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Home & Garden

    Need some help updating your home but don't know where to start? I spoke with some leading home inspectors and here are the top 10 things they say they find wrong when doing inspections… You are spending more time in and around your house than you usually do. Want to give your house the once over to make sure all is well? I spoke with some professional home inspectors and here are 10 things they say they find wrong with houses most frequently during inspections… - Attic pull down stairs improperly installed. The most common problems here are that the stairs are not cut properly to slope uniformly when opened, and the stairs are improperly fastened. Check yours and make sure there isn't bowing when the stairs are extended. Also, 16d-penny nails or 1/4' x 3' lag screws should be used to fasten the stairs at the top (dry wall screws, deck screws, and finishing nails are NOT acceptable). - Exterior door locks. Too often inspectors find that deadbolts are not installed properly. A properly installed deadbolt will allow the deadbolt to extend fully and lock in place. If your deadbolt does not 'pop' or extend fully it is easy to tamper with making your home an easier target.  - Insulation. Hmmm - sound familiar. There is probably not an easier way to save money that by having a properly insulated house. Stick your head up in your attic (be careful on those attic stairs). If you can see the joists on the floor of your attic, then you don't have enough insulation. It doesn't get any easier than that. - Rodent entry and infestation. The most common cause of these pests getting into your house are through gaps between fascia boards and roof decking, damaged attic and crawl space vents, and gaps and openings through foundations and exterior walls. Depending on the size of the opening use caulk, siding, or metal sheets to cover these gaps and keep the rodents out. - Smoke and CO alarms. Current code says that you should have a smoke detector in every sleeping room and in each hallway. CO detectors should also accompany them, plus one near any non-vented gas logs. Can't stress this enough. One smoke detector in the hallway is not enough protection for you and your family. - Electrical. Here are just a few of the most common electrical issues inspectors find on a regular basis: 3 wire receptacles on 2 wire circuits, loose or broken receptacles, reverse polarity, double tapped breakers, open junction boxes, no junction boxes, flying splices, AC breaker not sized correctly - and the list goes on. Your house should have a full electrical inspection at least every two years. They are inexpensive and can save you boatloads of problems, if not your life.   Also – you should have a whole house surge protector installed on your electrical system. Affordable and useful, your house is hit with surges everyday – protect your electronics! - Deck structures. You spend a lot of happy time out on your deck. Make sure it's sturdy. Is it attached to the house correctly (bolted?), are there unsupported splices in beams, are you missing handrails or guardrails, are your guardrails too low? All of these situations can lead to deck failure. - Grading and surface drainage. If you have issues with water in your basement this is where you start to look. Make sure your grade slopes away from the house. Make sure your concrete (driveways and walkways) drain at appropriate spots. Also make sure that concrete work is not too close to the house, which can trap water against your foundation. - Gutters. Loose, sagging gutters can't effectively do their job. Older gutters can sometimes become sloped in the wrong direction. Also check to make sure your down spouts extend at least 5 ft away from the foundation of your home, further if your land requires it. - Roof. I'm not even talking about hail damage here. I'm looking for nail pops, unsealed nail holes, torn and damaged and missing shingles. Your roof should also be inspected on a regular basis by professionals. You can often get them for free, so take advantage of that. Bonus Chore – Insurance. If you have replaced your roof or your hvac system or your water heater or had any other major renovation to your home done recently (last 4-5 years) you need to report it to your home insurance company. There is a good chance you will get a break on your insurance rates as they will now be insuring a more modern home than they were. Don’t call the claims agent – call your insurance agent and work with them. Also – if you have changed jobs, lost your job, or are now working from home, check with your auto insurance people too. You aren’t driving the business miles anymore (a lot of insurance companies call what you are driving now ‘Pleasure Miles’). You will (should) get a reduction in your auto insurance premium as well.   This auto premium reduction has nothing to do with any ‘rebate’ your company may have, or may be sending you.   Now I know you can’t see every single thing, or even know what you are looking at in each instance, but know the signs: water leaking in the house or out of your gutters, circuits failing in your electrical system, water leaking into your basement or crawl, high energy costs, bugs and critters in your house. Your house is trying to talk to you. Pay attention and keep your house in good shape.
  • ‘Tis the season for fire ants. Looking for relief? Here are 5 home remedies to kill those nasty boogers 5 Things that listeners swear kill fire ants… Sprinkle grits around the mound. The ants will eat them, the grit will expand, and the ant will die. No word on whether cheese grits are more effective… Scoop into a fire ant mound and place that on another fire ant mound. The thinking is that the fire ants will wage war on each other and exterminate themselves.   Hot water. Pour hot water on mound. This either drowns or scalds them, but either one is good by me. Pour gasoline on the mound. For me this makes more sense than hot water, especially if you ignite it after you pour. Warning, duh, this is not too safe, not to mention bad for your yard. Lawn mower. My favorite. Ok, be honest here – who hasn’t taken pride in mowing a fire ant bed? Truth be told you will not be rid of the fire ant bed until the queen is killed or over-thrown by a prince with really big ears who has been waiting for a long time for the very old Queen to step aside so he can at least be the King for a little time while he can still enjoy it. I would love to hear your home remedy. Send it to me and I will post it in a future newsletter.
  • Q - I know you spoke of this Saturday, but can you please run over the steps for getting a new roof to replace one with hail damage one more time. I was driving and couldn’t write it all down. Frank in Dunwoody. A – The subject of wildcat roofers came up Saturday. The wildcat roofer is generally one from out of town and this is how they operate. These companies are storm chasers, chasing large rain and hail storms around the country. They will drive up to your house and tell you that you have hail damage to your shingles. (They can often tell by looking at a metal vent on your roof and seeing if it is dented. Once they find one in a neighborhood they pretty much assume all the houses will be that way.) They will tell you that your insurance company will write you a check for a new roof (which they will if you deserve one) and that they will be happy to do the work.   They will often also not give you a written estimate, rather telling you that they will be happy to do the work for the same amount as the insurance check. (What a coincidence). Here’s the problem. While you may very well get a new roof installed you are taking a huge chance. Does the company have insurance and workman’s comp? Their telling you ‘yes’ isn’t good enough. You need to see documentation. What if you have a problem? Your chances of getting any customer service out of your wildcat roofer are marginal at best. Does the roof come with a warranty or guarantee? Who will be around to do that work? Your best bet is to get three estimates for a new roof, in writing. Get and check references from 5 years ago. Check insurance and workers comp paper work. Make sure you getting the correct shingle. Remember, just because someone or some company found the problem doesn’t mean they have any rights to fix the problem. Do your homework. Your roof is not going to fall in or suddenly start leaking while you are doing your due diligence. You have time to make an informed choice. Use it and do so. Be warned.
  • Q – I know this isn’t a cooking show, but I hear you talking about natural gas a lot. We purchased a gas grill earlier this spring and are enjoying it immensely. Is there any maintenance that is required as we cook through the summer? Stephanie in Smyrna A – If you think the summer will be hot for you, how about your gas grill? At this time of year your gas grill needs a little tlc to keep producing at a high level. Here are a few things you can do: Keep it clean. The cooking grids can be easily cleaned by covering them with a layer of aluminum foil and heating the grill on high for 10 to 15 minutes. The baked on food will turn to a fine white powder which can be easily brushed away. A wire brush on a regular basis will also do a good job. Inspect cast iron grates for rusting. Re-place if necessary. Check the burners for clogging. You can often remove whatever is clogging a burner with a pipe cleaner. Keep your briquettes, rocks, or coals clean of food and grease. A buildup may lead to a fire. Keep your grill covered to protect it from the elements. You can purchase generic grill covers in a variety of shapes at your local hardware store. Check the hoses for cracks and holes, and make sure there are no kinks or bends in the hosing. Don’t use too much vinegar in your potato salad. There you go. When do we eat?
  • Q – 4 years ago I had the best gutter covers installed on my gutters to keep the gunk out. Now my gutters are over-flowing.   Do I need new gutters? Mary Ellen – Decatur A – I can’t speak to whether you do or don’t need new gutters without first seeing your current gutters, but I can tell you this: Gutters, even those with gutter covers, still need to be cleaned. Whoops – watch your language there... I am sorry but it is true. Over time (could be 5-6 months, could be a couple of years) gutters will accumulate gunk, shingle debris, dust and dirt that blow around, the odd leaf and pine needle, they will all find their way into your gutter where they will decay and create a layer of grossness which will eventually block your gutter from doing its job correctly. Can’t help it that is the way it works. I just spent a morning cleaning out a part of one of my gutters and it was disgusting. Now here is the hard part – who do you get to do the work… Well – you can do it if you don’t mind going up and down a ladder about 50 times, trying to manipulate your gutter covers so you can reach into the gutter and scrape yuck out with your free hand. If you have more than a one story house this is probably not your best solution but I will tell you this – it is difficult to find a good gutter cleaner. Seriously. You need to find a legitimate guy (or company) that has up to date insurance and workman’s comp. Often times you can find a roofer to do this, but this is more of a long shot than a sure shot. Beware hiring the guys who advertise on a 7x11 cardboard cut-out nailed to a telephone pole (see previous paragraph). I would start with a real handyman company or a good roofer and see if they do that work or can give you a referral.
  • You do know you are supposed to change your furnace filter don't you? Let me back up a step. You do know your furnace has a filter that needs regular maintenance, right? Sigh… Never fear - you are not alone. That's why 5 Things presents the 5 levels of furnace filters from worst to best… 1 – Disposable fiberglass filters. The cheapest are the least effective – shocker! These are designed to protect your furnace, and that’s about it. These are the $1 jobs available in all hardware stores and now even in some supermarkets. You may laugh, but these are better than nothing. 2 – Washable ‘electrostatic’ filters. These have a static charge that attracts dust and other matter. Slightly more effective than fiberglass filters, they still only get 15 to 20 percent of airborne yuck. 3 – Pleated ‘allergy’ filters. The pleats increase the surface area which helps catch most large allergens like pollen and mold. Can also go by the moniker of a ‘media filter’. Most catch 35-50 percent of yuck. 4 – Electronic air cleaners. These use electrodes to create an ionized electrical field that, to make a long story full of scientific words short, trap up to 94% of smaller particles and even up to 80 percent of airborne viruses. This is the best you are going to do for your house. 5 – HEPA furnace filters. HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air filter. These are the mac-daddies and not only block air particles, but also air flow and that’s why they really aren’t recommended for residential use. Hospitals, research facilities, and some manufacturing plants where clean air is vital is where you find the HEPA’s.
  • Q - I am in the market for a new air conditioning unit and I was thinking that with summer’s heat coming up should I spend extra money to get a larger sized unit which would cool my house off faster, thus saving money on my energy bill. How does that sound to you? Jack in Kennesaw A - This is one of those things that sound great and look great on paper, but in reality is not really going to be great. True, a larger unit will cool your house faster. But in this instance, faster is not better. First of all, it’s your air conditioner’s job to cool your air, but its other job is to keep the moisture (humidity) out of your house. Think of your a/c as a whole house dehumidifier. We all know that too much (over 50%) humidity in a house can and will lead to problems such as mold and mildew. Your air conditioner running on a normal setting of, say, 76 degrees will run long enough to keep your humidity in check. But by using a larger unit, it will not run long enough to keep the humidity in your house at a good level. Its run time will simply be too short to be an effective humidity controller. Your house, instead of feeling cool and comfortable, will have that cold and clammy feel.   Plus, unless you plan on insulating your house like a meat locker, you will lose a lot of that cool air in a hurry, which will make your system run more frequently, which defeats your whole purpose. So make sure you purchase a high efficiency system that is correctly fit for your home, and then spend the rest of your dough on better insulation.
  • It’s fair to say hundreds of wannabe gardeners are flocking to hardware stores, nurseries and do-it-yourself warehouses to purchase flowers, shrubs and vegetables. Some will, in fact, discover a green thumb and subsequently be overwhelmed with squash and tomatoes, while others will curse the elements for their lack of success, blaming the weather, interfering animals or not enough space. But there is a solution — indoor gardening. There are a variety of options to start your own greenhouse that will not only enhance your home decor but help purify your air. “The key to an indoor garden is getting plants that are super easy and don’t require much care,” says Terry Furuta, owner of Terry Furuta Floral Designs in Buckhead. “There are some plants that can be tricky, like ferns. Some believe that orchids are difficult, but I love orchids, and if they’re in the right location, it’s easy.” To have success with your indoor greenhouse, the first step is to determine the amount of light and select plants that thrive in that environment, says Michael Chapman, a horticulturist with Pike Nurseries. Be mindful of where the windows are, what direction they face and how far from the window the plant will be placed. Holley Beagle, nursery manager at Grant Park’s Garden*Hood, says a good way to figure out the light situation is to set up a blank piece of paper in the spot where you are planning to place the plant and hold your hand about a foot off of the paper during the brightest part of the day. If there is a clear shadow, that indicates a bright light; a fuzzy shadow means medium light; and no shadow equals no light. Rotate the plant every couple of weeks so it grows evenly rather than toward the light. The thicker and greener the leaves, the less light they require, says Evelyn Willis, a designer with Willis Flowers in College Park. She’s a fan of the snake plant (also known as the mother-in-law’s tongue), which can be neglected for weeks, can survive in low levels of light and has few insect problems. The next step is important because it is the major reason why plants die — overwatering. Plant soil should be checked weekly; put your hand slightly on the top of the soil, if it’s moist, don’t water. However, if it’s dry, give it a good soak, and leave it alone. It’s preferable to fully saturate the soil and allow it to dry out in between waterings. “There are telltale signs you’ve watered too much,” Chapman says. “If the leaves are starting to wilt, cut back.” There are moisture meters that indicate the soil’s moisture level, and he advises only using self-watering plant orbs for vacations, not everyday use. Another consideration is the container. Not only must it have good drainage (or rocks at the bottom), but it must be appropriate for the plant. “How much space do you have to utilize?” asks Beagle. “The plant will grow into the container. Don’t start with a large pot. Don’t go more than twice the size of the pot that it’s currently is in. A frequent mistake is that people put a smaller plant into a large container, and they run the risk of overwatering.” Chapman recommends not repotting the plant until at least six months to eliminate stress. He agrees that upping the container size should be gradual. “If you go from a six-inch pot to a 12-inch, you will not be successful. It needs to get acclimated to the situation and humidity before transplanting.” Regardless if the plants are needy or easy, all need fertilizing and may have an insect issue. Insects, partially little white bugs that look like cotton on the back of the plants, can be easily eliminated with organic sprays, neem oil or insecticidal soap. As for fertilizing, Beagle recommends monthly feedings while Chapman prefers only a couple times a year, especially in the spring. Another way to have an indoor greenhouse is one of Furuta’s specialty: a terrarium. She even gives classes on building a terrarium. “Terrariums require no maintenance, and they’re perfect for people who have other homes or travel a lot. You can leave them for months at a time, and they’ll take care of themselves. And, they’re fun to watch. They have their own ecosystems, and it rains inside because of the condensation.” So, which plants are the easiest, and which are for the more experienced gardener? There seems to be a split on orchids. Furuta says they’re easy, while Willis and Monica Losick, a floral designer with the Flower Cottage on Main in East Point, consider them temperamental. “You either have luck with them or you don’t,” says Losick simply. Not all people are fans of ferns, either, although they do tend to thrive in the bathroom. If you stress out a ficus tree, it will quickly drop its leaves. Losick says that succulents don’t require much water and flourish in small, compact indoor gardens. “They’re a little minimalistic and easy.” All said that indoor plants are easy as long as you look for signs of overwatering or improper sunlight. “You’ll build a relationship over time with your plants,” says Chapman. “And, then all you have to do is look at it, and you’ll know what it needs.” >> RELATED: Amid pandemic, interest in gardening surges across metro Atlanta Terry Furuta’s indoor plant picks:  Sansevieria (dracena trifasciata) is an upright lovely plant is also known as “snake plant” and “mother-in-law’s tongue” because of its flat foliage. Sansevieria are tough guys and thrive on neglect. They like well-drained soil, so let it completely dry out between waterings. They also tolerate any light condition from low to high but will grow faster with more light. Aloe Vera (asphodelaceae) is a succulent plant that requires well-drained, sandy potting soil and bright sunny conditions. It tends to be insect resistant. Chinese Evergreen (aglaonema) is a tropical and subtropical flowering plant that thrives in medium to low light indirect light. Place it in a well-draining soil, preferable an equal mix of potting soil, perlite and sand. Dracenas (asparagaceae) are fairly simple and can reach up to six feet, so they need occasional pruning. The soil should be moist, not soggy, and placed in brightly filtered light. Spider Plant (chlorophytum comosum) is one of the easiest to grow houseplants and can tolerate a variety of conditions. Most important is not to place it in direct, hot sunlight; they prefer bright to moderate indirect sunlight. Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis blume) is the most common orchid and stay in bloom for a long time. The key to their success is having windowsill light and consistent moisture. Dendrobium Orchids (orchidaceae) do best in an east window receiving direct sunlight for half an hour and shade for the rest of the day. They are evergreen and should be watered every two to five days depending on humidity, air movement and amount of light. Laceleaf (Anthurium) should be put in a well-lit environment but not direct sunlight. They love high humidity, so it’s perfect for the bathroom. Pike Nurseries adds more easy-to-care-for plants: Tillandsias (Bromeliaceae) are epiphytes, which means they don’t need soil to thrive and can live off the air. There are about 650 species of this evergreen, perennial flowing plant. To grow air plants at home, high, indirect light and some humidity are needed. Mist once or twice a week, and give it a soaking in water for a couple of hours every two weeks. Rubber plants (ficus elastica) need lots of bright, indirect light (south or west-facing shielded by a sheer curtain) and consistently moist soil. Marimo Moss balls (aegagropila linnaei) are the epitome of low-to-no-care. These little green balls are spherical algae and can be grown in fish tanks or simply in a vase of water with some decorative pebbles. Philodendron (araceae) is an adaptive plant. Simply place them in medium light (no direct sun) and use the “touch test” to see if they need water. Calatheas (marantaceae) are loved for its gorgeous, variegated foliage and its easy-care nature. These plants tolerate low light (little to no natural light) or medium light (no direct sun). They also enjoy consistently moist soil, and depending on the type, the leaves will sport various colors and eye-catching striations. Peace Lily (spathiphyllum) can live in low light but will not bloom much. For more blooms, place in medium to high light (no direct sun). Peace lilies like consistent watering – and will droop when thirsty. These tropical plants also enjoy humidity so bring them into the shower every once in a while. ZZ Plant (zamioculcas) is a green architectural beauty with succulent stems that arch outward from the base and sport upward-facing leaves. It’s a tough, durable plant that will put up with nearly any condition, including little to no natural light (such as a windowless bathroom), no humidity and no water. ZZ Plants tolerate neglect with poise. Succulents are a diverse category and are ideal for beginning gardeners. They thrive on neglect and only need water when the soil is completely dry. Ferns (polypodiopsida) comprise a broad category of plants and require medium light indoors and consistent moisture and humidity. To boost the humidity, place a tray with pebbles and a small amount of water under their pot. (Water should not touch the soil.) Ferns to try include Asparagus, Autumn, Bird’s Nest, Boston, Japanese Painted, Kimberly Queen, Lemon Button, Macho, Maidenhair, Rabbit’s Foot and Staghorn. Pothos (epipremnum aureum) is a vine often found in offices trailing from a bookcase or desk. It’s a great starter plant and requires low to medium heat. Let the soil dry between waterings and fertilize it every three months. Submitted by Michael Chapman, Pike Nurseries Holley Beagle of Garden*Hood added a few more: Peperomia (peperomia obtusifolia) is a baby rubber plant and grows only to about eight inches. It requires watering about once a week, but are forgiving. Swiss Cheese Plant (monstera delicious) can grow quickly with the appropriate light and watering. Stake them up with a trellis or trim them regularly, otherwise, they will climb out of the pot and start spreading. Chinese Evergreens (Aglaonema) aren’t fussy about water or light conditions, but when placed in sunnier conditions require more frequent waterings.
  • Amina Robinson works in customer service for an airline, and while she is grateful to still be employed, the past two months have been particularly stressful. Most days she deals with people who need to fly, but are afraid to or who want to cancel a planned trip because of the coronavirus crisis. She does her best to answer their questions and make changes for them. She tries to keep a calm, friendly tone in the face of their fears. It is not easy. At least once she has listened as a potential passenger wept because the person was petrified about boarding a plane, Robinson said. Which is why, on her days off, Robinson heads either to a friend’s backyard where she shares a garden or to a community garden in Mechanicsville where she volunteers. “You feel their fear and stress, and you pick up on that,” Robinson said of the people she listens to each day. “So, it’s imperative for me to get out and get into that soil because I have to deposit it somewhere,” Robinson said. “(Gardening) allows me to reconnect with something that’s stable and solid.” Her father and grandmother gardened, and last year Robinson followed in their footsteps and took her hobby more seriously. But now, Robinson isn’t just looking to relieve stress as she tends to kale and young bunches of lettuce. “The fact that I have a garden, I feel more secure in the knowledge that if I need some food, I’ll have it,” Robinson said. As the pandemic has escalated from hot spot to hot spot, so has an interest in gardening, say seed and plant companies, nurseries and a leading garden research association. Plant distributors and growers, large and small, are describing the uptick in demand for both plants and advice on gardening from the public as “staggering” or “overwhelming.” At least one major seed distributor said it has seen a nearly 75% increase in sales since the virus was declared a pandemic. Driving the spike are people under stay-at-home orders looking for something to do safely outside. But fears over the stability of the national food supply chain are also a major factor, observers say, as some grocery stores have struggled to keep bins and shelves replenished with certain foods while panicked shoppers continue to hoard. “There is an undercurrent of food security in this,” said Dave Whitinger, executive director of the National Gardening Association, a research and advocacy group. “If the supply chain does break down, but it probably won’t, you’ll still be able to grow something to eat. And if you can grow food in your yard, you can still eat and remain safe.” Resurgence gardens Whitinger said traffic to the association’s website has increased 98% in the last year, from 390,00 unique visitors from April 1-13, 2019, to 774,000 during the same period this year. The organization does an annual trend survey of gardeners and related companies but is thinking of adding a second one this year. Based on traffic and the questions the website’s visitors ask — such as when to plant tomatoes or how long it takes corn to ripen —Whitinger and his staff can tell most of the people seeking help are novice gardeners. “We’ve been telling people you don’t have to rent a roto-tiller and tear up your yard to have a garden,” he said. “You can grow in containers. You can even dig up a couple of shrubs and plant in your landscape. Chard and peppers can look nice.” Whether they’re called Victory Gardens, after the World War I and II backyard plots that swept the nation and kept thousands of families fed during scarce times, or resurgence gardens as some are now calling the burgeoning trend, patches of fruits and vegetables are symbols of both fear and hope. “When this started, people went to stores. There were crazy long lines. You had to wait. When you finally got in, the shelves were empty or picked over and what was left, you could only take two of,” said Tenisio Seanima, owner of Nature’s Candy Farms in South Fulton. “That woke people up to the reality that food will not always be around. Now, in whatever way, people are trying to increase that level of security with their own ingenuity.” In the past month, Seanima said, he has expanded his business, largely through Facebook, by offering consulting services to new gardeners, helping experienced gardeners improve their soil to boost yields, and even installing complete gardens for those who have no clue how to do it. Charles Greenlea, who has been a manager for the non-profit Habesha Gardens in southwest Atlanta, is doing similar work. He said he recently helped K. Rashid Nuri, a longtime national leader in the urban gardening movement and founder of Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture in Atlanta, work on Nuri’s personal home garden. Greenlea said a constant conversation among growers, particularly since the outbreak began, is how disconnected most people are from the source of the foods they eat. “They don’t know that food comes from someplace other than the grocery store,” Greenlea said. ‘You can’t trick the plants’ Earlier this year, Habesha purchased about 1,500 seedlings from southwest Georgia farms then gave them away to home gardeners here in Atlanta, Greenlea said. Greenlea was heartened by the interest, but cautioned that a lot of new gardeners have plenty of zeal but perhaps not enough tenacity or skill to see a garden successfully through several seasons. “The average person doesn’t understand you can’t meet all your nutritional need right out the gate,” Greenlea said. “You have to put time into it. You can’t trick the plants. There are laws of nature you have to work within.” Rules such as not trying to grow cool-weather plants like tender lettuce and parsley in the heat of summer or planting an apple tree in the back yard in spring and expecting a bumper crop by fall. Still, seed companies and nurseries are seeing overwhelming traffic. Some nurseries have been deemed essential businesses under state and local ordinances and are either delivering plants to customers homes or providing curbside pick up at their stores which are closed to foot traffic, such as Pike Nurseries in metro Atlanta. Even Home Depot’s garden centers in Midtown and Buckhead were swarming with customers over Easter weekend, although the stores were only allowing a certain number of shoppers in at a time. Bonnie Plants, the 101-year-old supplier to Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart and 5,000 independent garden retailers, has had to ramp up production from “coast to coast,” said Joan Casanova, spokesperson for Bonnie. “The increase in demand is staggering,” Casanova said. The same is true for another major supplier, Burpee, one of the oldest in the nation. “We’re working now almost seven days a week,” said George Ball, chairman of Burpee, the 144-year-old Pennsylvania seed and plant company. “We can’t keep up with the orders. We’re probably running a 50% to 75% increase in sales. I’ve been here 30 years, and we’ve never seen this kind of growth. It’s stunning.” Burpee supplies big-box stores, but also sells heirloom varieties of okra, tomatoes and other vegetables and flowers directly to consumers through its classic mail-order catalog as well as its website. In a typical year, a rise in sales picks up in April, which is also National Gardening Month. By this past Good Friday, April 10, however, demand had become so high, the privately held company posted a notice on its website saying it wouldn’t accept any new orders until after April 15. Even for a company whose primary business is ornamental flowers and shrubs, the trend is strong. Bluestone Perennials in Madison, Ohio, ships flowering shrubs, ground covers and bulbs direct to customers nationwide. The 48-year-old company is now struggling to keep up with orders as well, said Bill Boonstra, second-generation owner. “In my long career I have never seen a demand spike like the one we are experiencing,” Boonstra said in an email interview. “We aren’t merely setting daily sales records – we’re doubling them. It is quite the challenge to keep our employees safe while trying to scale our operation on the fly to handle epic demand. We have had to restrict our phone hours just to free up staff to process all the emails and orders.” Even for Mandy McManus, who sits on the board of the Lilburn Community Garden, the trend is unavoidable. She usually has a plant give-away at the end of her driveway for neighbors and friends each spring. This year she did hold the sale over Easter weekend but had people pre-order and pay, from $1 to $3 per seedling of coleus, marigolds, petunias, tomatoes, zucchini, thyme, sage and other plants. Before the sale started, McManus was pretty much sold out. And at the community garden, people who used to rent just one plot are now paying to rent two, she said. Levi Dickerson of Atlanta started his backyard garden with his wife and two daughters last year as a hobby to teach the girls, now 6 and 12 years old, where their food comes from. Each spring morning one of the girls goes out to harvest parsley to put in eggs for breakfast. But as much as he and his wife try to keep tending to collards and eggplant as a fun family activity, this year feels a little different, he said. “If the police start blocking the streets and we can’t get anywhere, at least we’ll have something back here,” Dickerson said. The small plot wouldn’t be enough to feed the family for long, but it might be enough to get by, at least for a little while.
  • While we – or most of us – are working from home and hopefully sheltering in place I’m sure the thought runs through our heads “Gee, is my house as clean as I can make it”? If you are like me, every sniffle, every itch, every cough arouses suspicion about the virus. Is our home clean enough? How many times do I need to wash my hands? Is there more that I could be doing? It’s enough to drive one crazy. So here are a few things that maybe you haven’t thought about with some of the systems around your home, kind of a do this don’t do that list just to help your mind at ease. Plumbing. The absolute biggest no-no here deals with what you are flushing down the toilet that didn’t come out of your body. Here is the approved list of things to be flushed: 1 – Toilet paper. That is the end of the list. No tissue paper, no paper towels, no baby wipes, no adult wipes, no man wipes, no newspaper, and depending on how desperate times are no pages from a magazine. How about wipes that claim to be ‘flushable’?   No. Trust me, they aren’t.   In case you missed it, go back about 3 paragraphs and read it again. That is it. The entire list. The whole enchilada as it were. Don’t even try. Only toilet paper is thin enough to be safely used. The heavier the material the more likely it will either clog or start a clog in the commode itself or the drain. It just takes one little snag in the line for a blockage to begin to build up. So while you may have to get creative, please only flush the Charmin. HVAC. I’ve had a lot of questions about how to make your indoor air quality be as good as possible. Ideally and especially for those of us who have crawlspaces, this process would begin with encapsulating that crawlspace to help get yucky humid air out of our house. But I get it, you want your indoor air to be as well filtered as possible.   That would include the following in order of least best to best best. A – Change your filter. Doesn’t matter which filter you have, change it on a regular basis – regular being a code word for monthly or quarterly. 2 – Upgrade your filter system. Media filters (they are the folded ones) are at the top of this category. The better ones need a professional to install. HEPA filters are the best. Worth it. D – UV light. UV light sanitizers will kill germs and mold (no, they won’t kill the Covid-19 virus) and when added to a proper filter is the best thing to the air in your house. That is as good as it gets, without being hermetically sealed and kept in a mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnall’s porch since noon today… Carpet. The CDC recommends the cleaning of all the hard and soft surfaces in your home. Hard surfaces range from counter tops and appliances to door knobs and furniture. But soft surfaces include your carpet. Getting your carpet professionally cleaned should be at or near the top of your list. Every sneeze and cough settles down onto your floor. Clean it. Now. You can find some carpet cleaning companies will also clean the hard surfaces in your home as well. Win, win. Pest Control. I am throwing this in for one reason – mosquitoes. Yes it is warming up outside which makes us want to go outside and enjoy it. Yes, being outside in the fresh air and sunshine is supposed to be better for us than sitting around inside the house day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day. After day after day after day after day after day – you get the picture. You will enjoy your yard more if you get it treated for mosquitoes. Check out the 5Things section of this newsletter to learn more about getting your yard to be a mosquito free zone. Stay safe. Stay home. Work hard. Wash your hands. Oh yeah – and relax a little…