Archive for July 13, 2008

Time to Prepare the NE Florida Garden for Late Summer Crops

Warm season crops that can be replanted in August (NE Florida) include:

Pole beans, bush beans, lima beans, sweet corn, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkin, summer squash, winter squash, southern peas, tomatoes, and watermelon.

Eggplant and okra shouldn’t be planted later than July.

Most cool season crops can be planted in September, then again in January. Potatoes and english peas shouldn’t be planted until January.

More information on planting dates in Florida here.

For information on how to build your own self-contained growing box, click here. I went to a garden center to look at an Earth Box but with the price at $65.00 and not including the growing mix, I just couldn’t justify the expense.


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Wintering Cows on the Northern Plains with Swath Grazing

Swath grazing is a way to revive the once widespread practice of letting cattle graze all winter in the Northern Plains. With swath grazing, farmers pile crop residue into rows, known as “swaths,” that stand as high as 16 inches. Cattle can usually push with ease through up to 2 feet of snow to graze on these crop residues or other high quality forages.

Northern Plains farmers and ranchers largely gave up the historical practice of grazing cattle on pastures or rangelands year-round in the late 1800s, after two severe winters caused extensive cattle losses from blizzards and a lack of reserve feed supplies.

But swath grazing, backed up by supplemental harvested grain, saves farmers money and labor compared to feeding cows hay in a corral near a barn during winter.

A Quarter Per Cow, Per Day

Soil scientist Don Tanaka and colleagues at the ARS Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory in Mandan, North Dakota, conducted a 4-year research project that showed farmers could save as much as 24 cents per cow, per day, by swath grazing from mid-November through mid-February. A farmer with a herd of 200 cows could save more than $4,000 in feed costs a year.

Swath grazing also helps farmers by eliminating the need to remove and store manure from winter cattle corrals. Instead, the cattle distribute the manure naturally, as they graze, improving soil quality and crop production.

The disadvantages are seen when ice or deep snow prevents cows from reaching the swathed residue. But those problems can be solved by mechanically breaking up the ice or snow.

Providing swathed forage for wintering pregnant beef cows was part of the study, in which scientists also sought to test a 3-year crop rotation to minimize use of store-bought nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides. They also wanted to determine the impact of livestock presence on no-till grain and forage production, whether for sale or to feed livestock.

The rotation used an oat and pea mix the first year, then a triticale and sweet clover mix, followed by drilled corn the third year. All were grown without tillage, and crop residue was left in swaths for livestock grazing.

The combination of no-till and annual crop rotations can give farmers higher yields, more agricultural stability, fewer crop pests, more protection against drought, less soil erosion, and more efficient use of precipitation. Farmers can also slash nitrogen fertilizer needs in half by planting legumes like clover and using nutrients in manure more efficiently.

Winters Are Costly for Pregnant Cows

In each year of the study, the scientists used 20 pregnant Hereford beef cows due to give birth in March. Pregnant cows need higher quality forage, and that need increases as pregnancy advances. This makes the winter feeding of pregnant cows the most expensive part of raising beef cattle.

The scientists rotationally grazed the cows on swathed oat and pea residue, then on swathed triticale and sweet clover residue, and last on swathed drilled corn. They compared those cows with others grazing swaths of western wheatgrass or feeding on baled mixed grass hay conventionally, in corrals.

“We found that the swathed forage was at least as protein rich as the baled hay, and the cows had slightly better weight gains with swath grazing annual crops,” says Scott Kronberg. He’s an ARS animal nutritionist who is part of the Mandan ARS team conducting this study, along with soil scientist Mark Liebig, rangeland scientist Jon Hanson, animal scientist Eric Scholljegerdes, and Jim Karn, an animal scientist who has since retired.

“The nice thing about this type of diversified and flexible integrated crop/livestock system is that it provides the opportunity for producers to include legumes as cover crops, which can supply nitrogen to the soil. This benefits both the crops—by raising their yields—and the cattle, by boosting the protein in their feed,” Tanaka says.

A Crop for All Reasons

To solve the problem of millions of acres of grazing cropland in the northern Great Plains being ecologically degraded and under-producing, Tanaka and colleagues seek innovative ways—like swath grazing—to better integrate crop, forage, and livestock systems to make them economically and environmentally sustainable.

Hanson, who leads research at the Mandan lab, calls this “dynamic farming.” He and colleagues offer farmers more than a dozen crops to choose from each year, with more than 100 possible rotation combinations.

Hanson says, “All of this was made possible in the Great Plains by the introduction of no-till and related conservation-tillage techniques, which leave a cover of unharvested plant parts to slow moisture evaporation from the soil. This means there’s enough moisture in the soil to sustain crops just about every year.”

These diverse cropping systems for forage and grain production include cool-season annual crops, such as oats, peas, and triticale; warm-season annuals, such as corn; and biennial (short-lived perennials) legumes, such as sweet clover. This diverse mix allows farmers to use crops that take advantage of erratic rainfall and snowmelt frequency and distribution in the northern Great Plains.

“Adding diversity brings sustainability to farms, both economically and environmentally,” says Hanson.

Including livestock in the mix is probably the most important way to create this stability. Bringing cows back to graze on family farms year-round is a natural, easy, and profitable way to recycle manure as a soil conditioner, and it helps both soil and crops make the best use of precious, but erratic, precipitation.—By Don Comis, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.

Source: USDA

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FCAT Third Grade Reading Law Questioned

Five years after a state law required school districts to make third-graders who fail the reading FCAT repeat the year, questions remain about whether the strict rule that has affected tens of thousands of students is effective.

Soon after the law was enacted, the state trumpeted stories of parents initially upset by the retention who later were pleased. But a recent Miami-Dade study that followed the first group of retained students concluded that retention only improves student achievement initially.

”It appears now that the gains have essentially disappeared,” the study states.

A similar Broward study that tracked the first group of retained students — who just finished seventh grade — also found that as they have grown up, their attendance rate in school has dropped and their suspension rate has risen.

State data show that for students who have repeated third grade — despite the extra year in elementary school — nearly half fail the reading test as fourth-graders.

Arizona State University Professor Mary Lee Smith studied Florida’s law the year after it was enacted and has continued monitoring its effects. In 2004, her policy brief recommended the law be repealed.

Four years later, Smith’s objections are the same.

‘The research stretching over a 60-plus-year period has consistently demonstrated the same thing: that retention in grade does not improve performance in subsequent years’ achievement and bears a strong relationship to dropping out of school later,” Smith wrote in an e-mail to The Miami Herald. “No other body or research is so strongly one-sided, yet policy makers and politicians point to it as a way to improve performance.”

She said many other strategies, including small class sizes, high quality preschools, good teachers, remediation on academic skills before and after school and tutoring are better than retention as long as they are not teaching to the test.

Policies like Florida’s dot the country. In New York City, for the last four years, third-graders who score in the lowest of four levels on English and math tests have been required to repeat the grade unless they score higher after summer school or if teachers appeal.


Florida’s law was meant to end ”social promotion” — moving students from grade to grade to keep them with students their own age, whether or not they had mastered the material.

As a result, students can spend up to three years in third grade because they failed the reading section of the FCAT.

At sites around South Florida, third-graders are attending summer classes to help them improve their reading skills.

Some have already been promoted for other reasons, but some need the extra help to make it into fourth grade in August.

On Friday, students at Coral Cove Elementary in Miramar were clustered in groups, some taking practice tests on computers, some reading out loud with a partner and others sitting at a table reading with the teacher.

Zayin Henry and De’Marius Collier sat next to each other at computers doing practice tests. They could click on words in the stories to hear their pronunciation or click on bolded words to hear that plus the definition.

”It’s helping us read better,” said De’Marius, 9.

Zayin, 11, said he knows the camp has been helpful.

”It’s like when we read, it doesn’t come out the other ear,” he said. “We keep it in the brain.”

A cluster of students gathered around teacher Susan Novell and took turns reading aloud about earthquakes and the earth’s tectonic plates. Novell stopped to ask them why earthquakes happen, and guided them back to the passage that explains the cause.

She said the effectiveness of retention depends on the student.

”There are some children who need another growth year,” she said. “Other children I can see where it’s not the appropriate thing to do.”

The year before the law went into effect, about 6,500 third-graders were held back when the decision was in the hands of districts, principals and teachers.

The following year, the number shot up to nearly 28,000. It has declined to about half that.

This year, nearly 33,000 students statewide scored at the lowest level on the reading FCAT, including almost 6,000 in Miami-Dade and about 3,100 in Broward, though they will not all be held back.

In Broward, about half of the third-graders facing retention this year will go to fourth grade for several reasons. Some may be learning English as a second language or have disabilities. Students who have already been held back twice also can move on.

Maitte Medina-LaSanta, a third-grade teacher at Pasadena Lakes Elementary in Pembroke Pines teaching summer camp at Coral Cove, said the two kids in her class last school year who had been retained both showed ”tremendous” gains on the FCAT and tested at grade level. In her experience, retention has been successful for kids she has taught.

Richard Kidney teaches first grade at Silver Lakes Elementary in Miramar and is teaching the reading camp at Coral Cove this summer. On the board in his summer classroom, he has written several key words that relate to reading, including: Always do your best.

”We want to build them up, and we don’t want to devastate them with not being successful,” Kidney said.


Broward School Board Chairwoman Robin Bartleman said she thinks the money devoted to summer reading camps — Broward is spending more than $1 million this year — would be better spent helping younger students. By third grade, she thinks students are already too far behind.

Bartleman’s experience as an assistant principal triggered the creation of a special program for retained Broward third-graders that provides counseling along with the state-mandated repeat of the year.

”We always seem to focus on the academic side. It was really important for me to focus on the social and emotional side,” said Bartleman, who worked at a Liberty City elementary school for four years. “A kid isn’t just a test score.”

Source: Miami Herald

If the child can’t read on grade level, there is no use passing him or her to another grade level with reading material that he is incapable of reading. I saw children this year that had entered our school system from out of state schools that were in the 6th grade and were incapable of reading on a 2nd grade level. These kids stayed in trouble all day–of course! They had no idea what was going on in class because they were incapable of reading the material or doing the assigned work.

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Ex-FARC Hostages Home in Florida

As the three former hostages quietly returned to their Florida hometowns Saturday, sources in Colombia revealed that the U.S. military was much more involved in their daring rescue than previously reported.

”I’m ecstatic. I’m happy to be home, obviously,” said Keith Stansell, who flashed a thumbs-up as he walked into his parents’ home in Bradenton. “Everyone has been so supportive, but right now, family time.”

Stansell and former fellow hostages Thomas Howes of Merritt Island and Marc Gonsalves of Big Pine Key returned to their Florida homes as sources in Colombia revealed that special U.S. advisors were ”invited” to embed themselves in every aspect of the last stages of planning Operation Checkmate, the Colombian intelligence scheme that rescued the Americans and 12 other hostages, including former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.

The ploy to lure rebels to hand over the hostages to undercover security agents was conceived and hatched by Colombian military intelligence, which kept the U.S. out of the loop until about a week before the mission was launched July 2, according to a high-level official, who spoke on the condition that his name not be used.

Read the rest in the Miami Herald.

Welcome home. Y’all were in our thoughts and prayers.

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Dramatic increase in ‘Tommy John’ surgery in young patients cause for concern

Upside to ‘epidemic’ surgery: 83 percent successful in return to play, new research finds

ORLANDO, Florida – Eighty-three percent of athletes who had “Tommy John” elbow reconstruction surgery were able to return to the same or better level of play, according to a study released today at the 2008 American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine Annual Meeting at JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes. While reassuring to athletes, the study authors find the trend of more and more young athletes requiring the surgery, alarming.

“Before 1997 this surgery was performed on only 12 of 97 patients who were 18 or younger (12 percent),” said co-author E. Lyle Cain, MD, fellowship director for the American Sports Medicine Institute, Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham, Alabama. “In 2005 alone, 62 of the 188 operations performed, were on high school athletes, a third of the surgical group. The reality is that this surgery is successful and that’s good. But a disturbing trend of younger kids needing the surgery is troubling. This should be a wake-up call to parents and coaches that specialization in baseball where kids don’t get adequate time off is very dangerous.”

“Tommy John” surgery is a procedure where a damaged elbow ligament (Ulnar Collateral Ligament or UCL) is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body. The surgery is named for Hall of Fame pitcher Tommy John, who was the first person to have the surgery in 1974. John returned to the major leagues and went on to win 164 games after the surgery. Prior to this historic surgery, a UCL injury was a career-ending injury.

In the study, 743 patients who had the Tommy John surgery were contacted for follow-up evaluations and completed a questionnaire about their recovery. The majority of the patients were baseball players (94.5 percent), the remaining 5.5 percent were involved in track, football or other sports. The study found that 622 patients (83 percent) returned to the previous level of competition or higher. Of the major league players, 75.5 percent returned to the same level of play. For minor league players 56 percent returned to the same level or higher. The average time from surgery to full competition was 11.6 months after reconstruction, according to study results. Additionally about 10 percent of the patients had complications, mostly minor.

“The increase in the number of UCL reconstructions being done now can be attributed to many things: improved diagnostic techniques, heightened awareness, increased chance of positive outcome with current surgical techniques, but most importantly, the overuse of young throwing arms,” said Dr. Cain. “In the past 10 years, year-round baseball leagues have proliferated. So the best young pitchers are throwing many more pitches and learning to throw more difficult pitches. It’s great that the surgery is successful, but prevention of the injury should be the goal. Kids should be urged to rest and be careful about saving their arms, rather than leading to long-term problems at a young age.”

The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) is a world leader in sports medicine education, research, communication and fellowship, and includes national and international orthopaedic sports medicine leaders. The Society works closely with many other sports medicine specialists, including athletic trainers, physical therapists, family physicians, and others to improve the identification, prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation of sports injuries.

For more information, please contact AOSSM Director of Communications, Lisa Weisenberger at 847/292-4900, or e-mail her at You can also visit the AOSSM Web site at

Source: Eurekalert

Sports have certainly changed from when I was a kid. Baseball games consisted of an empty piece of land, a piece of wood or somebody’s shirt for bases, and a ball and bat. No adults were involved, and we managed to have a great time. Nobody had injuries that required surgery, either. To do that, competitive adults have to become involved.

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Fossil Feathers Preserve Evidence of Color, Yale Scientists say

New Haven, Conn. — The traces of organic material found in fossil feathers are remnants of pigments that once gave birds their color, according to Yale scientists whose paper in Biology Letters opens up the potential to depict the original coloration of fossilized birds and their ancestors, the dinosaurs.

Closer study of a number of fossilized bird feathers by Yale PhD student Jakob Vinther revealed that organic imprints in the fossils — previously thought to be carbon traces from bacteria — are fossilized melanosomes, the organelles that contain melanin pigment.
Striped fossil feather and recent woodpecker feather. Under the scanning electron microscope there are melanosomes in the dark but not the light areas of the fossil.

“Birds frequently have spectacularly colored plumage which are often used in camouflage and courtship display,” said Vinther. “Feather melanin is responsible for rusty-red to jet-black colors and a regular ordering of melanin even produces glossy iridescence. Understanding these organic remains in fossil feathers also demonstrates that melanin can resist decay for millions of years.”

Working with Yale paleontologist Derek E. G. Briggs and Yale ornithologist Richard O. Prum, Vinther analyzed a striped feather found in 100 million-year-old rocks from the Lower Cretaceous Period in Brazil. The team used a scanning electron microscope to show that dark bands of the feather preserved the arrangement of the pigment-bearing structures as a carbon residue — organized much as the structures are in a modern feather. The light bands showed only rock surface.

In another fossil of a bird from the Eocene Epoch — 55 million years ago — in Denmark there were similar traces in the feathers surrounding the skull. That fossil also preserved an organic imprint of the eye and showed structures similar to the melanosomes found in eyes of modern birds.

“Many other organic remains will presumably prove to be composed of melanin,” said Vinther. He expects that fur of ancient mammals and skin from dinosaurs preserved as organic imprints will likely be the remains of the melanin.

“Now that we have demonstrated that melanin can be preserved in fossils, scientists have a way to reliably predict, for example, the original colors of feathered dinosaurs,” said Prum, who is the William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology and chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, as well as curator of ornithology at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Briggs is professor of geology and geophysics and director of Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. Another co-author, Vinodkumar Saranathan, is a doctoral student in the Prum Laboratory. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and completed while Briggs was a Humboldt Award holder at the University of Bonn.

Wonderful! I can hardly wait until we know what color plumage the fossilized dinosaur/birds were attired in. I’m sure it was a very colorful world.

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