Youth gardening programs grow great kids

kids at a garden plot

Elementary school students and their teacher prepare soil and plant vegetables in a school learning garden.

There are numerous benefits when youth participate in the Junior Master Gardener Program.

Research has shown that outdoor interests, physical activity, and good nutrition all yield positive benefits for youth. And research also shows gardening is an excellent way for young people to connect with nature and learn about personal responsibility, commitment, and teamwork.

“Through Junior Master Gardener youth programs we engage young people in novel, hands-on group and individual learning experiences that help them develop a love of gardening and an appreciation for the environment, while also cultivating their minds,” said Lisa Whittlesey, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service senior program specialist and director, International Junior Master Gardener Program, Bryan-College Station.

Junior Master Gardener Program

JMG is an international youth gardening program of the land-grant university Cooperative Extension Network. Both in the U.S, and internationally, the JMG program is administered by AgriLife Extension, an educational outreach agency of the Texas A&M University System.

“The JMG program also inspires youth to be of service to others through service learning and leadership development projects, and rewards them with certification and recognition”, Whittlesey said. “It lets children get involved in exploring their world through meaningful activities that encourage leadership development, personal pride and responsibility, and community involvement”.

Through the Junior Master Gardener Program, young people learn about gardening and develop a respect for nature while learning life skills such as teamwork and leadership.

She said most Junior Master Gardener group activities take place in schools around the country and are taught by teachers as a part of their classroom instruction. There are also JMG groups that learn in informal settings such as afterschool programs, 4-H clubs, scouting and summer camps.

“There are JMG-related youth gardening programs throughout the U.S. and internationally”, Whittlesey said. “There are currently JMG programs in every state and in partnership with 10 foreign countries”.

In Texas there are JMG programs in approximately 160 counties in both urban and rural areas.

“These programs give youth the opportunity to explore their world through meaningful activities that help develop useful life skills and also give a practical application to earth science and other classwork”, Whittlesey said.

The JMG program works in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, school districts, community groups, youth organizations and youth leaders to bring its programs to youth throughout the state, she said.

“We offer a variety of materials, curricula and resources for teachers and other leaders interested in using garden-related content with their students”, Whittlesey said. “There are core comprehensive JMG curricula for elementary and middle school programs and also thematic curricula such as Learn, Grow, Eat and Go!, Wildlife Gardening, and Literature in the Garden to provide engaging lessons and educational opportunities for kids.”    

More information on the Junior Master Gardener program can be found at http://jmgkids.us or by contacting Whittlesey at l-whittlesey@tamu.edu.

Learn, Grow, Eat and Go!

A cornerstone of Junior Master Gardener programming is the Learn, Grow, Eat and Go!, LGEG, youth gardening curricula.

“Learn, Grow, Eat and Go! is an interdisciplinary program that integrates academics, gardening, nutrient-dense food experiences, physical activity, and school and family engagement”, Whittlesey said. “The target audience is kids in third to fifth grade, but the curriculum can be modified to suit various grade levels”.

The LGEG curriculum includes two lessons a week. Students learn about plant nutrient requirements, as well as nutrients required for the human body to function properly. They maintain and harvest vegetables from their own learning garden, plus take part in cooking activities in which they help prepare dishes using the vegetables they harvest.

“Through this linear set of academically rich, proven lessons, youth learn about plants and what they need, as well as how plants provide for our nutritional needs”, Whittlesey said. “They also engage in fun and educational activities along with the cooking activities and outdoor physical activity”.

kids making a salad

Kids participating in the 12-week Learn, Grow, Eat and Go! program get instruction on how to make nutritious recipes using the vegetables they grow and harvest.

“The best part of collaborating with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the Junior Master Gardener program has been the hands-on assistance, training, materials, and resources they make available to those wanting to implement a youth gardening program”, said Amalia Sollars, K-8 enrichment program coordinator for the Northside ISD in San Antonio.

Betti Wiggins, Houston ISD officer of nutrition services, said the LGEG program has been a natural fit for their youth education goals. Wiggins is responsible for managing and implementing all of Houston ISD’s school nutrition programs, which serve more than 280,000 meals to students each day at 287 schools.

“It’s about teaching our kids to be smart food consumers, along with getting them outdoors and being engaged as custodians of our food system”, Wiggins said. “We at HISD appreciate this opportunity to work with AgriLife Extension in the LGEG program and know we have found the right partners to make sure our kids understand the importance of good food and can become more food literate”.

The Learn Grow, Eat and Go! curriculum has recently been made available online as a distance learning opportunity for elementary school students. The course is $35 and is available at https://bit.ly/2RRHtdG.

“The content for the online ‘Learn, Grow, Eat and Go! for Youth’ course is very similar to the current LGEG in-person program curriculum, providing two lessons per week over a 10-week period”, said Randy Seagraves, AgriLife Extension program specialist leading the course’s online development.

There is interactive, video-based content for all 20 LGEG lessons.

“Whether it’s through school, independent learning or a virtual summer class at a distance, kids will love the hands-on lessons and activities teaching them to grow and maintain their own vegetable and herb garden and use the harvest to prepare delicious and nutritious recipes”, Seagraves said.

Teachers and youth educators can access professional development training to implement the LGEG program in their community and access the LGEG video library to support classroom instruction through https://agrilifelearn.tamu.edu/.

The complete Junior Master Gardener ‘Learn, Grow, Eat & Go!’ curriculum, designed for use by teachers in a classroom setting, is available through the Texas A&M AgriLife Bookstore at a cost of $56.

wildlife gardener handbookWildlife Gardener program

“The Wildlife Gardener program combines the knowledge and resources of the National Wildlife Federation and the Junior Master Gardener program, with input from teachers and students across the country,” Whittlesey said. “These combined efforts have created an integrated, engaging, one-of-a-kind experience for kids”.

She said young people can become certified as Wildlife Gardeners by taking part in a curriculum that will also help them strengthen their skills in math, science, language, and social studies.

“The goal of wildlife gardening is to show young people the importance of the natural ecosystem and teach them how to build components of a wildlife habitat within their garden”, Whittlesey said. “We also want them to gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for the wildlife in their local community. This is through project-based learning focused on gardening for the benefit of wildlife”.

Literature in the Garden program

Literature in the Garden“JMG’s Literature in the Garden program engages youth through powerful garden- and ecology-themed books that inspire learning through outdoor activities, creative expression and open exploration”, Whittlesey said.

She said the curriculum includes dozens of hands-on math, science, and language-based activities to encourage leadership development, individual responsibility, community involvement and critical thinking.

“This curriculum utilizes six Growing Good Kids Book Award-winning titles”, Whittlesey said. “It uses quality children’s literature to connect kids to gardening and the natural world. Bringing gardens and great books together is another great way to grow good kids”.

Other youth gardening learning opportunities

“We are also beginning an early childhood version on the Learn, Grow, Eat and Go! program for even younger children”, Whittlesey said.

She said Early Childhood LGEG is an easy-to-implement, garden-based curriculum for teachers of youth from the Head Start level to kindergarten.

“This is a four-week curriculum that combines learning about plant and gardening basics, understanding food and where it comes from, and why good nutrition and physical activity are necessary to having a healthy life”, Whittlesey said. “This is all done in the context of novel and effective parental engagement”.

Whittlesey said the early childhood version of the LGEG program will help youth build a love of gardening and appreciation for nature from an even younger age.

Written By: Paul Schattenberg, Communication Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife

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SPN: How to win the fight against stickers; management tips to ruin sandburs’ summer

Sandbur seed pod
Sandbur seed pod

Sandbur seed pods are a nasty little sticker that can ruin a walk through the yard. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Erfan Vafaie)

Whether you call them stickers or sandburs, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert can help you win the war against these prickly little pain dispensers.

Sandburs, also known as grassbur or sandspur, are an annual and/or perennial grass. The sharp, spiny burs are a seed pod that can latch on to passersby for distribution to other locations.

“Weed control is ultimately up to the end-user, but sandburs are one of those weeds that can be a painful reminder that our yards may need some attention,” said Chrissie Segars, AgriLife Extension statewide turfgrass specialist, Dallas. “If you’ve ever been stuck by them or removed them from a child or pet, then you likely want some advice on how to get rid of them.”

Segars said Texas’ wide range of climates makes any specific directions to address sandburs difficult. In some parts of the state sandburs are a summer annual that dies back and returns from seed, while in warmer regions they live as perennials that can overwinter as plants. Therefore, control methods and timing differ based on where the plants are in their life cycle.

“In some parts of the state, folks might use preemergence herbicides that will have no effect on the overwintering plant,” she said. “It might prevent the seeds from emerging, but it won’t get rid of the old plant. There are no herbicide treatments that will be 100% effective every time, but they will reduce the plants and subsequent seeds.”

Pre- and post-emergent applications for sandburs

southernsandbur_backyardnature

Watch for clumps of what appears to be grass, or a delicate wildflower, they will give you a bite.

Segars said there are ways to fight sandburs with herbicides that kill plants after they emerge or prevent plants from emerging from seeds. Timing is critical when applying pre- or post-emergent products. Sandbur seed can begin early germination at a soil temperature of 52 degrees and peak at 72 degrees, she said.

She recommends a split application of preemergence products with active ingredients Dithiopyr, Indaziflam, Oryzalin or Pendimethalin for sandburs because of their long germination period. Apply the product to prevent sandburs from emerging and follow with another application depending on label instructions, soil type and weather.

Unfortunately, most postemergence herbicides available to homeowners at big box stores are not labelled for sandbur, Segars said. There are three selective, post-emergence products that are labeled to address sandburs in turfgrass. Katana, Celsius WG and Image 70 DG are more professional-geared products but can be purchased online. The most homeowner friendly – Image Kills Nutsedge – is available online and in home and garden departments.

“It may be too late for preemergence applications in some parts of the state, but this cooler weather means it may not be too late to affect peak germination,” she said. “The second application will catch those seeds that haven’t started germinating yet.”

Segars said it is important to always follow product labels.

Making turfgrass happy can eliminate stickers

Sandbur_Seedhead

Before these burs emerge is the time to treat.

Herbicides are a tricky time- and money-consuming way to fight sandburs. But Segars said one thing anyone can and should do to fight sandburs is implement cultural practices, including fertilization, mowing, proper irrigation and cultivation to help turfgrass choke out sandburs.

Sandburs prefer nutrient-deficient soils, so homeowners and turf managers should start the process by taking a soil sample and add recommended amendments to create proper pH levels for your soil and turfgrass types, then follow with nutrients like potassium, phosphorous and nitrogen.

“Sandburs thrive in poor soils, so you want to improve all nutrients in general with fertilizer,” she said. “Only add phosphorous and potassium according to the soil test and nitrogen according to recommendations for your turfgrass type, use of the area, and management capabilities, because St. Augustine grass and Bermuda grass have different needs. Promoting healthy, dense turfgrass is the best defense against most pest weeds, including sandburs.”

When it comes to irrigation, Segars said most homeowners overdo it. They begin watering too early and too often, which can lead to poor root development, weakens turfgrass, and makes it susceptible to diseases.

AgriLife Extension has an application for computers and smartphones – WaterMyYard – designed to help homeowners in North Texas irrigate their lawns properly based on localized weather data. There are a number of other AgriLife Extension publications and resources available to guide homeowners regarding lawn irrigation.

Another effective cultural practice is mowing your lawn with equipment that catches clippings when weeds are mature, Segars said. Catching and removing clippings reduces the seedbank that could potentially develop next year.

“Catching reproductive structures of mature weeds lowers the population of seed you’ll have to deal with in the future, and not catching the clippings and those seed pods can potentially help them spread to new areas of your lawn,” she said. “These practices should be performed consistently and properly to make your lawn a place where turfgrass thrives and makes it difficult for weeds like sandburs to emerge and multiply.”

You can also visit the AggieTurf website for more information on weed management in your yard, school or business.   

Thank you to Adam Russell, Communication Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension for writing this article. 

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Watch out for Snakes

milk snake in hand
Copperhead snake

The copperhead is among four venomous snakes, including rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and coral snakes, that people should watch for while walking. Their pattern blends well with fallen leaves and debris on the ground. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension photo by Maureen Frank)

Rising temperatures mean the chances of coming across a snake are also rising.

Rapid urbanization and higher-than-normal amounts of rain are a combination that increase the likelihood of human-snake encounters, and more interactions can lead to more bites.

Maureen Frank, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service wildlife specialist, Uvalde, has some tips on how to avoid snake bites and deal with objects and places around homes and properties that may attract snakes.

Snakes, whether we like them or fear them, are becoming more active around the house and in their natural habitat this time of year. It’s still a little cool, but snake activity will increase as temperatures climb.

People can encounter snakes while walking trails, camping or just doing summer yardwork around the house, Frank said. There’s little to fear about snakes if a few basic precautions and principles are applied before and during an encounter.

Snakes are integral to Texas’ array of regional ecosystems. While many Texans view them as a dangerous pest, they are an important predator of insects and small mammals. There are around 75 snake species in the Lone Star State, but only about a dozen are venomous.

Even though most species are non-venomous, Frank said her best advice is to avoid contact with any snake. Snakes are typically not aggressive and will typically escape an area if they hear someone approaching.

She said the best ways to avoid snake bites is to watch where you step or reach and to keep your distance if you see one.

“When you encounter a snake, it’s best to just leave it alone,” Frank said. “Most bites occur when a person is trying to handle the snake or trying to kill it. It’s best to give them plenty of room and let them go on their way.”

Where and when you might encounter a snake

Most Texas snakes, like this Texas rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta), are not venomous and try to avoid people. (AgriLife Extension)

Frank said recent heavy rains and flooding could increase the potential for encounters with snakes. Flooding can push snakes from burrows and typical habitat to higher ground and create hiding places in those areas.

“Heavy rains can push snakes from low-lying areas, and flooding can wash debris onto properties that can become good places for displaced snakes to shelter,” she said. “So, people need to take special care during cleanup. The thing to remember is to never put your hands or feet somewhere you can’t see and to use tools like hoes or a shovel to move debris or turn it over so you can see that it’s safe to handle.”

Because snakes cannot generate their own body heat, they prefer sun and/or stretching out on warm surfaces like rocks, pavement and other heat-absorbing materials while temperatures are cooler. But in the heat of the summer, they prefer shade, especially from the midday sun.

“People need to take these environmental conditions into account,” she said. “On a cool morning, you may find a snake sunning a rock along a hiking trail or the stones in a walkway or a paved walking trail. When it’s hot, they may be in the shade under a bush or sheet of plywood or in a brush pile. These are things to consider when you go outside.”

Frank said venomous snakes typically do not want to use their venom as a defense. They usually give warnings – like rattlesnakes rattling – before they strike. The Texas Department of Health Services reported that half the reported bites by venomous snakes were “dry,” meaning no venom was injected into the victim.

“A snake strikes because it views you as a threat,” she said. “Producing venom is an energetically costly process, and they only have so much. If they use it, they must make more to hunt for food, and they have to work for every single meal, so striking to defend themselves is something they would rather avoid.”

For more tips on precautions to take related to snakes and flooding, you can find Frank’s publication on this subject at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Bookstore.

Reduce snake attractors around the house

There are no chemical repellants proven to deter snakes, Frank said, but there are two things homeowners can do to reduce the likelihood of snakes hanging around a location – remove potential shelter and food.

“It’s best to take the habitat approach and remove the things that attract snakes,” she said. “Cutting the grass, removing brush and debris, and trimming the lower branches on bushes and trees will go a long way in reducing the places a snake might want to hide.”

Research Frank conducted last summer in the Hill Country indicated that snakes use a variety of materials to hide throughout the year, including plywood, sheet metal and other debris. These materials also attract scorpions and spiders, so snakes are just one reason to take caution when cleaning up debris.

Reducing hiding spots for snakes will also reduce hiding spots for the prey they seek, like rats and mice, she said. Cleaning around the house and other structures to remove trash, which is shelter for small prey animals, also helps keep snakes away.

Teach children not to reach inside crevices and under bushes with low-hanging limbs, she said.

“They need to know they shouldn’t reach into a place if they can’t see what might be in there.”

Frank said homeowners should also take precautions to reduce the chance of their pet encountering a snake, such as having them on a leash during walks.

Snakes of Texas

milk snake in hand

A milk snake’s black, white and red pattern mimics the black, yellow and red pattern of the venomous coral snake. Even non-venomous snakes will bite if they feel threatened, so it’s best to avoid them. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension photo by Maureen Frank)

Common non-venomous species found throughout Texas include garter snakes, which people also refer to as garden snakes; rat snakes, also known as chicken snakes; and bull snakes. Common venomous snakes include western diamond-backed rattlesnakes, copperheads and the cottonmouth, also known as the water moccasin.

The range of species and likelihood of an encounter differ from region to region and specific locations. For instance, it’s much more likely to see a cottonmouth around bodies of water, like ponds, lakes or creeks, as well as bottomlands that maintain high levels of moisture throughout the seasons.

“Being able to identify a snake can help you avoid danger,” she said. “But the best advice is to keep your distance and avoid contact.”

Frank has published a useful guide to common snake species that can be purchased on the AgriLife Bookstore.

Snake bites

Most snake bites to humans occur to the feet/lower leg or the hands, Frank said.

Despite common misconceptions on how to deal with a venomous snake bite, she said it’s best to stay calm and get to a hospital as quickly as possible.

First, try to identify the snake species, Frank said. This is especially important for coral snakes because the treatments differ significantly from those to treat copperhead, cottonmouth or rattlesnake bites.

“Do not try to kill it,” she said. “The emergency room doctors don’t need it. They just need a decent description of the snake or take a photo of it with your cell phone if it’s safe to do so. If someone else tries to get the snake, you run the risk that the doctor may be dealing with two snake bite victims.”

Frank said the victim should remove clothing like socks if bitten on the foot and items like rings on fingers if bitten on the hand because of swelling.

Tourniquets and suction devices or using other mythologized methods to remove snake venom could do more harm than good, she said. Hospitals have anti-venom on hand to deal with bites.

“Just focus on getting to the hospital quickly but safely,” she said.

Written by Adam Russell, Communication Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife

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SPN: News and Resources, you can use for your IPM program.

subterranean termite damage to wood floors

This month’s newsletter is aimed at helping you out with a few resources you can use, plus some news stories you might be interested in that you can share.

Understanding how to obtain a commercial or noncommercial pesticide license in Texas can be very confusing. Over the years I have devoted newsletter space to this topic. Last month for the joint TASB/AgriLife Coronavirus Confusion Abounds Webinar Series we covered Pesticide Licensing in TX. This session was recorded and can be found on YouTube. The video is an hour long and covers the steps you need to take to obtain study materials, how to apply to the Texas Department of Agriculture and how to set up your exams with PSI.

In February, the TASB Risk Management Fund wrote on article on IPM. In this article it reviews what it takes to sustain an IPM program for publics schools and colleges. As we all know fighting off annoying critters without negatively impacting the health of your community and the environment requires a delicate balancing act of responsible pesticide use, staff training, and an effective school integrated pest management program. Check out this article on the TASB Risk Management page.

Another resource is the Spring 2021 issue of freshAAIR™ Magazine from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America which has several articles that are worthy of reviewing. Air Ventilation and COVID-19, Helping Schools Manage COVID-19 and Asthma, Improve Your Indoor Air Quality to Improve Your Health, and Humidity’s Role in Asthma and Allergy Management are just a few of the topics covered in this magazine.

Spring Cankerworm image by Mike Merchant

Let’s talk insects that are showing up around the state.

Depending on where you live in the state you might have seen flying worms, floating worms, or just worms in trees. Molly Keck, our entomologist in San Antonio posted a blog article on Worms in Trees, and Wizzie Brown, our entomologist in Austin was interviewed on TV about this phenomenon.  Most of the caterpillars you are seeing don’t need much treatment; however, there are a few that you should be aware of regarding student health. Check out this IPM Action plan for stinging caterpillars for what to know, look for and control measures.

Recognizing Termite Swarmers vs Swarming Ants

When spring comes to Texas often, we see swarming insects and it can be alarming to people. Termites are secretive in their habits and are rarely seen. However, at certain times of year termites belonging to the reproductive caste emerge from their underground nests and wooden feeding galleries to seek mates and form new nests (these “reproductive” stage termites are dark colored and do not resemble the whitish workers that many people associate with termites).

The swarming period, when reproductive termites emerge, provides the best chance for identifying structures with termite infestations. When swarming does occur indoors, it is a good indication that the building has become termite infested.

Termites can swarm at any time of year in Texas, but by far the busiest season occurs in April and May. Because swarms may occur in isolated locations, it’s important that all school staff be trained in how to identify these insects.

Termites are most likely to be confused with swarming ants, but can easily be distinguished by three characteristics:  (1) ants have distinctly pinched waists–termites do not; (2) termites have antennae that are flexible throughout their length–ant antennae are straight for approximately half their length, and then “elbowed” (see diagram);  (3) in ants, the front pair of wings slightly exceeds the length of the second pair of wings, but in termites all wings are approximately the same length.  Note that both termite and ant swarmers may lose their wings completely after emerging from their swarming tube.

Use this diagram to train school maintenance staff in how to recognize and report termites.

For more information on controlling and recognizing termites or other wood destroying insects check out Dr. Merchant’s old website.

Finally, as the school season comes to close maybe this press release on spring cleaning will help you educate your school staff on how to prevent pests at school and at home. 

 

Check out this slideshow of termite images

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SPN: Tiny pests that drive you crazy – mites.

clover mite (Bryobia praetiosa) 1123015 Rayanne Lehman, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org
chigger Mite

Infestation of chiggers (orange patch) on neck of hatchling ornate box turtle. Image by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Although mites are not insects they often get grouped in with a vast assortment of urban insect pests. Mites are actually arachnids rather than insects since they have 8 legs (as adults) and two body regions as opposed to the six legs and three body regions that insects have.

Mites are one of the most abundant groups of organisms on the earth. Beneficial mites include species that break down organic matter and predators of pest insects and other mites.

While most mites carry out their business quietly without disturbing anyone, the mites that get attention are the ones that cause problems. The troublemakers (as far as humans are concerned) can generally be divided into two groups: those that are pests in homes/buildings such as stored product and dust mites which are a nuisance but are not directly parasites of humans, and mites that bite or are parasites of humans. Since mites are such a large group, this article will discuss a few common mite pests you may encounter at schools.

Chiggers

Chiggers are the larvae, or immature stage, of the trombiculid mites. The term “chigger” is the most common name of this annoying mite but you might know them as {harvest mites, harvest bugs, harvest lice, mower’s mites, or red bugs}, but this mite prefers to attack human, our domestic animals and wild animals that frequent our neighborhoods.  These larval mites climb onto people when they walk through chigger-infested areas. The chiggers wander around the body for a

chigger mites susan ellis bugwood

Chigger Mite (Trombicula spp.)

while, seeking a good site to feed. They prefer to feed in areas where skin is thinnest or where clothing fits tightly, such as the ankles, waist, behind the knees and groin. 

Chiggers do not burrow into the skin as many people believe, so “smothering” them by painting the bite area with nail polish will not do anything to relieve discomfort. Instead, chiggers inject a digestive enzyme which breaks down skin cells. The chiggers eat the broken-down skins cells. Itching and redness is caused by our body’s reaction to the enzymes chiggers inject into us. Itching typically begins 3-6 hours after being bitten, peaks at 24 hours and can last up to two weeks.

Try to avoid chigger infested areas, but since this is not always possible, here are some other things to try:

  • Wear protective clothing- tightly woven items that fit loosely; including long sleeves & pants; shoes or boots
  • Tuck pant legs into boots
  • Avoid sitting on the ground
  • Remove & launder clothing ASAP after being in infested areas
  • Shower/ bathe after being in an infested area; scrub vigorously with a washcloth
  • Use an insect repellent with DEET or picaridin

To treat chigger infestations around your home or school, try the following:

  • Keep the lawn trimmed
  • Maintain vegetation; do not allow weeds to grow up & keep brush cleared – if you have to have tree type areas make sure you use the steps above to protect yourself in those areas. 
  • Residual insecticide sprays, usually pyrethroids containing bifenthrin, cyfluthin, esfenvalerate, or permethrin; and make sure the product is labeled for lawns/schools and follow the labeled directions.  For this type of active ingredient it is better to use liquid rather than granule so that the product binds to the grass and soil where the mites live. 
  • Miticides, also called Acaricides, are chemical substances used to control mites or ticks, which are not susceptible to commonly used insecticides. Azobenzene, dicofol, ovex, and tetradifon are commonly used miticides. Many miticides kill eggs and larval stages as well as adult animals. Some are also toxic to honeybees and other beneficial insects, so it is best to use when wind drift would be a problem. 
     

Clover Mites

clover mite (Bryobia praetiosa) 1123015 Rayanne Lehman, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

Clover Mite (Bryobia praetiosa) image by Rayanne Lehman, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

Clover mites are large, red, interior invaders that can sometimes be seen indoors in large groups. They are strictly plant-feeders. They sometimes migrate indoors when temperatures change, or host plants outside are destroyed. They never bite humans or cause damage to property but if an attempt is made to crush them, they may leave reddish stains on furniture, walls and upholstery. Although it is uncommon, they may also cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

The best way to prevent clover mites from coming indoors is to create a barrier between plants and buildings. Putting down a mulch or gravel and getting rid of any plants that are directly touching a building will discourage mites from creating populations around the campus that could potentially migrate indoors. If mites are already indoors, vacuuming is the best way to get rid of them without crushing them. Vacuum cleaner bags should be disposed of immediately. Although it is difficult to get rid of clover mites, their migrations are short lived and they usually go away on their own within a few days.

Rodent Mites 

Rodent mites are ectoparasites, meaning they live externally on their hosts, not internally like a tapeworm. They reproduce quickly, usually going through their life cycle (egg to egg) in about two weeks. There are several species of rodent mites, including the tropical rat mite, Ornithonyssus bacoti, the spiny rat mite, Laelaps echidnina, and the house mouse mite, Liponyssoides sanguineus. All of these mites, if you take time to look, can be found in rodent nests or in the fur of their hosts.

In structures, rodent mites will usually be found in walls or attics close to their hosts’ nests. Baby rodents are likely a favored blood meal during breeding season. When they become too numerous for the nest, or when the baby and adult rodents die or leave, rodent mites will wander in search of another host. These homeless mites are most likely to bite people; but luckily, we humans make poor hosts. Our lack of fur combined with fastidious grooming (think scratching) means that rat and mouse mites don’t last long when people are the only hosts around. Even dogs and cats do not appear to be suitable hosts for rodent mites.

n the absence of their preferred hosts, rodent mite infestations generally go away naturally within one or two weeks. Sticky cards are effective mite collecting devices. Place them in suspected hot spots. Consider treating any discovered rodent nests or room perimeters with a proven insecticide like permethrin or bifenthrin. Void areas can be treated with a desiccant dust like diatomaceous earth or silica aerogel.

Mold Mites

The dust mite (Tyrophagus putrescentiae) is common on plant leaves and in stored grain and animal feed. Magnified about 100x. Digital colorization by Chris Pooley. Image taken by Eric Erbe, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

The term “mold mites” refers to a large group of mites that include the “cheese mite”, “grain mite” and “flour mite”. They are not harmful to humans in any way but are a pest of human resources. These mites feed on a wide variety of food sources including mold, fungus, stored grains, pantry products like cereals, and pasta, cheese, fruits, seeds, straw, etc.

The key ingredient for large infestations to flourish is moisture or high humidity. Mites are prone to desiccation, or drying out and need moisture to live and thrive. Control measures include keeping food and other resources dry and controlling the humidity in places where food stuffs will be stored. If infestations are discovered, it’s best to throw away products that are found to have mites in them and clean the areas around the infestations with soap and water to kill any mites that might be lingering in the area. To prevent future infestations, it’s a good idea to store open food stuffs in air tight plastic containers or air tight plastic baggies (depending on the size of your need) to help keep pests out.

Dust Mites

There are a few different species of mites that we commonly refer to as “dust mites”. They have similar life cycles and cause similar problems for human beings so we group them together.

Dust mites primarily feed on dander, or dead skin of humans and animals. This is why they have the capability of building up large populations in places where humans inhabit. Carpet, mattresses, pillows, and upholstery are great habitats for dust mites because they usually supply mites with a constant food source.

House mites are microscopic but they can cause a number of respiratory problems for humans beings if populations get too numerous. Since they cannot be sight identified, samples must be taken and identified by a trained professional. This is usually not necessary because some simple prevention and control measures can be initiated if mites are a suspected problem. These measures include: dusting and vacuuming frequently, washing sheets, blankets and pillow cases weekly, purchasing a special mattress cover that prevents mites from coming through and using air conditioning rather than opening windows since mites thrive in moist, humid conditions.

School Impacts

Although most mite pests do not bite humans or transmit diseases, they do have the ability to negatively impact school systems. First and foremost are problems regarding allergic reactions. These can include mild skin irritations, or be more serious such as asthma attacks in certain individuals.

Although some mites are microscopic and not visible to the naked eye, some like the clover mite are large and can be seen crawling slowly along walls (usually near windows). This can not only be a distraction, but may also be alarming to many children and adults who have a fear of insects. Stored product mites can also be a problem in school kitchens when there are moisture and humidity problems, and when food is stored improperly. Inspecting areas and ensuring that pest monitoring is being used throughout the school campus will allow for this microscopic arachnids to be noticed.  

For more information on how to mange and control check out these resources: 

Chiggers

Mites and insects vegetable garden

Chigger Season tips to help you mange this past at home.  

Biting Mites 

This article was compiled from information provided by Wizzie Brown, BCE and Mike Merchant, BCE.  

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SPN: Pesticide Awareness Month: Read the label

Remember to read the label, washing hands after use should be exercised by anyone using these products without gloves.

You probably wouldn’t buy an unfamiliar food product without looking at the label or take a new prescription without reading the instructions and warnings first. The same care should be exercised when using pesticides, because the label is the law, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, recognizes February as National Pesticide Awareness Month.

AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist Janet Hurley encourages the public to take the time to learn how to protect themselves and their families from the potential dangers pesticides can present when misused, mishandled or incorrectly stored.

Pesticides: For more than just ‘pests’

It’s not just about bugs, Hurley said.

“Most people don’t think pesticide safety is something they need to be concerned with,” she said. “But they don’t realize a lot of the chemicals they use day in and day out for cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting — especially now with COVID-19 — those are all pesticides.”

Pesticides are regulated by the EPA and represent a broad category that applies to far more products than the average consumer would imagine. Everything from cleaning products and antimicrobials to herbicides and bug repellents are pesticides.

Read the label, then read it again

Consumers have been encouraged to read food labels for years, but pesticide labels haven’t received the same focus on education, Hurley said.

“The label is there to be read,” she stressed. “It will tell you everything you need to know—the active ingredients, if protective gear is needed, how much and how to use it, and potential dangers.”

She also said that it is necessary to read the label every time, as different brands and formulations can have different active ingredients and application instructions.

“Take disinfecting wipes for an example, it doesn’t matter who makes them or what brand, you must read the label,” Hurley said. “If you’re going to use one to wipe off a countertop that may be okay, but if you’re going to wipe down a large area you need to wear gloves. People need to read the directions and follow them. They don’t all have the same active ingredient.”

Following directions ensures the product is being used in the safest and most effective manner possible. It also means that you are utilizing it in the most cost-effective manner and not wasting product.

More doesn’t equal better

Using more of a product than its labeled usage isn’t going to make it work more effectively and can even be dangerous to people and pets, she said.

Some common home-cleaning mistakes are using products in a closed room with poor ventilation. Some products used together can even cause a deadly chemical reaction.

“Most of these things people just store under their kitchen or bathroom sink and don’t really think about having these things in the reach of children or pets either,” Hurley said.

She said that just as we want to be aware of what we expose our bodies to when it comes to the food we ingest and the water we drink, the same is true for the chemicals we are exposing ourselves to when using pesticides for cleaning, addressing pest issues or working in the garden.

“This isn’t a case where more is better,” Hurley said. “In order to protect ourselves and our environment we have to be aware, and that requires some level of self-education to know what you are using and how to use it.”

A helpful educational website both Hurley and the EPA recommend is the National Pesticide Information Center.

Safety indoors and out

Spring is coming and people are going to want to start doing things in their yards, she said, but it is important to keep best practices in mind inside and outside.

EPA assesses the risks and benefits of all pesticides sold and distributed in the U.S. and requires instructions on each pesticide label for safe use.

The EPA’s best pesticide awareness practices include:

  • Storing pesticides in their original containers with proper labels.
  • Storing pesticides out of the reach of children and pets, preferably locked up.
  • Using the amount specified on the label.
  • Washing hands with soap and water after using a pesticide.
  • Keeping children and pets from entering sprayed areas until they dry.
  • Keeping pesticides away from food and dishes.
  • Washing clothes that have been in contact with pesticides immediately and separately from other items.

A special thank you to Susan Himes writer and media relations specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife for covering this timely topic. 

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SPN: How do I get a pesticide license in Texas?

Man using a backpack sprayer

Man using a backpack sprayer

To be licensed or not to be licensed? Although having a pesticide applicator license is not required for IPM Coordinators in Texas, it’s an option that many are choosing. Licensing is a decision that must be based on your own circumstances. This article is designed to help you understand the issues involved.

A certified applicator (CA) is licensed by the state to apply pesticides. In Texas, only certified applicators and licensed technicians can conduct pest control services on school and child care facilities. In Texas, a school district or child care employee can be licensed as a non-commercial applicator, a less expensive option. A non-commercial applicators license does not require a business license but does require training.

Don’t want to read this newsletter check out this Zoom video it will walk you through how to obtain a pesticide license in TX. 

 

As a CA you may engage in pest control treatments, such as fire ant baiting, herbicide application, and much more. Another benefit of being licensed is that through your training and recertification requirements, you gain a better knowledge about the nuts and bolts of pest control. You might even save your district money by performing some of the simpler procedures such as monitoring with glue boards and applying ant baits.

There are, however, additional costs to being certified, including license fees and the time associated with testing and preparing for exams. And, as a CA there are yearly fees and training requirements to keep your renewal credits up to date. Most districts we talk to have conclude that having at least one CA on staff is a benefit.

The next major decision concerns what agency to license with. In Texas, outdoor applicators can license with Texas Department of Agriculture under the landscape management category or Structural Pest Control Service (SPCS). Those who want to put out glue boards, take care of mice or put out indoor pesticides must be licensed with the SPCS.

The Texas Department of Agriculture is designated as the state’s lead agency in the regulation of pesticide use and application. TDA is responsible for licensing and training pesticide applicators, overseeing worker protection, registering pesticides for sale in the state and working to minimize unnecessary impacts to agriculture while enhancing protection of endangered and threatened species.

What’s the difference between TDA Ag and SPCS?

The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) licenses pesticide applicators that use restricted-use and state-limited-use pesticides and regulated herbicides. These additional requirements for a TDA Ag 3A license below are to remind school districts of their requirements.

  • Employed by a political subdivision, cemetery, or government-owned golf course.
  • Hold a TDA commercial, noncommercial or Noncommercial Political Subdivision license.
  • Comply with annual continuing education required by TDA.
  • Applicators who work for public or municipal golf course and apply pesticides on turf, trees or shrubs can license with either program, Structural or Ag.
    • A person may not purchase or use a restricted-use or state-limited-use pesticide or regulated herbicides unless the person is:
       licensed as a commercial, noncommercial, or noncommercial political subdivision applicator in the use categories covering the proposed pesticide use; or
    • An individual acting under the direct supervision of a licensed applicator.

The Structural Pest Control Act (Chapter 1951 of the Occupations Code) requires licensing of businesses and individuals that perform structural pest control for hire. Additionally, employees of units of state government who apply pesticides as part of their job duties, and persons performing pest control at an apartment building, day-care center, hospital, nursing home, hotel, motel, or lodge, warehouse, food-processing establishment, or school must be licensed. Structural pest control includes but is not limited to pests that may infest parks, buildings or structures and adjacent areas, industrial plants, streets, docks, railroad cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes.

Structural pest control includes the following activities for compensation:

  • identifying infestations,
  • making inspection reports,
  • providing recommendations,
  • submitting estimates or bids,
  • contracting,
  • performing services to prevent, control or eliminate infestations, or
  • advertising such services.

License Types

  • An Ag commercial applicator is a license for a person who operates a business or is an employee of a business that applies restricted-use and state-limited-use pesticides or regulated herbicides to the land of another for hire or compensation.
  • An Ag noncommercial applicator is a license for a person required to license who does not qualify as a commercial applicator that applies restricted-use and state-limited-use pesticides or regulated herbicides to the land of another for hire.
  • An Ag noncommercial political subdivision (NCPS) applicator is employed by a political subdivision of the state of Texas or of a federal agency operating in Texas.
  • A Structural Pest Control Business License is a license required to operate a pest control business. Each individual working for the business must have their applicator license connected to the business or be registered with the business as an apprentice (if unlicensed). Each business must have employed a commercial certified applicator to be designated Responsible Certified Applicator.
  • A Structural commercial certified applicator is a license for an employee of a business that offers pest control services for hire.
  • A Structural noncommercial certified applicator is a license for a person not affiliated with a structural pest control business that performs structural pest control for a noncommercial entity (employer) on their employer’s property and is required to license because they perform pest control services for compensation.
  • A Structural technician is a license for a person who has completed the apprentice registration training and passed the technician exam and is working for a structural pest control business or a noncommercial entity under the supervision of a certified applicator.
  • An apprentice registration is a person registered by a business or noncommercial entity to train for a technician license, has not passed the technician examination and who performs pest control services under the direct supervision of a licensed technician or a certified applicator. An apprentice may work only for the business or noncommercial entity for which they are registered.

TDA Ag Pesticide Applicator Categories

  1. Agricultural Pest Control (Commonly referred to as Private Applicator)
    A. Field Crop Pest Control
    B. Fruit, Nut and Vegetable Pest Control
    C. Pasture and Rangeland
    D. Vertebrate Pest Control
    E. Farm Commodity Pest Control
    F. Animal Health
    G. Citrus Pest Control
    H. Livestock Protection Collar
    I. M-44
  2. Forest Pest Control
  3. Lawn and Ornamental Pest Control
    A. Landscape Maintenance
    B. Nursery Plant Production
  4. Seed Treatments
  5. Vegetation Management
  6. Aquatic Pest Control
  7. Demonstration and Research
  8. Regulatory Pest Control
  9. Aerial Application
  10. Soil Fumigation
  11. Hold for future
  12. Public Health Pest Control

Structural License Categories

  • Pest control – Inspection and/or control of pests in and around homes, businesses, and industries. This includes insect pests or pest animals which may invade homes, restaurants, stores, and other buildings, attacking their contents or furnishings or being a general nuisance, but do not normally attack the building itself, as for example, roaches, silverfish, ants, flies, mosquitoes, rats, mice, etc.
  • Termite control – Inspection and/or control of termites, beetles or other wood destroying organisms by means other than fumigation in buildings, including homes, warehouses, stores, docks, or other structures.
  • Lawn and ornamental – Inspection and/or control of pests of ornamental plants, shade trees and lawns, in a park or adjacent to a residence, business establishment, industrial plant, institutional building or street.
  • Structural fumigation – Inspection and/or control of pests through fumigation of structures not primarily intended to contain food, feed, or grains.
  • Commodity fumigation – Inspection and/or control through fumigation of commodities and/or structures normally used to contain them. A TDA agricultural pesticide applicator license may be used for fumigation of raw agricultural commodities.
  • Weed Control – Inspection and/or control of weeds around homes and industrial environments.
  • Wood Preservation – Pest control that involves the addition of preservatives to wood to extend the life of wood products by protecting them from damage caused by insects, fungi, and marine borers. Such wood products will include, but not be limited to, crossties, poles, and posts. This category is only for use by those persons using wood preservatives that may be classified as restricted use.

Licensing Requirements for TDA Ag License

To get a TDA Ag 3A (Landscape Maintenance) commercial, noncommercial or NCPS license to apply pesticides to lawns, trees and shrubs for compensation or hire, one must:

  • Apply for the license with fee to TDA: PA-401 and $200 license fee for commercial applicators or noncommercial applicators or $75 license fee for noncommercial political subdivision applicators.
  • Pass the TDA general exam,
  • Pass TDA’s laws and regulations exam,
  • Pass TDA’s ornamental plant and turf pest control exam.

Licensing Requirements for TDA Structural License

Certified Applicator

  • Submit a completed Application for Exam and Certified Applicator License. The certified applicator license fee of $125.00 must be pre-paid to be approved to take exams. Applicants must pass at least one category exam and the general standards exam. Qualifications for certified applicator license are:
    • Have held a technician license for at least six months and been employed with duties including pest control services under the supervision of a licensed certified applicator for at least 12 of the last 24 months.
    • Have a degree in a biological science* and furnish an official copy of their college transcript; or
    • Have 12 months verifiable technical field experience in the past 24 months from another occupation. The applicant must submit a signed and notarized statement from their previous employer detailing technical field experience as it relates to pest control.
  • For noncommercial certified applicators only, complete a SPCS approved noncommercial applicator training course.

For a list of pesticide applicator trainers follow this link(external website)

Technician

For those who do not meet the qualifications to be approved to take the certified applicator, apply for apprentice registration for technician license and submit $125 fee. You must be able to register with a currently licensed pest control business. After the apprentice has completed all training requirements, they can apply to take the technician exam.

Exam Charges for TDA Ag License

  • General exam (includes laws and regulations) is $64. Applicants must additionally pass a category exam, which are $64.
  • Applicants must first apply with license fee to TDA to be approved to take the exams.

Exam Charges for TDA Structural License

All structural exams are $64 each. Certified Applicators must submit application online or via mail (SPCA-410) with license fee and proof of eligibility to be approved to take an exam. Apprentices requesting to take the technician exam must submit a Technician Exam Application with a copy of the certificate of completion from the Technician Training Course to eligibility@TexasAgriculture.gov

If your application is incomplete, you will be sent a letter advising you of the deficiency and providing guidance on how to resolve the issue. If your application is complete, you will be sent a letter giving you instructions for scheduling the exams. Once processed, you will be scheduling the required exams.

Exam Preparation

Study materials for license exams may be purchased from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Obtain order form D-1405 from a county Extension office or: Extension Agricultural and Environmental Safety Program   or call (979)845-1099 

Testing

The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) has contracted with PSI Services (PSI) to administer exams for agricultural pesticide applicator licensing. This is the same vendor that administers exams for structural pest control licensing. PSI has been providing credentialing and testing services to state and federal agencies, private sector businesses and professional associations for over 65 years.

PSI will provide both excellent quality exam opportunities and a convenient schedule for pesticide applicators to test in 22 locations across the state. The schedule will provide more testing opportunities than previously offered. By outsourcing testing to a third-party vendor, the Department’s resources may be used in a more consistent and efficient manner.

Renewal Requirements for Commercial/Noncommercial Political Subdivision License (Ag)

  • Fee $75 annually
  • Expires annually at the end of the anniversary month on which it was issued.
  • Requires five continuing education units annually.
  • CEUs may be obtained online every other year.

Renewal Requirements for Structural Commercial/Noncommercial Certified Applicator

  • Annual renewal fee is $125
  • The license expires annually, and expiration coincides with the expiration of the business license under which the applicator license is issued. For school districts, this would fall under the first person who is licensed for the school district.
  • CEU requirements are for the calendar year (Jan. 1-Dec. 31). For example, if you renew at any time in 2016, you must have taken your CEUs during calendar year 2015.
  • Applicators do not have to get CEUs during the first year in which their license is issued.
  • Applicators must earn two CEUs in general training and one in each category in which the applicator is certified. Of the two general category units, at least one must be in federal and state laws, pesticide safety, environmental protection, or integrated pest management.
  • No course may be repeated for credit within the same recertification year.
  • Only one CEU each year may be obtained through a self-study or Internet course

For More Information You May Contact TDA Directly:

AG Contacts:  Phone 512-463-7622          Email: pesticides@texasagriculture.gov

Submit licensing paperwork not requiring fees to email: license.inquiry@texasagriculture.gov

Website: Agricultural Applicators

SPCS Contacts:  Phone 512-463-3207

Email Contacts: 

Compliance and licensing questions:  SPCS@texasagriculture.gov

Licensing forms with no fee & licensing questions: SPCSLicensing@texasagriculture.gov

Exam documents for Techs & Certified applicators to test: eligibility@texasagriculture.gov

Website: Structural Pest Control Services

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Hurley recognized as integrated pest management pioneer for schools

Janet Hurley

Specialist created and continues to grow IPM programming around Texas

Janet HurleyJanet Hurley continues to be surprised by her career choice. She envisioned a job in health care, but despite fighting on a different front line, public health is still her focus.

Hurley, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service integrated pest management, IPM, program specialist, Dallas, was recently awarded the International Integrated Pest Management Award of Excellence for IPM Practitioner – Academic by the IPM Symposium for her outstanding work in school IPM.

The IPM Symposium is a 100% volunteer run group of practicing IPM professionals across the nation. The conference meets every three years, but due to COVID concerns, the 2021 conference is being put off and Hurley will have to wait until 2022 to officially receive her award.

Hurley was recognized for her efforts to establish and solidify Texas’ school IPM program. She was recognized by the IPM Symposium as one of the pioneers focused on school IPM education and program implementation at the school district level

“[Hurley] is a strong advocate of hands-on training, including field trips and demonstrations, and continues this approach in all educational events she organizes even today, such as the interactive Rodent Academy for schools and pest management professionals,” the award announcement read. “Through her successful program, Ms. Hurley has maintained regular training courses for school IPM coordinators and staff, hosted a nationally recognized school IPM website, served on national and regional school IPM committees, and established strong working relationships with a variety of organizations that have supported her school IPM efforts.”

Hurley recognized by IPM peers

In his nomination letter to the IPM Symposium, Mike Merchant, retired AgriLife Extension urban entomologist, Dallas, praised for Hurley’s continued efforts to make schools safer and train pest management professionals.

Janet Hurley, foreground, and Hoa Phan, Spring ISD, IPM coordinator investigate building for ants, image courtesy of Tom Green, IPM Institute of North America

“Janet Hurley’s job has always been a frontline, boots-on-the-ground position. She works tirelessly to learn and teach IPM,” Merchant wrote.  “She is the glue that holds the Texas school IPM program together, keeping good records on contacts, remembering names and faces, and attending to the dozens of details that must be tracked for every training class. She has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of school districts and their IPM personnel. This serves her well in establishing the trust and relationships that encourage schools to adopt IPM.”

Hurley said being recognized as one of three recipients among hundreds of IPM specialists in the nation makes her feel she has made a difference in the profession and for her clients from Texas school districts, pest control professionals and ultimately the public.

Membership in the Symposium Steering Committee and participating in the conference are ideal for networking and sharing information among IPM professionals from around the nation, she said. It also allows collaboration with players involved in national programs like U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

“The conference is where we talk about new invasive species and cutting-edge integrated pest management tools and techniques,” she said. “So, for me, the symposium award is the highest recognition I could ever receive because it’s 100% from my peers.”

Hurley said it has taken a “village” – including AgriLife Extension specialists, various federal and state regulatory agencies and the school districts – to initiate and enforce an effective IPM program that focuses on protecting schools, students, and staff from pests and pesticides

“On our side, and the regulatory side, we want verifiable IPM within schools, and we work with school boards, administrators and facility managers regarding specific problems whether it’s proactive or dealing with infractions,” she said.

Leading the way in school IPM

In 1995, the Texas Legislature passed a law effectively creating pest management standards in school districts across the state, including mandated inspections. Hurley was hired in 2001 to oversee a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant to help promote school IPM through developing resources.

In 2002, the Legislative Budget Board’s mandated the Structural Pest Control Board, SPCB, to inspect 20% of the state’s 1,052 school districts each quarter that fiscal year. It was the first of its kind of regulatory inspection of school IPM rules in the nation.

Overnight, Hurley became someone school administrators and facility managers were seeking out and engaging. By summer 2002, the SPCB had completed 830 school IPM inspections of which 80% were non-compliant. This led Hurley to create the two-day school IPM coordinator training that is now recognized as a leading example of school IPM education.

Over time, school districts recognized the impact Hurley’s recommendations had on the way they fought pest problems, whether fire ants on campus, lice in a classroom or rats and roaches in storage and kitchen areas. They also recognized that budgeting properly and addressing problems proactively could save money in the long term.

Hurley’s goal as a specialist is to make recommendations based on scientific data and to establish best management practices with a focus on proactive measures that preempt the need for chemical control.

“Door sweeps would solve three-quarters of my problems,” she said. “Simple things like that. We are so engrained with the need for immediate gratification – ‘It comes in a can and kills bugs dead, so that’s what I will use.’ No, sometimes it’s not that simple, so my job has to be about changing that behavior and educating people about better, healthier, more cost-effective approaches to IPM.”

Making a difference

Hurley said she especially enjoys working with school districts because she has seen her efforts make a difference. But building and maintaining effective IPM programs in districts is an ongoing effort due to regulatory changes regarding treatment options, technology improvements and how specific pest populations ebb and flow if given an opportunity or build resistance.

There is also the loss of institutional knowledge due to turnover in districts. Hurley produces a monthly newsletter that is distributed nationally to 1,642 school staff members, pest management professionals and interested stakeholders to keep them informed about potential problems.

Each district is different and implements individual IPM plans, she said. But there are many standard practices all facility managers need to perform, such as preparations for summer and winter breaks, a time when pest problems can get out of control quickly.

Hurley said it’s important to recognize the efforts by school districts and their support staffs.

“It’s important to get recognition, but it’s also important to give the districts praise for their hard work,” he said. “Being a trusted resource, that is what sustains me. That and engaging with people around the state in a field I am passionate about and one that I believe makes a difference every day.”

Written By: Adam Russell, adam.russell@ag.tamu.edu
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SPN: Before you leave the campus remember these tips

mouse-with-christmas-baubleIt is that time of year. It’s time to clean out the classroom and get ready for the holiday break.  Before you take some time to be with family and just relax, let’s take some time to think about sanitation. When you close up the classroom, make sure that you don’t leave behind a picnic for pests.

The pests we generally see in schools include cockroaches, mice, rats, spiders, ants, silverfish, and occasionally crickets. These pests are animals and they like the same things we do, food, water, harborage and safety.  The holiday break is a perfect time for pests to thrive because we often forget and leave something behind to live on. 

Places that provide the necessities for pest survival are what we term pest vulnerable areas (PVA). Each of these areas should be thoroughly inspected before leaving for winter break. Areas that need special attention include the kitchen and cafeteria, faculty lounge, custodial storage areas, science classrooms, art centers, special needs classrooms, kindergarten and daycare classrooms, locker rooms, culinary arts/home economics classrooms and other reported pest “hot spots.”

Remember all floor drains can become pest vulnerable areas.

The kitchen and cafeteria will require some deep cleaning. Floor drains should be inspected for organic matter build up, for those drains that are filthy, look for microbial and enzyme  scum digesters to help reduce this build up.  At the same time, all equipment and floors, especially corners and around furniture legs, should be degreased. Don’t forget that walls and light fixtures should also be cleaned. Just a small amount of food, grease, splatter or other organic material can allow pests to thrive while no one is around to watch. 

In the teacher’s lounge, check refrigerator seals, clean inside and under the microwave, behind and around soda machines and under sinks. These are excellent places to harbor pests. Also, be sure to clean any pest droppings you find. Droppings are difficult to age, and the pest manager won’t be able to conclude whether the infestation is old or new, unless they know that the area has been thoroughly cleaned.

How about classrooms? Clutter, candy and improper storage are a pests best hiding place and feeding station. Upholstered furniture is a pest haven. By reducing clutter, the jobs of the sanitarian and the pest manager become easier.

Remind custodial and other staff members that if they come across any live pests while cleaning, be sure to record what type and where on the pest sighting log or work order system. This is a good time to remind everyone that proper documentation of what they see helps you and the IPM program solve the problem before it becomes newsworthy. 

How do you minimize a PVA?

  • Reduce pest entry
    • Repair cracks, holes, and gaps
  • Reduce food sources
    • Store food, even pet food, in sealable containers
    • Clean, clean, clean
  • Reduce harborage
    • Eliminate clutter and cardboard

Refrigerators, microwaves, and toasters.

Locate every microwave and fridge to insure nothing surprises you in January.

Remember, pests only need crumbs or food residue (especially greasy surfaces) to survive for months. If these areas are not thoroughly and regularly cleaned, your pest manager will have a difficult time managing the pests. Also, if there is an infestation that must be treated, the food stuffs compete with the bait treatment, making it ineffective. This is a lose lose situation. What is left is an unsanitary area that still has a pest problem. If your school has problem areas like these, determine who is responsible for cleaning that area and set a regular cleaning schedule. In areas like these, there is often upholstered furniture. Don’t forget that the furniture needs to be vacuumed as you are cleaning the room. The cracks and crevices hold crumbs and can be home to cockroaches, silverfish and rodents. Sanitation is a group effort and once if maintained, is a crucial part of pest management.

One of the best ways to document what you see is to utilize an IPM Inspection form.  Remember good documentation can help you answer questions to school administrators, parents, teachers and any one else who asks.  Check out this Inspection_Checklist_for_School_Facility  created by NC State University.  

Finally, don’t forget about mold and mildew.  

Mold and mildew often happens by the fluctuations in  temperatures and humidity during shut-downs.  This can happen anywhere on campus but one area that is forgotten is Athletic and Band Hall areas due to items that are put into storage moist or left after an event.  Remember these area areas that should be part of your continuous monitoring of indoor humidity along with known problem areas. 

5 steps to minimize mold risk during & after a shutdown:

  1. Maintain indoor humidity as low as possible, not exceeding 50%, as measured with a humidity meter
  2. After a prolonged shutdown and before occupants return, buildings should be assessed for mold and excess moisture
  3. After an assessment has confirmed that mold and moisture are not detected OR after remediation has been completed, a building HVAC system that has not been active during a prolonged shutdown should be operated for at least 48 to 72 hours (known as a “flush out” period) before occupants return
    • Open air to the highest setting that allows you to maintain desired indoor air temp
    • Flush till odors are removed
    • Check HVAC filters-they may need to be changed after flush out
  4. After a building is reopened and occupied, routine (e.g., weekly) checks of the HVAC system are recommended to ensure operating efficiency
  5. If no routine HVAC operation and maintenance program is in place for the building, one should be developed and implemented
    At a minimum, consider:
    • Inspection and maintenance of HVAC components
    • Calibration of HVAC system controls
    • HVAC testing and balancing

Visit the CDC/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health [NIOSH]  for more information controlling dampness issues that result in indoor mold growth, as well as on renovation and remediation if indoor mold has become an issue. Check out their Dampness and Mold Assessment Tool for Schools and General Buildings 

And thank you to TASB Facility Services and Risk Management Fund for the information about mold and mildew.  

 

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The Fungus Among Us – Restoring Ecosystems and Controlling Pests

Special article by Marcia Anderson, PhD, LTE;  U.S. EPA Center for Integrated Pest Management

It’s that time of year to take a walk through a forest or your neighborhood. Are seeing mushrooms, the reproductive structure of a fungus, growing on rotting tree trunks or decaying woodchips? One of the main benefits of fungi is that they help break down and recycle organic material, making nutrients available for new life. 

Depending on where you are located you might be seeing mushrooms growing in the woodchips on your playground. There is some concern when toddlers or small children are around as they tend to put everything in their mouths, including mushrooms.  One of the easiest IPM solutions is roping off the area until the local cooperative extension service can identify the mushrooms as being non-toxic. This type of interaction serves as a reminder of how little most people know about fungi. There is, however, much to discover.

Commonly known as the aborted entoloma or shrimp of the woods, is an edible mushroom in the Entolomataceae family of fungi. Caution should be used in identifying the species before eating.

Fungi have been around for 1.3 billion years, but we are just beginning to discover many of their benefits. Aside from being a culinary treat, certain fungi are key elements in restoring ecosystems and allies in helping farmers protect valuable agricultural crops.

Although relatively unrecognized, fungi can be powerful tools in pollution remediation through a process known as mycoremediation. That is the use of fungi to break down or remove a range of contaminants, including oils and toxic chemicals, from the environment. This form of biological remediation can filter toxins from stormwater runoff and help clean up industrial oil spills.

These fungi can help us remove or detoxify chemicals, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, petroleum compounds, and heavy metals like mercury and lead. How do they remove these chemicals? The fungal mycelium, or vegetative part of the fungus, absorbs and converts the hydrocarbons in these contaminants into carbohydrates. Research using oyster mushrooms has shown significant pollutant removal from both soil and water in remediation areas. Once used for bioremediation, the mushrooms are destroyed as toxic waste.

Turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) helping to break down old trees.

Similarly, turkey tail mushrooms are suitable for mercury remediation, and garden giant mushrooms can be used for E. coli removal. Mycobooms, straw rafts containing mushroom mycelium, can absorb oil from water.

Fungi are also used as biological pesticides, or biopesticides, that target specific insect pests and plant diseases. Biopesticides are considered less toxic than their chemical counterparts and are comparatively safer environmentally. Termed mycoinsecticides, some fungi act as parasites of insects and can protect plants from certain infections and diseases, thereby enhancing crop production.

For example, one biological pesticide used in agriculture is Trichoderma spp., a beneficial fungus that colonizes plant roots and outcompetes disease-causing fungi. Trichoderma protects plants from soil-borne pathogens in non-food crops, fruiting vegetables, cole crops, legumes, herbs, cucurbits, berries, and small fruits. A side benefit is that, over time, it stimulates plant growth and increases plant defenses.

Wood rot fungi Trichoderma spp. Robert L. Anderson, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Another commercially used biopesticide, Beauveria bassiana, is a fungus that acts on insects including aphids, whiteflies, thrips, fire ants, and bedbugs. The fungal bodies adhere to the insect’s exoskeleton and slowly dissolve a hole in the insect’s body. The fungus penetrates the body, proliferates, and produces spores that subsequently liquefy the insect’s internal organs. Its slow action allows time for the target insect to pick up the fungal spores and infect the rest of the colony. The best news is that it does not affect non-target organisms.

Another fungal biopesticide, Pythium oligandrum, protects crops and turf from roughly 20 soil-borne pathogens. Muscodor albus is a fungal biopesticide that is an alternative to the fumigant methyl bromide. It is used to protect food commodities from post-harvest decay. It is also used on ornamental plants, seeds, and seedlings to protect against soil-borne diseases.

In tropical countries, manufacturers have combined the use of entomopathogenic biopesticides and insecticide-treated bed nets to control the mosquitoes that carry malaria. Sprays of some fungal spores are pathogenic to mosquitoes during specific stages of their life cycle and affect their metabolic and reproduction rates. Fungal infection consequently reduces the mosquito’s ability to transmit diseases. The World Health Organization has been testing the biopesticide Beauveria bassiana to reduce malarial transmission, resulting in a high mosquito mortality and rapid reductions in feeding and flight capability.

The growth of the biopesticide market, including these fungal-based controls, comes in response to the increasing demand for more natural pest control tools. Biopesticides can complement conventional chemical pesticides and are cost effective and eco-friendly. Biopesticides can be incorporated into any Integrated Pest Management program, contributing to sustainable pest control and healthy environment.

For more information on biopesticides, visit the EPA biopesticide webpage. In addition, Paul Stamets’ TED lecture on mushrooms discusses how mushrooms can save the world.

Check out this guide from the USDA Forest Service Field Guide to Common Macrofungi in Eastern Forests and Their Ecosystem Functions 

If it looks like a big blob it could be slime mold check out this article by Dr. Kevin Ong 

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