“Spring has sprung,” as they say in my little corner of the Midwest. Our magnolia tree is in partial bloom, the daffodils and hyacinths are in full bloom, and most trees are starting to bud. I love this time of year!
If you have been missing J.D. Roth's garden posts, I plan to share periodic posts with a gardening theme. Speaking of gardening, some of our garden has been planted, the flower beds have been cleaned up, and the old grass in our pastures has been burned off. Yes, spring is here, and you know what that means: time to break out your gardening and lawn care tools!
Taking care of your garden tools
Your garden tools represent a sizable investment that, if properly maintained, can last many seasons and help you produce delicious, low-cost meals.
If you garden year round, you may want to do this maintenance periodically. (It never hurts to clean them after every use if you have the time.)
But assuming you live in a climate where the gardening season has a beginning and an end, you should clean up your tools every year, at a minimum, before you put them away for the winter.
However, if you didn't do that last year, here is what you can do at the end of this gardening season.
Basically, the point is to keep your tools clean and dry so they don't rust.
Use a hose to spray off as much dirt as possible. If necessary, use a putty knife to remove any persistent chunks of mud.
Fill a few buckets with sand and then mix in enough lubricating oil (such as WD-40, or linseed oil if you don't want to introduce that residue into the soil next time) to make the sand moist. If you don't have enough buckets, you can also use an oily rag to wipe the metal parts of your tools. (But don't wad up oily rags or store them in an enclosed container because there is a risk of combustion.)
Shove the tools into the bucket. You can store them in the bucket, or remove them.
Once you remove the tools, before using them, you will need to wipe off the sand/oil combination with some sort of cloth. Burlap works well.
Keeping metal dry over the winter is very important. It is best to keep them indoors and hang them up so they are off the floor.
The handles also need some attention. To prevent handles from splitting and drying out, rub the wood parts with linseed oil.
To get the best use of your tools, you will also want to sharpen any blades or cutting tools with a file.
If you have tools that run on anything other than elbow grease, you may want to drain the gas over the winter and change the oil.
Don't forget things like lawn mowers and tractors, either. The blades should be cleaned of grass and dirt so they don't rust. Also, this is a good time to sharpen the blades of these items too. It is necessary to replace these blades from time to time as well.
Make sure you drain any garden hoses (I learned what can happen the hard way), and coil them carefully so they don't kink.
If you use any sort of sprayer, make sure it is clean and dry so it survives the winter to work another season.
Lawn mowers, leaf blowers, edgers, and chain saws need periodic professional maintenance too. You may want to find a reputable handyman or distributor to keep this equipment operating properly and safely.
Revitalizing your tools
If you are like me, maybe you didn't clean up your tools like you wish you had last fall. Have a little bit of rust? First, try removing the rust with a crumpled piece of aluminum foil. If that doesn't work, pull out your WD-40 again and spray the rust. Then, scrub it with a heavy-duty Scotch Brite pad. There are also rust removers that can be used if the first two methods are unsuccessful.
Likewise, if you didn't care for your tool handles properly, you may see some splits and splinters in the wood. If splinters are the only evidence of your neglect, you can carefully use sandpaper to make the splinters vanish. Then apply linseed oil to the handle.
I haven't tried this method; but if you have more than splinters (like, maybe the handle is starting to split apart a bit), you can use a mix of equal parts of linseed oil, turpentine, and paraffin to make a wax mixture to fill in the gaps in the handle.
If your handles are beyond repair, consider buying replacement handles instead of buying a completely new tool. And if you can't do that, can you use part of the tool in another way? If you check out my redecorating-on-a-budget post, you can see a gardening tool that has been re-purposed in my kitchen. We use the metal part of an old garden rake to hang our aprons. I also briefly considered using it to dangle a few coffee mugs. Either way, I love to give new purpose to old items. It is probably my most-commented-upon decoration in the whole house! (That may not be saying much, though… heh heh.)
Armed with the knowledge of how to take care of and repair garden tools, you can make your tools last for years.
If you have a gap in your gardening tools repertoire, don't drain your gardening savings account without checking out a few inexpensive options to buy quality gardening tools. You may find quality tools for little money at garage sales, estate sales, or even sitting at the curb in your own neighborhood. Why? They may need some rejuvenation that the owner can't perform. Perhaps you have relatives who are now unable to care for a garden and need to unload their tools. Offer a fair price for the tools. They get some money for something they weren't using, and hopefully you get garden tools at a fair price. Win-win.
Wherever you find them, high-quality tools, even if they have seen better days, usually still have a lot of life in them. You just have to care for them properly.
Well. I am off to play around in the dirt. If you garden as well, I wish you a successful and delicious gardening season!
How do you maintain your garden tools, and how often do you do it? Share your tips in the comments below!
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).