Copyright © Sheryl Williams - Yardfanatic 2016. All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Best Garden Tools Ever

My life changed forever in 1989.

That was the year Ed and I were married and I moved into his home on Sherrett Street in Portland, Oregon. Ed came with serious landscaping issues. The front yard was nothing but dandelions, and the back yard had a huge pile of dirt snuffing out some clumping bamboo.

I made short work of the dandelions and then turned my energy into freeing the bamboo. Turns out it was a junk pile of yard debris, car parts, tin cans, and a garden fork.

The garden fork was in surprising shape, the wooden handle was horribly warped, but the tines were rust free. I really didn't know what to make of it. First of all, who would bury a perfectly good tool and second of all, what the heck was it used for? I grew up on a farm and a pitchfork was one of the primary tools in use. We had a regular hay fork and another type we used to muck out the stalls. But this fork was different. It had four tines that were broad, flat, and thick. I cleaned it up and put it in the garage.

Weeks later I was trying to dig up more dandelions and not doing well. The roots kept breaking off in the heavy clay soil and wrenching on the plants with a hand tool was killing my back. I thought of the garden fork tucked into the garage and gave it a try. I've never looked back. Turns out, it became one of my two favorite tools. I use it for almost everything in the garden. It is the perfect tool for digging up weeds, breaking up dirt clods, turning the compost, aerating a bed, prying up rocks, moving sod, turning over soil, and chasing off raccoons. It's the first tool I mention whenever people ask me what they should have for gardening. My fork has replaced the hoe completely and most times I use it instead of a shovel.

My second favorite tool is my Felco hand pruner. I've had other types over the years. People used to give me pruners for Christmas gifts because mine were always so beat up. I went through brand after brand and nothing would last. Most couldn't be sharpened and others simply fell apart. Yes, I was hard on them. I'd use them to cut branches that were too big or dropped them onto hard surfaces. My biggest frustration was that none of them would keep an edge, thus making the pruning all the harder. I finally broke down and decided to spend the extra money to get a pair of Felco's on the advice of another gardener. It became one of those moments when you say to yourself - "Why didn't I do this years ago!!"  I've owned the same pair for almost fifteen years and they have never failed me. We sharpen them about three times a year and they hold their edge under the most abusive circumstances. I use them as pruners, not to mention tin snips, hose cutters, wire cutters, box cutters, staple pullers, grafting knife, and a handy tool to pry on things. They've been dropped, run over, squished into mud, stepped on, lost in the compost, and left out in the rain. Despite this horrible treatment they can be cleaned up, sharpened, and put away for another day. They are more reliable than I am, that's for sure.

I love to garden, but I also don't want to work harder than I have to. My garden fork and Felco pruners have made my life so much easier and allows me to get done what I need to in order to enjoy the fruits of my labor. Speaking of fruit, I need to trim that tree. Never mind that the branch is over two inches thick - honey, hand me the Felcos!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Steal this idea! Tool Cleaning Bucket

I struggle with taking care of my gardening tools.  I usually manage to clean them off - somewhat, but invariably the handles get all muddy and I have rust spots popping up.  Shovels, hoes, rakes, cultivators, pitchforks, hand weeders:  all of them rusty.

A couple of years ago I heeded the advice of a gardening show and bought linseed oil to rub onto the metal and handles - with the idea of putting up the tools for winter.  This worked for the Vermont-based show host, but I lived in Oregon and gardened all winter.  There was no tool storage for me - just many days of working in the wet maritime Pacific Northwest.  I used the oil off and on when I remembered until the day I dropped the can in the driveway.

That's all changed now thanks to Holly and Carolyn, two master gardeners that passed on a tool cleaning bucket idea during their roses workshop.  Carolyn relates that she got the idea from a Bob Villa program.

It's really very simple and works great!  You need a lidded bucket (I used an empty kitty litter container,) a bag of builders sand (got mine at Lowe's), and a quart of motor oil.  You can also use mineral or boiled linseed oil.  Mix the sand and oil in the bucket and you're ready to go.

With my heavy clay soil I still have to use a putty knife to clean off the worst of it, with lighter soils you can use steel wool.  Next I dip the tool in the bucket, then use a rag to polish.  The sand acts as an abrasive and the oil coats the metal plus softens the dirt.  As an extra bonus the sand cleaning helps keep everything sharp.  I use the rag to clean and lubricate the handle too.


I keep the bucket in my tool cabinet so it's nice and convenient.  

I have a tool chest on the back deck where I keep all my hand tools like trowels, cultivators and pruners.  For them a yogurt container suffices and it fits into one of the drawers.


I'm really happy with the results and the containers are great reminders to take the time to clean the tools.

I hope this inspires you to create your own tool cleaning bucket.  Let me know how it goes!