Tag Archives: summer

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

Summertime is Cleaning Time

“Cleanliness is not next to godliness. It isn’t even in the same neighborhood. No one has ever gotten a religious experience out of removing burned-on cheese from the grill of the toaster oven.” – ― Erma Bombeck

Move equipment to make it easier to clean it as well as the floor and walls around it.
Move equipment to make it easier to clean the floor and walls around it as well as the equipment itself.

While cleanliness might not help you spiritually, we can promise that it will help you prevent pest problems in the school. There are certain tasks that should be done every day, some that can be done weekly, or even monthly, and some that should be done at least once a year. Schools vacated for the summer provide an excellent time to tackle the big jobs.

The primary idea is to remove pest habitat (food, water, shelter, and space) from buildings. This includes sealing off food, repairing water leaks, and removing shelter. Reach into the corners. Get under the sinks. Tackle molding, walls, and flooring behind and under appliances and cooking equipment. This is the time to pull out equipment and vending machines. Clean the wheels and wheel wells on carts and garbage cans. If resources allow, take the opportunity to put shelving on casters. This will make deep cleaning easier, and thus allow it to be conducted more often once school starts up again.

We can't always blame the teachers and students. This cluttered custodial closet provides pest harborage and makes inspection and cleaning difficult.
We can’t always blame the teachers and students. This cluttered custodial closet provides pest harborage and makes inspection and cleaning difficult.

What other pest projects are good for the summer? Ideally your regular inspections have helped you to produce a list of tasks to tackle. Many of these projects likely include projects that will help exclude pests from your building. They include:

  • Sealing gaps where utility lines (water pipes, electricity) enter the building and between rooms
  • Sealing all cracks and gaps in foundations, windows, door jambs and vents
  • Repairing holes or tears in window screens
  • Transplanting (or removing) plant material away from the building foundation
  • Replacing mulch next to buildings with gravel
  • Eliminating water sources such as leaking pipes, clogged drains, and missing tile grout
  • Insulating pipes that accumulate condensation (sweat)
  • Reducing clutter, cardboard, and paper that provides covers for pests
    Seal pipe chases entering buildings, between rooms, and under sinks with foam and copper mesh.
    Seal pipe chases entering buildings, between rooms, and under sinks with foam and copper mesh.

For more information, visit the School IPM Best Management Practices website. Inspection forms, pest fact sheets, IPM protocols, and links to the best and latest from IPM experts will support the novice and the seasoned IPM practitioner alike.

The EPA Clean Bill of Health: How Effective Cleaning and Maintenance Can Improve Health Outcomes in Your School webinar covers how to develop and implement a preventative maintenance plan to reduce costs and improve health by using effective cleaning practices in your school.

And don’t forget to look for burned-on cheese in the faculty lounge toaster oven.