The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

January 12, 2017

Re-purpose broken window blinds into plant tags

A new winter gardening project presented itself yesterday. The frame on one of our window blinds snapped as I was pulling on the cord to open it and the whole works crashed to the floor.

As it turns out, mini-blind slats make fine pot markers, you know, those small white tags that gardeners use to identify trays and pots of seedlings. The slats are just about the same width as the markers that are sold in gardening departments every spring.

One big advantage homemade markers have over the garden-store variety is that you can easily cut them with a pair of scissors to whatever length you need, short ones for flats of seedlings, or longer ones for potted plants.

 

One set of broken window blinds will provide materials for years worth of plant tags.

One set of broken window blinds will provide materials for years worth of plant tags.

Homemade tags decreases the chance that seedlings will be mislabeled. Since each set of blinds will yield dozens of markers, you won’t be tempted to skimp on labels, that way every pot or six-pack divider can have it’s own tag.

Re-purposing old blinds reduces the amount of plastic debris that eventually finds it way into the landfill. And you save a few bucks along the way. Plus, it’s fun making your own gardening supplies and this happens to be a very easy project.

I’m looking at that high-quality braided pull-cord on those blinds too, but I haven’t figured out a use for that yet.

 

August 7, 2016

Correct way to sharpen a garden hoe

Filed under: Tools and Equipment — bob @ 8:12 pm

I’ve hoed a lot of long rows this season. Now it’s time to touch up the edge on my garden hoe.

The hoe I’ve been using for more than 15 years is a Dutch made, swan-neck style. Its light-weight head combined with a curved shank makes it a pleasure to use. As an added bonus it has an extra long handle which makes easier for a taller guy like me to operate. I don’t have to bend over in an exhausting, awkward position to reach the ground.

Nearly every hoe I’ve seen has the wrong bevel on the cutting edge. Right from the store, hoes often have a flat edge with no bevel at all. People take them home and immediately grind a sharp, angled bevel, like a wood chisel edge. That makes a very sharp edge but it does not last very long. It soon gets dull cutting through the soil. So gardeners end up working in their garden with a perpetually dull tool.

The proper way to form an edge on a hoe is to file a curved profile on the back of the hoe blade i.e. the side facing away from you when you use it. Keep the front of the blade metal flat, don’t grind it.

File the back of the blade, the side facing away from you when you hoe.

File the back of the blade, the side facing away from you when you hoe.

 

Imagine if you were to cut the blade in half with a hack-saw. Looking at the cross section of your blade edge with a microscope, you would see the front face ending at a right angle while the back face curves to meet the front edge.

Most of the wear on a hoe blade happens on the back side of the blade edge. A rounded back edge leaves much more metal on the side of the edge that is prone to wearing down.

You won’t be able to shave with that edge but it will last much, much longer in the garden.

Bob

 

November 2, 2012

My New Potato Digging Fork

Filed under: Tools and Equipment — bob @ 9:38 am

Earlier this week I was out in the garden digging the last of my potatoes.  I had the cold northern winds from hurricane Sandy to keep me company. So that gave me the incentive to get the job done before lunch.

I got a chance to use the antique potato-digging fork I found at an estate sale this summer. It’s a rather hefty tool with several heavy steel tines.  While I was standing in line to pay for it, a guy offered to buy it from me so his son could use it to spread bark mulch. If his son knew, I’m sure he would thank me for not selling it to his Dad. Then, a lady told me she wanted to take it apart and have a blacksmith bend it into a coat-hook. I was glad to save it from that fate.

At first, it was a real struggle wrestling that beast of a tool. I almost traded it for my lighter weight garden fork but decided to keep going.

The secrete I found was to use the weight of that steel to my advantage. By directing the downward force of the tool into the garden soil, I was able lift many more spuds with each forkful than with my garden fork.

I got the job done before lunch and have about 150 pounds of potatoes stored for the winter. The potato-fork has earned a permanent spot in garden tool collection.

June 13, 2012

My Hand-powered Rotary Hoe

Filed under: Tools and Equipment — bob @ 9:58 am

I own a lot of different kind of gardening tools. The most unusual one has to be my hand-held rotary hoe.

The single star is the front of the hoe. The handle pivots to allow the tool to be pushed or pulled.

Farmers have been using large rotary hoes for decades. These are non-powered tools, not to be confused with rotary tillers. They were especially popular in the days before chemical herbicides came into wide-spread use.

The design is basically a series of specially shaped discs mounted side by side on an axle 10 or 12 feet wide. There are different configurations; some discs are star-shaped, others have small spoon-shaped ends attached around the circumference of the disc.

To use a rotary hoe, the farmer pulls the hoe behand a tractor at a fairly fast speed. The star points enter into the soil at about  90 degrees — straight down. As it moves forward and  rotates, the point leaves the soil at an angle lifting some soil at the same time. This lifting action pulls up germinating weeds.

It is the weeds you don’t see — those still underground — that get destroyed. By the time you see the first leaves poking up out of the soil, it is almost too late to rotary hoe.

A rotary hoe in action runs right over everything in its path — the crop plants as well as the weeds. The crop plant, usually corn, is well-rooted and can’t be yanked out by the hoe. The leaves get torn up in the process but the corn plant recovers quickly.

Chemical herbicides, increasing labor costs, and high fuel prices caused most farmers to abandon their rotary hoe years ago. Many organic farmers still use them however.

My little hoe is a just a scaled-down version of those large,  farm implements. It actually works quite well whenever I remember to use it early enough.

What’s your most unusual gardening tool?

Bob

North Dakota State University has a good technical article about using a rotary hoe on the farm: http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/plantsci/weeds/w1134w.htm

May 14, 2012

Dibbers, Dibbles and Dibblers

Filed under: Tools and Equipment — bob @ 12:03 pm

There are a lot of different ways to sow seeds directly into a garden bed.

Sometimes I use a hoe to form a shallow trench, then drop the seeds in. Other times I use my finger to poke a hole into the soil before dropping in the seed. I find as I get older, my finger has a tendency to get pretty tired if there are a lot of seeds to sow.

This week I decided to do something about it. I went into my woodworking shop a made a couple of traditional tools called dibblers, sometimes also known as dibbles or dibbers. These tools are used to make holes for planting seeds.

It took just a few minuets on the lathe to turn a couple of different sized dibbers from a piece of scrap cherry wood.

The dibble on the left has markings every half inch. The one on the right has markings in one inch increments

Most of the dibbers you see for sale on line and in the gardening catalogs have very sharp points. The description usually says something about how easy it is to penetrate hard soil with a metal-clad point. It occurs to me that if you prepared your planting bed properly, you wouldn’t need a sharp point.

I left the business end of my dibblers somewhat blunt. My garden soil is friable so it doesn’t take much effort to poke a hole. The blunt end also leaves extra space at the bottom of the hole for the seed to rest at the proper depth. It does make it more difficult to kill vampires, however.

If you need more space for a seedling transplant or plug, the tapered shape allows a hole to be widened by rotating the dibber in a circular motion.

I suppose I could have just whittled a piece of broom stick with my pocket knife but this is a much more elegant and versatile tool.

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