- Author: Alison Collin
Even minimalist gardeners acquire tools that need to be stored and maintained, and as years go by the collection gradually increases representing a significant financial outlay. However, if well cared for good tools will last a lifetime so it behooves us to make the extra effort to look after them well.
The chief requirements are that the tools be kept dry and easily accessible but not in the way, that blades should not be damaged, and that they do not present a hazard such as tipping over, or falling down and hitting someone. A dedicated garden shed is ideal for storage but if lack of space eliminates this possibility alternatives have to be found.
I keep small tools such as pruners, trowels, dandelion weeder, twine, scissors and gardening gloves in a large box of the type produced for storing patio furniture cushions. This also contains basic chemicals such as rooting hormone, Tanglefoot, fertilizers and insecticidal soap, hand sprayers, and it can be locked for safety. A fishing tackle or compartmentalized craft box makes an excellent organizer for drip irrigation nozzles, connectors, goof plugs etc.
Another idea for keeping small tools handy is suggested in the Sunset Western Garden book – a mailbox mounted on a post discreetly placed in a spot close to where these tools are most often used.
The most awkward things to store are items such as bird netting, shade cloth, weed cloth and frost cloth. It is amazing how the packs, so flat and neat on purchase, expand into a voluminous mess once the bag is opened. I get around this by folding them the best I can and then rolling them, tying the rolls securely with string and storing them vertically in a 32-gallon garbage can with a tight fitting lid.
The upper rails on the back panels of a “good neighbor” panel fence can have a series of ladder hooks screwed into them which are then used to store spare coils of irrigation tubing, hoses, watering cans, or the metal hoops from row covers. Similar hooks can be inserted into the lower rails and used to store bundles of plant stakes. Ladders can be stored horizontally on a fence or wall supported by hooks designed for the purpose.
Plant pots and seed flats are stacked by size, and kept in a 40 quart utility bucket which keeps them contained and can be used to sterilize them when necessary. Surplus ones are either recycled or donated to growers.
Pressure sprayers (empty and clean) should be kept away from direct sunlight since the UV light tends to degrade plastics. I learned this the hard way when a 1 quart hand sprayer exploded as I pumped it up, drenching me in insecticide! (It was organic, hence the stink of garlic, rosemary and worse that pervaded my being for several days but it could have been much worse).
Large tomato cages are always a bit of an eyesore when not in use, but they can be put to advantage in the winter by wrapping and securing frost cloth around the outside, placing them, with a layer of straw inside, over any tender plants. The frost cloth prevents the straw from blowing away.
Storage requirements will differ depending on circumstance, but the aim is to be able to find and easily access any tool, without taking up valuable growing space in the process.
Do you have any helpful ideas or tips? Share them below!
- Author: Carmen Kappos
While thinking about rounding up and checking all my own garden tools, I quickly found several good articles on tool care. The first article I came across is found in our own local garden guide “A Gardener's Companion” by Inyo - Mono Master Gardeners. The others I located on the Internet in university extension websites. For the complete articles, please check the references listed at the end. One of the articles has a good description of tool sharpening, as well as care of tools.
There are several good reasons to make tool maintenance a routine chore. The more important reasons include:
- Tools last longer when well cared for
- Sharp tools make better cuts on foliage, allowing the plant tissue to heal properly
- Clean tools help prevent the spread of plant diseases
- Tools are safer to use when they operate properly, you check for missing or broken parts, and you make handles secure and splinter free
In order to care for tools, many good tips were provided by the articles I found, such as:
- To disinfect pruning equipment both during use, and at seasons' end; spray or wipe with Lysol® disinfectant. The active ingredients in Lysol® are less corrosive to metal than a bleach solution and easier on your garden clothes as well. There are other brands as well.
- To protect metal tools from rust, clean, dry and give a light oil coating. During gardening season wipe off excess oil, or dirt will cling to the surface.
- Make an “oil sock” to rub metal parts and keep them clean. Stuff a sock with sand or wadded rags. Tie a knot and apply vegetable oil. Store the sock in a zip-lock plastic bag. Vegetable oils work and are less toxic than the engine oil that's often recommended
- A “dip bucket” of sand can clean shovels and trowels of clinging dirt. Master Gardener Alison Collin has observed that the older version dip bucket with oil in the sand is hard to dispose of since it is considered hazardous waste.
- Dedicate a plastic kitchen spatula to scrape off dirt and mud from tools after each use.
- Murphy's Oil Soap or a multi-purpose hand cleaner removes plant sap from tools, and as Alison also pointed out, is less toxic to use than turpentine which is recommended in older articles.
- Lubricate moving parts of tools, “3-in-1” oil is an effective joint lubricant.
- Use a wire brush, putty knife and /or steel wool to clean large amounts of dirt or rust from tools.
- Always wear safety goggles when cleaning and sharpening tools.
- A heavier coating of oil on tools not being used in winter protects the metal during storage.
- A tool storage rack will “help prevent mutinies in the garden shed,” by keeping tools organized, and may keep you safer from accidents.
- Use saw guards to keep saws sharp and yourself safe from accidental cuts.
- A bucket caddy corrals small hand tools.
- Drain hoses and allow to dry before hanging up at the season end.
- If you have multiple hoses, prior to storage, label where they are used in the garden.
- Before storing, check for and replace missing or worn washers from hose end couplings.
- Repair hose leaks with hose mending couplings.
Near the end of my garden season, I especially loved finding this quote from "Caring for Your Tools":
The most important tool in the garden is you. When you're feeling rusty and dull and not too sharp, you should take care of yourself. The same is true of your garden tools. They'll be more productive if they're well cared for [Jim Child (1999) Garden Gate, Issue 30.]
As I check over my tools for storage, and give them a little tender loving care: I've decided to do the same for myself with a little T.L.C., loafing in my yard and imagine what the next garden season will produce.
“A Gardener's Companion for the Eastern Sierra, Topaz to Tecopa,” Presented by the UCCE Master Gardeners of Inyo and Mono Counties. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Master Gardener Program.
“Take Good Care of Hard-working Garden Tools” http://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/node/498 contains several good reminders on caring for garden tools.
“Caring for Your Tools” can be found at fyi.uwex.edu/cwas/files/2013/01/Caring_for_Your_Tools.pdf A detailed article including tool sharpening information.
“How disinfectants compare in preventing transmissions of fire blight”, Teviotdale, Beth L., Wiley, Monica F., Harper, Dennis H. (1991) California Agriculture. 45(4):21-23.