Posts Tagged With: tools and gear

More Video Fun!

I had a great time at the Binford Farmer’s Market today talking to people about my blog, vegetable gardening, and classes at Art of the Soul. Now that the frost-free date has come and gone, it seems like everyone’s ramping up for planting!

The lovely folks from Indy Wellness Guide posted another video of me giving garden tips for new gardeners. Check it out!

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Good Shoes

I used to think that it was nuts to spend money on good shoes. I mean, Target has lots of cute shoes, right? And I'd pretty much kick them off at every opportunity anyway, even at the office. So mostly I wanted cute shoes that were fairly comfortable and not too expensive.

Then I started working with the Spotts crew. Turns out, when you're on your feet for most of the day in everything from 95 degree heat to 25 degree cold, good footwear is essential. Amy and Terry introduced me to the wonder of Keen shoes and SmartWool socks. I'm never going back. 
I wore my last pair of Keens daily for a year and a half, literally until I broke down the arches and the soles started wearing through. I am slowly replacing all my my socks with SmartWool socks, a magnificent product made for hikers and other outdoor-type people. They are mostly wool, incredibly cushy, and great for keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer. If I could just find ones that sat a little lower on my ankle (so as to avoid the fabulous sock tan line I sport most of the year), they'd be perfect.
And the good news is that when you have pygmy feet, there are bargains to be found. I wear a size six in womens, which is the same as a size four kids. So while eights, nines, and tens tend to sell out, retailers almost always have leftovers in tiny sizes. I just bought a new pair of Keen work shoes at Sierra Trading Post for about 60% of their original price and a pair of Keen snow boots, also at a hefty discount. Both are incredibly comfortable and actually good looking. And–bonus–my little feet mean I can wear the kids size in SmartWool, which are roughly two-thirds the price of the adult sizes. 
So what if I have to have all my pants hemmed? So what if I have to buy petite clothes so the waist doesn't sit at my hips? This short girl rules the shoe sale! I have marched to retail victory on teeny, tiny feet!

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Categories: In the garden | Tags: | 1 Comment

The Evil Weed (or, Amy vs. the poison ivy)

Anyone who spends time in the garden is eventually going to come into contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. I've encountered poison ivy too many times to count, often with disastrous results. One year I had such a case of it that I missed four days of work, most of which I spent as unclothed as possible in front of a fan to control the itching.

I'm one of the 70 to 85% of people who have an allergic reaction to the urushiol, the evil oil that causes the rash. Once you get the stuff on you, it quickly bonds to your skin. Viola! Blisters. And untreated, the rash can take a good three to four weeks to run its course. Urushiol-induced contact dermatitis is most likely to happen if you run into the plant itself, or if you touch something that's brushed against the plant–like clothes, gloves, or the cat who insists on hanging out in the PI patch. Never, never burn poison ivy; the urushiol can vaporize and get in your lungs.

So the first step in avoiding poison ivy is recognizing it. That whole "leaves of three, let it be" thing is good as far as it goes, but the serious gardener can't avoid every plant with three leaves forever (believe me, I tried). The pointy oval leaves have often have slightly jagged edges toward the point.  Groups of three leaflets occur in an alternating pattern on the stem, so you won't see two leaflet groups growing from the same spot on the stem. Sometimes you'll see a red stem, and if the PI is growing up a tree, the stem has hairy little rootlets. New leaves are shiny; older leaves are usually duller. (This photo is from
So you've identified the PI. The next step is to get rid of it. If I just see one vine, my usual method is to wait until I'm done with my gardening. I get a plastic bag and put it over my gloved hand. I yank the PI out with the bag, wrap the bag, toss it in the garbage (never on the compost pile), and immediately go inside and scrub my hands. I usually take an antihistamine for good measure. 
This week, however, I had to tackle a much bigger infestation. PI has inserted itself among the English ivy on the south side of my house, and it was engulfing the windows. I'm a light freak, and I take exception to anything cutting off the amount of sunlight making it into my dining room, especially the damn poison ivy.  But this was no small amount of PI. This was the brontosaurus of    weeds: ten feet tall and about twenty feet long. This called for the gardening hazmat suit.
My hazmat suit consists of a long-sleeved tee shirt tucked into light cotton pajama pants that have at least seven different colors of paint on them (the waist hits me attractively just under the breasts). Black knee socks under the pants minimize the potential of PI at the ankles, and gloves protect my hands. Over this example of sartorial splendor I wear a man's button-up shirt, buttoned tightly around the wrists. (In my experience, it's the wrists and ankles that tend to be your vulnerable areas when taking on PI.) And because I was yanking PI down from overhead, I wore a bucket hat.
Oh, yeah, I looked good.
It was about 85 degrees the day I took on the PI, so I was sweating like crazy. I yanked it all down, stuffed it into trash bags, and hauled them to the curb. I then headed to the basement, stripped at the washing machine, and tossed every article of clothing into the washer. I took a lukewarm shower, scrubbing three times with soap and a washcloth. I took a Zyrtec, too.
I still got poison ivy.
Granted, it's not too bad. I have a couple of itchy spots, and it's pretty contained. Don't believe the myth that poison ivy spreads. What actually happens is that the areas that get a higher dose of urushiol break out into a rash first, and areas that weren't as exposed react later. That oozing stuff from the blisters looks gross, but it doesn't actually spread the rash. 
It does itch something fierce, though. Most people say that cortisone cream (the 2%, not the 1%) is the best way to control the itch, but I've had good luck with the clear Caladryl stuff, too. Unfortunately, I have to give up my beloved baths for the duration of a PI outbreak in favor of showers; prolonged contact with water can aggravate the itching. And I'm pretty religious about taking the antihistamines during an outbreak. Staying cool helps, too. Heat and humidity are even more miserable when you're dealing with PI.
So I got the PI off the house, but the PI got in some small jabs. In my ongoing war with PI, I'm calling this one a draw. Next time, though, that weed is going down!

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Categories: In the garden | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Gardening for klutzes (or, why my knees look like that)

So I'm picking up lots of useful information working for Spotts. Not just run-of-the-mill garden info like plant names and pruning techniques, either. No, I'm learning such helpful tips as how to use a wheelbarrow without turning it upside down or banging it into your shins (I'm still working on this), how to corral debris using a backpack blower (ditto), or the proper way to store tools. 

Terry is the best equipment manager in history. His tools are spotless, sharpened, oiled, and returned to the correct storage place. I have yet to go to the truck for something and find we don't have it. Frankly, it makes me a little embarrassed about the condition of a lot of my tools, so I'm making a real effort to keep them clean and organized.
Did you know, for example, that the worst thing for your pruners is dirt? Given that most gardens have quite a lot of that, you want to keep your pruners in a holster, not set them on the ground. If you have to set hedge clippers down, put them with the point toward the ground so that the pivot point is facing up.

We use gardener's knives for nearly everything. They dig out weeds, act as trowels, saw off recalcitrant root masses–you name it. The orange handle gives you a fighting chance of remembering where you left it. Still, it's awfully easy to set one down and leave it behind. Instead, you fling it toward the ground, snapping your wrist so that the knife stands upright in the soil. The orange handle sticks up so you can see it, and the sharp part is in the ground where no one can cut themselves on it. 
My knife throwing skills are not great yet, although I manage to stick it about one out of two times. Amy F has trouble with knife flinging; her technique involves something that looks a bit like spear-throwing instead of the twist-and-flick Terry uses. Terry, of course, can flick a knife into the ground without even looking at it. Sometimes all three of us  fling knives at the ground over and over; we look like a demented circus act.  
Other helpful hints: Like knives, shovels and spade should be stuck into the soil so they stand upright. This requires a bit of a forceful heave, and you should do it slightly away from where you're working. I've backed into spades more than once. If you have to put a rake on the ground, place it with the tines facing down, so as to avoid the Tom-and-Jerry rake to the face situation.
And if you're working in a garden with low-voltage lighting, you might want to check to make sure that the cord is buried. If it's not, you might want to keep an eye on where that cord is. Otherwise, you might be talking to Amy F over your shoulder when your big toe catches on the cord and sends you flailing through the air to skid across a concrete path on your hands and knees, at which time you might roll over on your back and try to breathe while reassuring Amy and your boss that you are not seriously hurt, even though your knees look like hamburger and are bleeding freely. 
You might have to hobble to a nearby bench, graciously thank Amy for retrieving the first aid kit, pour water over your knees to clear out some blood, and ask Amy to poke around in there with a pair of tweezers looking for any stray gravel. You may then have to try to clean out your knees, slop some ointment on them, bandage them, and attempt to continue gardening. You may find that the fabulous combination of sweat, sunscreen, and bug spray you have accumulated ensures that bandages of any kind are not going to stick to you, so you may have to just do the best you can to keep dirt and bugs out of them. You may find that gnats particularly love your open wounds.
You may find that skinned knees at 35 are an even bigger pain in the ass than they were at 6, when you fell down while running a race on the playground while wearing party shoes. You may recall your father doing the picking-gravel-out-of your-knees thing while muttering abut incompetent school nurses who didn't bother doing it, followed by a bout of iodine to your scratches, which prompted howling (from you) and blowing over your wounds (from Dad). You may be grateful you don't have to use iodine anymore, although you may still do a little howling when you clean out your knees with hydrogen peroxide at home that night.
So, you know, check for the cord. That's all I'm saying.

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Categories: In the garden | Tags: , | 1 Comment

The Potting Bench (or, why my boyfriend is better than your boyfriend)

I have mentioned several times the potting bench the BF was constructing from an old workbench located in my basement. It sat in the furnace room for all of my eight years in this house, a useless brown hulk taking up space. But when I mentioned it to the BF, he told me thought he could make me a potting bench from it.

I was thrilled, of course, especially since I know what potting benches cost. I came home one day to find he had maneuvered it (all 100 pounds of it, at a conservative estimate) up the basement stairs and into his truck to take it home and work on it. When I got my first look at the re-imagined bench, I literally jumped up and down and clapped my hands. Now, after some primer and two coats of outdoor paint, I present to you my potting bench, destined to be the talk of the 2008 Irvington garden tour.
The original bench had just the tabletop level and an upright back, but no shelf. I'm not sure what the back was for, unless maybe to keep tools from sliding off of the bench. (At one point my house belonged to the handyman from hell, so I'm sure he could use all the help he could get. True story–when I had someone come out to give an estimate on replacing the garage door, he told me that in 30 years it was the most badly botched do-it-yourself job he'd ever seen.) The BF scavenged some wood to create the lower shelf (currently holding the watering cans), two uprights for the sides, and a narrow shelf to run across the top. Then he made some even more impressive changes.
You may recall I had mused about installing a potting sink on one end of the bench. The BF had an even better idea. First he built the counter out a bit so he could install a drawer with no bottom that holds a feed bowl (from–where else?–the Rural King). That drawer is on slides that can take up to 100 pounds, so it's perfect for holding soil or water, with the bonus feature that's it's easy to lift out and dump.
Then–and this is true genius–he mounted a swiveling arm on the right side of the bench. I hook a hose from the spigot to the lower end of the arm, and it feeds directly into a short hose that ends in a very fancy nine-setting nozzle. And the arm pivots, people! The BF says he got the idea from the dishwashing set up in the restaurant he worked in in college. I say, thank god for crappy part-time jobs if they result in this kind of problem solving.

And just because he knows me so well, the BF topped off my magnificent bench with a personalized drawer pull. See left. I'm going to call him Fred.
And now, of course, you wonder where you can get such a fabulous, personalized creation. You wonder if perhaps your significant other could build such a monument not only to your garden but also your relationship. You wonder if perhaps the BF might be looking for a new girlfriend. And I say, go find your own, sister. This one is mine, and I'm not sharing. 

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