Moisture Meter

Kill any plants lately?  If so, it was probably because of too little or too much water. The tool you need is the moisture meter.  Now, one of the guest speakers (the “Giggling Gardener”, I believe) on the Farmer Fred radio show said that each of us has a moisture meter on each hand.  But, honestly, I don’t like jamming my finger down into the soil.  I hate dirt under my fingernails.  Then too, sometimes even a long finger can’t get through the plant to reach the soil.

Many moisture meters come with 2 probes.  I personally find the additional metering of pH and light useless.  A second probe also makes it twice as hard to penetrate the soil.  Moisture meters are available at garden centers and nurseries for about $10.  If you can only find 2 probe models, I suggest you snip off the second probe.  Are you really ever going to adjust the pH of your soil?  Dip each probe separately into water to see which one detects moisture.  Don’t leave the meter in soil between uses.  Corrosion will reduce effectiveness.  If corrosion appears, use steel wool or fine sandpaper to clean the probe.

 I believe most of you have potted plants, and it is those plants that are susceptible to over or under watering.  Whether it is potted irises, violets, cyclamen, ferns, or Chinese evergreens, soil moisture needs to be monitored.  By the way, you do realize the proper way to water a potted plant is to apply water until it runs out the bottom.  That will reduce the buildup of minerals in the soil.  Another tip is to beware of drip basins.  Water left in a drip basin will cause soil to remain saturated resulting in root rot because of a lack of oxygen.

 Keeping potting soil moist can also result in the culture of soil or fungus gnats.  These are tiny (like 1/8 in) flies that arise from the soil of indoor potted plants when watered or otherwise disturbed.  The flying adults are harmless, but it is the larval stage that can do damage by eating the roots hairs of your plants.  Here you can use your moisture meter to monitor soil moisture.  Allow the top layer of the potting mix to dry out between watering.  This will simply break the life cycle of this pest without the application of various chemical products that are available.  Watering from the bottom up is another technique to keep the soil surface dry.

Moisture meters are common in nurseries and can be purchased on Amazon for less than $10.  I encourage you to leave the moisture meter somewhere in the house where you will come across it frequently to remind you to check your potted plants.  Believe me, you will kill fewer plants by using this simple device.

Keeping my fingers clean,

Stan, The Tool Man

Grabber

Now for a tool designed for the older set:  the grabber.  The grabber, as the name implies, is used to grab things.  These tools would occasionally appear at garage sales.  Having none, and being The Tool Man, I started collecting several.  These grabbers were of different designs, most of which demonstrated why they ended up in garage sales.

            The first purpose I found for the grabber was to enable me to pick up things while recovering from hernia surgeries.  This was especially needed to pick up the morning newspaper.  Later I used the grabber to retrieve the newspaper from beneath our car in the driveway.  It’s most common use is to pick up tangerines that are dropping daily.  The ability to reach around trees without stepping around so much reduces the amount of soil compaction.  Speaking of picking up dropped fruit—have you ever tried to pick up a rotten plum and found that your fingers penetrated the skin so all you end up with is goo all over?  This is where a grabber with suction cup ends comes in handy.  It’s surprising how the suction cups will enclose the softest of fruit so it can be gently lifted to a waste container.  That is why I am recommending this type of grabber.  I always thought this suction cup style looked cheap and toy-like, but the suction cups are substantial and versatile in picking up a variety of objects.

            Not convinced you need this tool?  Do you have a magnolia tree in your neighborhood that sends indestructible leaves into your front yard whenever the wind blows?  How about a pine tree that drops cones throughout the year?  Got snails?  Did your golf ball happen to find the depths of a dastardly water hazard?  Ever prune your roses and lose a severed branch down into the plant?  How do you pick up a maggot infested carcass in your yard that you discovered a little too late?  Did you ever want to tidy up an ornamental bush that had dead leaves or blossoms trapped inside?  Do you have grandkids that think it’s fun to use a device to pick up a bedroom strewn with toys and discarded clothes?  Ever had a need to retrieve objects from behind or beneath furniture?  Do dogs take a dump in your front yard and you find the desiccated remains days later?  Have an old-style light bulb in the ceiling that needs changing?  (Maybe you should have 2 grabbers—one for inside and one for outside.)

            All right, if you still are spry enough to get down on your hands and knees, you may not be ready for this tool.  But if you’re like I am, and you don’t mind looking like that old guy down the street who used a grabber to pick up magnolia leaves off his lawn each day, then swallow your pride and buy a grabber.  There are many available on line.  The one shown is the VIVE Suction Cup Reacher Grabber – 32” Long Heavy Duty Mobility Aid for $19 with Amazon Prime.

Remember, don’t get old and crabby—just be grabby.

Stan, The Tool Man

Grabber
Grabber

Aluminum Dust Pan

Getting rid of the leaves that are dropped from deciduous trees in the Fall can be an arduous task.  You can use a leaf blower and rakes of various types to form piles.  Transporting these piles to a compost bin or to the street for city pick up is generally fairly easy by using a wheelbarrow, utility cart, or simply a plastic garbage can.  How do you get the leaves from pile to hauling container?  Many of you probably use a pitch fork or snow shovel and these are fine if you have a large task.  But for most of you, I have a better choice.  This is a dust pan—a large dust pan.  This 14” wide pan has a looped handle that gives you good leverage.  Don’t buy a 16” heavy metal pan–it’s simply unnecessarily heavy and too large.  Use this aluminum pan in conjunction with your rake.  Slide your pan under the leaf pile with one hand.  Position your rake handle in the crook of your neck and slide your other hand down the handle to the place where the rake tines attach.  Raise the handle of the pan and pull the pan and rake together to trap a huge mass of leaves.  Then lift the trapped debris to your transport container.  When you move from leaf pile to leaf pile, simply toss the pan into your transport container, which is much easier than carrying a large tool like a shovel or fork.

There you have it—a small, light weight tool that makes garden clean up much easier.  It can even be left out in the weather since it’s made of aluminum.  The Quickie-Professional Metal Handheld Dustpan can be purchased at Lowes for $11.97. This tool would be the perfect Xmas gift, or I suppose you can save this surprise for a future birthday or anniversary gift.  You could even write a romantic message in the pan so that your loved one would think of you whenever he or she cleans up the yard trash. 

Have fun in the garden,

Stan, The Tool Man

dustpan
dustpan

 

Pivoting Wheelbarrow Handles

Here is an innovation designed for the gardener who moves so much material that a wheelbarrow is required.  You (the heavy duty gardener} have undoubtedly been faced with the awkward task of dumping your load (so to speak).  You reach the desired dump location, raise the handles, but nothing spills out.  You have to raise the handles to a vertical position, but your hands are on top of the handles when you lift.  You have two choices–either lift with such force that the wheelbarrow flips forward, or allow the handle ends to pivot in the palms of your hands so that you are gripping the handles from beneath.  The first method is sometimes exciting when the wheelbarrow either drags you over on top of it, or it flips back at you.  The second method is scary because it can result in slivers in the palms of your hands if the wheelbarrow has been out in the weather for the last seventy years.  (My wheelbarrow was old when my dad gave it to me.)

The solution to the problem, my hard working friend, is Pivoting Wheelbarrow Handles.  These are handles that fit over the ends of your wheelbarrow handles.   Since they pivot, you have control when lifting from above and as well as shoving from beneath when the handles move through a vertical position.  You cannot believe the difference it makes in controlling your wheelbarrow through the entire dumping process.

“But I don’t own a wheelbarrow.” you say.  Well, if you have grandkids or pets, imagine the fun you will have wheeling them around the yard and even the neighborhood.  And then when you get tired, it is so easy to dump them in an appropriate spot like the swimming pool.  I’m not going to suggest a particular wheelbarrow.  I think you need to select it on the basis of the occupants.

I will, however, help you with the purchase of your pivoting wheelbarrow handles.  Simply Dump it Wheelbarrow Handles SDI1001 can be purchased from Amazon for $18.  Is that simple, or what?

Happy dumping!
Stan, The Tool Man

P.S. Actually, since I wrote about these handles years ago, they have come out with wheelbarrows with looped handles that deal with this dumping dilemma.  So if you are going to buy a new wheelbarrow, this would be a good option.                                                                          

Wheel barrow handles

 

   

The Two Tiner

           Now here’s a must tool for the iris lover.  Irises have to be dug up or at least thinned about every three years.  Crowded irises have few blooms.  A spading fork is the preferred tool for this chore.  It will lift the plant and leave much of the soil behind.  I have found that there is an advantage to having a fork with only 2 tines.  I can more easily maneuver between adjacent plants when just removing outer rhizomes.  But the main advantage to having only 2 tines is that it is twice as easy to penetrate the soil.  By cutting off the outside tines and leaving the horizontal bar that connected them, you still have a bar upon which to shove with your foot.

            So how can I get a two tiner, you ask.  Simply give me a call or e-mail.  I will modify a fork you already have, or see if I can get one at a garage sale for you.  If you have an angle grinder with a cutting disc, have at it yourself.  Remember to remove sharp edges.

            None of this appeal to you?  Fine.  Keep using that favorite shovel or fork that you’ve used for years.  Often change is an uncomfortable experience.  I understand.

Stan, The Tool Man

A Burning Desire

Torch
Torch
Well, this tool is not for everyone.  It is the propane torch.  If the height of your weeds rivals that of your cultivated plants, this is not a tool for you.  If your favorite weeding tool is a scythe, this is not a tool for you.  No, this is a tool limited to the OCD.  The propane torch is also generally best suited for urbanites.  Do you have small weeds growing in the joints of your side walk?  Perhaps weeds have found the cracks in the driveway.  Are pavers a part of your landscape?  Do the weeds love your gravel paths?

            I can you hear you saying, “Ever hear of Round-Up?”  Well, does Round-Up kill weed seeds?  No.  There is a particular thrill in hearing the popping of weed seeds as you apply the flame of your torch.  I also don’t like to wait days to enjoy the sight of a defeated foe.  This tool meets the high standards of an immediate reward society.

            So what is a propane torch?  It is simply a nozzle that screws onto a tank of propane.  You can buy a nozzle for less than $15.  But I want you to spend more.  The extra cost will allow you to turn the flame on and off with the mere push and release of a button.  This is an important safety feature in that the flame is not burning when you are not using it.   You are able to move all over your garden (or neighborhood) and use a flame only when needed. This lets you use very little gas to eliminate thousands of weeds.  I have been using the same tank of gas for 10 years.  I finally stopped buying propane tanks at garage sales—the count stands at 9 tanks.  Home Depot has the Benzomatic Sure Fire Torch Head for $34.97.  Ace Hardware has its own Instant On-off Propane Torch Head for $37.99.

            Now there are limitations to weeding with a propane torch.  You cannot burn weeds growing near flammable material such as dead leaves, bark, fences, and spreader boards in concrete slabs.  You cannot burn a weed growing next to a drip tube or soaker hose.

            I do have to warn you of a potential danger.  When you come to enjoy using this tool to the extent that your yard is devoid of weeds, you may find yourself searching for weeds in the sidewalks and driveways of your neighbors.  If you suddenly look up and realize you’re lost, fear not.  Like the proverbial trail of bread crumbs, simply follow the path of blackened annual rye and spurge back to your house.

            In summary:  What makes this garden tool so special? The propane torch eliminates weeds and viable weed seeds in seconds, particularly when the substrate cannot be penetrated by a conventional weeder.  It is an environmentally friendly treatment.  You are able to cover a lot of garden area without getting on your hands and knees.  It’s strange that someone hasn’t developed a specialized rack for displaying this efficient weed killing weapon for the rear windows of gardeners’ pickups.

 

Happy burning,

Stan, The Tool Man

   

2 x 5 Trowel

                                      

            I hope you are not limited to thinking that only garden tools can be used in the garden.  This 2 x 5 inch rectangular hand trowel that is generally used for working with mortar, thin set, and other pasty construction substances is a must for your garden tool collection.  This inexpensive tool has many uses in the potting shed and garden.  Having straight edges makes it useful for any scraping chore—for instance cleaning emptied terracotta pots, clearing a work surface, or removing unwanted accumulations from the bottom of your garden clogs.  Black widow spiders and their nests are easily squished.  In the garden this trowel can be used as a weeder.  It will scrape the soil harboring small weeds that are right next to a threatened plant.  It easily slips under a drip line or soaker hose.  It slices easily through soil since its blade is so thin.  Flat spreading weeds such as spurge and invasive baby tears can be lifted up with a small amount of soil while minute seeds are removed at the same time.  Sharpening the edges of this tool makes it even more effective and I can do this for you.   Sandpaper quickly removes excess rust for those of you who prefer to store tools scattered around the garden. 

            For less than $10 you can buy a 2”x 5” Margin Trowel for yourself and one for all of your family members and friends.  They are available in both Home Depot and Lowes, and of course, Amazon.

Thinking outside the box,

Stan, The Tool Man

Linoleum Knife

                  Now here is a tool that you would probably never use—but I do, so there’s a slight chance you might.  First of all, you have to have a lawn.  I figure that would eliminate many of you who have done the responsible thing and eliminated your lawn.  (Did you ever read my blog article explaining why I love my lawn?)  Second, you have to enjoy working on your hands and knees.  So, let’s say that there is a 10% chance that you are still interested in continuing.  Finally, you have to possess a certain amount of OCD.  So for the 2% of you who remain, here is why you need this tool:

            Do you have a string lawn edger?  I do.  I got it as a garage sale.  It is supposed to advance the string by bumping it on the ground.  But it doesn’t do that.  I have to turn it upside down and manually advance the string.  Then sometimes the string breaks within the spool.  So I have to take it apart to extract the string again.  That’s a pain.  Then when I do use the edger, the resulting edge is rather ragged—hardly OCD worthy.  So, what I do is get on my hands and knees, take my linoleum knife, and draw it towards me along the inside of the mow strip.  (Oh, I forget that is another requirement for needed this tool—you have to have a paver or concrete border for your lawn.)  Now as I pull the knife towards me, it makes a straight cut through the grass creating the perfect edge to my lawn, which I then stand back and admire.

             Now here is my last chance to interest you in this tool.  Sooner or later you will likely need to patch an area of your lawn with sod.  (I like the sod from Home Depot, but make sure it is fresh.)  The sod is held together by a nylon mesh.  You will find that this linoleum knife is the perfect tool to cut your sod into pieces that will fit the section you have carved out of your damaged lawn.

            Keep the inside of the knife sharp by using a file. . . . . You don’t have a file?  Well that was simply the last straw.  Now . . Nobody is left to use this tool in the garden. . . . I’m so sad.

Stan, The Tool Man

         

Linoleum knife
Garden uses for linoleum knife

(Perhaps you should buy this model from Amazon for about $4.  Can you imagine how impressive this would look in your tool collection.  But hurry—there are only 4 left of this model as of this writing!)

Thinning Shears–Practically Perfect Pruner

I had 13 hand pruners . . until I brought a lot of them to the Tools and Treasures table.  What is surprising is that I only used one of them 95% of the time.  The Corona Thinning Shear is the one tool that really makes me panic when I lose it some place in the garden.  It is small enough to hide in mulch or in a pile of clippings.  But smallness is one of its attributes.  I imagine that most of you garden with your pants on.  By that I mean you wear pants with pockets.  The slender profile of the pruner allows you slip in your rear pocket.  It doesn’t stick out far and catch on anything.  The blade tips are rounded so there is no danger of immediately creating a hole in your pocket or tender parts.  The other feature that makes this a “must have” for me is the fact that the cutting blades are long and thin. You can reach into tight spaces.  Cuts can be made close to an adjoining stem.  Yet the blades are strong enough to cut through thick plant material.  I have to admit that I also occasionally use it closed as a weeding tool particularly between pavers.  Also with closed blades you can jam it into the soil to loosen a stubborn weed.  Although it’s hard on the cutting edges, this is the best tool I have for cutting off oak tree seedlings beneath the soil.  Fortunately the straight blades are easy to sharpen.  I use this “thinning shear” to clean up cannas, prune grape vines, gingerly trim quince, cut back new growth on cherry and plum trees, and even prune the roses.  Yeah, I know I should use a knife edge bypass pruner, but this practically perfect pruner is already in my back pocket so that is what gets used.  OK, why isn’t it absolutely perfect?  If dried plant juices build up on the blades, the blades will start to stick.  Use either oven cleaner, WD-40, or carefully sandpaper the inner surfaces to remove the buildup.  You also have to remember this is a light weight pruner.  It will not cut through a hard, woody stem generally thicker than ¼ inch.  It’s at this point that I bypass the bypass hand pruners and reach for a lopper.  I love my thinning shear.  I feel it is a “must have” in your arsenal of garden weapons.

 Convinced?  This tool is available at Amazon as FS-4350 Thinning Shear and, wisely so, is Amazon’s Choice at less than $20.

P.S. If you are looking for an entertaining activity at a party, this pruner is invaluable.  Stun you guests with the disappearing pruner trick like I showed you when I deftly slipped the pruner into my back pocket.  You can create a contest by seeing which guest can perform this trick the fastest.  (It would be sad if you thought for a moment that I was serious.)

I hope you’re not a dead horse.  I cannot help but to continue to work on you to buy a thinning pruner.  In the last two days I have used mine to cut out the dead woodwardia fronds, to trim back a grape ivy in a hanging basket, to prune lightly forsythia and the yesterday, today, and tomorrow, to cut back the flowering quince and to dead head canna.  Finally this morning I tackled the grape vines on the pergola in the back yard.  Every year at this time I have to remove all the moldy grapes that have developed.  Poor air circulation ruins the crop each year.  I have to climb a ladder and reach up through 2 x 4’s to cut grapes out.  I suddenly realized why I treasure my pruner.  It increases your reach.  It’s like reaching out with a pair of scissors.  So if you have light pruning to do, or pruning that requires reaching between thorns, objects, or other branches, this thinning shear is for you.  It is not for pruning roses and it will not cut woody stems much larger than ¼ inch, but if your garden is anything like mine, there are almost endless uses for this great tool.  And, remember how easily it fits in you back pocket?

Once again, it’s available on Amazon—Corona FS-4350 Thinning Shears.

Happy Pruning, Stan

4350 thinning shears
4350 thinning shears

   

Weed Torch

You know well the saying, “Do as I say–not as I do”.  Well, guess who was burning weeds with his torch when there was no breeze.  I was getting rid of the last moss plants in the garden.  Smoke billowed up and surrounded my face burning my eyes.  I moved side to side to no avail.  I don’t think another saying applies—“Smoke follows beauty.” applies here.  (Does that bring back memories of sitting around the camp fire?)  So I smelled like burned weeds the rest of the day—big deal.  But the next day my wife was alarmed at my sight.  (Not an uncommon occurrence.)  Sure enough, my right eye was bloodshot.  Actually bloodshot is hardly sufficient to describe the sight of this valuable little orb.  So I e-mailed my Doc. and the response was to apply eye drops and notify her if my eyeball falls out (a slight exaggeration).  Sure enough after a couple days, it disappeared . . the blood, that is.  So once again, if you use a torch to burn weeds, do so when there is a slight breeze so that smoke doesn’t rise directly up and turn you into a smelly, scary creature.

Stan, The Blog Man