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!