Category Archives: Camps

Vengeful veggies – contributed by Paul Hetzler

I know that vegetables are not really vindictive, but it sounds crazy to talk about them as a burning hazard. There are a number of plants whose sap can cause serious chemical burns, and one of them is a common and widespread invasive species, the wild parsnip.

Wild parsnip provides an opportunity to expand our vocabulary. It is phytophototoxic.

A member of the same family as Queen Anne’s lace, wild parsnip generally reaches a height of between three and seven feet. From late June through mid-July, it is topped by pale greenish-yellow, umbrella-like flower clusters, which form seeds around the end of July. Wild parsnip can be found in vacant lots as well as in yards and gardens, but because it’s so effectively spread by mowing equipment, mile upon mile of it can be seen along northern NY State roadsides.

The root of this weed is in fact edible. It’s genetically identical to the parsnip we might plant in our garden. So what exactly is bad about wild parsnip?

Giant hogweed gets a lot of press due to the fact that, well, it’s giant. A flower that grows 15 to 20 feet in one season is impressive. And hogweed is scary, too, because its sap is phytophototoxic. The tongue-twister word means if its sap gets on your skin, it reacts with sunlight to cause second- and third-degree burns. Such burns often take months to heal and may actually leave a permanent scar. If sap gets in one’s eyes, it can even cause blindness.

Well guess what—wild parsnip sap does the same thing. It’s a small consolation, but you can’t get burned by merely brushing up against wild parsnip—a stem or leaf must be broken to expose the sap. And after the plant dries it is safe to handle, unlike poison ivy, which can cause a severe rash even if you dried it for a couple years (which is unlikely, but if you were considering it, be warned). All the same, it’s probably a good idea to wear gloves and long sleeves when handling wild parsnip.

As everyone knows, when fighting a zombie, you grab a shovel and aim for its head. The same with wild parsnip, except you aim for its feet. It has a taproot That’s tough to pull out, but it is easily cut with a shovel. It’s not necessary to get the whole root—just dig as deep as you can to sever the taproot, pry up until the plant tips over, and it will die. You don’t even have to touch it.

If you’re hopelessly outnumbered by wild parsnips, at least mow them—wearing protective clothing and eyewear of course—to keep them from making seeds. But unless you have a Level-A Hazmat suit, don’t use a string trimmer on it. Mowing will buy you some time to muster shovel-wielding townsfolk (pitchforks and torches are optional) to help you.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in herbicides like Roundup, is effective against wild parsnip. Herbicide is most effective when used on first-year plants (“rosettes”), ones which have no flower stalk, in late summer or early fall. Spraying early in the season will kill the top but not the root, so the plant may come back if treated in spring or early summer. (EDITORIAL NOTE: New York’s Child Safe Playing Field Act requires that most pesticide applications, including glyphosate, made on the portions of school or childcare facility grounds frequented by children may only be done when approved as an emergency exemption. For more information: https://blogs.cornell.edu/schoolchildcareipm/tag/child-safe-playing-fields-act/page/3/ )

I hope you have a safe and enjoyable summer, and that the only scorching you encounter is that walk across the hot beach sand.

For more information on wild parsnip, giant hogweed or other invasive species, contact your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office.

–Paul Hetzler
Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County

Keeping the Pests Out on a Budget: IPM workshops for safe playing fields

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” –  Benjamin Franklin

Calling all school, parks, and sports turf managers and lawn care providers! You have two chances to join the Cornell Turf Team as we look at the latest information on providing safe playing surfaces on sports fields.

June 27, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Lakeview Elementary School, Mahopac, NY
Full program | Pre-registration required by June 20
Contact: Jennifer Stengle js95@cornell.edu

August 3, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Coxsackie-Athens High School, Coxsackie, N.Y.
Full program | Pre-registration required by July 28
Contact: Joellen Lampman jkz6@cornell.edu

Topics will include the basics (fertility, irrigation, mowing); advanced techniques (overseeding, seed selection, and turf repair); pest prevention, identification and management; and more.

Coffee and lunch are included. The workshop is free for schools and parks personnel. All other turf managers, please bring $25.

NYS DEC Pesticide Credits: 4.25 in Categories 3a, 3b, 10; STMA CEUs: .375

For more information and to register, visit http://turf.cals.cornell.edu/news/safe-playing-fields-ipm-workshops/.

Ticks: Assessing the risk at schools and child care centers

“I tried real hard to play golf, and I was so bad at it they would have to check me for ticks at the end of the round because I’d spent about half the day in the woods.” – Jeff Foxworthy

‘Tis the season for requests for emergency pesticide sprays on school and child care grounds to get rid of ticks. The request is often prompted by an irate parent who found a tick on their child.

Problem #1: IPM requires evidence, not complaints, to determine when management should take place. When looking for an exemption to apply pesticides under the Child Safe Playing Fields Act, confirmation that ticks are on the property is essential.

Problem #2: playgrounds and ball fields are lousy tick habitat. As Jeff Foxworthy discovered, golfers who  stay on fairways are in little danger of picking up ticks. While it’s always possible a tick dropped off a wandering deer, mouse, or bird, it’s not likely to survive in a dry place for long. Mowed lawn and mulched playgrounds don’t typically have the 85% relative humidity level ticks need to survive.

It can be difficult to tell if a tick has been feed up to two days after it starts.

It’s not easy to tell if a tick has been feeding for up to two days after it starts. But — be aware. This is only an estimate.

Problem #3: ticks are sneaky. Very sneaky. Their entire livelihood depends on being attached to another living being for up to a week without being discovered. A tick found today provides little information about where it was picked up.

But guidance is available. The TickEncounter Resource Center has growth charts showing how a tick’s appearance changes the longer it is able to feed. If you send them a picture, they can determine how long the tick has been feeding.

Dragging for ticks assesses tick presence and helps determine next steps for management.

Dragging for ticks can help assess tick risk and help determine next steps for management.

Still, be aware: this is only an estimate.

The upshot is that ticks found on students shouldn’t trigger pesticide applications on playgrounds. But they should trigger the IPM practice of tick monitoring. The easiest way to look for ticks? Dragging.

Tick drags are easy and inexpensive to make. Attach dowels on the ends of a 3’x3’ white flannel cloth and tie a string to each end of one of the dowels. Drag the cloth over grass for 30 seconds. Identify and count the number of ticks clinging to the sheet. Repeat over the entire area. Woods and shrubby areas are easier to scout with a tick flag, which is simply a tick drag with only one dowel attached. Instead of dragging, swipe the bushes and understory with the flag. Everything else remains the same. Done often wherever kids play, you can assess the risk of picking up ticks year-round. According to School Integrated Pest Management Thresholds, the recommended threshold for action for ticks is three ticks in outdoor student activity areas.

Did tick monitoring indicate that the tick population is above threshold on portions or all of your grounds? You can find management practices and more in our fact sheet, Understanding and Managing Ticks – A Guide for Schools, Child Care and Camps.

Looking for more information? Visit What’s Bugging You: Ticks. And stay tuned for upcoming posts about protecting our children from tick bites.