Daily Archives: April 4, 2013

Unorthodox Gardening Tools – 8

Assorted tools

And now it’s time to pull up the general bits and drabs in the bottom of the toolbag. Back when I backpacked and camped a lot when I was a kid, I learned one very valuable lesson from a book on the subject: “only take what you use several times per trip, because every ounce you have in your pack will feel like a pound when you’re on the trail.” That works for the gardening toolbox, too, especially the first time you try to pick up the blasted thing and nearly pull your shoulder out of its socket.

After a while, though, you find lots of tools that you won’t use constantly, but that make you kick yourself in the butt for not carrying with you. At this point, we’re hitting those occasional tools, which makes a trip back to the house or the shed unnecessary. These include:

  • Clamps and clothespins. There’s always that gluing job, or the pruning of a climbing rose, or some other activity where you need more than two hands. Either that, or you need a hand that can stay behind while you do other things. That’s why at least two clamps will keep you from trying to weave one from your own armpit hair. In this case, I have one good plastic clamp for regular reuse, and a standard wooden clothespin for activities where you don’t mind having to sacrifice a clamp to do a job. The wood clothespins also have the advantage of taking a good coat of paint, whether it’s to give a bit of waterproofing or to leave them in neon colors so they’re more visible when dropped in the yard.
  • Hand drill with bits. There’s nothing wrong with cordless drills or Dremel tools, at least so long as the batteries last. There’s nothing wrong with a standard crank hand drill or brace and bit, so long as you have clearance to get it to the item you need to pierce. In those narrow situations, having a basic hand drill handle with multiple replaceable bits saves a lot of aggravation with right-angle adaptors and other accessories. The one I own was originally a promo from a long-dead tech company, which doesn’t affect the usability of the drill but gets lots of comments from people who actually worked there at one time.
  • Pencil sharpener. Sure, you already have a gardening knife or pocket knife with you, but what about those circumstances where you need a uniform point on a pointy stick? Snag a cheap pencil sharpener, with a case for retaining shavings, for those times when you need to put a sharp point on bamboo skewers, dowel rods, or plastic shafts.
  • Plastic ruler. Rulers are available everywhere, but ever notice how many of them are made of wood? The one in my kit comes from Dallas-area fixture (and fixture supplier) Elliott’s Hardware, and it’s constructed of a good stout polycarbonate. This means it won’t shatter like cheap clear school rulers when bent, it won’t absorb water if used to measure the fluid in a sump pump or fountain, and it can be wiped clean if used to mix up paint or plaster. Besides, you never know when you need to measure something, especially if you’re planning to cut only once.

A few more to follow…

Unorthodox Gardening Tools – 7

Assorted brushes and hairpicks

In the process of accumulating the gear in my toolbox, the Czarina has been there behind me, questioning my sanity the whole way. She already questions my sanity when it comes to finding interesting containers that work well as planting enclosures, and when it comes to the plants and arrangements I bring to shows? I admit there’s a certain satisfaction in having her worry about an arrangement she thought would be a bad idea and having it sell within the first hour of a show. In fact, I let her know this, and then go back to biting the heads off chickens.

She does this constantly when I find an Unorthodox Tool. Sure, most of the time, her questions are along the lines of “You aren’t planning to shove that up your nose again, are you?” This is a reasonable query. It’s when I find something with a very legitimate and practical use, and she immediately checks it for snot, that I get bothered.

By way of example, looking through the discounts and remainders section at my local grocery store comes across all sorts of odd things, including items that you didn’t know you needed until you came across them. At the top of that list is a set of makeup brushes, originally assembled at the beginning of the Great Recession during that push for environmentally friendly products. It shouldn’t be a surprise that while people value these sorts of products in principle, they rarely pay double or triple the price of a similar conventionally-manufactured item when they’re having to choose between groceries and rent that month. Hence, I found this collection, complete with a hemp wrapping, alongside tie-in toys for The Bee Movie and dented cans of gazpacho beans, and figured “Hey, for $4, why not?”

Now, as to why a gardener might need makeup brushes, consider the joys of hand-pollination. Yes, a paintbrush set will work perfectly well for hand-pollinating roses, orchids, or Sarracenia pitcher plants, but having something this handy, with as soft a surface on the brushes, makes pollination a little easier. Oh, and the mascara brush comes in handy for when my eyebrows get completely out of control and I have to brush them back over my head.

The other two items to the right stay wrapped up with the makeup brushes, and they also come from the Health & Beauty aisle. The black brush was one that came with a batch of hair bleach, and it gets quite a bit of use for bonsai and miniature garden arrangements. The brush is fine enough for detail work, strong enough that the bristles don’t fry out immediately, and cheap enough that I can get an easy replacement if it wears out. The other, pointy end makes a good dibble, as well as a lever to tease out roots or pebbles, so both ends get a lot of use when I’m trying to shape nebari on a tree or pepper.

And the white paddle on the right? This also came from the hair bleach, and the flat end doesn’t get much use other than for stirring or shaping small batches of soil or glue. The thin end, though, has a hook at the tip, and that thing is perfect for pulling thin cord or twine through holes in wood or stone. It’s also handy for snagging junk out of pipes and drains, so it gets even more use in pulling hair out of shower plumbing. Yeah, go ahead and laugh, but you have no idea how much cat hair can line the inside of a shower drain when you’re in a hurry to drain the tub.

More to follow…

Unorthodox Gardening Tools – 6

Pocket microscope

Now here’s one that should be obvious, but that amazingly most gardeners don’t have in their toolkits. Anyone doing serious work in the garden needs some form of light magnification apparatus. Magnifying glasses are great, even with the risk of setting afire the item being examined, but they may not give enough detail. If the apparatus needs a table or desk to use it, especially if it needs to be plugged in, that makes using it in the garden a bit problematic. The obvious solution, then, is to go with a magnifier small enough to go into a pocket or bag, but with high enough magnification that you stand a chance of identifying that bug or that mold.

Thankfully, our friends at American Science & Surplus can help with this, too, with their choice of pocket microscopes. This one is a 30x pocket assembly, with the option of dropping in AAA batteries to use the lighted objective for further details. This one is a bit tetchy, because it practically has to touch the item being viewed to get good focus, but it comes in very handy in those odd circumstances.

I also have to mention that the ongoing improvements in laptop computers and tablets mean that we’re starting to see more processing power in the garden, and that means being able to do more than simply view items via a microscope. We also have the options of screen captures, cataloging, and identification via databases. Should I mention, then, the Digital Eyeball is tough enough to handle most garden environments?

Personal interlude

Because of the recent news of the death of Roger Ebert, it’s time to remember him best with the best tribute ever made:

And for those who remember my old film review days, it shouldn’t be any surprise that I connected to the character of Jay Sherman in The Critic a bit more than most. Hence, I’m waiting to repeat the dialogue after 10:15 to famed Australian film critic Robin Pen when he finally meets the Czarina: