2005-12-01 / News

The Island Garden

By Roger Marshall


We’re finally getting some cold weather, so

working outdoors is pretty much shot for the year unless you plan on raking leaves or trimming borders.

Now is the time to do your tool maintenance and get things prepared for next season. Instead of sitting around indoors watching TV and other boring things, get pots cleaned, tools sharpened, supplies ordered and get everything ready for the new season. It’s only a couple of months until you start growing seedlings again.

Pots and seed trays

Find all your pots and seed trays and bring them into your basement or workroom. Use about a gallon of water with three or four tablespoons of bleach in the water. The bleach will kill any organisms that could kill off seedlings or plantlets. Wear rubber gloves and use a hard scrubbing brush. Clean each pot and let it dry. Remember to clean hanging baskets, containers, and any other items that you might put flowers and other plants in.

Hand tools

Bring all your hand tools indoors and check them over. First look at the handles. Make sure they are smooth, without splinters or sharp edges. If you find any splintering, sand off the offending spot or wrap it with tape. If you left your tools outdoors over the summer the handles will have turned gray and rough. You might want to sand them back and apply linseed oil with a cotton rag.

Check over the metal tines and tangs of your forks. Last year, I found a crack on an expensive fork. A $5 weld saved a $50 tool. Make yourself a tool cleaning bucket. I use a 5-gallon pail filled with sand. When I change the engine oil from the power tools, I dump it into the bucket on the sand. When I have finished working with a tool, I shove it into the sand and it comes out cleaned and oiled ready to be stored.

If you have pruners, saws, and other paring tools, sharpen the edges now, wipe them with a rag coated with oil and they’ll be ready for next year. I like to use Corrosion Block or Bullfrog on my hand tools. Living near the sea, it seems to preserve the tools longer.

Check your spades and hoes over carefully and sharpen them. A good sharp spade cuts so easily that you’ll wonder how you managed before. A sharp hoe glides easily through the soil and cuts weeds off at the root line. Sharp tools are a joy to use and require much less effort than a blunt edge.

When sharpening tools don’t put a razor-sharp edge on them like you would a knife. It will soon break off. Grind the edge about 45 degrees to the blade to give a moderately sharp edge. Clean up any rough edges with a file. Remember, you may hit your foot with one of these tools, and you don’t want to cut through your boot!


Now is the time to figure out what supplies you’ll need next year. Many stores are selling off last year’s pots, seed trays, and propagators cheaply, and you may be able to pick up a bargain or two. Potting soil takes up a lot of space, and many garden centers don’t want to have it cluttering up the area where a snow plow may have to operate in the next month or two, so you might be able to find some good deals.

If you can’t find a good deal, it doesn’t hurt to ask. I once got a box of seed trays for a few bucks because I asked if they were going to be sold or tossed. If you wait until spring, those same seed trays could cost three or four dollars each.

Potting soil is a favorite to order early. I buy my potting soil wholesale and store it under a workbench in the greenhouse. The ready to use potting soil is in a garbage bin, ready to be used at any time. But make sure you label the bin or it might get filled with real garbage.


We’ll deal with buying this year’s seeds later in the year, but right now you can often find seeds offered at half price. Very few seeds are ruined if they are not planted in the first season.

Many vegetable seeds will last three or four seasons, so there’s no harm in buying this year’s seeds for next season. Simply store them in the back of your refrigerator or on a place where they won’t freeze.

If you want to know what their germination is like next spring, just count 20 or 25 seeds out. Put them on a damp paper towel in a plastic bag and let them germinate. If only 18 of your 20 seeds germinate, you’ll have a germination rate of 90 percent. Compensate by sowing the seeds a little more heavily. As long as you don’t sow them at double the suggested rate, you’ll be ahead of the game if you bought them at half price.

If you want to buy your seeds really fresh and pay full freight, seed catalogs are arriving thick and fast. In a couple of weeks, we’ll look at what’s new for next year and what we might want to try.

Incidentally, I was in Europe last week and garden seeds are already on sale. Of course, I found some new ones that I’m going to try. I also found some unique garden tools for the greenhouse.

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