Saturday, April 15, 2017

You Get What You Pay For... Not Always!

When we were getting ready to jump off-grid we were making a lot of purchases for our new lifestyle, and Alan loves to research to see what options are available whenever it comes to getting something that we need or may find useful to add to our resources. It is amazing how many varieties of a 'widget' he can find available and how much time he can spend comparing all of their features before selecting the one to best meet our needs. However, in the past couple of years I have made some purchases that have not turned out so well, and this is the tale of those unfortunate choices...

At the start of 2016 we decided we would establish a small orchard of dwarf fruit trees on part of our property. I found a nursery online selling a large variety of dwarf trees and they offered them in several heights so that you could get larger, more established trees if you were willing to pay a bit more more per tree. They also offered quite a selection of free items if you spent a certain amount per order. I am always looking for a deal so I put together an order, making sure my total hit that magic number, and then picked out all of my free trees and berry plants that would be included. And on April 30th, 2016 I placed my online order to Summerstone Nursery. (I am purposely not providing the URL because I do not want you going to the site and being tempted to place an order like I did.) I immediately received an order confirmation and then never heard from them again. Not that I didn't try.

I started with emails, about two weeks after I had placed my order, asking for a shipping date and tracking number. When there were no replies to my emails I started making phone calls but their voice mail was always full so you could not even leave a message. At that point, which of course was too late, I started researching the company and found out they had an 'F' rating with the better Better Business Bureau. Alan also did some digging and found out this company had changed its name because of past legal issues. At one point it had even been ordered by the courts to hire more office staff to answer the phone and the more I heard I just knew we were never going to hear from them.

I then contacted my bank to see if there was anything that they could do. The bank representative said they would contact the company and, if they were not fulfilling the order, the bank would refund my money and then take up the issue with the seller. I explained that I had not been able to leave a message with the company because their voicemail was always full. At that point the bank rep put me on 'hold' while she tried to contact them. When she came back on the line she said that she had got the same message and thus she was authorizing my refund immediately.

After a bit more due diligence, I found a well established and more reputable nursery offering dwarf fruit trees, Stark Brothers (, which has been around since 1816. I placed my order in August and received my order confirmation with an estimated delivery date of October 10th. The web site explains that the trees are delivered for fall and spring planting seasons.

Alan cut the top and bottom from plastic 55 gallon drums and
then cut them into three rings about one foot high each.
As the delivery date approached we started making plans for where and how we would plant our new trees. We doubted we would be able to dig large enough holes in our rocky land to accommodate the trees' roots, so we had to think outside of the box once again. Some people actually plant dwarf trees in large containers and then aggressively prune them to keep them confined to container size. With all of our success with raised beds, I came up with what I hope is a successful hybrid idea. We had some food grade plastic 55 gallon drums we had picked up for storage. I asked Alan to cut a couple of them into three sections each, forming sturdy plastic rings about 1 foot tall and 2 feet in diameter. These rings would act as partial raised beds for our trees. My plan was to place a ring on the ground where I wanted each tree, break up the ground as best I could inside each ring and remove as much of the rocks as possible to make a deeper hole for 'good dirt' within the ring and then plant the tree so that the roots were getting a start within the good dirt before they eventually worked their way further down to the native rock and clay.

Prepping the 'raised hole' included cutting the landscape fabric,
breaking up the rocks and clay under the ring and removing  as
much of the native 'dirt' (aka rocks) as possible under the ring.
As the estimated delivery date that had been provided on our order approached, I started going online to check my account at Stark Brothers to see if our order had shipped. The order status continued to show the status as 'In Process' with an 'Estimated Delivery Date' of October 10th. The week of the 10th I expected to see a change when I logged in, and I did - the estimated delivery date was rescheduled for October 17th. Then the following week it was rescheduled for the 24th, then the 31st.

This weekly rescheduling continued into November when I called to try to get a more precise idea of when the trees would be delivered as we would be out of town the last 10 days of November. The representative at Stark Brothers explained that shipping was controlled by the weather and when trees went dormant in the fall. I explained that we would not be able to take delivery the last 10 days of November and the rep was a bit hesitant to set a delivery date after that saying that December was too late  in the year. Instead, she offered that they reschedule the order for the spring planting with delivery scheduled for about the first of March. As the trees are not paid for until they are shipped and we were a bit pressed for time with our plans to go out of town, I agreed that this would be a good solution. After I hung up, it dawned on me that while they currently were not yet shipping as we talked (early November) the salesperson still felt that by the time we were back in town (the first week of December) it would be too late for them to ship. That is a very small fall shipping window for their business!

So, while my tree saga was on hold for a few months, until the 'estimated delivery date of March 3' as stated on my new order confirmation, we have yet another story to tell... (Don't worry, I will swing back around and finish out the tale of the trees.)

If you keep up with our blog, you know we started raising meat rabbits last summer. We had our first kits (baby rabbits) on February 2nd and will be butchering in a few weeks. Soon after the kindling (birth) I started looking for an instrument/tool I had heard about that is a humane way to 'dispatch' the rabbits for butchering. A quick Googling found the Rabbit Wringer and I placed my order (again I am not providing a link on purpose). I mentioned this product at our weekly self-reliance meeting and several people were familiar with the product. The receipt stated to allow 3 to 5 weeks  for delivery. As a small business, I assumed they  were producing the product as they were ordered and that was the reason for this lengthy time to receive an order, but we would still have it in time for processing our first rabbits.

After waiting the allotted five weeks, I attempted to contact the company to verify the Rabbit Wringer had been shipped. I emailed asking for a tracking number. After no reply to several emails I went to the website to get a phone number. Listed with the number was a note that this was a number to leave messages only and that your call would be returned... I started to get a sinking feeling. I left a message and began Googling this company. Déjà vu, another very poorly rated company from the Better Business Bureau for not delivering their product. In my defense, this business had in previous years had good reviews of their product in homesteading and self-reliance magazines and web sites. But apparently they continued to sell their product but stopped shipping it out.

While I decided to contact my bank once again, I was doubtful I would be successful in getting a refund this time for a couple reasons: 1. the web site took payment through PayPal so the payment had gone through a third party and 2. I had paid with my debit card rather than a credit card. However, my bank came through yet again with an immediate refund when they could not contact the company. There was one awkward moment during the conversation with the bank representative when she asked what it was that I had purchased from this company. I did not want to say I bought a 'rabbit wringer' nor did I want to say I bought something to kill rabbits. I sort of skirted the issue by saying we raised rabbits and this was a metal tool for processing them. When I later received a copy of her report she listed it as hardware.

The Hopper Popper
While I was salvaging this second bad purchase, Alan was searching for a new solution for dispatching our rabbits. There are various ways we could do it without a special tool, but we want it to be as humane and quick and easy as possible. Alan found another web site selling the 'Hopper Popper', and yes it is a knock off of the Rabbit Wringer. But, it has many favorable reviews, including ones that includes sentences along the lines of 'and unlike the Rabbit Wringer they actually ship their product'.

So, the Hopper Popper was ordered, and while it did not arrive quickly, it has arrived and looks very well made and there will be a blog in the next month or so letting you know how it works.

And now back to the tree saga...

Alan thought we needed to take the
big truck to pick up our seven trees.
(They are all in this box.)
As March 3rd approached I again started logging into the Stark Brothers web site to check the status of our order. At the end of February the Estimated Delivery Date changed to March 10th, then the next week it changed to March 17th, then March 24th... Sound familiar?

I was so used to the date being moved back each week that when I logged in near the end of March and saw that the Estimated Delivery Date had been updated to April 1 I almost missed that it also showed that the Amount Due was $0.00! The payment had been processed and the trees were being shipped! That was on Wednesday, March 29th, which was the same day I received the Hopper Popper. That night at our self-reliance meeting I was able to report two miracles - I had received our rabbit dispatcher in the mail and our fruit trees had shipped!

We picked our trees up at our postal box in town that Saturday and they were in great shape. They are all planted and I will include them in garden updates this year to let you know how they are doing.

One of our Seven Dwarfs
(I just realized we had Seven Dwarfs as I
was writing this caption so now I have to
name the trees...Sleepy, Dopey, Doc...)
While I am making submissions to the complaint box, I will include one more. If you are familiar with our gardens, you know they are all raised beds and containers and that I have put down landscape fabric as a 'carpet' over the entire area of each of the gardens. I had originally purchased 200 foot rolls of landscape fabric from Sam's Club but after 3-4 years of being down in each garden the fabric was wearing through in areas, especially where rocks were working their way up out of the ground and sticking through the fabric. I decided this was the year to re-lay another layer of landscape fabric.

We had let our Sam's Club membership expire as we hardly ever used it and last year I had bought three 200 foot rolls of landscape fabric at Tractor Supply when they were on sale. After digging up all the rocks that had worked their way to the surface of the gardens I pulled the rolls of Tractor Supply landscape fabric out of the shed to start laying it down. The first thing I noticed was that it was very thin - I could see through it. I had a lot of old cotton fabric, so I decided to first lay down a barrier of cotton fabric to help protect the landscape fabric from potential rocks and then spread the landscape fabric over the cotton fabric.

This is the Tractor Supply landscape fabric just a few
weeks after I had laid it down in the bottom garden.
I was so disappointed, while the Sam's Club landscape fabric had held up for several years, the stuff from Tractor Supply was tearing as I laid it down and in just a few weeks it was shredding in areas where the ground is uneven. Just yesterday I picked up some professional, heavy-duty (aka expensive) landscape fabric from Home Depot to put over the worst of the areas that I just covered with the Tractor Supply brand a few weeks ago. I hate to complain about something from Tractor Supply because we shop there a lot and this is the first product I have ever been really disappointed with.

Okay, that's the end of my rants. Just remember you get what you pay for... and this blog is free.

(Just a note: I feel bad about a blog full of complaints so I just want to let you know the next one will be much more upbeat. The gardens are almost all planted and my next blog, which will hopefully be within the next few weeks will be an introduction to this year's gardens. The rabbits are also due to be butchered soon, but I will be sure to not make that the next blog.)

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