Your Home – Is Now a Good Time to Start a Home Garden?

May 2020 Newsletter

Home gardening is more popular than ever. Between 2008 and 2013, there was a 63% rise in gardening among millennial-aged people. Now that most of the nation is staying home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, it could be the perfect time to start a home garden. Here are some great tips on how to get started.

Why It’s a Great Idea to Start a Garden Right Now

It’s Fresh
Having your own source of fresh produce can be healthier, save you money and be really rewarding. There’s also no mystery about potential contamination or chemicals.

It’s Healthy
It’s good for you. Gardening has both physical and mental health benefits. It’ll get you outside for a bit of Vitamin D and help with any stir-crazy feelings. Gardening can help relieve stress, make you feel more productive and provide some exercise.

Kids Love It
If you have kids home from school right now, gardening is the perfect activity. You can use your garden to teach your kids about taking care of others. You can also demonstrate for them the concept of philanthropy by planting a little extra to make sure you’re able to donate the extra vegetables to neighbors in need.

There Is a MASSIVE Gardening Community
New hobbies can connect you to new communities. You can connect with other gardeners in your area – online for now, of course – to learn about local soil and seasonality. You can also donate and share your produce with your current community of friends, neighbors and family.

What You Need to Know Before You Start

Start Small
It can be easy to go crazy and try to build the perfect Pinterest garden, but if you’re new to home gardening, it’s best to keep your first try simple. You’ll also want to think about how much time and money you’re able to invest in the garden once the stay-at-home mandates lift. Consider what you’ll be able to maintain once you go back to your normal routine. For instance:

  • Resist the urge to jump in and convert your entire gardening space during your first season.
  • Let the garden and area grow with you as your knowledge expands. For instance, you may start off thinking you want to grow food crops, and after doing research, you realize you would instead prefer to grow flowers.

Plan Your Space
Before you buy seeds or start building garden boxes, consider where your garden can live. Consider the year-round sun exposure and the reach of your water source. You don’t want to be in a situation where you are forced to lug buckets of water across your yard. Find an area that can easily be reached by a hose. If you live in an apartment, you might use balcony or terrace space, or consider plants that thrive indoors.

Consider Your Region
Where you live will impact some of the things you can plant and when they’ll thrive. For some states, it’s the perfect time to start planting for a summer harvest. In other areas, the soil is still frozen in the Spring and you’ll want to consider cold-weather options. Check out the Old Farmer’s Almanac for all your regional garden planning.

Easy Projects for Beginners

Start with Scraps
Did you know you can start growing food with the produce you already have in your kitchen? All you need is water and small plastic containers. For instance, cut off the butt or end of a bunch of celery or head of romaine lettuce and place it in a shallow container with an inch of water. Within a week, you’ll see new growth. Be sure to change the water once or twice a day. This method works best with sprout and root veggies like celery, potatoes, lettuce, leeks or green onion.

Consider Herbs
Like succulents, herbs are hard to kill. It’s a great starter plant with low up-front investment (in money and labor). Herbs like cilantro, mint, parsley, rosemary and basil may have slightly varying needs, but are pretty adaptable. You can plant them in a pot on your windowsill, or in the backyard. And if you use a starter plant, rather than seeds, you’ll be able to harvest in no time.

Don’t Forget The Flowers
Food isn’t the only thing you can garden. Flowers can brighten your landscape and spirits. Flower beds can also be a fun beginner gardening project because they add a little pizazz to your landscape, whether that be a balcony or front porch. Try planting flowers that attract pollinators: Calendula, marigolds, and sunflowers are great for this.

Finances – The Difference Between Mortgage Deferment and Forbearance

man using calculator

More homeowners are in search of mortgage relief due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and options like mortgage deferment and mortgage forbearance are becoming readily available to those in need.

Unfortunately, many are using the terms interchangeably. Mortgage deferment and mortgage forbearance allow borrowers to temporarily stop making their monthly payments, but they differ in what happens afterward. At the end of a forbearance period, the number of payments missed are due in a lump sum. However, lenders may choose to work with borrowers to structure a payment plan. On the other hand, deferment is allowing borrowers to repay the money over time or add it to the end of their loan period.

Technically, a mortgage forbearance agreement is when you’ve possibly been late, and the lender agrees not to foreclosure during that forbearance period. In the current landscape, many borrowers haven’t become past due on their mortgage yet. But if unemployment numbers continue to rise, borrowers will rush to seek help before they default.

The key first step is to call your lender. You should never assume it’s simply okay to skip a payment. If you call them ahead of time though, you can let them know your situation and you can then make arrangements with them. They might actually offer an alternative to forbearance and deferment, such as a loan modification.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that there is “no such thing as a free lunch”. You aren’t getting free money. Even if it’s a temporary pause on your mortgage (forbearance), interest continues to accrue. That does mean you’re going to eventually not only pay that principal balance owed but also the interest payment as well.

This article is for information, illustrative and entertainment purposes only and does not purport to show actual results. It is not, and should not be regarded as investment advice or as a recommendation regarding any particular investment action.

Personal Interest – Cooking, Shopping, and Eating in the Time of COVID-19


Does your social distancing diet consist of an extraordinary amount of Pringles and Oreos? We get it-those snack items are convenient and cheap. However, there’s a better way to eat while stuck at home.

As Americans adjust to the concepts of social distancing, isolation, and quarantine, we also have to reconceptualize the way we eat.

Since sheltering in place has become the norm, social media has lit up with images of perfectly shaped cinnamon rolls and a startling number of sourdough starter tips. These aspirational and beautiful photos can create a serious sense of food envy for folks who don’t know a saucepan from a skillet.

And for many Americans before the pandemic, kitchen skills and knowledge were considered optional. They were nice to have, but not necessary in our app-based, on-demand food delivery world. But this notion seems to be changing fast.

Why You Now Need a Well-Stocked Pantry

People are cooking more at home these days, and many are taking their first crack at preparing a full meal. And let’s dispel a common myth-cooking is more than simply following a recipe. Food prep starts with getting the right ingredients and having a plan. And since daily trips to the grocery store aren’t exactly feasible these days, your strategy is everything.

It all circles back to a well-stocked pantry. If you are one of the millions of Americans who find themselves lost in their own kitchen, it’s crash-course time. If you are looking for the core basics, FEMA provides a basic list for a two-week food supply in case of an emergency. This list includes the shelf life of some items and how to do basic food prep. It also offers some great tips on how you can stretch your food supplies, if necessary. One great tip is, when you shop, look for things you can buy in bulk that can stretch across several meals. Also, only lay in staples that you actually like. If you don’t love lentils, don’t expect that to suddenly change. Pick foods that fit your flavor profile.

Pantry Basics

If you’re still not sure what you need to make sure you have a well-stocked pantry, check out this list. You can use these items, along with your choice of protein and vegetables, to create a number of meals.

  • Spices: Salt, pepper, cinnamon, and some seasoning blends (e.g., Italian, taco, and ranch)
  • Canned goods: Soups, stock, vegetables, tomato sauce, pasta sauce, beans, fruits, and fish
  • Grains: Oats, rice, and cereal
  • Cooking oil: Olive oil, canola oil, and nonstick cooking spray
  • Dry goods: Box mixes (e.g., pancake, brownie, and cornbread), flour, and sugar (granulated and powder)
  • Snacks: Nuts, dried fruits
  • Condiments: Ketchup, mustard, salsa, sriracha, hot sauce, soy sauce, and teriyaki sauce
  • Vinegar: Red wine, rice wine, and balsamic

Don’t Over Do It

While you’re grocery shopping, buy just what you need. There’s no need to clean out the shelves. While it’s a natural human instinct to want to be secure, there’s actually been no disruption in food supply chains. If you run into a situation where there is something you can’t find in a store, consider contacting local restaurants or bakeries. Many have set up makeshift grocery operations and may have scarce items like flour, yeast, and eggs. It’s also a way to help keep local businesses afloat until things get back to normal.

Thank you and have a great month!

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Paul Stella