Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
701 W. Market Street
Perkasie, PA 18944
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
Toll Free: 800-440-remax
January 16, 2012 4:48 pm
Even as midwinter snow and cold are hitting every state, more consumers than ever are trying to start plants from seed according to Gardener's Supply, a national online gardening retailer. The company has seen an increase in seedstarting among beginner and avid gardeners.
"Seedstarting is a great way to save money in the garden and for the past few years, we continue to see a significant increase in consumers wanting to either start seedstarting or elevate their capability with new equipment and lights," says Maree Gaetani, director of gardening relations. "The calls and questions to our 1-800 help line have ranged from 'how do I start' to more advanced questions about 'heatmats and grow lights.'
"There are many benefits to indoor seedstarting besides saving money," continued Gaetani. "There are also the bragging rights when you've harvested a tomato or are enjoying summer blooms from plants you've started with seeds."
Seedstarting with the right seeds and tools is easy and rewarding. Here are 10 steps along that make seedstarting simple and successful:
1. Choose Seeds Wisely - If you're new to seed starting, stick with easy to grow vegetables and flowers such as tomato, cucumber, basil, squash, morning glories, bachelor buttons, calendula and cosmos. Don't start your seeds too early and create a seed starting calendar. Find the last expected frost date in your area and count back from that date based on the seed packet recommendations to determine when to start seeds indoors. Starting too early will create monster plants that need to be tamed because the outdoor environment isn't ready for them yet.
2. The Right Equipment - You can start seeds in just about any container, provided it's sturdy and allows for water drainage.
3. Start with Organic Mix - Seedstarting mixes can also be found at your local garden centers. Go natural with an organic mix, such as Eco-co Coir potting mix, which is both that's economical and earth-friendly. Derived from recycled coconut husks, Eco-co Coir passed Gardener's Supply extensive seed-starting trials with flying colors, providing excellent germination rates and producing healthy, sturdy seedlings.
4. The Right Light - Even though starting seeds in a sunny southern window may work in some climates, a surer bet is to have an indoor, seed starting light system. Most seeds don't need light to germinate, but once up, they need 12 to 14 hours of continuous full spectrum, bright light to grow strong and sturdy. Gardener's Supply recommends only using T-5 bulbs that emit brilliant, full-spectrum light, providing the ideal intensity and quality of light needed for optimal plant growth. The bulbs last up to 7,500 hours and use 45 percent less energy than standard fluorescent bulbs.
5. Temperature - Most seedlings germinate and grow best with air and soil temperatures between 60F and 80F. The soil temperature is actually more important than the air temperature. The right soil temperature will accelerate germination making seedlings less likely to die from disease. To keep soil warm for quickest germination, place seedlings on the top of a refrigerator or use Soil Heating Cables or Root Zone Heat Mat. Place your trays or pots on top of the water proof cable or mat to keep the soil at a constant 70F to 75F. Once germinated, keep the air temperatures around seedlings between 60F and 70F. This will enable seedlings to grow slow and strong, helping to prevent leggy, weak stems.
6. Once Seeds Come Up - Once the true leaves form you'll need to thin the seedlings in the pot to one per container. Do not pull out the thinned seedling by hand, use scissors to snip them off at the soil line.
7. Watering - It's important to keep the soil consistently moist as seedlings germinate and grow. Watering from above often displaces seeds and creates divots in the soil resulting in poor germination. A better method is to bottom water the seedlings. Through a natural capillary action, water will moisten the seed starting soil mix.
8. Fertilizing - Once the true leaves emerge, seedlings need a gentle fertilizer specific to seedlings that will not cause root burn or force them to grow too fast. Fertilize weekly until the plants are ready for moving outdoors.
9. Transplanting - Cowpots are perfect for transplanting seedlings as once they're ready for the garden you can just plant the biodegradable Cowpots. However, for most plants started in smaller (2 inch diameter or less) pots, you'll need to transplant them into pots one size larger while still indoors to keep the seedlings growing strong.
10. Place In the Garden - Don't rush your healthy, tender seedlings into the wind and weather as they need time to adjust to the outside environment. You can harden off seedlings by placing them outdoors for one hour the first day in a shady location. Increase the amount of time outdoors each day, eventually moving them into a sunny location. By the end of a week you can leave them outdoors safely overnight. At this point they're ready for transplanting into containers or the garden.
Source: Gardener’s Supply
January 16, 2012 4:48 pm
Time-sharing. Part ownership of a property coupled with a right to exclusive use of it for a specified number of days per year.
January 16, 2012 4:48 pm
Q: There seem to be no shortage of contractors; how do you identify one who is less than reputable?
A: They often give themselves away. The telltale signs:
• Pressure is used to get you to sign a contract;
• Verifying the contractor’s name, address, phone number and credentials is impossible;
• Cash payments are only accepted, not checks made out to a company;
• Payment for the entire job is demanded up-front, whereas most remodelers typically require a down payment of 25-50% of the contract price for small jobs and 10-33% for large jobs.
• The contractor suggests that you borrow money from a lender the contractor knows, which could make you the target of a home improvement loan scam – a sure way to lose your home;
• The contractor offers information that is out-of-date or no longer valid;
• No references are available;
• An inability by the contractor to communicate the project well;
• Exceptionally long guarantees are offered;
• The contractor fails to listens and talks over you; and
• The contractor fails to notify you of your right to cancel the contract within three days; this “right of recision” is required by law and allows you to change your mind without penalty if the contract was provided at a place other than the contractor’s place of business or an appropriate trade premise.
January 12, 2012 6:38 pm
Homeowners seeking a renovation project that will add long-term value and attract buyers should consider a facelift for their garage, a national study on remodeling costs and value has found.
At a time when buyers are evaluating homes based on curb appeal and online photos, the 2011-2012 Cost vs. Value Report released last month by Remodeling magazine confirms that replacement of a basic garage door with a mid-range or upscale model is one of the smartest and best value buys prior to a home sale.
Statistics show that more than 90 percent of home buyers turn to the Internet first in their home searches, often basing their decisions to learn more about a property from the photos they see of a home's exterior. With large portions of a home's facade often comprised of a street-facing garage door, it's no surprise that garage door replacement is, for the second year in a row, rated among the best home renovation projects for returning value at resale.
At 71.9 percent on average, mid-range garage door replacement is a top-five improvement for return on investment (ROI), the Cost vs. Value Report found, ahead of both bathroom and major kitchen remodels. Meanwhile, an upscale garage door replacement delivers a 71.1 percent ROI, making it the second highest-rated upscale improvement.
"Many homes incorporate a design that places a garage front and center to a home's view from the curb," says Joe Dachowicz, vice president of marketing at Overhead Door Corporation. "Because of this, garage door replacement is, and always has been, a great investment because it's a relatively low-cost improvement that makes a dramatic impact on a home's curb appeal."
Along with enhanced curb appeal, garage door replacement can also deliver a boost to energy efficiency, Dachowicz says.
"This year's Cost vs. Value Report revealed that homeowners continue to look for projects that improve curb appeal and reduce maintenance and operational costs," Dachowicz says. "By upgrading an old garage door with an insulated one, homeowners can achieve both goals with one project."
The 2011-2012 Cost vs. Value survey determined that garage door replacement was a top-five value-returning project after evaluating a typical $1,500 cost to replace a basic garage door with a mid-range garage model. The survey determined the value of that replacement at home sale to be nearly $1,100. This equates to a 71.9 percent ROI and is the fourth-highest rated project a homeowner can undertake, according to the study. Meanwhile, the roughly $3,000 cost to replace a mid-range model with an upscale one had an estimated value at sale of about $2,130, equating to a 71.1 percent return.
January 12, 2012 6:38 pm
It's one of the toughest decisions for any employer, small or large: Should you lay off your employees, and how should you do it so you don't get sued?
The decision about layoffs is entirely up to you. But as for how to implement layoffs, here a few legal considerations.
You've been WARNed. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN Act, is a federal law that requires 60 days' written notice before a plant closing or a "mass layoff." The federal WARN Act applies to employers with more than 100 workers, but state versions of the WARN Act may apply to smaller employers, according to HRHero.com.
Don't discriminate. Federal and state laws place some employees in a "protected" class. For example, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits an employer from treating older workers differently than others. So make sure your planned layoff doesn't discriminate.
Don't retaliate. Layoffs can't be in retaliation for a worker's complaint. That could be grounds for a workplace retaliation lawsuit.
Employees on leave. For employees on family or medical leave at the time of an announced layoff, an employer must show their leave is unrelated to the layoff, and that the worker would've lost his or her job regardless.
Members of the military. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) requires employers to reinstate servicemembers to the jobs they would have held had they not been called to duty. An employer can't layoff a servicemember unless the employer can prove circumstances have drastically changed.
Continuing health insurance. Under federal law, most employers with group health plans must allow a laid-off employee to continue to pay for the same health coverage for a specified period of time.
Severance agreements. These offer an employee an incentive, such as additional compensation or benefits, in exchange for agreeing not to sue an employer. But remember, an employer can't force employees to sign a severance agreement. An employee must also get time to consider the agreement—either 21 or 45 days, depending on the worker's age, according to the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act.
January 12, 2012 6:38 pm
Tenancy by the entirety. A form of joint ownership reserved for married persons; right of survivorship exists and neither spouse has a disposable interest during the lifetime of the other.
January 12, 2012 6:38 pm
Q: Is there such a thing as “over improving?”
A: Yes. The last thing you want to do when undertaking a home improvement is go overboard. This means fixing up the home to the point where it becomes worth far more than nearby neighborhood properties.
Down the road, when you may want to sell, potential homebuyers will be reluctant to pay, say, $200,000 for your home when others are priced at $150,000. If they want to pay that kind of money, they will likely make a purchase in a neighborhood where most of the homes sell in that price range.
Carefully measure the cost of any improvements you want to make against the overall values in your neighborhood. Otherwise, you may not recover your costs or increase your property value significantly.
January 12, 2012 6:38 pm
Picking up from our previous segment, I tapped www.forresidentialpros.com for more details about 2011’s landmark global class action settlement, which will help thousands of American homeowners affected by problems with KPT Chinese drywall.
According to the report, under the settlement agreement, KPT will continue remediating more than 1,300 homes with KPT drywall, for class members electing that remediation option. All of the remediated homes will be inspected by environmental engineers, who will certify to homeowners that their homes are free of problem drywall odors and contamination.
Remediation is carried out without cost to the homeowner. Approximately 5,200 plaintiffs have specifically alleged that their homes contain KPT drywall; and of these, approximately 2,700 have submitted in some form evidence of the presence of KPT drywall.
The report also explained the three Remediation Fund options:
• Program Contractor Remediation Option. The Program Remediation Option provides the class member with the convenience of having Moss & Associates, who has been approved by the PSC and the Knauf Defendants, remediate the class member's property.
• Self-Remediation Option. The Self-Remediation Option provides the class member with the choice to select his or her own qualified contractor to remediate the property
• Cash-Out Option. The Cash-Out Option provides a cash payment with no obligation to remediate the property but the amount of cash will be less than the amount that would be expended under the two remediation options and the homeowner must take steps to assure, among other things, notice to subsequent purchasers of the presence of KPT drywall.
Forresidentialpros.com also reports that homeowners will receive a stipend to cover the costs of moving and storage during the remediation, and to pay for damaged personal appliances. And an "Other Loss Fund" will reportedly reimburse class members for provable economic loss, short sales, and foreclosures caused by KPT Drywall.
The fund also will provide a mechanism for resolving disputed personal injury claims.
January 12, 2012 6:38 pm
Safeguarding your home against food-borne illnesses begins not at home, but at the supermarket, grocery store, or any other place where you buy food that you plan to store and serve.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne ailments cause about 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,200 deaths nationwide each year.
You as a consumer can play a key role in preventing these illnesses. While shopping for food, you should:
1. Check for cleanliness
Buying from a retailer who follows proper food handling practices helps assure that the food is safe. Ask yourself: What is the general impression of this facility? Does it look and smell clean?
2. Keep certain foods separated
Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your grocery shopping cart. Place these foods in plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping on other foods. It is also best to separate these foods from other foods at checkout and in your grocery bags.
3. Inspect cans and jars
Don't buy food in cans that are bulging or dented. Also, don't buy food in jars that are cracked or have loose or bulging lids.
Since foods sold in cans or jars are processed to be sterile, they can "keep" for a long time if the can or jar is intact. A bulging can or jar lid may mean the food was under-processed and is contaminated. A dent in a can, especially if the dent affects a seam, may cause an opening in the seam which may allow contamination, as would a crack in a jar. A loose lid on a jar means the vacuum has been lost and the product may be contaminated. Don't buy a food product whose seal seems tampered with or damaged.
4. Inspect frozen food packaging
Don't buy frozen food if the package is damaged. Packages should not be open, torn or crushed on the edges. Also, avoid packages that are above the frost line in the store's freezer. If the package cover is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. This could mean that the food in the package has either been stored for a long time or thawed and refrozen. In such cases, choose another package.
5. Select frozen foods and perishables last
Meat, poultry, fish and eggs should be the last items placed in your shopping cart. Always put these products in separate plastic bags so that drippings don't contaminate other foods.
6. Choose fresh eggs carefully
Before putting eggs in your cart, open the carton and make sure that the eggs are clean and none is cracked. Buy only refrigerated eggs and follow the "Safe Handling Instructions" on the carton.
7. Be mindful of time and temperature
It's important to refrigerate perishable products as soon as possible after grocery shopping. Food safety experts stress the "2-hour rule"—because harmful bacteria can multiply in the "danger zone" (between 40° and 140° F), perishable foods should not be left at room temperature longer than 2 hours. Modify that rule to 1 hour when temperatures are above 90° F, as they often are in cars that have been parked in the sun.
If it will take more than an hour to get your groceries home, use an ice chest to keep frozen and perishable foods cold. Also, when the weather is warm and you are using your car's air conditioner, keep your groceries in the passenger compartment, not the trunk.
January 12, 2012 6:38 pm
Many women try to lead healthier lives during their pregnancies. To promote the health of their baby, they may clean up their diets, take vitamins and eliminate alcohol and caffeine.
Unfortunately, all those efforts may be for naught if they are still being exposed to unseen chemicals in their daily lives. Dr. Doris Rapp, an experienced physician and expert on all the hidden household and environmental hazards, dishes on the details about the many insidious and dangerous threats to their unborn babies. These exposures can cause serious harm and damaging birth defects to babies in the womb, and they are right under our noses.
“One of the most dangerous groups of chemicals to pregnant women is known as PCBs,” says Rapp, author of 32 Tips That Could Save Your Life.
“PCB stands for polychlorinated biphenyls, and they are commonly used in industrial pesticides. While they may not be in your house, they may exist in your office, your water or your food, especially if you live near the Great Lakes or consume seafood caught there. These chemicals pass through the placenta into the unborn, and some exposures have been known to cause devastating birth defects. These chemicals have also been found in the breast milk of women.”
According to Rapp, some of the dangers of these pesticides include, but are not limited to:
• Lower birth weight
• Smaller head size and developmental delays
• Movement, mental, and behavioral problems
• Increased or decreased activity levels
• Slowed thought processing and “less bright” appearance
• Lower reaction times
• Compromised nervous systems
“Moreover, a group of pesticides known as organophosphates also poses a high risk for pregnant women,” Rapp adds.
“These include Bisphenol-A and phthalates,” she says. “They are derived from World War II nerve agents and are highly toxic. Even at low levels, organophosphates can be toxic to the developing brain, and studies show that they can affect brain and reproductive development in unborn animals. While most pesticides categorized as organophosphates have been banned for household use, they are still permitted for commercial use, including in fumigation for mosquitoes. Malathion, a common toxic organophosphate, is still allowed for use as an industrial and household insecticide. In the US, approximately 15 million pounds of Malathion are used each year by the government, as well as by businesses and homeowners.”
Her advice for women is to do all they can to avoid contact with these chemicals, starting before conception.
“Stay as far away as possible from pesticide-treated areas,” Rapp says. “Do not eat pesticide-laden food or any fish from the Great Lakes. Try to eat only organic foods. Further, if your job requires you to be in contact with any chemicals or pesticides, insist that other tasks be given to you for the duration of your pregnancy. Half the battle is knowing these dangers exist, but the other half is being informed and conscientious enough to be able to avoid contact with these dangerous and toxic agents.”
Dr. Rapp is board certified in pediatrics, pediatric allergy and environmental medicine.