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Winterizing Garden Tools

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I’ll admit, I love to whip up big dinners in the kitchen. I spend Sunday afternoons cooking to my heart’s content. Unfortunately, there’s the less appealing aftermath to contend with. The sink is piled with dishes, a roasting pan, and several saucepans. Bottles and bowls are strewn along the counters. The creative process is always so much more enjoyable than the clean-up.

I feel the same way about gardening. I’m positively giddy in the spring when it’s time to plant those first seeds in. By late September, though, I’ve grown tired of the weeding, watering, and general upkeep. Then October rolls around, and things become positively dreary. My vegetable garden freezes into a soggy, green mess.

As much as I’d like to ignore the mess, though, I know that the best thing to do is dig in and put my garden away. One of the final tasks of the season is dealing with the tools.

When I was younger, I often threw the tools in the shed at the end of the season and locked the door, happy to bid adieu to another gardening season. This carefree approach left more than a few tools dull and rusted the following spring.

Grandma was right, of course. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Gardening is so much simpler when tools are cleaned, sharpened, and in good repair. Spending just a few minutes in the fall to winterize tools has big payoffs in the spring.

Below, you’ll find a few simple tips to get your tools ready for the winter. They don’t take long, and even older kids can help with this task.

Hand Tools

Quality shovels, hoes, and pruning shears don’t come cheap. Spend the money on good tools, and they’ll last a lifetime—if you take care of them. The first step is to clean them, which by the way, gardening experts suggest you do every time you use them. I’ll admit to being rather lax in this area. Wash or brush off all the caked dirt. Spray them with a hose with a nozzle attachment or soak trowels for a few minutes. Dry the tools off with an old towel.

Next, remove the rust. Rust occurs any time metal is exposed to moisture, including the moisture in soil. Let it remain, and it will dull your tools and cause corrosion. Oddly enough, better-quality stainless steel tools rust more quickly than inferior ones. Rub lightly rusted tools with some fine sandpaper. For a layer of rust, try a stiff brush. For rust-encrusted tools, you might try a rotating brush attached to a drill. Make sure you wear goggles to protect your eyes from flying bits of rust.

Sharpening Hand Tools

Sharpen the tools at least once each season, and more if you use them frequently. To sharpen shovels and hoes, run a mill file over them at an angle. Hold the tool securely in a vice and run the mill file in one direction.

To sharpen pruning shears, you’ll need an oil stone or a ceramic or high-carbon steel honing tool. Open the jaws of the pruning shears and secure it in a vice. Run the stone or honing tool over the jaws in one direction until sharpened.

Then you should oil the tools to keep them from rusting again. Some people rub motor oil over the tools with an old rag. Others fill a bucket with sand and motor oil and dip the tools in the sand. I’ve found a spray bottle filled with two parts motor oil to one part kerosene works well, and without the mess and fuss. Just spray on a thin layer, and you’re good to go. Wipe wooden handles with a bit of paste wax to keep them from cracking, especially if you live in a cold, dry climate.

Storing Hand Tools

Finally, develop a method to store your tools. Commercial tool bars can attach to the side of a shed or garage and have hooks or clamps to keep tools in place. Another option is to simply hammer a few nails across the side of your shed wall. Drill quarter-inch holes in the ends of your shovels and hoes and hang them on the nails. Always hang the tools with the metal parts downward, so if you drop a tool as you pull it off the wall, you won’t get hit with the sharp end.

I store my trowels, weeders, and hand shovels the same way, although other gardeners keep them in labeled buckets or boxes. Find a method that works for you.

Motorized Tools

Lawn mowers and weed trimmers need a little TLC as well. The first tip is to always drain the oil before you store this equipment for the winter. Oil becomes thick and sludgy when stored in the cold, and your equipment won’t run as well if this step is neglected. Pull the plug under the motor and catch the oil with a pan.

Check your lawn mower and replace any worn parts. Replace the fuel filter while you’re at it. This sounds complicated, but it’s actually very simple. Bend a wire hanger into a hook. Push it into the gas tank to fish out the fuel line. At the end of the fuel line is a filter. Remove it and replace it with a new one, available at hardware stores or online.

Clean the spark plugs or replace them. Over time, they become crusted with dirt and debris. Remove them with a wrench. Spray them with a little brake cleaner spray and scrub them with a stiff brush.

Gasoline absorbs moisture when it sits over the winter, which makes for rough starting come spring. Funnel leftover gasoline out of your lawnmower and string mower in the fall and put it in your car instead.

You should sharpen your lawn mower blade several times each season, including before you put it away in the fall. Remove the spark plug and turn the mower over. Remove the blade carefully with a wrench. Sharpen it with a mill file, going in one direction along the original bevel. Place it back on the lawn mower and check to make sure that it lies evenly. Spray the blade with a bit of WD-40 or diluted motor oil. Bolt it securely and replace the spark plug.

Other Gardening Tools

After gardening tools, my gardening gloves are high on my list of absolute gardening necessities. They deserve a bit of extra care in the fall too. I wash out lightweight gardening gloves with a hose and then run them through the washing machine before storing them away. I rub down my heavy leather gloves with a rough towel to get rid of most of the dirt before tucking them away, too.

Drain hoses and repair any holes or leaky attachments. Store them loosely so they’re not kinked on hooks or nails in the shed. Pack up any pots and containers and seal up bags of compost or soil.

Sand away the rust from wheelbarrows and wagons. Oil the handles and check the nuts and screws. Repair flat tires.

Depending on how large your homestead is and how many tools you have, winterizing your garden can take a few hours to a few days. But seeing your tools tucked neatly in the shed is almost as satisfying as the sight of a cord of wood piled ready for use. Both signal that you’re ready and prepared for the vagaries of winter.

©2012 Off the Grid News

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