Got Nuts?

I’ll bet you do have nuts!  As I look across the kitchen from where I am writing, I see a big jar of Planters peanuts and next to it is another big jar of Kirkland’s Marcona Almonds.  (These are SO GOOD!  but the store supply is seasonal, so you need to buy many jars when they are in.)  Right next to the jars is the frig where we keep the walnuts.  (I don’t know why.)  Just checked the pantry and found an unopened bag of Blue Diamond lightly salted almonds. Anyway, we definitely got nuts, and I bet you do too.

 Now, how about rats?  Do you have rats?  We have rats because we have citrus trees.  Unfortunately we park our cars in the driveway nearby and rats love to make a nest in the engine compartment.  Those little b*#&+%s (I’ve never sworn in a blog before—can you tell?) ate wiring in our Yukon.  That was expensive.  They also did a job on our air conditioning condenser on the other side of the house.  Not cheap either.  Anyway . . . we know rats.  We have also killed a lot of rats, and one of the problems is disposing of the carcass.  If you just put it in the garbage, it will probably stink up that whole side of the house even when you bag it.  We have had to resort to double Ziploc bagging the varmint and putting it in the freezer until garbage day.  The problem is that we often forget it, and when we discover it several weeks later when looking for dinner, it’s rather disturbing.

Now, how about tomatoes?  Since you are a gardener in the Sacramento Valley, I know you have tomato plants—It’s the law.  Don’t you just hate it when a rat gets into your tomato plant and takes just one bite out of your best tomatoes?  (Insert you own swear word here: ____________.

 Now that we have determined you have nuts, rats, and tomatoes, let’s get ready to kill those suckers.  (Is that swearing?)  You have baited your rat traps with peanut butter before, and that works well, but I am always disappointed when the ants get to the bait first, leaving me with a very clean, empty trap.  Here is what you need to do.  Take one of your nuts—preferably an almond—and hot glue it to the trip pedal.  Do this before you set the trap, or you will end up with hot glue everywhere!  Now you have a trap that can be used over and over.

I’ll leave trap placement up to you.  One of my favorites is to secure it to the limb of a citrus tree with green tape or a zip tie.  Somehow it is more satisfying to find a rat hanging suspended from a trap.  I have also found it advantageous to drill a hole in the corner of the trap and attach a cord when positioning a trap on a fence or on a ledge.

I know you hate to give up a nut, but it’s only one.  I was going to use a marcona almond, but couldn’t bear to lose one, and opened the Blue Diamond bag instead.

 

Rat trap baited with almond
Rat trap baited with almond

Happy trapping, Stan, The Nut Man

P.S. I just ordered an ultrasonic rodent repellant deterrent device from Amazon that will attach to my new car’s battery.  I figure $24 is cheap insurance preventing over $1000 worth of damage.

The Old Man

There was once an old man that lived down the street.  Along with other home owners in the neighborhood, he had a magnolia tree growing in the middle of his front lawn.  Every day I would see him wandering all over the lawn picking up magnolia leaves with a grabber.  I assumed he probably was too stiff to bend over, or perhaps was fearful of doing a face plant on display for the entire neighborhood.  He eventually had the tree cut down so the only time I would see him is when he would drive by.  Dr. Chambers died probably 30 years ago.

I recently spruced up my front landscape with a yard and a half of mini bark from Hasties.  I appreciate the improvement so much that I constantly am out there with a grabber picking up the magnolia leaves that my nextdoor neighbor’s tree provides.  I wonder what the neighbors think of me?

Stan, The Old Man

Improved Lawn Edging

If you look at the first photo below, you can see that absolute mess I made trying to edge my otherwise beautiful lawn with a string edger.  Lawn edging is something that I have never been able to do well.  Well, I solved my problem.  I removed the guard from the edger.  Now I can actually see what I am doing, and have been able to do a good job, if I do say so myself.  If you also choose to remove the trimmer guard, you must wear eye protection.  I would also suggest that you floss your teeth when your edging is finished.

Stan, The Much Improved Man

Butchered lawn edging
Butchered lawn edging

Trimmer with guard removed
Trimmer with guard removed

 

Got Roots?

Root Slayer
Root Slayer
Here is another tool recommended by Anita Clevenger.  The Root Slayer is a shovel with a sharp V-shaped tip and blade edges with saw teeth.  It is perhaps Anita’s favorite tool because using it vastly reduces the strain on her hands and wrists.  She says it’s absolutely essential for digging around trees.  One of the drawbacks to this shovel is that it will slice right through irrigation lines as well as roots.  Then too, the tool description says not to use it for prying action.  The Root Slayer comes in 3 basic models—a straight long handle version for $47, a short heavy-duty version for $64 and a light-weight short version for $35.  In Amazon’s description the light-weight shovel is suggested “for women and mature gardeners”.  If you are not sure if you fit into these categories, give me a call and I’ll help you decide.

Stan, The Tool Man

P.S.  A further discussion with Anita revealed that there are many models of the Root Slayer.  Her model is actually the lighter version discussed above, but with a different handle than the ring handle.  She feels the lighter shovel is better because it can maneuver into smaller spaces.  She also indicated that this is a popular shovel with backpackers and users of metal detectors.  I suspect that short 29” “Mini-Digger” or the trowel would be useful here.

Got Grass?

Here is a tool via Anita Clevenger.  The Japanese grass sickle saw is an inexpensive tool that will really save you a great deal of time when it’s time to cut back your ornamental grasses.  There are many models, but the one Anita bought at Home Depot is unique in that the inner blade is a fine-toothed edge that is extremely sharp—I mean really, really sharp.  Wear a substantial glove with the hand you use to grab a bunch of grass and slice off that bunch with a careful quick pull.  The one model I found on Amazon with a finely serated edge is the “Hounenkihan Japanese Grass Sickle Saw” and runs $16.99.  Remember to count your fingers when you finish the job.  You may have left something behind.

Stan, The Tool Man

Japanese grass sickle
Japanese grass sickle

Building Raised Planter Beds

With all the pandemic caused emphasis on home improvement, this would have been a good article to write a year ago.  Better late than never.  As usual, wanting to advise others comes as a result of mistakes I have made, some of which are described below.

Size:  Length can be whatever you want.  Width, however, should be no more than 4 feet.  I have 3 beds that are 5 feet by 8 feet and it is difficult to do any work near the center of the beds.  The one 4 footer is so much easier.  The walls of my beds are made with three 2 x 6’s, so they are about 18 inches high.  Now that I think of it, 24 inches would have been much better in terms of having to bend over less.  But then, I think proportions look better at 18”—you gotta look good even if it’s painful.  The higher you raise the box, the stronger the support needed to keep boards from bowing out if they are long.  People use raised beds to make tending them easier and to create an enclosure for the new improved soil that can be brought in that, hopefully, plants will love.  Most people find that a bed 10 or 12 inches high works well for them—not so much for growing tomatoes which are best planted 18 inches down.

Materials:  Most people use wood.  Redwood is probably the best.  When you are picking out your 2-by boards, try to find those that have the most heartwood.  The reddish heartwood is far more resistant to rot than the pale sapwood.  Cedar is another good choice.  Pressure treated wood is more controversial.  No arsenic has been used in this wood since 2003-4.  Currently 2 different copper compounds are used and although no traces of these chemicals have been found in either soil or vegetables, pressure treated wood is not recommended for planter boxes in which food is grown.  You can alleviate you fears by lining the box with heavy plastic—say 6 mil.  You can also seal the box with paint or another kind of sealer.  One caution—avoid breathing the dust when cutting pressurized wood.  Wear a mask.  I know you know how to do that.  More expensive, but far more durable is construction with masonry.  There are all kinds of attractive alternatives here.  The drawback is that you have to lean over farther to work with your plants and the material is not gentle on elbows and knees

Misc.  Plan ahead and bring irrigation lines up into the box.  Cover the bottom with hardware cloth—you know, the substantial ¼” wire mesh, to keep varmints out.  A layer of weed cloth will also discourage the invasion of roots from a nearby tree.  Trust me—tree roots will love the great soil and water you have provided.  If you are using wood, consider installing flat boards on the top edges for ease of sitting.  Don’t just use screws to hold lumber together.  Use lag screws, or better yet, use bolts with washers.  If using lag screws, predrill to prevent splitting.  You can attach a band of copper mesh around the outside to keep snails and slugs out—but not earwigs.  Finally, as you can see below, if you use treated posts, you have to add preservative, sealer, or a cap to cuts that have exposed untreated interior areas.

In-box irrigation
In-box irrigation

Rotting post
Rotting post

Copper mesh prevents slugs
Copper mesh

Post cap
                        Post cap

Why does most of my learning have to come at the expense of mistakes I have made?

Stan, The Blog Man

Garden Shields

I recently had a newly cultivated area that I wanted to let dry out until planting.  I used 2 political signs to ward off the spray from 2 sprinklers and they really worked well.  By cutting off all but 6 inches from the supporting wire of the sign, you can poke it into the ground and move the shield wherever you want.  The sign is made of corrugated plastic so it is impervious to water.  On the other hand, you might want to shield certain plants from harsh sun rays.  When not in use, these flat shields store efficiently.

As you know these signs are readily available when political issue are made public.  You can either wait until issues are settled, or simply pick up the signs when they don’t agree with your viewpoint. ( My editor says I can’t say that.)

Stan, The Blog Man

Repurposed political signs
Repurposed political signs as garden shields

Clippity Doo Dah

LaVille and I like to take our Hyundai into the dealership in Vacaville because we take two cars and we spend the hours shopping at the numerous stores nearby.  There’s the factory stores, Target, Lowes, and many, many more all within a couple miles.  Well today after hitting Eddy Bauer, Lowes (several geraniums and great bougainvillea), the RH (the new Restoration Hardware—very disappointing), and Target, we came across a Dollar Tree.  The one thing we found there (other than the honey roasted peanuts and the Hot Tamales) was a package of Claw Clips.  Normally these would be used in your hair (not my hair), but we have found these tiny spring-loaded clips to be really useful in the garden for supporting delicate vines—like peas, clematis, passion vine, black-eyed susan, hardenbergia, honeysuckle, and morning glory.  So if you are into vines like we are, I suggest you visit your local Dollar Tree and seek out a package of Claw Clips—12 for a dollar.  If you find a photo of a clip below, I was able to figure out how to transfer a photo from my phone to a document.  If no photo, I failed again.

Stan, The Rambling Man
P.S. Don’t forget the peanuts!

Cl;aw Clips
Dollar Store Claw Clips

WD-40 vs Silicone

I would hazard to guess that you have either a can of WD-40 or a can of silicone spray, or both, in your arsenal of improvement products.  Which of these is better?  Let me give you my opinion.  (If you don’t want it, stop reading.)

The term “WD-40” is derived from the fact that the aerospace company developing this product was trying to find a chemical that would displace water—thus “WD” stands for water displacement.  As it happens, WD-40 was the 40th formula that was finally successful in keeping water away from the skin of the Atlas rocket and preventing corrosion.  I have always found this fact fascinating.  (Not so much for you?…Oh well.)

I always include a can of WD-40 in my supply of tool sharpening equipment.  Not only do I use it to coat metal to retard rusting, but the spray tends to dissolve the gunk that accumulates on pruners and loppers.  (Oven cleaner and a brush really does a thorough job though.) And, of course, it is a lubricant that reduces friction and stops those irritating squeaks.  I also just learned from my Flipboard app (A great app for learning the latest news.) that WD-40, being oily, can be applied to wooden handles to reduce the occurrence of splinters.  Then, too, if you notice that the rocket in your back yard is starting to corrode, this product is a must.

Now, silicone, on the other hand, is not petroleum based.  Therefore it dries and has far less odor for use indoors.  Since it dries, it won’t trap dust and dirt.  Silicon is therefore ideal for lubricating the tracks of sliding doors and screens, lubricating tracks of drawers, improving the function of padlocks and doorknobs, and stopping the squeaks of door hinges.

On a personal note, I used WD-40 to lubricate the switch on my leaf blower.  The blower was set aside on a flat surface and was still plugged to a power cord.  While I was doing something else, the blower turned itself on, and since the air intake was blocked, the motor overheated and started a fire.  Being a slow learner, I bought the same model of leaf blower again.  Since the power switch on this one was sticking like the last one,  lubricated again with WD-40.  Believe it or not, this resulted in a melted switch.  Who’da thought!  I had to take the blower apart and hard wire it.  Now I have to discnnect the extension cord whenever I want to stop blowing.  So apparently it is unwise to use WD-40 on electrical switches.

So in conclusion, I would suggest that you have both of these products.  Use WD-40 where you want to leave an oily surface, and use silicone where you want to lubricate but leave a dry surface.

Stan, The Slow Learning Man

A New Hose

I’ve taken a chance here.  While walking the isle at Costco, I spotted a pallet of boxes of garden hoses—RAPIDFLO 100 ft length, 5/8 inch diameter, lightweight, tough, kink-resistant.  You see, LaVille has been wrestling with a rubber hose that has become stiffer with age.  (What’s new?)  She has had to drag it through the main iris garden and then wind it back up on the hose reel when done.  So I uncoiled the old, stiff hose off the reel.  Actually it now remains permanently coiled along the side yard. I then attached this new hose to the spool and turned on the pressure.  I could see that LaVille at the far side of the yard was now watering with less than expected flow.  Not only did the 100 foot length impede the flow, but the 5/8 inch hose itself was perhaps still somewhat flattened.  Maybe continued use will expand it—probably not.  Perhaps the company should change it’s name to SLOFLO.  But LaVille says that the gentle spray was actually desirable.  Anyway, when LaVille was finished watering, I had her close the spray wand valve to keep the hose turgid, and wound the hose up on the reel.  You don’t want a flattened hose on the reel.  That would really limit flow.  The winding task was truly easy to do because the hose is really lightweight.

So, do I recommend this hose?  The jury is still out at our house.  I would say that if you are tired woman handling (Is that sexist?) an old, heavy hose around, this may be the hose for you.  You can easily coil the hose in a large pot if you don’t have a reel.  I am going to assume that this hose design is less likely to leak as the expandable hoses tend to do.  Keep in mind that this is 100 feet of hose.  It seemed a little long for my yard that is only 80 feet wide.  As of 3/20/21, this hose if available at Costco for $39.99.  If you miss it there, Amazon has it for $55 (Yikes!).

Happly hosing,

Stan, The Tool Man     

RapidFlo Hose
RapidFlo Hose

Bucket Envy

If you want to stand out from the typical gardener who uses the ubiquitous ugly 5 gallon plastic bucket to contain everything from tools to weeds, here is your chance.  Tubtrugs is the maker of an entire line of colorful, flexible, containers that would fulfill your every need.  I have a friend that bought the 10 gallon size, and liked it so well that he bought 3 more.  Keep in mind that if you are like me and require the rigid edges of a bucket to assist your rise from the ground to a vertical position, this may not be your best bet.  But for those of you with younger legs, here is your chance to secure the envy of all your neighbors and gardening friends.  Amazon has a great assortment for you to peruse.  And remember, if it rains, Tubtrugs has you covered—better go with the 10 gallon size.

Stan, The Bucket Man

10-gallon Tub Trug flexible plastic bucket
10-gallon Tub Trug flexible plastic bucket

Spring Clamps

 Once again it is beneficial to look outside the box.  Here we have a versatile item that you won’t find in your local nursery.  Please note that although labeled “Spring” clamps, these devices may be used during all 4 seasons—and especially in the Summer.  You can see by the accompanying photo, that they are brightly colored, which will hopefully prevent their loss.  (I haven’t seen your garden, but I suspect you may have the tendency to leave stuff all over.)  This complete variety of color allows you to accessorize your gardening attire with clamps that will attach anywhere.  I don’t have much capability, but I suppose you could even adorn your hair with these snazzy items.  I tried this idea, but found it rather painful.

So how would you use these clamps in the garden?  You could support plants.  You wouldn’t pinch the plant itself—that would be cruel—but enclose the branch and clamp to a supportive structure.  Using this on vines, tomato plants, and bougainvillea immediately comes to mind, but, really, any plant that requires staking would be a good candidate.  Then there’s the need to attach sheet material—bird netting, shade cloth, frost protection, tarps.  Could you use it to attach labels?  How about hanging yellow sticky sheets.  Maybe you need to close a bag of fertilizer.  How ‘bout sticking one on your body to remind you to turn off the water.

I think you can see that there is almost no end to the uses for this versatile tool.  You are probably not trying to decide whether or not to buy, but how many to buy.  Well, the good news is that these clamps are really cheap.  You can purchase a set of 22 clips for only $4.99 at your closest Harbor Freight, so don’t hold back!

Happy Clamping,

Stan, The Tool Man

P.S. If you really want to travel outside the box, google “clampers.”  My brother-in-law is one of these.

Spring Clamps
Spring Clamps

 

This Rake’s For You!

I don’t know if you remember, but several times I have emphasized the importance buying tools that are as light as possible—as long as it doesn’t affect the quality or effectiveness of the tool.  This would apply particularly to shovels and brooms.  This fact was brought to mind when I recently received a birthday gift from one of my sons.  This shovel arrived in a box from Lowes that was so mangled and mashed, that you wouldn’t think anything inside could have survived, but survived it did.  Now, this 48 inch Cobalt steel digging shovel is really substantial—no wonder it survived.  The handle is steel and the step flange is wide which is advertised to not hurt your foot (like I’m going to be out digging barefoot or in flipflops—come on!).  Anyway, the point is that this shovel is heavy.  Every time I heft the shovel, I am lifting the weight of the shovel as well as its load—wasted energy.  This shovel is so substantial that it comes with a lifetime warrantee.  If I didn’t know this son better, I would suspect that he has sights on this tool in the end, if you know what I mean.  In the meantime, the shovel is awaiting a significant sharpening as the shovel blade is really thick.

 Boy!  When I digress, I don’t go halfway.  I am trying the make the point that several tools are better when they are light.  This is particularly true with leaf rakes, which you use by constantly swinging them back and forth.  I am in love (not really) with a rake I found at a garage sale.  It is the Blue Hawk 24 inch leaf rake.  The Blue Hawk series of products are entry level tools from Lowes.  The handle is made of light wood.  The rake head is light plastic, and only the tines are metal.  I found by accident that you can actually improve this rake.  One day I was too lazy to pick up the rake from the lawn and thought I could pass over it without harm.  The mower ripped off 4 of the tines on one side.  (I never did find the tines.)  I used this lopsided rake for many months until I came up with the idea of removing 4 tines from the other side by sawing through the plastic head.  Now, through serendipity (stupidity) I have a long handled, narrow headed rake with long tines that is able to remove leaves from tight confines.  Since then, I was able to buy another Blue Hawk at another garage sale, so I have a full-size rake as well.  So, my suggestion to you is that, if you need a rake, go to Lowes and pick up one of these light-weight beauties for about $10.  Then, if you want to improve your raking capability, buy a second one and cut off tines from each side.  You can skip the mower part.

            Happy raking! Stan The Tool Man

I Hate Trees – Part 2

Perhaps a dozen years ago, LaVille and I planted 12 different fruit trees.  We followed the advice of the Dave Wilson Nursery and planted them in 3 groups of 4.  There were 4 cherries, 4 nectarines, and a group of 3 pluots with a plum.  Each group was growing on the same root stock.  The planting pattern was a square with trees 2 feet apart.  The goal is to have 4 stunted trees with a varied ripening sequence.  Trees were pruned to keep the center of the group open and the height limited to a comfortable harvesting level.  Sounds promising, right?

The nectarine trees never produced decent fruit.  It may have been related to the fact that I was never able to control the peach leaf curl.  So after probably 5 years, I removed them.  This wasn’t too difficult, because the root systems weren’t huge.

The cherry trees were doing just fine.  Sure, the jays took their toll, but we did have days of human grazing.  Then the spotted wing drosophila arrived.  The treatment was to apply a spray every 5 days beginning as soon as the fruit showed a blush of color.  A couple years of futile effort lead to tree extermination.  This was not easy as the biggest trunk was probably 8 inches across.  My tools this time were a hand saw, shovel, and hatchet.  I won the battle, but there were times when the desired outcome was in doubt.

The 3 pluots and plum trees produced mixed results.  The Montgomery plum was just OK.  2 of the pluots produced very little fruit.  The Dapple Dandy produced an abundant crop each year.  The fruit was large and had a marvelously tasty, sweet flavor.  Then disaster struck.  Remember that the center of the group is pruned to keep it open, so all of the fruit is produced on the outside of the grouping.  Well, even after extensive fruit thinning, the Dapple Dandy had so much fruit on one side, that the trunk cracked open.  That was also the straw that broke the camel’s back.  All 4 trees were sentenced to termination.  Being now an experience henchman, I added 2 tools to my arsenal.  Most importantly was the reciprocating saw.  It easily chopped off branches and shortened the trunk.  It was indispensable for cutting through the roots which were large and intertwined with the roots of the other trees.  Not only that, but unlike the cherry trees, these trees had a tap root which required me to excavate extensively to gain access to them.  I found that a planting pick was useful for clearing soil away from roots to expose them for the saw blade.  It is unavoidable to keep the saw blade away from the soil.  I fortunately had bought a package of 5 9” blades, because the soil really dulled them fast.  You can tell a blade needs replacing when it not only doesn’t cut, but the friction of the dull blade starts producing smoke.  Even with these tools the task was difficult.  I could only manage one tree per day.

In the end I did, of course, prevail.  Now there is room for planting more irises, which is a good thing as LaVille has probably 30 or 40 growing in gallon pots.     

Now, concerning tools, I have discussed both the transplanting shovel which I used and the reciprocating saw in previous articles.  The saw is a must if you have serious tree work to do.  I would recommend the little light weight planting pick if your soil is light.  I have also found it useful for digging shallow trenches to bury drip lines.  Most similar models are heavier and have a squared off chopping blade.  The Planting Trenching Digging Garden Hand Tool from Amazon pictured below is like the one I used.

So . . . what does all of this have to do with hating trees?  “Hate” is perhaps too strong a term for my attitude toward trees, but you can perhaps understand why I have a somewhat negative attitude.  No one enjoys failure—least of all me.                                          

 

Stan, The Tool Man

 

Teased to Death

Do you remember that day in high school biology when you dissected a night crawler?  If you don’t, let me tell you that it is an earthworm about 7 inches long.  You used your scalpel to carefully cut in incision in the dorsal surface at the anterior end.  Then using a probe, you scratched at the tissue of the wall segments and pulled back and pinned the body walls to the wax of the dissection tray.  Further scratching with the probe finally revealed the brain which consisted of two connected tiny white lumps lying on top of the esophagus.  We called this process teasing, and I am reminded of my first dissection back in 1957 whenever I am fighting the oxalis growing in my lawn.  I only have a few spots where oxalis insists on returning.  Several years ago. I removed 8 square feet of lawn that was hopelessly infested with this weed.  I thought I had eradicated it, but 2 or 3 areas continue to be a problem. 

So weekly, after each mowing, I get down on my hands and knees and use a teasing technique to remove any oxalis before it has a chance to go to seed.  The tool I use is a dinner plate knife because is it rigid, narrow, and had a dull rounded end.  I grab the oxalis by the neck (not really the neck) and pull gently.  At the same time, I tease (scratch) the soil where I figure the root is located.  Generally. the root gives way and another plant bites the dust (so to speak).

I figure that I have a right to tell you about this experience because it does involve a tool, albeit a tool with very limited use.  By the way, this is also the tool I use to spread peanut butter in the rat traps that I try to keep baited year-round.

I guess the one question remains—will I be able to completely tease the oxalis to death—or will it outlast me and tease me to death?

Stan, The Tool Man

P.S.  My editor says the last line is a little grim.

Table knife as garden tool
Table knife as garden tool