by Melinda Myers
Spring is here and the garden centers are filled with beautiful plants. Many of us are making our way to one or more of our favorite garden shops. We leave with a car full of beautiful flowers and healthy vegetables with hopes of a bountiful harvest.
But before that first plant goes into the ground, make sure your soil is properly prepared. Though not the most glamorous part of gardening, it is the first and most important step in creating a beautiful and productive garden.
Start by adding some compost, aged manure or a garden soil labeled for flowers and vegetables to this year’s shopping list. You’ll need about two 2-cubic-ft bags of soil additive to cover 25 square feet of garden two inches deep. Calculate your garden size by measuring the length times the width, so you are sure to purchase all you need.
Once the car is unloaded the fun begins. Work the soil when it is moist, but not wet. A simple test can help with this. Grab a handful of soil and gently squeeze. Then gently tap it with your finger. If it breaks into smaller pieces, it is ready to work. If it stays in a wet ball, wait for the soil to dry slightly before digging in. Otherwise you will compact the soil, reduce drainage and create clods and crusty soil that you’ll be fighting all season long.
Start by digging several inches of compost, aged manure, or a product like Schultz garden soil for flowers and vegetables into the top 12 inches of soil. These materials improve drainage in heavy clay soils and increase water-holding ability in sandy soils.
Spread the organic matter over the soil surface of the garden bed. Use a shovel or rototiller to blend the organic matter into the soil. Rake the area smooth and level or make a slight crown in the middle of the bed. Crowning the bed slightly can increases visual impact of flowers and can help keep soil in the bed and out of the surrounding lawn or mulch.
Don’t skip this step even if you applied these materials last year. Yearly applications of organic matter continue to build quality soil and improve your gardening results.
Apply the type and amount of fertilizer recommended by your soil test report. If this information is not available use about three pounds of a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer for every 100 square feet of garden. Check the back of your fertilizer bag for more details.
Once the soil is prepared it is time to plant. Carefully slide your transplants out of their container. Gently loosen any circling roots. Plant flowers and vegetables in the prepared planting bed then water thoroughly.
Mulch the soil surface with a one to two inch layer of pine straw, evergreen needles, shredded leaves or other organic material. These help suppress weeds, conserve moisture and improve the soil as they decompose.
Seem like too much work? Investing time preparing the soil at the start of the season will save you time throughout the season. You’ll spend less time watering, managing pests and replacing struggling or dead plants. This gives you more time to harvest beautiful flowers for bouquets, vegetables for your favorite recipes, or just to sit, relax and enjoy your landscape.
Make this the year to start building a strong foundation for a healthy and productive garden.
Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Can’t Miss Small Space Gardening and the Midwest Gardener’s Handbook. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment segments. Myers is also a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Myers’ web site, www.melindamyers.com, offers gardening videos and tips.
Article courtesy of USA TODAY via “The Rundown”
Tired of getting raises that you can jangle in your pocket? This year may be different.
After stagnating for years, wage gains will accelerate in 2014, a wide majority of leading economists predict in USA TODAY survey. The bigger paychecks should help fuel a more rapid recovery.
“This is kind of the final piece of the puzzle for the consumer,” says Scott Anderson, chief economist of Bank of the West.
The 40 economists, surveyed May 2-6, also say economic and job growth will ratchet higher the rest of this year despite an economy that stalled in the first quarter.
Average wages have risen about 2% a year since the recovery began in mid-2009, and have been virtually flat after adjusting for inflation. The modest increases have held back consumer spending, which typically accounts for nearly 70% of U.S. economic activity.
But the jobless rate has been falling rapidly, to 6.3% from 8.1% in August 2012. Anderson is among economists who say that as unemployment approaches 6% by year’s end, a more limited supply of available workers will force employers to step up pay hikes.
Last month, average hourly earnings were up just 1.9% from a year ago. But pay for production and supervisory employees rose 2.3% during that period – a sign that wages will drift higher for all types of workers, says economist Michael Gapen of Barclays Capital.
Wage pressures are already building in fields such as technology and construction as employers struggle to find skilled workers, says Stuart Hoffman, chief economist, of The PNC Financial Services Group.
But even low-wage employees could soon benefit from faster-growing paychecks. Since the Affordable Care Act lets workers buy moderately-priced insurance without having a full-time job, many retail, restaurant and other workers are likely to retire or scale back their hours, says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Employers, he says, will have to pay more to attract a smaller pool of remaining workers.
Anderson expects average pay increases of close to 3% this year. Robert Mellman of JPMorgan Chase forecasts more modest advances of about 2.2%.
Are you tired of complaining to family and friends about things you feel powerless to change?
Or, as college costs continue to climb and student loan debts increase, do you or someone you know feel helpless that your opinion could make a positive change?
If you answered yes, know that the federal government is giving you a chance – now through May 27 – to speak up during an important public comment period. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) wants to learn more about the quality of career education programs. These programs, offered by a variety of for-profit colleges, have raised concerns about greater student debt and poor employment outcomes. These schools are also large beneficiaries of federal student loan dollars.
If enough collective voices – organizations, educators, consumers and others – speak in support of consumer protections, for-profit colleges’ ‘rules of the road’ can and will change for the better.
Commonly known as the ‘gainful employment’ rule, DOE proposes to cut off federal funds to career education programs where former students earn incomes too low in comparison to their debt. When incomes are too low or loan defaults too high, then students have not been prepared for “gainful employment”.
By the May 27 comment deadline, DOE wants to learn the answer to one basic question: Are students really gaining the skills and training that lead to career tracks with incomes large enough to offset the heavy debts incurred?
For Black and Latino students, the gainful employment rule is particularly important. A new research brief by the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) finds that students of color enroll more frequently in for-profit colleges than other students. The disproportionate enrollment is caused in part by high-pressure sales tactics. Some schools have been accused of deliberately targeting students of color for enrollment in their predatory programs.
Further, for-profit colleges often have high tuition and fees that cost more than twice as much for a four-year public institution and four times as much for a two-year public school, often with sub-par graduation rates.
The brief states, “A post-secondary education can serve as an asset that enables graduates to secure good jobs with steady incomes, enabling further accumulation of other assets in the future such as a home, business and secure retirement . . . . Unfortunately, for-profits often fail to provide a quality education for students, leaving many with a dangerous level of debt and little improvement in earning potential.”
The proposed rule would also require:
- Institutions to certify that their programs meet applicable accreditation requirements and state or federal licensure standard;
- Institutions to publicly disclose information about the program costs, debt, and performance of their gainful employment programs so that students can make better-informed decisions.
An earlier 2012 report by the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee found that a majority of students at for-profit schools were unable to complete their programs. It also found that schools often misled students about their ability to secure a job in their field after graduation or to transfer to another institution to continue their studies.
The low graduation rate of for-profit colleges imposes financial burdens that will linger long after enrollment. As these former students enter the job market, they are hindered by the lack of a marketable credential and simultaneously burdened with loan repayment. The low-level of graduates, CRL finds, may also explain why for-profit college borrowers are also more likely to default on their student loans.
In a recent letter to the editor of the Washington Post, Maura Dundon, a CRL senior policy counsel wrote, “Since students of color disproportionately enroll in for-profit colleges, they have been disproportionately harmed.”
In 2011, for-profit advocates spoke up when a similar proposal was made. Their strident voices derailed attempts to bring fairness to this area of consumer lending. In 2014, we cannot afford a second mistake. If you or someone you know has been affected by this dilemma or felt powerless to change it, now is your chance to make a meaningful contribution to this important public debate.
This time, the same consumers harmed by these institutions should share their real-life experiences at http://rspnsb.li/1kY3ai0.
Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Courier via “The Rundown”
Last month, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette charged an organization known as Freedom by Faith Ministries with defrauding more than 100 consumers in Southeast Michigan. The alleged crime: foreclosure rescue scams.
Unfortunately, the circumstances that led to the Michigan lawsuit represent a continuation of a disturbing trend of profiteers seeking to financially exploit the misfortunes of troubled homeowners.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office in 2013 found more than 40,000 complaints of foreclosure fraud occurred nationwide and together totaled losses to homeowners of more than $90 million.
Each year from 2010 through 2012, more than 18,000 foreclosure fraud complaints were filed beyond the 9,000 complaints received in 2009.
Foreclosure scammers typically demand large, upfront cash payments from troubled homeowners and advise homeowners to stop making mortgage payments. They also dupe their victims into sharing important personal information such as Social Security and bank account numbers. After payment is received, the scammers do little or no work to obtain a loan modification for the homeowners. In the process, homeowners fall deeper into delinquency and also lose valuable time that could have yielded better results.
Free services of a HUD-certified housing counselor are available nationwide to help negotiate with mortgage servicers. Many times these housing counselors facilitate securing options to avoid foreclosure such as home modifications, refinance, forbearance, short sales and more.
A new research report, Foreclosure Rescue, Inc. by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law finds that foreclosure scams are beginning to take new forms while still fraudulently taking money from distressed homeowners. Some scammers falsely claim government affiliation while others include improper involvement of legal and real estate professionals
For example, in West Palm Beach, Fla., foreclosure rescue “consultants” held seminars to teach people how to make money off of distressed homeowners. In Atlanta, attorneys were reported to have been randomly solicited to sign up as “partners” or “affiliates” of foreclosure rescue operations. And in Long Island, N.Y., legitimate housing counselors unknowingly gave fraud actors powers of attorney to presumably talk to banks on behalf of homeowners.
“African-American and Latino homeowners, already victimized by targeted predatory lending, have been victimized by scams at disproportionate rates compared to their percentage of the population,” said Yolanda McGill, manager of the Loan Modification Scam Prevention Network for the Lawyers’ Committee.
By Alison Griswold-Article courtesy of Slate via NNPA/BlackPressUSA
It might be the hottest question in higher education today: Is a college degree still worth its cost? Despite soaring tuitions, a new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco finds, the general answer is yes: The average U.S. college graduate can expect to earn at least $800,000 more than the average high school graduate over a lifetime. Not surprisingly, the so-called earnings premium that a college degree bestows increases with each additional year out from graduation.
Using U.S. survey data on income, the Fed study finds that a college student who pays $21,200 or less in annual tuition (some 90 percent of students at public four-year colleges and 20 percent of those at private nonprofit institutions) can expect to recoup that investment by age 38.
After that, the extra income they make from their earnings premium is a net gain. “Tuition amounts lower than our estimate make going to college strictly better in terms of earnings than not going to college,” the study’s authors write.
Of course, to say that college is always worth what it costs oversimplifies the issue. The college-grad earnings premium has grown recently more because wages for high school grads have stagnated than because pay for college grads is on the rise. A PayScale ranking of America’s colleges and universities done earlier this year also identified almost two dozen schools that actually make their students poorer—in other words, programs where the earning power granted by the degree doesn’t justify the cost of tuition. And as my colleague Jordan Weissmann notes in the post linked above, there are also many other schools where the return on investment is so low that students would be better off putting their money in the stock market.
Alison Griswold is a Slate staff writer covering business and economics.