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Great Gardening Wisdom

Maureen Sexsmith-West ISA Certified Arborist, PR4600A


I had the great pleasure of listening to the wisdom of some real veterans of gardening at the Horticultural Society Meeting last night. I truer word was never said – DON’T BY CHEAP TOOLS – they won’t last and you will have to replace them often. Clarence Sterenberg and Mike Stefancsik

brought along some great examples of garden tools through the ages – sharing stories of their youth and how it still inspires them to this day. You have to admire a gardener who has taken such good care of their tools that they are still using them 50 years later. I picked a few of my favourite comments to share here.


This seeder shown on the right was from 1890, passed down through the family. It is still operational. It is adjustable to allow a wide range of seed sizes and planting lengths for everything from peas to sugar beets. Clarence shared that he uses an empty spice shaker to sow carrots and a pepper shaker for really fine seeds like nicotiana or scallions. They seem to distribute seeds at the right depth and spacing which limited thinning. Recipes to remove rust and dirt from the metal parts of tools: 1. Soak your spades and hand tools in white vinegar for up to 24 hours. This is a sure fire way to rid tools of rust and dirt. Use a soft brush to remove any particles. Rinse under water and then dry thoroughly. 2. 1 pt Molasses and 12 parts water. Submerge up to 1 week – checking periodically. Sponge off. Rinse and then dry thoroughly. 3. Coke/Pepsi (depends on your favourite I guess). Soak for 24 hours. Rinse and dry thoroughly. To make your next cleaning day a snap, spray your tools with Cooking Spray. Wipe off excess and store in pail of dry sand. This apparently is a dream when it comes to the underside of your lawn mower. Clippings won’t stick. Mike had his own special recipe for oiling and cleaning in one. Mix 50-50 oil (canola or vegetable) with liquid soap (his favourite is Ivory but any kind will do). Mixed in a spray bottle you can easily apply a light coating to any tool. this will keep it clean and moving parts lubricated. Wipe off excess. I can see another use for this product by applying a quick spray to the rubberized size of my work gloves when working on conifers that produce a lot of sticky sap. It works on removing sap from hair too. Both were fans of true temper wood handled tools. They may pack a bit more weight but they are the most durable. They covered the importance of keeping tools sharp. Mike created his own handy sanding block by using a 1×1 that was covered on two sides with #240 grit sandpaper and 2 sides with #100 grit. Work the bevelled edge only with the 240 first and finishing with the finer paper. One pass on the back/flat side removes any burrs. Don’t forget to keep a sharp edge on your spades and hoes too. Be sure to brush debris from your saw teeth. They had an example of a pocket carbide sharpener. For about $10 it is a fabulous tool. I have one in my work tool kit so I can keep a sharp edge on all my pruning tools throughout the work day. A pick axe is a tool I hadn’t considered having an application for tree work, but I can see now how useful it would be for extricating roots or small stumps or moving boulders or pavers away from tree trunks. Mike had a wide range of pruners (all by-pass) for everything from deadheading to pruning. I must agree, I have four sizes of loppers (one for any kind of branch size) and an assortment of hand saws. I have a serrated kitchen knife as well as a carpet knife which come in handy for removing suckers and for edging. Some tools are designated for working around gravel and soil. Anyone who has just cut off a root sucker soon finds instead of one you have five – you really need to find the point of original and cut below the soil to have any kind of control. Having a ‘paint’ scraper to quickly remove soil is a great device to have in the garden tool box. Don’t neglect the wooden handles. A light sanding to remove any soil particles followed by a coat of mineral oil with keep them from drying out and cracking.

Clarence recalls using the First ‘Ride ’em Mower’ to keep prairie grass to a suitable height. The grass was then used to feed the horses.

There is always something to be learned from our elders – and they love to share their knowledge. Don’t be afraid to ask.



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