FoodIs there a way to keep pests out of my garden without using harsh chemicals?

As many gardeners could tell you, Florida’s climate is very welcoming to pests, which can make gardening a challenge. However, there are a few tricks that can help you avoid resorting to harsh chemicals:

  • Your presence is first and foremost. Check your plants regularly so you can detect and treat those early warning signs. Learn to detect when your plants are thirsty or low on nutrients. The healthier the plant, the more ability it will have to ward off pests and disease.
  • Look for pest-resistant varieties of your favorite plants
  • Know your good bugs from your bad bugs and allow the good ones, like ladybird beetles, lacewings, praying mantids, ant lions, hover flies, assassin bugs, predator wasps, dragonflies, and spiders to do their thing. Birds and frogs can help reduce pests too!
  • If you determine that pests are causing damage, deter or remove them by hand, with natural products like water, soaps or oil sprays, or natural odors.
  • For tough pests, consider planting a “sacrificial plant” that attracts them away from your cash crops.
  • Take steps to manage your soil. Rotating crops, solarizing, or adding organic matter can help keep soils healthy and discourage pests like nematodes.

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WaterHow do I get rid of mosquitoes in our stormwater pond?

While there is no solution to completely eliminate mosquitoes in Southwest Florida, there are things you can do to keep populations a bit more under control. Adding fish, tadpoles, or copepods (tiny crustaceans) that eat mosquito eggs or larvae can help reduce overall numbers. Adding pond vegetation that provides shelter for these animals will also help them thrive and consume mosquito pests. When selecting plants for your pond, consider avoiding those that encourage mosquitoes, like cattails, water lettuce, and water hyacinth. Choose plants, like pickerelweed, duck potato, tapegrass/wild celery, or swamp milkweed, that attract dragonflies, which eat mosquito larvae.

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WaterIf I try to keep more water on my landscape, won’t I attract more mosquitoes?

No. Many mosquitoes need standing water to lay eggs. If you landscape in a way that allows water to soak into the ground or into a planted area, like a rain garden, the conditions will not be favorable for them to breed. However, it is important to keep an eye on potential areas that do collect standing water, like a bird bath, empty tire, or watering can. Flip these over after a rain or empty them out every 5 days. Bromeliads are a particular favorite for mosquitoes as well because they can hold water for several days after a rain. Flush them out every 5 days or treat them with Bacillus thuringiensis israeli (i.e. BTI mosquito bits) to get rid of larvae. Make sure your gutters are cleaned out and do not store water either. Keep yard material away from clogging storm drains and report standing water in areas, like roadways, that usually do not have water.

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FoodEat Local sounds nice, but isn’t small-scale local farming an inefficient way to try to feed everyone?

Eat Local is not a panacea for feeding the world. People living in many places must import their food. Florida is fortunate to have great growing conditions for many types of crops, though not everything we like to eat. In Florida, supporting existing local farms and ranches helps keep those lands in agricultural production providing green space rather than converting to suburban sprawl. Farms and ranches can provide valuable ecosystem services like water storage and filtration, wildlife habitat, and sequestering carbon. Eating locally produced food also contributes to the local economy, builds resilience, and community. But, in order to feed the world’s burgeoning population, we need to increase efficiency and intensity of food production globally and optimize distribution and storage. Increased efficiency and intensity can decrease the total production acreage needed and help protect natural lands from being converted to farmland.

Ultimately, the net environmental impact of where we get our food depends on i) the local growing conditions and the intensity of practices needed to make that farmland productive, ii) how far the food must be transported to market, and iii) what the alternative land use would be for that farmland if it weren’t under production. A full life-cycle analysis is needed to thoroughly understand the dynamics of our local and global food systems. Whatever the calculations, the bottom line is that sustainable agriculture practices are needed on farms large or small, close or far.

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WaterHow do I know if my landscaping contractor is doing things right?

The Green Industries Best Management Practices (GI-BMPs) are a science-based training program for members of the lawn care and landscape maintenance professions, collectively known as the Green Industries. Developed by the UF/IFAS Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ program, the GI-BMPs teach environmentally safe landscaping practices that help conserve and protect Florida’s ground and surface waters. These practices cover both the establishment of new turf and landscapes and the care of existing turf and landscapes, including construction activities, irrigation, nutrient management, and pest management. All lawn or landscape professionals who apply fertilizer as part of their business must complete the BMP training and be certified in fertilizer application. Look for the GI-BMP certification sticker on their trucks, and if you don’t see it ask.

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WaterHow can I reduce runoff from my yard?
  • Never dump anything into the gutter or down storm drains. They are a direct link to local bays, streams, ponds and wetlands.
  • Pick up after your pet and dispose of it in a trash can or flush it down the toilet. Pet waste that is left on streets, sidewalks, yards, or parks can easily wash into nearby waterways, adding harmful bacteria that can make the water unsafe for swimming and contributing nutrients that fuel algae blooms.
  • Use fertilizers sparingly and sweep driveways and sidewalks after application. Skip the fertilizer entirely in the summer when heavy rains can wash into storm drains, ponds, lakes and bays. Leave grass clippings on your lawn – they are free fertilizer – or compost them to make “black gold” that you can spread on your landscape to improve your soil.

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WaterWhere does my tap water come from and is it safe to drink or should I choose bottled water instead?

The water from your home faucets is pumped from below-ground aquifers or area reservoirs. It is highly treated, tested and monitored according to strict federal safety standards, and piped directly to your home for pennies a gallon.

In contrast, bottled water is often just repackaged tap water with a much higher price tag. Its environmental and energy cost is high too. The plastic bottle requires drilling for oil, shipping the oil to a port, trucking it to a refinery, manufacturing the bottle, and shipping it to stores. Then you use more energy driving to your local market to buy it and refrigerating it at home. Only a fraction of plastic bottles will be recycled; most wind up in landfills or end up in our bays or the ocean where they will break down into tiny pieces known as microplastics that are ingested by seabirds, turtles, dolphins and manatees.

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WasteAre biodegradable plastics a good alternative?

Biodegradable plastic is not a win – yet. Most biodegradable plastics sold as cups, plates, and utensils are made from some compostable material mixed with PLA (polylactic acid) – a durable plant-based plastic polymer made from corn starch or sugar cane. It is biodegradable, but only under certain high-heat conditions found at industrial-grade composting facilities that don’t exist in our area. If you throw that PLA cup or fork in the trash or your compost bin, where it will never be exposed to conditions that trigger biodegradation, it will sit there for decades or centuries, much like ordinary plastic. A new generation of bioplastics composed of PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) made from canola oil are biodegradable in marine water and soil, and thus can be certified as home compostable . Because they break down so easily, PHA products are limited to plastic bags, wraps, and straws. Browse our Amazon Idea List for examples of home compostable plastic products. Although bioplastics avoid the use of fossil fuels, they are not a solution for the waste piling up from single-use plastics.

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FoodWon’t composting attract rats and other unsavory creatures?

A well-managed compost pile should not attract rats. Only plant-based matter should be composted – never meat or meat products that produce odors that would attract rats. Don’t put cooking fats or oil, dairy products, cat litter (clean or used) or dog poop in your compost either

Using an enclosed compost bin with a lid or a rotating barrel on an elevated frame helps to prevent rats, raccoons and other animals from getting to compost.

Compost is created by natural decomposition of organic matter by bacteria, fungi, and various other small critters. Don’t panic if you see slugs, millipedes, sowbugs, beetles, or worms in your compost pile. Those are critical on-the-job workers chewing and grinding your food and yard waste into fertile soil for your garden.

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FoodHow can I waste less food when eating out?

Most of us have experienced the “eyes bigger than our stomachs” syndrome when dining out. After all, it’s a treat to eat food we don’t have to prepare, especially when everything on the menu looks yummy. Follow these tips to make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew:

  • Ask your server about portion sizes to determine how much to order.
  • Ask for smaller portions of menu items or a takeaway container for leftovers – better yet, bring a takeaway tote from home to reduce use of plastic bags and containers.
  • Swap sides. If a dish contains something you don’t like, ask if you can swap it out for something else.
  • Share large portions with your dinner companions.
  • Don’t be in a rush to order more. It takes 15-20 minutes after eating to start feeling full.
  • If you didn’t like something on your plate, give your feedback to the restaurant so they can improve the dish and avoid future waste.

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FoodHow can I waste less food at home?

Buying only the amount of food you can eat is the first step. Do some basic meal planning a week at a time, then make a list of what you’ll need. Make sure to peruse your pantry and refrigerator before shopping to see what you already have. Prep food when you get home by slicing, chopping or dicing so it’s ready to cook or eat. You can even divide it into portions for snacks and lunches. Store food properly to keep it fresher longer, and freeze items you won’t eat quickly. Use leftovers for lunches, soups or casseroles.

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FoodWhy can’t I just throw old food and food scraps into the trash?

Food waste is a huge problem, globally and locally. About one-third of the U.S. food supply is wasted every year. About half the water used to produce our food also goes to waste since agriculture is the largest human use of water.

 Disposing of food means using more land for landfills and garbage-burning plants that produce harmful greenhouse gas emissions – not to mention the wasted contributions of human care and energy as well as the emissions generated by growing, harvesting, storing and shipping the food you just tossed in the trash. And wasting food adds insult to injury for hungry families in our community. Bottom line – food waste is a huge waste all around. By composting your old food and food scraps instead of trashing them in the landfill, you take ownership for that waste, instead of disproportionately passing that burden to others in your community or onto future generations.  

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