Dig In: Taking care of tools is key

Well-maintained tools can turn gardening from a chore to a delight.

Some of my indispensable tools.

Some of my indispensable tools.

Well-maintained tools can turn gardening from a chore to a delight.

Sharp shovels and hoes slice through soil and weeds like butter and you can get the job done that much faster. Most of my tools are second-hand but I had to buy a new pitchfork and I wish I’d bought it sooner because the pitchfork makes turning compost or loading the wheelbarrow with spent vegetation easier.

My shovel happens to be made of copper, but good quality steel that holds an edge makes a fine shovel too. All the handles on my long tools are wooden but I’ve read that composite handles are lighter and don’t tire one out as quickly. Shovels and hoes should be sharpened when you first get them — brand new or not. I got mine sharpened at Nieser’s and maintain them with a clean metal file. Don’t bother with a rusty or dull file, it won’t do the job.

Put the shovel or hoe into a vice and file across the blade edge at about a 15 degree angle. You only need to sharpen the top eight inches of the shovel, on the inside edge, until it’s almost sharp enough to cut paper. Sharpen the hoe the same way except on the outside edge. Filing metal makes a heck of a racket so I wear ear protectors. I learned a long time ago to protect my hearing, even when I vacuum, because a vacuum will hit 85 decibels which is enough to cause permanent hearing loss. David thinks I haven’t used enough protection but sometimes it’s hard to hear him through his moustache.

Make sure the hoe is bent far enough so that it will lie flat on the ground when you pull it toward you because this angle cuts weeds off at ground level more easily. I use this hoe for the first weeding in spring, weeding paths and chopping hard clumps apart. A stirrup hoe works best for maintaining the beds as it cuts weeds when both pushing and pulling, and a sharp-pointed hoe fits nicely between plants where a stirrup hoe won’t fit. My blunt, unsharpened fingers yank out any stubborn weeds left that try to outgrow my crops.

A comb-style rake, wheelbarrow, dandelion puller and a few hand tools round out my arsenal. If tools are oiled at the end of fall each year and kept dry they can last for years. After each use, I knock off soil and dry the tool with a rag, then put it away so I can find it again. Some folks oil their tools after each use and this might help them last even longer.

I love the dandelion puller because I can stand up when I use it. I go around the grass surrounding the garden every couple of weeks to dig out dandelions and other weeds with this excellent tool and find it a relaxing exercise at the end of a gardening session. It has four tines in a square that stick straight into the ground, two of which are joined to a lever that opens when it’s pushed into the ground. When the tool is pulled back, the forks close onto the root and pull it out of the ground.



Lake Bloomers (not just flowers): next meeting Feb. 21 at the Fifty-plus Activity Centre at 1 p.m.

Salt Spring Island Seedy Saturday

Date: Feb. 11

Time: 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Location: Famers’ Institute, 351 Rainbow Rd.

Victoria Seedy Saturday

Date: Feb. 18

Time: 10 a.m.- 4 p.m.

Victoria Conference Centre, 720 Douglas St.


Extra, extra: As many of you may be aware, our bee and pollinator populations are in decline; they are starving because there is not enough nectar in the summer months. If we all work together, we can turn this situation around. Pollinators are vital to our local food supply.

The Peninsula & Area Agricultural Commission (PAAC) is presenting an information session and workshop on “How to Save the Bees” on Monday, Feb. 20 at the Saanich Fairgrounds on Stelly’s X Road.

This is a free session — open to all — farmers, gardeners, municipal staff (parks, public works, environment departments), students, and anyone with an interest in preserving our bee and pollinator populations.

Space is limited: pre-registration is recommended by Wednesday, Feb. 15. Wholesome snacks and refreshments will be provided.

There will be displays and information packages…and prizes!

Doors open at 6 p.m., and the programme will start promptly at 6:30 p.m.

To register: isobel.hoffman@saanich.ca or call 250-479-7734.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.