Thursday, March 10, 2011


Before the end of  weary Winter comes, before the annual rite of gardening known as Spring cleanup begins, all Midwestern gardeners should take advantage of this idle time of their discontent to perform needed maintenance on their gardening tools.

This Spring, one of my long-procrastinated chores was finally accomplished.  Before I trimmed my first rose cane, before I lopped off my first apple branch, I removed the ten-year-old, nicked, moderately rusted blade of my Felco #2 pruners and replaced it with a clean, sharp, brand-new blade.  What, you don't have a Felco pruner?  You fell for the cheap K-Mart Martha Stewart anvil pruners or the quick-to-dull Walmart Fiskars? And you call yourself a gardener?  Shame on you.  Yes, I know the Felco pruners are more expensive initially, but being able to purchase and change the blades is one of the reasons you buy Felcos. Now I've got an essentially new pruner without having to purchase one and my Felcos will be good for another 10 years.  The blades, by the way, are readily available on Amazon.

There are, of course, other annual chores necessary to ready your garden tools for spring, but I accomplish many of these in the fall before putting the tools away for a winter's nap.   Lawnmower blades should have been sharpened and motor oils and air filters changed, and other lawnmowerish mechanical parts greased.  The handles of wood tools should have been coated with boiled linseed oil to protect and waterproof them for another season. No, not vegetable oil or regular unboiled linseed oil, you should have used boiled linseed oil because the latter is thicker and dries faster.

Hoes should have been sharpened and the new sharp edges protected from rust by a thick coat of axle grease.  Electric fences should be fortified and raised and perhaps connected to a lethal high-voltage transformer to deter deer and rabbits from stealing the bounty of your future garden. Hoses should be inspected for leaks and washers replaced in the hoses and connectors to prevent leaks.  And the gardener should begin a late-Winter physical conditioning program to prepare for the eventual aches and pains induced by early Spring cleanup.  I've long felt that one of the good aspects of sporadic good weather in the Midwest was the fact that gardeners have a few days of activity, and then a few days off to heal, gradually increasing the activity level and naturally conditioning the gardener.  It must be much harder for gardeners in Alaska where the weather finally gets nice on July 1st and then all your work has to be done before it turns too cold again on August 1st.

I used to watch my maternal grandfather smear grease over the surface of his plows and every other sharp tool he owned every Fall, and now, forty years later, I know why he did it.  In fact, if you do just about anything you ever saw your grandparents do to prepare for Spring, you'll likely be on the right track.  And buy a pair of Felco pruners.  Your rose canes will be grateful.

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