A Bright Idea for Lightning Protection

I came across Dr. Richard Beeson's field research site while taking a class called Plant Water Relations. I spoke with him about lightning protection at his site with all his solenoids and data collection devices going out to his field. He explained he uses a small device that is wired from any wires or controllers coming from the field. The component is called a varistor. It is similar to a fuse and is wired to a grounding strip. If a lightning bolt is nearby and there is a voltage spike traveling back from the field the voltage spike will encounter the varistor. If the voltage spike is higher than the rating on the varistor it will automatically shunt the power to the grounding strip. In a direct lightning strike it probably will not protect you. Lightning is so unpredictable. But from a nearby lightening strike and power surge it would probably do the job of protecting your equipment. For more information than you probably care to know, here is a link about varistors and their use http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varistor they cost about $0.05-$0.10 each and you will need one for each wire coming back from the solenoids in your field. (The picture to the right is a varistor from the link above from wikipedia)

In order to show a better picture of what I'm talking about I've included a short video of the setup. Here's the link to click to watch the video: http://hillsborough.extension.ufl.edu/Ag/AgOrnProd/Video/LightningVideo.html

If you happen to watch this video, post a comment on what you think about this new format for learning about new things from Extension.


Farm to Fuel Update

This just in from the Farm To Fuel Folks.

By all accounts the 2010 Farm to Fuel Summit was a huge success. If you were unable to attend the Summit, or would like to see it again, sessions from the Sebastian L Ballroom will be aired on The Florida Channel beginning on Saturday, August 21, at 8 a.m. and again at 8 p.m. The agenda is posted at http://www.floridafarmtofuel.com/summit_2010.htm for your reference. There may be additional airings, but they have not been scheduled yet. Viewers can check The Florida Channel web site for the channels in your area by visiting www.wfsu.org and clicking on "The Florida Channel" in the upper right corner. In the left margin, click "Where to Watch" and select the "Display All" button for a list of cable systems around the state and when they carry The Florida Channel. You may also watch us on the Web by clicking on Webstream 1 on The Florida Channel web site at the designated times.

In addition, PowerPoint presentations from the Summit can be viewed at


New Grape Varieties From UF/IFAS

Here is a video of some of the latest releases from Dr. Dennis Gray's grape breeding program. I thought that I might inspire some of the growers of woody ornamentals to try a new edible crop in their production scheme. During my field tour with Dr. Gray I was really impressed by the large yields of these and other grapes they had in the field at Apopka Mid-Florida Research and Education Center. The vineyard rows looked like something you would see in California with beautiful ripe clusters hanging down from the wire trellises and lush green foliage above. These grapes are easily propagated from softwood to medium cuttings and grow rapidly to a salable plant in either a one or 3 gallon container.

Click on the following link to see the varieties and meet Dr. Gray

If you would like more information on where to obtain the varieties shown in this video please call me at the extension office in 813-744-5519 ext.147

Slower Growing Plants Help Inherent Defenses

It seems that nursery growers are in losing battle with insect pest and a rapid turn of plant crops. Here are the summaries of two articles I've come across recently.

Plants can either protect themselves or grow fast; but not both.

A recent published article in Science magazine by UC Irvine's Kailen Mooney et. al. came to the research conclusion that when plants have traits to grow fast, they are more prone to attack and need outside help from the attack of pests. The converse is true as well. A plant with slower growing traits favor more protection from insects that feed on them. It seems that faster growing plants are more tasty and preferred by plant eating insects.

Here is a link to a brief from the research from Science Daily: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100325143051.htm

Reduce fertilizer amount and reduce pest pressure.

This article was in NM Pro, March Issue. It was a summary of the researcher Andrew Chow and his colleagues work. They looked at reducing fertilizer inputs in rose crops and the pest status of introduced two spotted spider mites. They used 100, 50, and 33% of the recommended 15-5-15 Cal-Mag fertilizer and placed the same number of female mites on each plants and then grew them out. Mite egg count was 2 times higher with 100% fertilizer compared to the 50 or 33% fertilizer rate. Flowering shoots and quality was not compromised at the 50% fertility rate. This study showed that reducing fertilizer reduced the pest numbers and had positive monetary savings in sprays, labor, and fertilizer. The complete article was in Journal of Economic Entomology Vol. 102, Issue 5.

My take on these articles would be that if I had some plants that were insect magnets and I didn't need them produced for a market window, I might try to reduce the amount of fertilizer to them. Or even, spread out the production of this plant over the year and reduce the amount of fertilizer so that the slower growing plants would be reaching maturity throughout the year for sales. Then watch to see if the reduction of fertilizer reduced the pests to a non-economic damaging level. If you try this let me know how it works out!


Grasshoppers Abound

As you may have noticed lately, grasshoppers populations have increased substantially. They may have even increased to an economically damaging level at your nursery. The eastern lubber grasshopper is especially prevalent during this time of the year. These are the large ones that practically knock you down when they bump into you. I have scanned through some of the fact sheets on the IFAS EDIS (Electronic Data Information Source) to find some information on what you can do to prevent lubber grasshopper damage to your plants. The following paragraphs are taken directly from (EENY-006 Eastern Lubber Grasshopper, Romalea microptera (Beauvois) (= guttata (Houttuyn)) (Insecta: Orthoptera: Acrididae) C. W. Scherer and J. L. Capinera, originally published 1996, revised 2008) here is the factsheet if you would like further information http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in132

“Adults of Romalea microptera exist nearly throughout the year in Florida with their numbers dwindling during the fall and winter period. They have one generation per year, with eggs beginning to hatch in February in South Florida while the rest of the state usually doesn't see this species until March. Eastern lubbers, like all grasshoppers, grow through successive stages after molting. These stages (instars) are referred to as nymphs. Lubbers have a total of five instars before molting into the adult stage. The length of these instars vary slightly but average 15 to 20 days each. The highest number of adults can be observed during the months of July and August.
Females will begin laying eggs during the summer months. After mating, females use the tip of the abdomen to dig a small hole into a suitable patch of soil. Usually at a depth of about two inches, she will deposit up to 50 eggs contained within a light foamy froth. Each female will lay from one to three egg masses. These eggs will remain in the soil through late fall and winter and then begin hatching in March. The young grasshoppers crawl up out of the soil upon hatching and seem to congregate near suitable food sources. Lubbers are often found in damp or wet habitats, but seek drier sites for egg-laying.

Populations cycle up and down, possibly due to the action of parasites. The tachinid fly Anisia serotina (Reinhard) attains high levels of parasitism, sometimes 60-90%

The size of the eastern lubber grasshopper is a little misleading when one considers they require far less food material than most of the more injurious species of grasshoppers that are only one-third as large or smaller.

Grasshopper abundance can be regulated through management of the vegetation. If you deprive grasshoppers of their favored food, often they will leave or perish. Keeping the vegetation mowed is very helpful, as short vegetation does not often support grasshoppers
Lubber grasshoppers will often develop initially in moist areas around ponds and irrigation ditches, then later migrate to homes, yards, and crops. Rather than waiting for the grasshoppers to come to you, it is often best to take the battle to them. So check potential breeding or feeding sites for signs of grasshoppers. The young grasshoppers remain clustered in groups, but as they get older they are more likely to be solitary.

Grasshoppers are not easy to kill, even with insecticides, once they become large. Among the insecticides that will kill lubber grasshoppers are carbaryl, bifenthrin, cyhalothrin, permethrin, and esfenvalerate (note: these are the technical names, which appear in the 'ingredients' section on the label). You likely will have to apply the insecticide directly to the insects; the small amount of insecticide residue remaining on sprayed plants may not adequate to kill the grasshoppers.”

Along with chemical control there are a few biological control options that can be used. Nosema locustae, a naturally occurring protozoan that causes disease and death in crickets and grasshoppers and sold under the trade name Nolo Bait® and Grasshopper Attack®. This biological control is best used when grasshoppers are in the younger stages of maturation. With ingestion of the protozoan, the grasshopper reduces feeding activity and egg laying and between 60 to 90% will die. The next generation of grasshoppers can become infected with egg contamination from adult female grasshoppers. Derived from Eny-275. Microbial Insecticides. R. Weinzierl, T. Henn, P. G. Koehler and C. L. Tucker. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/IN/IN08100.pdf
The fungus Beauveria bassiana is yet another biopesticide registered for grasshopper control. This is a soil fungus that has a broad spectrum of insect control. It is sold under the trade name BotaniGard®. The spores of this fungus penetrates the insects cuticle and consumes it from the inside.
Remember to decide if the level of economic damage is sufficient to warrant control measures. Culturally, there can be some control of grasshoppers with disking in the winter time to expose eggs and mowing in the spring and summer to remove food sources for the grasshoppers to eat.


25th International Coastal Cleanup

I thought I would mention this notice as a partial follow-up of yesterday's blog post. As plant producers we already place a high value upon the benefits that our product brings to the end consumer. I thought it was worth mentioning, along those same lines, that a healthy clean environment is essential for furthering the health of the local residents. So here is your opportunity to help clean up our local environs. Please check out the 25th International Coastal Cleanup.


Trees Can Heal Us

For those of us who work in the green industry we already know how rewarding it can be to see our products creating lasting landscape impacts. One of the perennial issues we face is getting the public to recognize the benefits of environmental horticulture. As producers we also appreciate the beauty that our plants can bring to an environment. Here is an article from ScienceDaily. Although it mentions forests in the article, I have no doubts that the same experiences can be felt in beautifully landscaped places. I hope that this article might reassure you of the beneficial impact of plants on people. I also hope that this article will bolster your spirits in the summer slowdown while you produce your plants for everyone to enjoy. Here is the article from ScienceDaily below.

"The Healing Effects of Forests
ScienceDaily (July 26, 2010) — "Many people," says Dr. Eeva Karjalainen, of the Finnish Forest Research Institute, Metla, "feel relaxed and good when they are out in nature. But not many of us know that there is also scientific evidence about the healing effects of nature." Forests -- and other natural, green settings -- can reduce stress, improve moods, reduce anger and aggressiveness and increase overall happiness. Forest visits may also strengthen our immune system by increasing the activity and number of natural killer cells that destroy cancer cells.
Many studies show that after stressful or concentration-demanding situations, people recover faster and better in natural environments than in urban settings. Blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the level of "stress hormones" all decrease faster in natural settings. Depression, anger and aggressiveness are reduced in green environments and ADHD symptoms in children reduce when they play in green settings.
In addition to mental and emotional well-being, more than half of the most commonly prescribed drugs include compounds derived from nature -- for example Taxol, used against ovarian and breast cancer, is derived from yew trees, while Xylitol, which can inhibit caries, is produced from hardwood bark.
Dr. Karjalainen will coordinate a session on the health benefits of forests at the 2010 IUFRO World Forestry Congress in Seoul. "Preserving green areas and trees in cities is very important to help people recover from stress, maintain health and cure diseases. There is also monetary value in improving people's working ability and reducing health care costs." she says."

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100723161221.htm