have with their garbage.

There are a number of manufacturers, retailers, recyclers and researchers now working to actualize the Smart Trash idea. Project PURE (Promoting Understanding of RFID and the Environment) — featuring representatives of companies such as Wal-Mart and Hewlett-Packard, as well as recyclers and developers of product codes — is working to refine this concept and push it toward mainstream reality.

Consumer recycling is currently fairly simplistic, focusing mostly on paper, aluminum and steel cans and some plastic bottles. For the system to evolve and thrive, it must be expanded to a variety of different products while maintaining ease of use and adding incentives that encourage participation.

“There are advantages on both sides to the consumer and the recycler,” said Angie Leith, senior policy analyst at the EPA Office of Solid Waste in Washington, D.C.

Leith recruited Thomas to take part in Project PURE, which is funded by the EPA, after being impressed with her research and the promise of Smart Trash.

“Valerie understands industrial ecology,” she said. “If there’s always going to be trash, when it gets to end of life, you should be able to do something with it. Let’s try to do it in a smart way. It really makes sense.”


Two essential elements are involved in making Smart Trash function.

The first is a Universal Product Code (UPC) or radio frequency identification (RFID) tag that identifies specific merchandise. A scanner equipped within a trash receptacle would be able to immediately record what is being disposed, allowing consumers to track their trash and determine what pieces are potentially valuable.

The second component is a retrofitted recycling truck or recycling center that can sort trash that can sort recyclables. Valuable items could be sent to auction sites where the proceeds could be sent directly back to consumers. Items with hazardous components could be shunted aside for appropriate management.

A Wi-Fi connection provides the bridge between the trashcan and the recycling service, relaying information that can anticipate and properly organize the contents.

Recyclable items with significant value — such as consumer electronics — would be forwarded to online auction services where the maximum value could be actualized. Consumer recycling credits could also be issued for something as insignificant as a frozen pizza box or a shampoo bottle. Any money garnered from this waste could be applied to a consumer’s monthly sanitation bill or sent as a check.

Simple. Sensible. Sustainable.

“Just about anything could be recycled in this manner,” Thomas said.

Not everything can be resold for cash, though. Some items in the trashcan — a banana peel, a used paper towel — clearly have no resale value.

Those items would be disposed of in a more traditional matter, composted or even potentially be used for fuel.

“There’s no point in having a potato chip bag that’s going to last for thousands of years,” Thomas said. “I’m not advocating that everything be recycled because at some level it’s way too hard. Every product should either be completely safe to burn, compost, eat or it should be easy to recycle.”

Thomas advocates using non-recyclable waste to provide energy via combustion. Burning non recyclable disposables in an environmentally friendly manner could provide power for everything from lights to appliances. It also helps resolve any privacy issues that result from the entire contents of a garbage can having a constant inventory.

“Depending on the nature of the product, there would be some reasonableness about how much information you would want to keep about something,” Thomas said. “There’s no reason for people to know how much cereal you eat. That’s another reason most of the packaging should be biodegradable or burnable.”

Smart Trash technology provides benefits that go beyond a garbage can. The system can potentially be used for inventory purposes or to pinpoint products that have been recalled for health and safety reasons.

With the ability to scan and determine the value of just about any item in a home, Smart Trash technology could eventually become a sustainable weapon against clutter. Just scan old items taking up space, note the value and send these straight to the recycling bin.

Think of it as a living yard sale.

“It’s such a pain to get rid of things when you don’t want to just throw it away or think you might use it later” Thomas said. “You could really have your house cleaning itself for you.”

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Conserve Georgia Renews Commitment To Creating a Culture of Conservation

Georgia Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Chris Clark Unveils Web Site and Social Media Program at Georgia Environmental Conference

Note: Hopefully this is one of those "better late than never" stories... we missed it back on Aug. 27th but thought it was worth sliding on here. Wish we'd watched our inbox a little closer that day! - NFNG

Conserve Georgia, Governor Perdue’s statewide initiative charged with helping create a culture of conservation throughout Georgia, is renewing its call to preserve the state’s natural resources at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s fourth annual Georgia Environmental Conference in Savannah. An updated www.ConserveGeorgia.org Web site, a new social media program, and outreach plans for local government and business organizations are being introduced to business and civic leaders from throughout the state.

“Georgia’s natural resources are finite and precious, so we must all do our part to preserve them for future generations,” said Chris Clark, Chair of the Conserve Georgia Council and Commissioner of Natural Resources. “Whether you’re interested in recycling, land management, air quality, wildlife, or water and energy conservation, ConserveGeorgia.org is a single portal to find information about caring for and enjoying our state’s natural resources. In order to better communicate with Georgians, we also have started communicating directly through our new Facebook page.”

Conserve Georgia is a public information program that is composed of 10 state partner agencies which manage dozens of conservation-oriented programs, ranging from the Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia to waterSmart. Conserve Georgia also is working through the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), the regional growth authorities, and youth organizations to inform Georgians about the program and how their members can take a more active part in preserving Georgia.

Some of the programs that Conserve Georgia brings together include:

· Backyard Composting, Zero Waste at Work and regional recycling collection hubs that are operated through the Georgia Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA);

· Wildlife, forest, coastal, water, air and land management and preservation programs that are managed and operated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and its Environmental Protection Division (EPD);

· The Governor’s Energy Challenge, which directs all state agencies to reduce energy consumption by 15 percent by 2020 and has challenged Georgia businesses, local governments and citizens to do the same, and the funding of conservation and green energy initiatives through the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority (GEFA), including projects that receive dollars from the federal stimulus program; and

· The Georgia Department of Transportation’s (Georgia DOT) Adopt-A-Highway, Litter Control and Wildflower programs.

“The choices we make as individuals have a significant, collective impact on our state’s natural resources,” continued Clark. “That’s why Governor Perdue and the Conserve Georgia partner agencies are challenging all Georgians to participate in conservation programs.”

Visitors to www.ConserveGeorgia.org can access dozens of state and public/private conservation initiatives while navigating through 3-D scenes of Georgia’s varied natural environment: urban life, rural Georgia, the north Georgia mountains and coastal Georgia. The site is user-driven, allowing each visitor to select the kind of content they want to see based on their interest as an individual, business, educator, agribusiness or local government entity.

3-D elements provide a virtual-world experience complete with the ability to have some virtual fun – visitors can watch crops grow during the irrigation process, throw another log on the campfire, or pick up trash and deposit it in a receptacle. The site’s functionality is designed to get Georgians more engaged, form a tighter connection with Conserve Georgia and retain more information.

Conserve Georgia’s new presence on Facebook.com also engages Georgians in an online environment in which they are already currently active. Georgians who become a “fan” of Conserve Georgia on Facebook.com will receive information about conservation-related events and programs as well as seasonal conservation tips.

Conserve Georgia partner agencies include the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority (GEFA), the Environmental Protection Division (EPD), the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), the University System of Georgia (USG), the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC), the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission (GSWCC), the Department of Education (DOE), the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Agriculture (DOA).

A Culture of ConservationThe Conserve Georgia program was developed to foster a culture of conservation throughout the state of Georgia. Nearly a dozen state agencies and authorities are working together with businesses, civic leaders, educational institutions, non-profit organizations and residents to make Georgia’s air, land, water, energy and wildlife resources more sustainable now and for generations to come. The program’s Web site – www.ConserveGeorgia.org – serves as a portal to help Georgians find information on a wide range of conservation resources and programs.
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

As Temperatures Cool, Brown Recluse Spiders Are Not So Reclusive

(BUSINESS WIRE)--Although a frequently misidentified species, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) reminds homeowners of the real health threats posed by the brown recluse spider as fall begins. With bites that can take three hours to develop and three weeks or longer to heal, the brown recluse injects a venom, which can cause severe allergic reactions, notably in children, the elderly or those with preexisting medical conditions.

Often identified by a dark brown violin shape on its back, the brown recluse spider is predominantly found in the Midwest and Southeast of the United States. This species is well known for its “secretive” behaviors as it prefers to take residence in warm, dry and dark environments, such as woodpiles, basements and closets.

“As the brown recluse is known for its bites, many assume that this spider is aggressive when the opposite is true,” said Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for NPMA. “This arachnid bites, usually unintentionally, when it feels trapped. Whether we dig through our storage in the attic or wear a piece of clothing in which a brown recluse has made its home, their bites are reactionary. Therefore the sheer presence of this pest can increase the potential pest-related health risks facing homeowners and their families.”

NPMA offers the following tips to help prevent contact with brown recluse spiders:

* Avoid keeping clothing and shoes on the floor and consider storing inside plastic containers.
* Shake out all clothing that has been in a hamper before wearing or washing.
* Keep garages, attics and basements clean and clutter free.
* If you are bitten by a spider, contact your primary care physician for medical advice.
* If you have an infestation in your home, contact a licensed pest professional to inspect and treat the pest problem.

For information regarding brown recluse spiders or to find a pest professional, visit: www.pestworld.org.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Dry food to preserve the harvest

Preserving produce doesn’t have to happen over a hot stove or by finding more room in the freezer. It can be as simple as slicing it, laying the slices in a dehydrator and storing the dried pieces.

“Some of the advantages to drying food is it’s inexpensive, no cost other than a little electricity if you use a dehydrator and packaging to store it because you can sit it out at room temperature,” said Elizabeth Andress, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension food safety specialist.

Dried food doesn’t have to be refrigerated because the moisture that would cause it to spoil has been pushed out.

Andress’s favorite foods to dry are apples, figs and pineapple. Last year, she experimented with drying Roma-type tomatoes, which she sliced and sprinkled with oregano.

“It smelled like a pizza kitchen when we were drying them,” she said. “They were great just eaten as is.”

It’s too humid in the Southeast to dry foods outside, Andress said. In other parts of the country, like California, people can lay their food out on a tray and place it in the sun.

From branch to shelf

Fruits are one of the easiest types of produce to dry. Unlike vegetables, which usually require blanching before they can be dried, fruits can be sliced and placed on a dehydrator.

But some fruits don’t work, like kiwi. “The slices ended up shrinking so much that it was just a mouthful of seeds,” she said.

To dry an apple or another fruit, follow these steps:

1. Choose good quality. If it’s moldy, mushy or browning, throw it out.

2. Wash the fruit, and slice it evenly. “The more even the width and sizes, the more even drying will be,” she said.

3. Place it on a tray in an electric dehydrator. If your oven can be programmed for low temperatures, you can use it. Set the dehydrator’s temperature at 140 F. Food dried at lower temperatures might never fully dry. At higher temperatures, it dries faster on the outside becoming hard but leaving the inside moist and likely to rot.

4. Wait a few hours and keep a close eye on the slices as they get nearer to the end of drying. Food close to being done will dry faster at the end than at the beginning.

5. Seal the finished pieces in freezer-weight plastic bag or in plastic storage boxes.

Follow the same steps with vegetables, except blanch them first. Blanching time depends on the vegetable. The only vegetables that don’t have to be blanched are onions, okra and peppers (all types).

“You might also want to use some pretreatments with light-colored fruits to prevent rapid browning,” Andress said.

Other foods that can be dried are meat jerky, seeds, herbs and greens like kale and collards. Foods can also be pureed and dried flat, much like Fruit Roll-Ups.

Health benefits

For people worried about preservatives, extra sugar or, in some cases, added oils, home-dried fruits and vegetables can be a healthier solution.

“One advantage to me of doing some of the fruits I like, like apples and pineapples, is sometimes commercially, they’ve added sugars and sugar coatings to them,” Andress said. ‘This way, you can just have them plain.”

As a diabetic, she says she still has to watch how much she eats. A whole dried apple has the same amount of sugar as a fresh apple; it just has a smaller volume.

It’s not just sugars that consumers have to consider. “Those hardened banana chips that you buy commercially often have some tropical oils in them, as well as sugar infused to give them that crispness,” she said. “Homemade bananas will be chewier, but you can get them in their natural forms without the additives.”

Using dried foods

Fruits can be mixed with nuts as a trail mix or eaten straight. So can homemade jerkies. Dried vegetables make a good starter for soup mix.

Drying “tends to be popular with people who do hiking and backpacking and kayaking and such,” Andress said. “A real advantage is the condensed volume, lighter weight and small storage space.”

For more information on drying food, visit www.homefoodpreservation.com.

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ban winter rodents from your home

Fall is near. Leaves are turning colors. Squirrels are storing nuts, and mice and rats are looking for the best way to get into your home for the winter. A University of Georgia wildlife expert says your home doesn’t have to become a rodent resort.

“Mice and rats can enter your house through openings as small as a dime,” said Michael Mengak, a UGA Cooperative Extension specialist with the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. “Closing their entry holes is one of the most effective ways to prevent mice and rats from becoming a pest in your home."

Most important, get rid of any places where mice and rats can hide and reproduce. Remove trash, old boards, weeds, brush piles, rock piles, firewood and other junk from your home, garage and property, Mengak said.

Keep garbage in tightly covered cans. Feed dogs and cats from dishes, and take up uneaten food. Use squirrel guards to deter rats and mice from feeding from bird feeders. Don’t pile wood against the house, and store firewood at least a foot off the ground.

Make sure patio and garage doors stay closed, seal openings under doors, and cover windows with one-quarter-inch mesh wire screen, he said.

Cement or caulk around pipes (gas, water, hose or air conditioning drains) and wires (phone, cable and TV). Cover clothes dryer vents, but allow for adequate airflow. Clean them regularly to remove lint that could be a fire hazard.

Seal small holes and cracks by stuffing them with steel wool and caulking over them.

Why is it so important to keep the rodents at bay? Rats and mice can carry fleas and ticks and transmit bacteria and diseases. They can spoil food, too, and eat crops, stored grains, birdseed and pet food.

“Rats and mice have poor eyesight but excellent senses of smell, taste and touch,” Mengak said. “They usually hide during the day and come out at night. If you see one, you can be sure there are many more you haven’t seen.”

Three species like to live indoors, and all three can be found in Georgia. They are the house mouse, the Norway rat and the roof rat.

House mice are three inches long, not including the tail, which doesn’t have fur.

Rats are much larger and can be up to a foot long, not including the tail.

Norway rats are also called brown rats, house rats, barn rats, sewer rats, gray rats or wharf rats. They are heavy bodied and weigh more than a pound. Their ears do not reach past their eyes. Their fur is usually brown or reddish gray, and they are not good climbers.

Roof rats, also known as black or ship rats, are sleek with ears that extend past their eyes. They weigh between 5 ounces and 10 ounces. Their fur can be brown or black. They are good climbers.

For more information on rats and mice, visit the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ publication, “Rats and Mice: Get Them Out of Your House and Yard,” at pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubcd/C970/C970.html.

Sharon Dowdy
University of Georgia

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Apply Now for USDA's Conservation Stewardship Program

/PRNewswire/ -- Farmers and foresters who want to participate in USDA's new Conservation Stewardship Program, or CSP, should apply by September 30th to be considered in the first contract approval cycle.

CSP provides an annual payment to landowners who maintain a high level of conservation and agree to implement at least one new conservation activity on cropland, pasture, or forestland. CSP offers many different conservation activities from which to pick, covering a range of resource enhancing activities that help farmers improve their operations while protecting natural resources. A few examples are manure injection, filter strips, solar powered fence systems, and on-farm research and demonstrations.

Private forestland enhancements include forest stand improvement, establishment of pollinator habitat, and many more. Also, organic and specialty crop farms could transition to an organic cropping system, apply Integrated Pest Management, and more.

CSP can provide a supplemental payment for farmers who implement or upgrade a Resource Conserving Crop Rotation, such as cover crops, legumes in hay rotation, high residue producing crops, etc.

Estimated average payment ranges are $10-$22/acre for cropland, $7-$14/acre for pasture, and $6-$12/acre for forestland. Individual contracts may be more or less than these amounts. Contracts are for five years. The supplemental Resource Conserving Crop Rotation payment may range from $12 to $16/acre.

The CSP program relies heavily on the Farm Service Agency's (FSA) Farm Record System, and applicants must be listed as the operator of record in this system. When applying for this program, producers must bring their maps showing fields, crop rotations, and acreages of their farm or forestland operation. Applications should be submitted to their local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service office. For more information, visit the NRCS web site at www.pa.nrcs.usda.gov and follow the link for CSP signup information, or call NRCS at (717)237-2100.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Nature, Undisturbed 2010 - Call for Entries

The 2nd annual juried nature photography exhibition, benefiting Southern Conservation Trust, is now soliciting entries for the 2010 competition.

~The call for entries deadline is January 30, 2010~

Amateur and professional photographers are encouraged to submit one or more nature photos in either one or both categories:

* Nature, Undisturbed: photographs featuring nature in any location.

* Trust Preserves: images taken at one of the Trust’s three public preserves in Fayette County: Sams Lake Sanctuary south of Fayetteville, Line Creek Nature Area on Hwy 54 in Peachtree City, and Flat Creek Nature Area next to the Peachtree City Amphitheater.

Like the 2009 show, Nature, Undisturbed 2010 is expected to creatively showcase the simple, yet majestic, beauty of nature, wildlife, and our lovely local landscapes. The exhibition and events will take place April 16-April 24 at Dogwood Gallery and Framer in Tyrone. Cash Prizes will be awarded for each category, and to the Sponsor's Choice and the People's Choice selections.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Temporary Forestry Work Coming Through A.R.R.A. Grants

The Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) will assist in the creation of more than 300 temporary jobs statewide as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The federal program will subsidize five grants totaling $9.7 million in forestry-related work to help stimulate the economy and benefit Georgia’s environment. The funds will not replace or supplant state mandated GFC budget reductions, but can only be used for the creation of new, temporary positions in the forestry industry.

“These proposals will enhance GFC initiatives beyond what was possible under current austere budget conditions,” said Robert Farris, Director of the Georgia Forestry Commission. “The work will have multiple benefits, including reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire, restoring longleaf pine ecosystems, fighting invasive weed species and reaching out to thousands of landowners who need updated forest management plans.”

Farris said forestry professionals who are interested in the work these grants have created should go to the GFC website for information and application materials. The GFC website can be found at GaTrees.org. A link to ARRA grant opportunities is located on the Homepage.

The five grants received have different purposes and are operated by different business units of the GFC. Each grant has specific qualification guidelines, application windows, and managers. The grants include:

· Enhanced Fuels Management and Community Wildfire Protection Plans- This $3.59 million grant will help create a wildfire-resistant forest buffer surrounding the fire prone Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge. It will also help with wildfire mitigation planning for several communities that were affected by the catastrophic wildfires of 2007. More than 60% of this grant will be used to reimburse landowners who complete forest management options, outlined in the grant, for reducing wildfire fuels and creating defendable space around the Okefenokee. Forestry technicians will be hired to supervise the procedures and a community fire mitigation specialist will be hired to promote Firewise practices and Community Wildfire Protection Planning.

· Stewardship Revisit for Prescribed Fire - Some 6,400 Georgia landowners have received Forest Stewardship Plans via a program that began in 1991. As part of a $2.24 million prescribed burning initiative, these forests will be revisited to measure progress on recommended forest management practices and to evaluate the use of prescribed fire. Twenty foresters/forestry technicians will be hired to make site evaluations. Prescribed burning of 50,000 acres will follow, based on evaluations.

· Dixon State Forest Wildfire Recovery & Habitat Restoration - $377,000 will be administered for the rehabilitation of 19,000 acres in Dixon Memorial Forest, which were burned in the 2007 wildfires. Bids will be accepted for site preparation, tree planting, and the purchase of longleaf pine seedlings.

· Congongrass and Invasive Plant Eradication - Cogongrass is considered the seventh worst weed in the world and has taken over vast ecosystems in some southern states. Cogongrass greatly increases the risk of damaging wildfire in the forest. GFC professionals have identified other invasive plant species as threats to forested ecosystems within Georgia, as well. To expand detection, eradication and education efforts toward these invasive plants, $1.8 million will be administered. Incentive payments will be available to landowners who perform treatments within forested areas. To perform these tasks, GFC will hire six temporary personnel and an estimated 20 or more contractors; multiple crews will be hired by landowners. Jobs will be created throughout the state as these invasive plant surveys and treatments take place.

· Regional Longleaf Pine Restoration Initiative and Fuel Reduction - Longleaf pine forests once covered a vast range from Texas to Virginia, but have been reduced to three percent of historical acreage due to conversion of land to other uses and forest types. Longleaf pine forests are highly valued for their resistance to damage by insects, diseases, wildfire, and storms, and for their yield of high quality wood products, biological diversity, and scenic beauty. As part of a regional project involving Georgia, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina to reestablish this native, highly valued longleaf pine species, $1.7 million will be administered. This work helps restore a great American ecosystem while creating jobs for contractors and laborers involved in tree planting and forest improvement work, including nursery workers, conservation planners and coordinators, media specialists, and educators.

Funding for these five projects was provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act). The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working to implement provisions of the Recovery Act to put Americans back to work and rejuvenate the nation’s economy. The Recovery Act provided USDA with nearly $28 billion in funding; of that, $1.15 billion has been allocated to the Forest Service for project work in forest restoration, hazardous fuels reduction, construction and maintenance of facilities, trails and roads, green energy projects, and grants to states, tribes, and private landowners.

For more information about GFC-administered A.R.R.A. grants, visit GaTrees.org or call 1-800-GA-TREES.
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Thursday, September 03, 2009

You Did What to My Tomatoes?

In what might be the ultimate pursuit of the perfect vegetable, researchers at Finland's University of Kuopio have discovered that a mixture of human urine and wood ash has the same benefit for tomato plants as traditional fertilizers, producing 4.2 times more fruit than non-fertilized plants.

While the wood ash helps reduce the acidity of soils, tomatoes grown just using urine as the fertilizer did just as well as synthetic fertilizers.

"The results suggest that urine with [or] without wood ash can be used as a substitute for mineral fertilizer to increase the yields of tomato without posing any microbial or chemical risks," said the study, which appears in the current issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

The findings from the study have "important implications," the scientists said, because "they may contribute to the development of positive attitudes about the use of urine and ash as fertilizer as a way to both increase crop yield and reduce water pollution."

By Jim Dawson
Inside Science News Service

(NFNG Note: OK, this one may work, but I'll have my tomatoes urine free thank you very much!)

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Some like it cold: It’s not too late to get your fall veggie garden growing

(ARA) - If you haven't yet joined the “grow your own vegetables" craze, it’s not too late to join in. You can produce a bounty of vitamin-rich veggies from plot (or pot) to plate this fall, plus you’ll save a bundle by growing them yourself.

You may be surprised to find that with just a little attention and effort, growing fall vegetables in the backyard garden and in planters is even more enjoyable than planting a vegetable garden during the spring and summer seasons. Why? Cooler autumn temperatures make it a delight to spend time outside in the garden and also provide an advantage when it's time to harvest your crops.

You'll spend less time caring for your fall crops because of the favorable cool weather growing conditions. Plants will grow rapidly at first and gradually slow as the days become shorter and colder. Destructive insects won't be as numerous in autumn as they are in summer months. Weeds germinate less frequently and grow slower than they do during the warmer seasons. Compared to hot and dry summers, fall usually brings an increase in the amount of precipitation, eliminating another time-consuming chore – watering.

What you need to know:

1. Let the sunshine in. Most vegetables need full sun – at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. They also require a steady supply of moisture and nutrients from the soil. You can help ensure your plants get both by mixing a 2-inch layer of compost into the soil (bagged compost is available at garden centers). Or spread a balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, according to labeled instructions. Plants will need an inch of moisture per week, either through rain or supplemental watering.

2. Start with transplants. Transplants buy you lots of time. Plants are six weeks or older when you put them into the ground, so you will begin harvesting much sooner than if you start from seed. Bonnie Plants transplants in biodegradable, environmentally friendly pots make planting easy and spare the use of much plastic. Just cut off the bottom of the pot, water and plant ... pot and all. Garden centers typically supply optimum fall varieties for your geographic region.

3. Don’t fear frost. When frost threatens, cover plants with a floating row cover, cold frame or a cloche. Or, you can grow fall veggies in a container and move the pot to a protected location on frosty nights.

Essential, preliminary planning tips for fall vegetable gardens include:

* Before planting any new plant make sure that you clear the area of summer and spring crops planted previously, as they may decay and encourage bacterial infection.

* Spread a few inches of mulch or compost over the area. Make sure that you turn up the soil’s top layer and water well. Allow the soil to rest for a day before planting new fall plants.

* During the fall season most areas experience rain and even frost, so make sure that your soil is well drained and doesn’t get soggy.

Vegetables best suited for fall gardens:

After following the essential preliminary steps for fall vegetable gardening, it’s time to select vegetables for planting. Here’s a list of fast-growing, cold-hardy crops that are ideal for fall vegetable gardening:

Winterbor Kale – This nutritious leafy green is a vigorous producer that endures winter easily, even in very cold climates. Cut the outer leaves so that the center can continue growing. Space transplants about 12 inches apart

Georgia Collards - Another leafy green similar to kale, collards offer a larger, stronger, sweet cabbage-like flavor. Leaves taste best when young. Space transplants 36 inches apart.

Romaine Lettuce - Romaine packs more vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients than other popular types of lettuce. Rich in fiber, vitamin C, and beta-carotene, romaine is an especially good vegetable for heart health. Space transplants 18 inches apart.

Early Dividend Broccoli - Popular, productive and easy to grow, this broccoli is high in fiber and calcium. Set transplants 18 inches apart

Mustard Greens – Offering spicy hot leaves, this is a very fast-growing, nutritious vegetable. Mustard greens always taste sweeter when nipped by frost. Space plants 12 inches apart

Bonnie Hybrid Cabbage – Bonnie's best cabbage. Grows large, round, blue-green heads. Cabbage is especially high in beta-carotene, vitamin C, K and fiber.

Arugula – These fast-growing leafy greens are great for salads or gourmet recipes. This peppery-tasting green is a super food for your bones. The leaves are “nutrient dense” and low in calories. They are especially high in vitamins A, C, and K.

If you put these practices into place this fall, you'll get your garden off to the right start and set it up for a fruitful season. Preparation is key, but the reward is a healthier, more productive garden – and fresh food that tastes better than anything you can buy at the store.

To learn more about vegetable and herb varieties as well as gardening tips, visit www.bonnieplants.com.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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