My BackYard Garden – Two Weeks out

My garden is over two weeks old and my progress has been pretty good. BabyCornHere in NY we have had a nice string of warm sunny weather and my crops have been benefiting from these ideal conditions. My first and second rows of corn are coming in and I expect the third to be popping up any day now. As you may recall I planted the corn rows several days apart so that the row furthest from the sun would not be shaded by the other rows. I’m not really sure if this will have a meaningful impact on the crop, but I guess it couldn’t hurt.

The little watermelon leaves have broken through the soil and are looking very healthy. As I remember the watermelon vines are rather slow out of the gate. A week or two will pass and they will barely progress and then BOOM they are traveling everywhere. Speaking of everywhere I have been watching the appearance of rogue watermelon vines popping up all over one of my beds. Last year I composed the immature melons into the beds and their seeds have taken hold. I will transfer some of them to my pots and other will be given to my neighbor who is giving me my tomatoes plants.

I might not even need his plants because, like the watermelons, I composted some of last years tomatoes in the beds and they have taken hold as well. This is an unexpected bonus and one I gladly welcome. I was also pleasently suprised by the arrival of my potatoes in the mail yesterday. I will begin to prepare them for planting this evening. I am very excited.

So far my garden seems to be fairly well. Let’s hope it continues.

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The Patriotic Choice to Grieve My Taxes

This country was founded by a populace that hated high taxes. They were so committed to this desire that they fought a war to rid themselves of this onerous financial burden.  Now over 200 years later we have slid back into this unfortunate state of punitively high taxation. No where is this more true than on Long Island NY where our property taxes are amongst the highest in the country. It is quite common for homeowners to pay over $10,000.00 a year in property tax here.

Now to many of you living in the over 45 states in this country where property taxes are under 3 grand a year this probably seems like madness. You are absolutely correct. My taxes are about $7000.00 a year and many of my friends and family consider that low. Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 10.46.59 AMThese “low” taxes were one of the main reasons why the Bride and were able to afford our home when we bought it last year. Had our taxes been the “normal” 10k, it would have raised our mortgage by about 200 dollars and put our beloved home out of reach.

This dire situation only gets worse when you consider that taxes almost always go up. If my taxes rise by 3% a year for the next 5 years I will be burdened with a nearly $9,000.00 bill and that means my monthly mortgage payment will rise every single year. Will my salary raises rise by that amount? I hope so, but if another recession comes it would seem doubtful. What can I do? Aren’t higher taxes inevitable?

Not necessary, the area in which I live does offer me the option of grieving my taxes. As a homeowner if I believe that my taxes are too high when compared to those of my neighbors, or if I can demonstrate that the value of my home has declined since my last assessment I can request a reduction. All I have to do is fill out a complex set of forms and possibly got to small claims court to make my case.

My other option is to hire a company to grieve my taxes for me. I selecting, based on the recommendation of a friend and their mostly positive online reviews. While there is a cost, this grievance service provide me with two positives, one I know the filing and paperwork will be done correctly and two if it does go to court I will have a competent and experienced person speaking on my behalf.

All areas are different and grievance regulations can differ from county to county or even town to town. In my situation here are the important facts about the grievance process:

  • ZapMyTax only charges a fee if they succeed in lowering my taxes, that fee if half the amount of the reduction plus a $75 fee. That means I split the first year and the the amount saved ever year going forward is mine. I like that.
  • Grieving your taxes can never cause them to go up, nor should you have to fear any fear of retribution from your local assessor. This is very important to keep in mind.
  • You can grieve your taxes every single year if you like. I plan to do so.

Please keep in mind that the lower the taxes are on your home the more valuable it will be to a buyer. If you had to choose between two similar homes, one had a $11,000 tax bill and the other had a $6,000 a year tax bill which one would you pick? Even if the house with the lower taxes was $20,000 dollar more you would still be tempted to pick it because the tax savings would make up that difference in 5 years and your mortgage payment would be lower on that house.

So if you can, it might be a good idea to grieve your taxes. It just might shrink your mortgage bill and raise the value of your house. The only thing your have to lose lose are those high tax bills.

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The Return of My Backyard Garden

Last year I started a backyard garden using raised soil beds. Corn in the handI had almost no experience, but planning, hard work, and a little luck turned my project into a success. I was very rewarding I would wake every morning and head right out to my garden to water and check on my crops. Watching them grow each week was very erxciting and eating the fruits of your labor is something that everyone should experience. My journey into suburban farming had me hooked and I knew I would do it again this year.

The initial financial layout was about 400 dollars. Much of this was the one time cost of the wood for the raised beds and the mulch and soil. This year a expect to spend around 100 dollars and a big portion of this will got to a new soaker hose, my old one cracked and had to be discarded. At this price my garden is probably going to be financial viable in the sense that the cost for me to grow my food should be cheaper than it would be for me to buy that same amount of produce. This is not my main reason for doing this, their are other benefits, like freshness, and quality control over my food which to me is much more important.

GardenLast year I grew, pumpkins, watermelons, corn, and tomatoes. This year I am dropping the pumpkins. As much as a loved carving my own jack o’ lanterns the plants themselves were to much to deal with. They spread everywhere, were constantly getting mildew, and damaged a portion of my lawn. In 2015 I am swapping the pumpkins out and replacing them with potatoes. As it stands here are the crops and their respective locations.

  • In the first  bed, nearest to the fence I will have “Sugar Baby Watermelons” and tomatoes that I will get from my neighbor’s greenhouse, probably Rutgers and Big Beef. I planted the watermelon seeds 13 days ago.
  • In the center bed I will have “Bintje Potatoes” and more Tomato Plants, I hope to have both of these in my possession within the next seven days.
  • In the final bed I have planted an heirloom variety of corn, “Stowell’s Evergreen Sweet Corn”. SeedsLast year I did exceptionally well with “Golden Bantam” corn, but the cobs were a little too thin.  The Stowell corn comes highly recommended from “Annie’s Heirloom Seed”. I used their seeds last year and attribute them in a small part to my success. I am also opting to plant three rows this year over the two I did last year. This choice is a bit of a gamble, I fear that crowding the bed might backfire, but I am willing to take the risk.

I also have three large pots that are on the other side of the yard, I may decide to plant some additional crops on there. Last year I had just moved into my house on June 1st so I planted my crops on the 16th. This year I will have a whole extra six weeks to work with so it should really open up the possibilities. I will report back to you shortly with my progress, please feel free to shares your experiences or raise any questions.

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Too Busy Thinkin’ About My Baby

A month a go my son was born andbabyboy last 30 days have been a wonderful chaotic mess. The arrival of my son has caused me to neglect this site, and my lawn, and my personal grooming. Now I’ve started to right the ship and begin to reorder my life. My wife and I are first time parents and we have much to learn. The experience is wonderful and we couldn’t be happier.

Moving forward I hope to post regularly and incorporate this life experience into my writing. I hate to be brief, but I have much to do.

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The PiggyBankBuilder Portfolio Challenge – April Results

Recovery or into the red? Let’s crunch the numbers:

  • Krogers (KR) – Purchase price – $63.53, number of shares 23. Current Price: $69.80  a gain of $144.21
  • Microsoft (MSFT) – Purchase price $46.76, number of 32. Current Price: $46.28, a loss of $15.36
  • iShares Silver Trust (SLV) – Purchase price $15.11, number of shares 99. Current Price: $15.77 a gain of $65.34
  • BlackBerry (BBRY) - Purchase price $10.82, number of shares 138, Current Price $9.80 a loss of $140.76

I am holding on by my fingernails. The portfolio is up $53.43, a miniscule improvement over last month.  question-mark-1409010-mThe biggest loser this month was Krogers? My hero stock, my champion? It backslid into the 60’s. This appears to be a consolidation, at least that is my hope.

Microsoft’s recovery is going according to plan. Silver did literally nothing. It’s possible that silver is basing here. BlackBerry flirted with the 10’s earlier last week, I am optimistic that it could see 11 in May.

My caution from last month remains. My May prediction, that the portfolio will be up $200 dollars by June. My previous guess was 100 bucks shy of its mark. Perhaps I will do better this month.


***Please not that I am not and investment advisor.Please consult your investment advisors before making any financial decisions that could result in loss.

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The PiggyBankBuilder Portfolio Challenge – First Quarter

March was a cruel month. How much so? Let’s take a look:

  • Krogers (KR) – Purchase price – $63.53, number of shares 23. Current Price: $77.07  a gain of $311.42
  • Microsoft (MSFT) – Purchase price $46.76, number of 32. Current Price: $41.72, a loss of $161.28
  • iShares Silver Trust (SLV) – Purchase price $15.11, number of shares 99. Current Price: $15.77 a gain of $65.34
  • BlackBerry (BBRY) - Purchase price $10.82, number of shares 138, Current Price $9.54 a loss of $176.54

I am still green, but just barely. The portfolio is up $38.92, losing about $70 in profits over last month.  lossThe tech stocks have really given me a beating, particularly BlackBerry which flipped from green to red.

Krogers is a juggernaut. I choose it for its slow growing stability and it has turned into a runaway train.  Microsoft is recovering from its massive February fall, I hoping it continues to climb back to even. Silver has been choppy and volatile, not sure what the future holds for it. BlackBerry was what I thought was going to be a company on the mend, but right not its hard to tell. I think it could climb back to even in the the next few months, but only time will tell.

Looking out to the rest of April I feel cautiously optimistic that things will resume a gradual up trend. My prediction, that the portfolio will be up $150 dollars by early May. We shall see.


***Please not that I am not and investment advisor.Please consult your investment advisors before making any financial decisions that could result in loss.

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Made in the U.S.A. Monday – Baby Liberty – Baby Spoons

With days away from fatherhood I am a little bit busy and a little  bit distracted. With baby matters so heavily on my mind I will focus this weeks article on a baby product. Specifically spoons, baby spoons.

From time to time I will read an article or hear about items with toxic or dangerous plastics in them that have caused serious health problems from those unfortunate enough to use them. This is concerning and even more so when baby products are involved, like spoons. As a parentspoon its important for you to know that your child is eating with a safe product, free of lead, BPA’s, or other nasty chemicals.

Baby Liberty is a reliable “American Made” brand that makes soft bite coated spoons that meet the highest safety standards. They can be purchased on Amazon for $5.99 for a two pack and have a perfect review rating, five stars all the way. You can’t do much better then that.

If you are having a baby or are buying a gift for a loved ones baby shower, you can;t do much better then a safe made in the USA spoon from Baby Liberty.

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Made in the U.S.A. Monday – CoverPlug

In 13days, God willing, I am going to be a father. It has been a very exciting time for the Bride and and and with that joy comes responsibility. Time to child proof the house. I realize that it will be some time before my son can crawl or walk, but why wait. No time like the present. Time to buy some outlet covers, the little white plastic ones that my parents used when I was a toddler. I bought a whole big box of them, more than enough for every outlet in the house.

Then I noticed one behind the crib. I was concerned. Can he reach down and touch that outlet? What if he pulls out the plug cover? Now we have a choking hazard and an exposed outlet right next to my sons crib. Should I move the crib? All of the walls have outlets and I want the crib visible from the doorway. What to do? 

A quick web search yielded a solution, Coverplugs. coverplugThis device covers the entire outlet and can be painted as well. It allows you to not only cover the outlet, but camouflage it was well. This should make the outlet less appealing to any curious fingers and much harder to pull off. In the event that it did come off its way too big to be a choking hazard.

Coverplugs are a patented American made product that sells for $8.50 for a 2 pack on Amazon. With such a low price and such strong reviews I snatched up a pair. It came yesterday and I am very pleased with them. They are very sturdy looking, I can’t wait to paint them a place them in my nursery.

Of course nothing is 100 percent effective, but a Coverplug and of course the parental supervision, are a good start. If you have an outlet that you a looking to conceal I don’t think you could do much better than this American made product.

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Made in the U.S.A. Monday – Worx Chainsaw

Americans don’t makes those anymore. A phrase spoken by cynics masquerading as realists used to dismiss those of us who still believe in the American worker. That’s not to say it isn’t true, we haven’t made a TV in this country for quite some time. It’s difficult to find and American made watch or power tool, difficult but not impossible and that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look.

When the snow finally melted in my backyard last week I went out to inspect the property.  I noticed that a dead tree on the edge of  my backyard had deteriorated at an alarming rate. I felt this growing sense of dread that this tree could topple any day and come crashing down on my neighbor’s house. I like my neighbor, I certainly don’t want to see that happen for several reasons. I also don’t want to to crash into my other healthy trees and damage them.

I would have to cut it down. One problem, I have no saw. work chainsawI paid a quick visit to Amazon and started researching models. As you know I always try to buy American but didn’t think that would be possible. I am happy to report that I was wrong. The number one selling electric chainsaw  on Amazon is the WORX WG 303.1, and it is “Made in the USA”. Why an electric chainsaw? One word, maintenance.

I called several friends to ask if I could borrow their chainsaws. In all three cases I heard the same reply, they had one but it wasn’t running. If you let a gas engine sit too long it stops working. With an electric chainsaw you need not worry.

Is this a lumberjack grade chainsaw, no. I don’t need that, I need one for a suburban yard and this one seems to fit the bill nicely. At $95.99 it fits the bill nicely. The reviews are almost perfect and with over 350 people weighing in I feel pretty confident in this product. Another quality “Made in the USA” product, we do make those and we make them well.

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Made in the U.S.A. Monday – Suncast Snow Shovel – My Personal Experience

I realize that we only have a few weeks left of Winter, but I wanted to give a review of this product based on my personal experience. Last year I bought a a Suncast 20 inch snow shovel. My primary reasons for doing so was that it was “Made in America” and it had excellent reviews.

shovelSince then NY has gotten walloped pretty badly by the snow. My Suncast shovel certainly saw a fair bit of action this year and it performed amazingly. I can honestly say that this is the best snow shovel I have ever owned. The steel weather strip is great at breaking up ice, the handle is sturdy and easy to grip, and the scoop is deep and generous. You can use it to push snow or scoop it, the versatility has allowed be to push aside smaller accumulations or tackle the heavy storms.

I check my records and I paid about 30 bucks for this shovel. Is that high? Yes and no, sure I could find a 10 dollar shove at some big box store. It would do the job well enough and probably break after a season or two. I decided to go the other day, spend a little extra and get a whole lot more. I got what a paid for, an American made shovel that is second to none in utility and quality.

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