Archive for the ‘tools’ Category

Preparing for seed starting

February 5, 2010

Here in Maine, it is time to start leeks and onions.  My seeds came in a couple of weeks ago.  Last week I made a stop at Johnny’s and purchased a large bag of my favorite all-purpose seed starting/potting soil mix, Vermont Compost’s Fort Vee.

I purchased new plastic flats last weekend from our local farm supply store.  I prefer the newspaper pots but am not going to have time to make them this spring.

Last night I stopped by Target to pick up a new plastic tub for the seed flats, as one broke one last summer when it was dropped.  I’ve been using these for a couple of years and find them much more convenient than using the flimsy plastic trays and domes that often come with the seed flats.  They allow watering from the bottom and the plastic lid makes a great humidity cover.  For seeds which need light to germinate, I just turned them upside down and used the lids as the base, then once germination occurred, turned them right side up.

Yesterday I found an new delux-er model, with a clear lid which will make things even easier — no swapping bottom for top.  Once everything has germinated, the lid comes off and at the end of the season, they plastic tub serves to store the seed starting materials.  As an added bonus, the lid has a more secure locking mechanism, making it easier to remove.

And I have a bunch of saved and washed popsicle sticks for tags.  Free, reused and compostable = perfect for this purpose (in the past I used cut-up plastic yogurt containers or milk jugs).  I think I’m ready!

My new gardening tool

October 5, 2009

IMG_4731I know in the past I have said I wasn’t interested in a rototiller.  Times change.  This spring, I gave myself a painful case of gardener’s elbow, aka tendonitis, that plagued me all summer.  For most, this malady is annoying but manageable, a week or so of ibuprofen and they are all better.

Not me, I am allergic to ibuprofen and probably that whole class of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (I’m not sure but the only way to test is to take some and stand by with an Epi-Pen –no thanks).  So for me, tendonitis takes months to heal.  I babied my elbow all summer and I am still occasionally feeling a twinge.  At least it rained so much I didn’t miss much kayaking because of the tendonitis.  What’s a gardener with big dreams of expanding her gardening space to do?

Meet my new mini-tiller.  She’s a quiet, efficient, easy-starting, low-polluting 4-stroke Honda, powerful enough to really turn our clay soil, light enough at 29 pounds that I can easily carry and use it.  We purchased the tiller from a locally-owned independent retailer, Chad Little Outdoor power Equipment.

I can hardly wait to put the garden to bed and plant my garlic!

Homemade watering wand

June 15, 2009

Poking about the net this evening, I found this interesting post with instructions for making a homemade watering wand from copper pipe.  With my incessant whining about poor quality hose accessories, this project is going to the short list of projects to do this summer (and soon).  What a great idea!!

Favorite garden tools

May 10, 2009

Margaret, head gardener at A Way to Garden, is judging a garden tool contest at Beekman 1802.  Of course I entered, and encourage you too, as well.  After all, I love repurposed tools, and love a good idea even more.
Favorite tools:
1)    the nail rake from my father’s hardware store for weeding and cultivating
2)    an old golf cart as tool cart – perfect for hoes, shovel, loppers, etc.
3)    retired political signs as row cover hoops
4)   milk crate as perfect square foot marker; some crates can even be used as a planting grid
5)    lovely dibbles hand carved from roots and branches
6)    old plastic toboggan to haul large plants manure, hay bales, etc.
7)    retired metal mailboxes as nearby storage for hand tools, hose parts., etc.
8)   retired kitchen sink as a garden sink for washing produce, etc.
9)    former plastic food barrels as rain barrels
10)   pvc piping and rebar as hoops for a low plastic tunnel

Others I would add:

what are your favorite garden tools/tricks?

Strainer things have happened

March 9, 2009

After a posting about abusing my beloved star colander, and a mild rant about the state of colander manufacturing, my brilliant sisters-in-law have set about finding a colander for me.  Kathy and Louise each sent me a colander, unknowing of the others’ gift.  And thus, I have 2 near-perfect, but very different, colanders.

Exhibit A

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The colander on the left is a product of Martha Stewart, on the right, Oxo waded into the fray with its version.  They are both fabulous, although very different.  The Oxo has plastic handles which fold down as shown to become legs, or unfold, to become sturdy supports that will perfectly reach across a standard double bowl kitchen sink, eliminating any possibility of pasta water/sink backwash.  The Martha colander is a more traditional design, and will nest inside a large bowl, perfect for washing produce, then lifting it out of the bowl of water to drain.  Both nearly perfect, like my sisters-in-law (I said NEARLY).  Thanks, K&L!

Preparing for seed starting

January 18, 2009

img_3562We have a great set up for seed starting, and a good place to set up in our laundry room, although with the new freezer it will be a little crowded.  I’ve been refining my system, and now use large plastic under-bed storage boxes, to hold flats, which works great.  I use the lid as the base and the translucent bin as the cover.  Once the seedlings are larger, I put them in the base which works great for watering from the bottom.

potmakerWe’ve tried using newspaper pots made with a wooden form, but making the pots for the number of seedlings we start was very, very tedious.  I’ve mostly used plastic trays, but hate throwing them away season after season.

This year, I am trying some cedar seed starting boxes I purchased from Fedco.   Cedar is rot resistant, very re-usable, and has natural antifungal properties.  I can use the boxes to start lots img_3584of seeds then transplant, or to start a few seeds and let them grow on until time to set them into the garden.  I’m eager to see how these work.

I dabble a bit in seed-saving, but am not very good at it.  I’m fortunate to have 3 terrific seed sources within an hour’s drive of my garden; 2 of them are within a quick lunchtime drive from the office, so I buy my seeds.  A packet of seeds often contains many more seeds than I need, especially as I like to plant several varieties every year, so I store the seeds every year.  Now that I have a big freezer, I will probably keep them in the freezer, but for now I just keep them in my old breadbox in ziplock baggies.  They’ve been kept cold this winter!  A handy list of seed viability can be found at the Iowa State University Extension Service website here.  A simple viability test of 10 img_3580seeds placed in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag will tell you what your germination rate will be.

A few summers ago I scored some old card catalog drawers at a tag sale.  They are PERFECT for storing seed in an orderly way.  I managed to get one painted and into regular use, and it makes taking inventory so much easier.

I’ve taken inventory, discarded old packets of seed using the viability list as a guide, discarded non-favorite or poor performing varieties made my list and placed one of my orders.  The next task will be to finalize when I start what, and to read up some more on winter sowing.  Then I’ll need to set up the seed starting cart and get started in earnest.  Spring is only 60 days away.

Toyls and other unusual tools

January 12, 2009

img_35661One of my favorite tools started out as a toy (thus toyl).  I can’t even begin to count how often we use this pink plastic toboggan.  We use it year round, the smooth plastic bottom glides over the grass nicely when loaded with a shrub or something heavy you don’t want to lift up into a garden cart, and as you can imagine it works great in the winter.  On Sunday I loaded with a bale of wood shavings when I tidied up Henbogle Coop.  Someday, I will fill it with damp sand and use it to make a sandcast hypertufa replica of a standing stone I saw in Scotland on Raasay island.img_3567

Also in tow, in the plastic tub, is a gallon plastic jar filled with scratch, which we keep stored in our handy re-purposed mailbox.  The jar formerly held pretzels, and is oh so handy for keeping the girls’ treat handy and safe from hungry rodents.

We have several of these mailboxes around the yard, all purchased at tag sales.  One is next to the hose bib and stores hose parts, another near the vegetable garden to store twine, stakes, and clothespins, and other useful odds and ends.  springgarden1

Gallon milk jugs are another useful garden tool.  They make great hotcaps, creating a warm micro-climate for tender young seedlings, and provide slug protection as well.   A milk jug with a few holes in the bottom makes a great slow trickle waterer, and of course they also make great pots to transplant starts into.

An old metal breadbox serves as a dandy place to store garden seed safe from mice and other rodents.  Milk crates are excellent at marking out squares a la Square Foot Gardening.  Plastic underbed boxes make terrific seed starting trays.  What repurposed items have you put to use in your garden?

Calling all colanders

October 5, 2008

I’m searching for a new colander.  One would think this would not require much more than a quick trip to the nearest *Mart, Target or kitchen store, but it is turning out to be a far more challenging task.

I’m replacing the Star colander shown at left.  It was my mother’s, and it is a perfect marriage of form and function — or was, having been manufactured before automatic dishwashers were a twinkle in some engineer’s eye.  It is a Comet brand aluminum colander, and it cannot go in automatic dishwashers as the detergent reacts with the aluminum.  This colander is attractive, a good size, drains quickly and thoroughly, yet has holes small enough that most items will not slip out.It also has loop handles for hanging, and looks good hanging next to the sink.  I love it.

I bought a new colander.  It was not my ideal, being kind of clunky looking, but it was stainless and a bit larger, which seemed ok.  Until I used it, I didn’t realize that the ring base left a depression in the bottom of the colander that collects water.  In other words, it doesn’t drain thoroughly without a whole lot of shaking going on.  Arghh.

Now that I am aware of this flaw, I am amazed at the number of colanders I see with this same design flaw.  Form follows function, people!  Looks are second to function, in this case draining liquid.  In a perfect world, my mother’s old colander will be re-issued, only in stainless.  As it is, I’m still hunting for second best.

The upside to the story?  Yesterday, while searching on E-bay for a colander, I found a strainer insert that will fit my 8 quart stockpot. (It looks just like the insert for my big blanching pot, which is 12 quart, and just too big for pasta for Dan and I, but perfect for blanching chard.)  If I win the auction, maybe I can use that as a colander!

Throwing in the trowel

May 16, 2008

I bought a new trowel last night. I’m still crushed by breaking my favorite Snow & Nealley trowel a few weeks ago, dividing hostas. Yes, I should have been using a shovel, but that was what I liked about the S&N trowel, it was rugged, with a sturdy ash wood handle, long enough to give you some leverage.

I haven’t given up completely, I might still have the S&N trowel repaired if I can find someone to weld the blade back to the handle, but in the meantime, I need a trowel!

That meant I had to go shopping, ugh. Even shopping for garden tools is not all that fun these days. The rise of the big box store and the demise of small independent hardware stores has left a vast chasm of unfilled needs. At the big box stores you can choose from 5-6 models, most cheaply made with little thought put into the design and manufacture, and the same choices are available at every big-box retailer. Most hardware stores are busy trying to compete with the big boxes just to stay alive, so they have basically the same selection, except maybe fewer models, to choose from.

The two garden centers I like had similar choices but with more choices at the high end. Really, the Dutch-made stainless steel trowel was beautifully made, well balanced with a comfortable wooden handle, but it was $40 –I’m not averse to paying for well made tools, but $40 seemed pretty steep, especially considering my Felco pruners, of equal quality yet a much more complex tool, were only $50!

Sigh. What’s a gardener to do? I looked online, but I need to feel the trowel, to hold it and see if it fits my hand, feels balanced, looks like it will last a few years. I just couldn’t make a decision, especially when taking into consideration the return shipping if I didn’t like the tool.

I finally settled on this Oxo brand trowel, purchased from Lowes –(I’m saving my next Home Depot experience and the $20 gift card for purchasing hoop-house conduit). I have an Oxo vegetable peeler that is so well designed it put mashed potatoes back on the menu at Hengogle, so I was inclined to give the trowel a try. This trowel is cast in one piece from aluminum, with a cushy rubber handle. The sides are serrated and feel pretty sharp — probably good for dividing hostas and removing toes from sandal or Crocs-clad gardeners. The handle is shorter than I like, but the cast design seems sensible, assuming aluminum is strong enough to stand up to the rigors of life in my garden. It did come with a warranty, so believe me, I’ll be happy to provide feedback to Oxo in the event it fails, and maybe even if I come to love it.

Don’t buy this cheap Home Depot hose nozzle

April 29, 2008

We bought this useless hose nozzle from Home Depot. It leaked from the first moment we used it. Look carefully and you will see the stream (not a drip or 2, a stream) of water leaking from the on lever (by the hoophouse hoops). It makes me CRAZED that we cannot find a good quality, non leaky hose nozzle.

The brass one seen filling the rain barrel is an excellent solid brass nozzle. We found it buried in the garden. We replaced the washer and it works great. Far better than the brand-new Home Depot “Signature Series” nozzle. (Signature series? Was there any product testing involved here? Surely not or they wouldn’t have named it signature series. Would they?)

The brass twist nozzle was probably made 20 years ago –it has to be at least 8 years old since we bought the house in 2001 and we didn’t lose it in the garden. Oh, and we found it last year, so it was buried at least 7 years.

I love good tools, but it is getting more and more difficult to find them. Earlier this week I broke my beloved Snow & Neally trowel –the weld holding the blade to the handle failed while I was dividing a hosta. I was crushed. Dan gave me a set of Snow & Neally garden tools several years ago, and I LOVE them. The set included a Cape Cod weeder, a 3 tine weeding fork, and the trowel. I added a narrow bulb trowel a few years later. They were made in Maine, but, apparently they no longer make gardening tools.

If you have suggestions for a good quality hose nozzle, or trowel, please share the details, as I need one of each. And a good garden sprinkler, too. I had a really great solid metal one, but unfortunately, my dad ran over it with the car many years ago. Sigh. It probably would still be working.