Tool Time: Caring for Garden Tools

Heirloom Garden ToolsWe’re a little lost this time of year when it comes to gardening. Sure there’s plenty else to do and our indoor plants provide just enough green contact to keep us in touch with growing things. But looking out over a mulch or snow-covered garden gets us a bit anxious to get outside and start gardening again. What to do in the meantime?

Take care of our garden tools. Grandma’s maxim — “It’s not what you have but how you take care of what you have” — applies to garden tools, especially the ones we inherited from her. How did they last that long? See Grandma’s maxim.

By now, of course, you’ve drained the hoses and brought them inside for winter storage, unless your climate is such that you are able to water all year ’round. But have you taken a wire brush to your shovel, turning fork, and hoe to clean away all traces of dirt and rust? Have you taken special care to clean debris away from where the head of the tool meets the handle to avoid hidden rot and decay? Did you treat those wooden handles with linseed oil to assure that they won’t turn brittle and crack… or worse? Did you sharpen the edge of your shovel, not to a knife-like edge but to one just cutting enough to make it easier to slice sod and break new soil come next spring? Are your pruning shears sharp — or sharper — than the day you bought them (don’t be afraid to have a professional do this unless you’re experienced and have the right tools for the job)? Did you oil your shears hinges and moving parts? Did you drain the gas from the mower and pull the spark plug for safe keeping?

Me neither. Not yet anyway. But this weekend, during an acceptably warm afternoon, I intend to get in the shed and take care of the tools that have served me so well. I promise. Are you listening, grandma?

Need more motivation? Here’s a nice little essay on caring for your tools compliments of the Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture. Side note: nearly everyone will tell you that a great way to store and care for your tools is to half fill (or less) a barrel with sand and then pour a quart of motor oil over the top. For hand tools, use a bucket. Every time you push a tool into the sand or pull it out, the tool is automatically cleaned and greased. One problem we faced when we moved: how do you dispose of the oil-soaked sand? We also found it hard to push shovel heads and other tools, especially rakes, into the sand, especially the longer it was used. Maybe this isn’t such a good idea after all.

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