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!
With the promise of El Niño bringing milder and damper winter conditions, this might be a good year to try growing some winter vegetables in the warmer parts of Inyo and Mono counties.
Choose your space. One of my problems is the fact that I tend to plant successions of vegetables all through the year, so I still have tomatoes, beets, parsnips, lettuce, peas, carrots and leeks taking up a lot of space! I also like to take the opportunity to leave most of the veggie plot fallow in order to cultivate it during the winter. Sometimes the areas that we choose for summer planting are not always the best ones to choose when growing in other seasons. Large open areas used in summer may well be subject to severe radiation frosts or drying winds in winter. Lower sun angles may mean that a spot that gets plenty of sun in summer might be too shady in winter due to a fence or other structure. Look around carefully to find a sheltered spot with the most light (especially if using frost-cloth tunnels which will reduce the light reaching the plants). However, those who live at high altitudes or in the colder parts of Inyo/Mono counties may be reduced to growing bean sprouts on the kitchen windowsill!
Be practical. With irrigation systems turned off, and relative humidity low, one can expect to be doing a lot of hand watering. Take the distance from a faucet into consideration. As the worst of winter recedes, and the sun gets higher, it can get very hot under tunnels of frost cloth, and in cold frames and greenhouses, so it will be important to open them up to allow air to circulate during the day, a tricky problem if one is not on the property full time.
Optimize what you have. If you have a greenhouse, this is the time of year when it can really pay dividends -one of our Master Gardeners picked ripe cherry tomatoes throughout last winter! However, if a greenhouse is not available frost cloth stretched over hoops of plastic or wire, or a hoop house, can still help modify soil temperatures to a greater or lesser degree. I make tunnels from 8' lengths of 3' or 4' wide field wire bent in half lengthwise with frost cloth stretched over and held in place with clothes pins - simple and effective. I find it easier to lift the whole tunnel off as a unit in order to tend the plants, rather than dealing with individual hoops. I have frost cloth, shade cloth and insect and bird netting cut to size so that I can cover the tunnel with what is most appropriate at any given time. High winds can shred plastic and blow mulch into the next county so make sure that covers are secure.
Other suggestions regarding cold protection: for individual plants a large upturned, hanging basket stuffed lightly with straw, dry leaves or even crumpled newspaper can help (I have even used a shower cap over the basket to keep the mulch dry during rain). The basket prevents the mulch from blowing away or getting scratched up by animals. For tender herbs growing against a wall, I use old window fly-screen panels with frost cloth cut to size and attached to the frame by clothes pins. I then lean the tops against the wall making a warm tunnel underneath. I have used old storm windows in similar fashion but found that they made the plants a little too hot. Sturdy tomato cages, no longer in use at that time of year can be placed over plants with frost cloth wrapped around the outside, and the top protected by a stout piece of cardboard attached by clips or wires.
Be vigilant about pest control: You may have found a nice cozy spot for your plants, but it is just as cozy for aphids, earwigs, sow bugs and caterpillars. I have seen cabbage white butterflies investigating my plants at the end of December! I also had to throw away several beautiful heads of broccoli one winter when they had the worst gray aphid infestation that I have ever seen. The infestation took hold during a cold spell when I had preferred to sit in front of a fire rather than caring for my plants – no amount of pressure hosing would remove the sticky mess!
Soil preparation and sowing techniques are much the same for winter crops as for any other time.
Plants should be mulched to reduce swings in soil temperature as much as possible, but of course this can only be done after seeds have germinated otherwise the tiny plants would risk getting smothered.
What to grow
- Lettuce, radish, onions and spinach, radishes, fava beans, beets and chard may be sown as seeds.
- Garlic cloves can be planted until early November.
- Well grown starts of the cabbage family: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and small varieties of cabbage together with kale. Although these are hardy and tough plants they need to be checked regularly for pests.
- Parsley is tough and I have seen it flattened by a thick covering of ice from a leaking gutter, but a few hours later it was standing as if nothing had happened.
In the High Desert growing through the winter is always a risk and one's successes will vary from year to year but with good frost protection and possibly milder temperatures it might be worth a try, especially from Big Pine south.
Reading books about pioneer families I noticed that ground cherry pie often played an important role in fall festivities. Priding myself as a "fruitarian" I was surprised that here was a fruit I had never seen or tasted. That had to be rectified!
Ground cherries belong to the genus Physalis and are closely related to Cape gooseberries (Physalis peruviana) and tomatillos (Physalis ixocarpa) which they resemble. Many Physalis species are described as ground cherries, but I chose to grow one particular variety — Physalis pubescens var 'Pineapple' — since it was said to have a superior flavor. Two other highly recommended varieties are “Aunt Mollie” and “Goldie” which are said to have good flavor and are a little larger than “Pineapple”.
I sowed the seeds indoors six weeks before the last expected frost and had no trouble germinating or transplanting them. The plants grew slowly at first but more rapidly once soil temperatures had warmed up. At this point the foliage became laced with tiny holes which looked consistent with flea beetle damage. I used some insecticidal soap with little affect before deciding to let them take their chance without any further intervention. The plants quickly developed into a lax, multi-branched, 18-inch high, sprawling shrub with many of the stems running along the ground. Numerous tiny yellow flowers developed into husk covered fruits. None of them approached the promised ½-inch diameter but were more like the size of a large green pea. Toward the end of the season the husks turned brown and the fruits inside became bright yellow/orange before dropping to the ground. Harvesting was accomplished by raking up the fallen fruits.
Unlike tomatillos, the bottom of the fruit does not protrude through the husk, so there is no way of telling if the fruit is ripe until the husk has been removed. Green fruits should not be eaten since they contain a toxic alkaloid. There are numerous very tiny seeds inside the fruit, and occasionally this can give the impression of eating grit! The flavor is hard to describe, but ripe fruits are sweet, pleasant to eat out of hand and add interest to fruit salads, but they really come into their own for making preserves since they produce a wonderful, unique-flavored jelly or jam. One great advantage of ground cherries is that they have a tremendous shelf life, and can hold for up to 3 months if left in their husks and stored in a cool place.
It was four years ago that I planted my first crop and although I was not smitten by this fruit and had no intention of growing it again, it has volunteered in my garden ever since, so I usually leave a couple of plants to mature and welcome the change of flavor from the eternal grapes and pears!
You can find ground cherry seeds in many gardening catalogues.
- 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.
- Author: Harold McDonald
Gardeners know that the old saying “location, location, location” doesn't just apply to real estate. As the local Farm Advisor, Dustin Blakey always stresses, put the right plant in the right spot. But what if you live in Chalfant. It doesn't really seem to be the right spot for anything! Next time you're driving out Highway 6—maybe for a great burger at The Merc—notice the native vegetation. Not far past Laws the sagebrush disappears. By the time you're coming down the hill toward Chalfant, even the rabbitbrush has deserted you, and aside from the relative lushness of the occasional saltbush you're faced with a lot of things that pretty much look dead, so it's hard to say just what they are.
Last time I wrote about one of my top ten favorite shrubs, California coffeeberry (Frangula californica). When it comes to flowers, there is no contest for the winner in my neighborhood—the entire Salvia genus. If I were going for my yard's top ten flowers, maybe three of them would be salvias. I had two or three species when I lived in town, but I never really appreciated the diversity of the genus until I moved out here, where Salvias seem to succeed where others struggle. When I picture the star performers in Bishop, I'm thinking things like Rudbeckia and Echinacea. Why they thrive there, yet not here, I'm not sure, but salvias don't struggle, even in my yard, and nothing attracts more creatures. From before dawn until after sunset, from April through October, there are always hummingbirds in my yard.
Here in the Owens Valley, most of the salvias we are familiar with require relatively little water, so it is easy for us to forget that salvia is the largest genus of the mint family Lamiaceae—plants that normally like wet conditions. Salvias do vary with their water needs, and some are bog plants, but most are relatively un-thirsty and all require well-drained soil. Of more concern to us is cold tolerance. Nearly any salvia will grow well here in the summer, but many are tender perennials. Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage), for example, is one that is big and beautiful in summer, and though I had some success with them overwintering in Big Pine, Chalfant is a bit too rugged for that one. Like another beautiful sage that is widely available in our area, Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue,' it is rated zones 8-10, so if you're in the southern end of the valley, you might be able to count on a return performance next year; the farther north you travel, the more you'll have to be content with buying new plants every year. By the way, the American Horticulture Society has good gardening maps at http://www.ahs.org/gardening-resources/gardening-maps and our own website has great local info at http://ucanr.edu/sites/mginyomono/Resources/Climate/. As long as we're looking at external sources, here's another one of interest: a list of all the known species of Salvia!
Sage has one of the longest histories of any of the useful herbs, and the essential oils of another, clary sage (Salvia sclarea), are widely used in aromatherapy, perfumes and liqueurs. It's interesting and easy to grow from seed, but somewhat rank. Fortunately, there are lots more interesting choices and we'll get to them next time.