All the rain that we have received this fall has been a blessing because we needed the water. It has made planting and transplanting plants easier, and plants didn't need to be watered as much.
But all of the rain has made it difficult to do much gardening. Just when it seems that it is going to dry out enough to do some yard work, it rains again. However, these rainy days are a great time to work on garden tools. There is always something that needs to sharpened or repaired in the tool shed.
The first tool to be taken care of should be our favorite shovel. This tool is the one instrument that sees the most use in the garden and serves us unfailingly all summer.
Use a strong stream of water and a brush to remove any caked-on mud and plant debris. In our clay soils, there is always caked-on soil on my shovel. Also, pay attention to the shank (the area where the handle inserts into the shovel blade) because bits of roots, soil and plant debris can get stuck in there. This is a good place for plant diseases to hang out until next year.
If there are nematodes in your garden, remove the soil from the shovel before moving to other areas. A dirty shovel can transfer nematodes.
Next, sharpen the business end of the blade to a working edge (not a razor's edge). (Always wear gloves when sharpening tools.) A working edge is one that is slightly blunt (a 15- to 20-degree angle) and is not quite sharp enough to cut you. It will last much longer than a narrow edge. A sharp shovel is easier to use.
Then, use a wire brush or some steel wool to clean any remaining debris and rust from the blade. Apply a light coat of oil to the blade to prevent it from rusting. If the shovel has a wooden handle, use sandpaper to smooth any rough patches and oil with linseed or tung oils. Store the shovel for the winter by hanging it on the wall instead of standing it up in the corner; this will help avoid damage to the edge.
After working on the shovel, tackle the pruners.
Use a rag and a solution of bleach or rubbing alcohol to clean the blades of bypass and anvil pruners. If there is any material or sap left on the blade after using bleach or alcohol, scrub the blade with steel wool to finish the cleaning.
Then, oil the hinge and spring with a household lubrication product such as WD-40. Next, sharpen the blade to a 40- to 45-degree angle with a metal file, being extra careful not to cut yourself. If the pruners have removable blades, consider replacing them.
Also, if you have long-handled loopers with wooden handles, treat the wooden handles with oil to help them last longer. Always store the pruners in a place where children can't get to them.
Another tool that I use quite often is my wheelbarrow. It goes everywhere in my garden and yard. If you are not careful, you can spread weed seed and infected plants around your landscape. Clean the tire, handles and the tray with water and soap after every use.
Also, tighten any nuts or screws that have loosened over the summer. Make sure the tire or tires on the wheelbarrow are full of air. If it is low, use a bicycle tire pump instead of an air compressor to fill the tire. A really powerful compressor can burst a wheelbarrow tire, sending tire shreds flying. You also can replace the tire with a solid tire that doesn't go flat.
Most wheelbarrows have sealed wheel bearings, so greasing or oiling the wheel isn't necessary. On the off-hand chance yours has a grease fitting, use regular trailer grease and a grease gun.
When storing the wheelbarrow, it is best to keep it inside, but if it has to be stored outside, turn it upside down to prevent water from standing in the tray. Another great project is to give your wheelbarrow a new coat of paint to help prevent rust on the metal parts.
There are many tools in our shed that we seldom use or that don't really require much maintenance. Simply hose off picks, mattocks, flat shovels and rakes. Drain and roll up hoses. Hang up all tools to keep them from taking up too much room in the corner. These are all great rainy day projects.
Another added benefit from working on tools is that you know which ones are worn out and need to be replaced. New tools do make great Christmas gifts for gardeners.
Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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