Tag Archives: free gardening tools

Practical Organic Gardening – Free Book – Chapter 3

Only one chapter today because it’s a long one. It you want to garden, DO NOT invest a lot of money in tools…just read on to find you how you can get started for next to nothing…

So, what makes organic gardening practical?  Just this. You can grow a whole lot of healthy, tasty food, literally, for pennies. What’s the trick?

Green and organic garden in summer.

My garden laden with organic veggies.

Unlike traditional gardening, if you go organic, there are a lot of things you will NEVER have to buy.

For instance, you don’t have to buy chemicals or herbicides.  You don’t have to have fancy sprayers or a rototiller – not even one of those small ones named after the bug that prays.

In fact, if you pay a bit of attention, you already own just about everything you might need to get started.

What you don’t own, you can usually get, free. How does this work? A little planning and a bit of forethought are all it takes!

Here’s my list of what you need to be an organic gardener:

Dirt – free.

Seeds – cheap to buy and even cheaper if you save some for next year’s garden.

A big spoon or small shovel – something to dig holes with when transplanting.

Newspaper – free if you ask your neighbors and co-workers for them.  You can use it for mulch and make transplant pots with it, too.

Straw – free if you find a farmer who has old or moldy straw which works just as well as the golden yellow stuff.

Cucumber trellis from a head board.

Headboards make great trellises.

Trellises – made from some found items, your cukes, tomatoes and peppers will love climbing up or grow on these.

When I say found, I mean things like this old headboard from a day bed that I found on the side of the road. I use for climbing vegetables like cucumbers.

Or how about chain link fence sections and hay bale ties for growing tomatoes or training peppers or eggplant? I got these fence sections for free, too. And I have been using them for over 20 years!

Free fence sections grow great veggies

Fence sections supporting tomatoes

By the way, the dog isn’t free and he doesn’t do too much supporting! He can, however, pick his own tomatoes and blueberries.

And the decorative fence – my attempt to slow him down just a bit, was free, too.

Epsom salts – dirt cheap in half gallon milk shaped containers.

A bucket – free if you can get a hold of a kitty litter container or a dog food bucket.

A mug – free if you liberate it from your kitchen and use it to deliver water or fertilizer right to the roots of your plants.

Twine – free if you buy straw by the bale, save the baling twine and use it to tie up plants.  You can also get tons of baling twine in any horse barn.  NOTE:  Do NOT use green baling twine.  It has been treated with strychnine to kill mice and rats.

free curtains and free frames

Free curtains, free frames, free from frost

Old, sheer curtains, old bed sheets and even old mattress covers – free if you save yours or ask relatives and friends to give their old ones to you.

They don’t look as pretty as commercial row covers but they will keep frost off your baby plants. and, they’re free.

Access to a public library – free and there are always books and magazines about organic gardening ready for you to browse through, borrow and take notes from.  Oh, and libraries have computers and internet connections. Using them is free. And online is just FULL of ideas, tips and advice on organic gardening.  All you have to do is put in your search terms and hit Go.

An old 3-ring binder and some paper – can be free if you ask co-workers to save used copy paper and write on the back.  NOTE:  I consider this a requirement for my gardening.  If I don’t write down a tip or a “lesson learned”, I can easily forget what I learned and end up repeating my mistakes again and again and again.

A bit of inventiveness, a dollop of gumption and enough courage to try, fail and try again.

Here’s what would be nice to have if you move beyond dabbling in organic and decide to grow most of your produce every spring, summer and fall.  Bit of advice?  Before you buy any of these items, look on http://freecycle.org  or http://craigslist.org  to see if you can get them for free or cheap!

Peat pots – I use 2” and 4” peat pots and hate paying the price for them.  But they make transplanting easier for me and less stressful for the baby plants so I pay but I try to get them online rather than in a big box store where the price is always higher.

Raised beds – I make mine with 2 X 12s (NOT pressure treated) and plastic anchor joints from Home Depot.  They are so easy to do and won’t cost you $200, just a bit of sweat equity.

Raised beds are easy to make..

Raised beds are easy to make.

A kneeling pad – you can make one of these or buy one.  I’ve had my small green one for more than 15 years and it really, really saves your knees!

Gloves – I consider these nice to have because you really can dig in the dirt with your hands and suffer no ill effects.

But, in fact, I don’t use gloves because I love the feel of soil in my hands.

Two hand tools – both of mine are Fiskars because of the grip, the design and the lifetime guarantee — the big grip knife and the hand trowel.

A pitch fork – used to move the straw back from the fence sections a couple of weeks before planting so the soil can warm a bit.

A watering can – very nice to have if you want to hand water fresh transplants.

Fish fertilizer – I use Neptune’s Harvest hydrolyzed fish but am currently “brewing” my own using fish heads and bones that a friend of a friend got me for free, a 55 gallon drum and water!

Beneficial insects – there are quite a few beneficials and you can buy them.

Trichogramma wasp eggs on cutworm

Wasp eggs on cutworm

They may seem pricey, at first, but you don’t have to buy them often and you will truly be glad you did the first time you see a tomato cut worm trussed up like Gulliver and covered with small, white egg casings of the trichogamma wasp.

I bought nematodes and wasps 2 or 3 times when first establishing my garden but no longer need to buy them.  They live and work in my backyard.

A good pair of secateurs – hand held clippers that can cut through a 1” branch like it was butter.  These let you trim inside the bush not hack off the outer branches.

A garden club in your neighborhood.  Membership dues are usually low, ours is just $25 a year but you might enjoy some ideas and tips from your gardening neighbors. WARNING:  not everyone is organic so pick and choose who you listen to and what you are going to do.

If you decide you like gardening and want to get into it, here’s are a few more items I’ve learned to keep on hand to help make my gardening go a little easier:

A good bug book – this could be one of your larger expenses but, believe me, you will be grateful for putting out the cash.  Why?  There are a whole lot of good bugs in the garden that will do battle with the bad ones without you lifting a finger.  If you don’t know the good from the bad, you could be killing your soldiers and giving the enemy a chance to overrun the battlefield, i.e. your garden.

White vinegar and a big box of salt – it does not have to be iodized.  You’re just going to mix them together and use them to kill ants or a persistent weed like poison ivy or both.

A small propane torch – the handheld kind – I use this to burn tent caterpillars off my cherry trees.  It’s a bit brutal but it burns the nest and the caterpillars before they can strip my trees.

An old knife or pair of scissors nicked from the kitchen – nice to have on hand to cut baling twine and cut off produce rather than try to pull it off.  Having lost several battles with eggplant and peppers, I tend to keep a knife in my garden basket and use it with malice aforethought.

As I mentioned before, there are a couple of online resources that might also make it cheap and easy to get basic gardening equipment so before you buy, you might want to visit these sites:

www.craigslist.org – people are always selling fence sections, hand tools and possible trellis material at incredibly low prices.  Check the ads out before you lay down good money for a tool someone else bought but no longer wants or needs.

www.freecycle.org – I find this site painful but you will find free stuff on it so it’s almost worth it.  You have to be a member to see the posts.  And navigation is not just basic; it’s irritating.  But you will be able to pick up a lot of the “nice to haves” on Freecycle for…free.

 

Advertisements

Free Organic Gardening Book

If you ever wanted to learn all about organic gardening, the good, the bad and the ugly…just sign up for this blog and sit back.

Every week or so, I am going to upload a chapter of my organic gardening book which you can read for free!

Today, I am starting at the beginning…that would be Chapters 1 & 2 (the chapters are short) of Grow So Easy; Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us. Enjoy!

Chapter I – Why This Book

Organic gardening is easy, practical and cheap!

My all organic, backyard garden.

Remember when you decided you wanted to start a garden?  You told a friend, spouse, garden center guy and then got bombarded with miscellaneous stories of gardening disaster.  All that support really made you want to go out and start tilling the soil, right?

I hate it when I hear someone telling another would be gardener how hard it is to get things to grow or how easy it is to kill this vegetable or that one.  Why?  Because, instead of gardening, you probably wanted to run home, mix up your favorite drink and sit down with the remote control.

Too many people in the gardening business write or talk about how hard organic gardening is or how complicated it is.  Sometimes that’s all it takes to make people who read their articles or buy their books put down the shovel or rake and walk back into the house.

They’re lying!  Organic gardening is easy!  It’s cheaper than going the chemical route and it’s fun!

Organic gardening is so easy the lettuce practically grows itself.

Organic lettuce is easy to grow.

The truth is gardening can be as easy as you want to make it.  It’s all about what you want to grow.  Figure out what you want to plant, how many plants you want to put in, how large a garden space you want and what works in your planting zone.

One tip from someone whose motto is, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.”

Start small and only plant those crops you want.  Lettuce is so easy to grow that it practically raises itself! It’s a cool weather crop that loves early spring and late fall. And it helps save you $5.00 for organic greens in the store!

Think about it. Stores sell spring greens mix for $5.00 for 12 ounces.  Fifty two weeks of buying greens comes to just under $300.  You can raise enough for you and your significant other for less than $3.00 a year.

Some seeds, some dirt and some water, a little kindness and a lot of sunlight and you are on your way to creating your own organic garden.  So, dig in!

Reading This Book

Organic gardening tips

Organic gardening is so easy.

This book is designed so you can pick it up, look up a specific plant or bush and read about the good, the bad and the ugly for just that one selection.  Or you can read it cover to cover – starting at the back if you want to and working forward.

Why?

Because a lot of us gardeners aren’t very linear.  And many of us would rather “give it a go” than sit down and read about gardening.  So I tried to give you what you need, when you need it.

Want to raise blueberries?  Interested in saving your own seeds?  Want to get a handle

Organic gardening is easy.

Organic gardening is all about getting your hands dirty!

on techniques like composting, using organic fertilizers or even doing battle with Japanese beetles?  Check the Table of Contents and flip to the right page.

Want the back stories?  The pain of losing a loved one to Verticillium Wilt?

Make a cup of herbal tea, start here and just drift through the book, laughing, learning and, I hope, getting a powerful yen to get out there and get dirty.

 

PS – if you can’t find it in my book, I didn’t kill it.

 

Grow So Easy Organic – Find Free Tools to Start Your Garden

Want to start organic gardening but don’t want to spend a lot of money?  You can and it’s pretty darned easy.  Unlike traditional gardening, if you go organic, there are a lot of things you will NEVER have to buy.

You do not have to buy any chemicals or herbicides.  You don’t have to have fancy sprayers or a rototiller – not even one of those small ones named after the bug that prays.

The short list of what you need is dirt, water, seeds and sun.  If you try organic gardening and don’t like it, you’ve probably only invested a few dollars and some time.

But if you do try it and you do like it, you probably already own just about everything you might need to get started.  What you don’t own, you can usually get, for free.

So, here’s my list of what you need to be an organic gardener:

  1. Dirt – free.
  2. Seeds – cheap to buy and even cheaper if you save some for next year’s garden.
  3. A big spoon or small shovel – something to dig holes with when transplanting.
  4. Newspapers – free if you ask your neighbors and co-workers for them.  You can use them for mulch and make transplant pots with it, too.
  5. Straw – free if you find a farmer who has old or moldy straw to get rid of and which works just as well as the golden yellow stuff.
  6. Some found items that your cukes, tomatoes and peppers can climb
    Cucumbers growing up an old inner spring.

    Cucumbers like to climb and did great on this old bed spring.

    up or grow in.  When I say found, I mean things like the old double-bed spring I use for climbing vegetables or the headboard and footboard from the cast aluminum bed that I found on the side of the road.

  7. Epsom salts – dirt cheap in half gallon milk shaped containers.
  8. A bucket – free if you can get a hold of a kitty litter container or a dog food bucket.
  9. A mug – free if you liberate it from your kitchen and use it to deliver water or fertilizer right to the roots of your plants.
  10. Twine – free if you (or someone you know) buy straw by the bale, save the baling twine and use it to tie up plants.  You can also get tons of baling twine in any horse barn.  NOTE:  Do NOT use green baling twine.  It has been treated with strychnine to kill mice and rats.
  11. Old, sheer curtains, old bed sheets and even old mattress covers – free if you save yours or ask relatives and friends to give their old ones to you.  They don’t look as pretty as commercial row covers but they will keep frost off your baby plants.  And they’ll slow down all the bloody beetles that want to share your food.
  12. Access to a public library – free and there are always books and magazines about organic gardening ready for you to browse through, borrow and take notes from.Oh, and libraries have computers and internet connections. Using them is free. And online is just FULL of ideas, tips and advice on organic gardening.  All you have to do is put in your search terms and hit Go.
  13. An old 3-ring binder and some paper – can be free if you ask co-workers to save used copy paper and write on the back.  NOTE:  I consider this a requirement for my gardening.  If I don’t write down a tip or a “lesson learned”, I forget and end up repeating my mistakes again and again and again.
  14. A bit of inventiveness, a dollop of gumption and enough courage to try, fail and try again.

There’s no hurry.  You don’t have to have all of these things all at once in order to get started.  In fact, I accumulated all the items above over the years.

So, you can garden happily without most of them.

FYI – I call this section in my book – Grow So Easy: Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us “practical” because most of the tools you need are in your closets or cabinets, the garage or the shed.  Don’t buy….just give gardening a try.

Grow So Easy Organic – Best Gardening Books

Anybody whose gardened for even a year has favorite books and favorite web sites.  As a 30 year, veteran organic gardener, I have my share of favorites, too.

There used to be dozens of books on my garden shelf.  Today, there are only about 10 of them.  What happened to the rest?

I realized that although I had a ton of books to choose from, I always chose the same, select few when I had a question or needed help.  So I decided to do a bit of clearing up.  When the dust settled, there were a lot more books in the back of the car than on my shelf.

I took the rejects to a used book store where all profits are used to support senior citizens and headed home, having done my good deed for the day.  So, on to the survivors, my favorite gardening books…starting with two books I have and treasure.

The Victory Garden
My life in the dirt began when I tripped over one small book one Saturday morning about 35 years ago. Crockett’s Victory Garden.  I guess I can blame Jim Crockett for all of my gardening crimes.

More than 3 decades old, Crockett’s book is still hailed as one of the best for beginning gardeners and it still has pride of place on my gardening book shelf.

Crockett was a gardener’s gardener.  He didn’t need fancy tools or high-end gadgets.  All this man needed was some soil, some seeds, some sun and rain and he had a garden full of the bounty of nature.

And he was always so easy to listen to and learn from.  No rush, no worries, just good, old-fashioned gardening advice, that’s what you got from Crockett every week on your local PBS station.  And that’s what you’ll get if you can find one of these vintage books for your shelf.

Seed Starters Handbook
The idea of seed starting used to terrify me.  I was beset with questions.  What if I saved the seeds incorrectly and none of them sprouted?  What if the seeds I saved changed from the original plant to a Frankenplant…born out of a cross I didn’t know about?  What if I got great plants and little, tiny fruits?

Saving my own seeds and using them in my garden the next year just wasn’t something I wanted to try.  But I did, with the help of a friend I’ve never met —  Nancy Bubel.

Published in 1988, Bubel’s The New Seed Starter’s Handbook taught me how to save seeds of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and peppers and use them the following spring.  Getting started was so easy that today, almost 25 years later,  I raise all my own seeds.

In fact, this past summer every plant in my garden — 5 varieties of tomato, 2 types of pepper, 2 of cucumbers and 2 of eggplant and 2 of zucchini – were all started in my basement along with butternut squash, lettuce, spinach, basil and parsley.

Bubel’s techniques are easy.  No special equipment is needed and success is practically guaranteed.  In fact, seed saving is so…natural…I’m surprised everyone isn’t doing it.

Garden Insects of North America; Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs
If you grow them (vegetables and fruit), they will come.  Bugs you never imagined in your wildest nightmares will show up one afternoon and you won’t have a clue whether they’re good or bad.

WARNING:  Don’t do what I did.  I wiped out a whole generation of monarch butterflies because I thought the caterpillars on my dill and parsley were “bad.”  So, look before crushing.

It’s really important to, “Know thy enemy.”  Garden Insect of North America Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs (Princeton Field Guides)  makes it possible to learn about every kind of bug you never thought you wanted to know existed.  Literally.

The images in this book are so good that I turn the pages with my fingertips and only touch the lower corners.  And the images and descriptions will help you identify what’s chewing its way through your garden and give you a flying chance at handling the critter.

Lasagna Gardening
Patricia Lanza’s book entitled Lasagna Gardening, helped me expand my knowledge and increase the size of my garden 5 fold.  There are nooks and crannies in my backyard that were wasted space before I met her and read her book.

Now, every patch of dirt is real estate to grow in.  The inside line of the fence becomes a foot wide bed where beans can be planted and trailed up the fencing.

What’s really great about Lanza’s technique is there is no expensive equipment, no digging, no ploughing, no tilling.  All you have to do is find the space gather materials like shredded leaves, manure, grass clippings, coffee grounds, newspaper and compost and start layering.

Lanza made it easy to do but what she really gave me was the vision to see where I could plant and the freedom to “dig in” without digging at all.

Grow Fruit Naturally
This is my newest book but it is also a book I reach for frequently.  If you decide to grow fruit, Lee Reich is the guy to have in your hip pocket.  Why Reich?

For one thing, the man knows what he’s talking about.  With a doctorate in Horticulture, Reich taught for a while then moved from academic to author, writing books for the everyday gardener and farmer. All of his experience shows in his new book, Grow Fruit Naturally: A Hands-On Guide to Luscious, Homegrown Fruit.

Reich’s knowledge comes from books but it also comes from experience.  He lives on what he calls his “farmden” so named because it’s “…more than a garden, less than a farm.”   And he really, really knows his stuff.

His latest book, Grow Fruit Naturally, could not have come at a better time for me and my backyard orchard.  I especially love his advice on blueberries.

I started growing blueberries without knowing that they are one of the easiest fruits to raise.  In fact, 6 of my bushes are mini-miracles in themselves.  But that’s a story for a later date which I promise to tell in this eBook.

Let’s just say, I planted 12 blueberry bushes in the corner of my back yard instead of 6 and I’ve been harvesting 60 quarts of blueberries every summer…until the summer of 2012.

Weather had something to do with it – 90 degree days in April and 40 degree nights in May.  But somehow, I knew weather was not the only problem.  I was very lucky because, in 2012, one of the best experts on planting and raising bushes and trees shared the fact that blueberry bushes have to be pruned.  Who knew?

Because of this book, I will be heading out into the blueberries in October to do my first pruning, ever!

The Pruning Book
Also by Lee Reich, The Pruning Book: Completely Revised and Updated. The Pruning Book is one I’ve had on my shelf for 15 years.  I bought mine used and have read it a couple of times.  Like his book on growing fruit, Reich shares tons of photographs and drawings that make it easier to learn how to prune any plant.

Reich also shares pruning basics using a step-by-step approach.  He tells you how to prune ornamentals, vines, fruit trees and even house plants.  And Reich offers a special section on pruning techniques for espalier, topiary, bonsai, and pollarding.

By the way, if you like what you read in these Reich books, check out the others he has on sale.  I loved Weedless Gardening and still use the techniques I read in this book in my garden, today.   This wonderful writer and gardener has published many good books.  The books are easy to read, enjoyable and can teach you so much about how to grow and care for plants, vines, shrubs, bushes and trees!

4 Season Gardening
When you are ready to extend your growing season, I can think of no one more helpful than Eliot Coleman and his book, Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.  Coleman lives in Maine…so if he can grow vegetables year round, the rest of us should be able to do it, standing on our heads!

As it says in the new edition of this book, “It’s hard to achieve anything new in an endeavor as old as gardening, but Eliot Coleman has done it.”

In this book, Coleman shares every bit of his knowledge, his tools, his advice and his finely honed sense of the cycle of life over the course of a year.  He does so because he wants all of us to benefit from what it has taken him, literally a lifetime to learn.

Clearly written, beautifully illustrated and loaded with photographs, this book is a slow, steady path to move from just gardening in the summer to gardening all year round.  I love the fact that you don’t have to dive in and do it all, all at the same time.

Thanks to Coleman, I now use a small cold frame (made from recycled windows and wood) and have some small plastic tunnels for extending my lettuce crop.  I saved old sheer curtains and sheets and use them to provide protection from frost and I am constantly on the lookout for an old green house that I can buy or move and start growing from November to February.

I love this book and this author because of his generosity of spirit.  And I love Coleman because, as much as any other gardening guru and maybe even a little more, he has given me hope that comes from growing living things.  We don’t have to wait for spring.  We can grow despite the howling wind and falling snow.

Spring will come again but we don’t have to wait for it anymore.

Next week, web sites that I visit on a regular basis for help, advice, information and sometimes, just a little sympathy!

Grow So Easy – Fall Planting & Gardening Zones

Fall Planting in August?
We’re not even through summer vacation but if you want to extend your gardening season, you should already have the plan laid out and maybe even put some of those seeds in the ground!

That’s right, late July and early August, especially in my zone – 6b – starts right now!

But before we talk about what to plant, when and why, let’s take a quick look at two maps that will help you buy and grow plants best suited to your home town.

Who Says I Can’t Grow Avocadoes In My Back Yard?
When I first hit the dirt and started planning and planting my garden and grove, I considered it a challenge to be told by nameless people, “You’ll never get avocados (pineapple, artichokes, guava) to grow in this zone.”

Unfortunately “they” were right.

If you live in California or the Florida panhandle, you can grow avocados and other tropical fruits and veggies.  You can’t if you live in Pennsylvania.

With dead plants, bushes and trees piling up in my back yard, I decided that maybe, just maybe, I should look into this thing called “zones.”

In The Zone
If you aren’t familiar with zones, don’t panic.  This isn’t the periodic table of elements.  This is the updated (2012) United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zone map.

organic gardeners use the USDA zone map to help them choose cold-hardy plants and trees,.

Gardeners have come to rely on the USDA zone map to choose cold-hardy plants and trees,.

Zones aren’t nearly as complicated as some people would like them to be.  They just look intimidating at first glance.    So, here’s how to read this thing.

Find your approximate location in your state.  For example, I live in Southeast Pennsylvania so my color is a medium green.  Then check the chart on the right side of the map.

Based on color and location, my zone is 6b.  The coldest my zone is supposed to get is -5 degrees Farenheit.  Notice the words “…supposed to be”  and take this information with a grain of salt.  It’s a guideline, not a rule.

The USDA zone chart, which has been published since 1960, helps with getting a handle on when you can set out plants without freezing them to death.  And if you look for the zone chart, you’ll find that it’s being used in lots of places that can help you, too.

Seed packets, plants, trees and bushes are usually sold with the same zone chart and the suggested planting times.  Both help you quickly figure out what will live or die in your backyard…based on environment, alone.

Armed with your zone, you could start to make plant choices that work for you. But there’s one other “zone map” you might want to know about before you buy.

Recently (1995 and if you’re talking planting, that’s recent), a new zoned map has entered the gardening scene.  This one, published by the American Horticultural Society (AHS), looks similar the USDA chart but it tracks heat.

Download your copy and start looking it over.  This map tells you how many days per year the temperature in your back yard is over 86 degrees.

So what?  That’s the magic temperature where plants start to suffer from too much heat.  Who cares?  Why should I track heat?

Because it can do as much damage as cold, maybe even more.  Frost kills plants, buds and sometimes even bushes and trees, instantly.  Heat is a little subtler but just as deadly. And heat damage is even worse during a drought.

What should you look for if you suspect the heat is hurting your plants?

The AHS says the damage can appear in several places.  Flower buds wither. Leaves droop. Leaves may turn brown or even white as the chlorophyll disappears.

AHS describes “death by hear” this way; “Plant death from heat is slow and lingering. The plant may survive in a stunted or chlorotic state for several years. When desiccation reaches a high enough level, the enzymes that control growth are deactivated and the plant dies.”

In his new book, Grow Fruit Naturally: A Hands-On Guide to Luscious, Homegrown Fruit ” , Lee Reich calls the AHS map, “…a work in progress” as it was just recently developed and is still being tweaked.  But the heat map is a good guide to understanding how hot it can get in your garden and how much damage heat can do.

And it should help you to start thinking about what might have a better chance of surviving once you put it in the ground.

Next week, armed with what will survive and thrive in the heat and the cold, we’ll get into what is going into the ground in my garden, right now.  Think beets, lettuce and spinach.

Grow So Easy Organic – Nice-to-Have Gardening Tools

The first set of tools I suggested are all useful for any gardener.  But I’m a practical organic gardener so I love the fact that most of them are found, free or inexpensive.

This set of tools are nice to have and will make your life a bit easier but you don’t need them to be an organic gardener.  If you’re new to the hobby, you might not want to invest in anything but the necessities until you know if you like gardening.

If you try gardening and like it, you can start looking over this list and pick out the tools you think you would like to add to your collection.

Tools That Are Nice To Have
Here’s my list of “nice to haves” for organic gardeners:

  1. A kneeling pad – you can make one of these or buy one.  I’ve had my small green one for more than 15 years and it really, really saves your knees!
  2. Gloves – I consider these nice to have because you really can dig in the dirt, bare-handed, and suffer no ill effects.  In fact, I don’t use gloves because I love the feel of soil in my hands.
  3. Two hand tools – both of mine are Fiskars because of the grip, the design and the lifetime guarantee. The first tool is the “Fiskars 7079 Big Grip Garden Knife. The second tool is the Fiskars 7073 Big Grip Trowel.
  4. A pitch fork – used to move the straw back from the fence sections a couple of weeks before planting so the soil can warm a bit. Also handy when digging up potatoes or garlic or spreading mulch.
  5. A watering can – very nice to have if you want to hand-water fresh transplants or apply liquid fertilizer.
  6. Peat pots – I use 2” and 4” peat pots and hate paying the price for them.  But they make transplanting easier for me and less stressful for the baby plants so I pay.  Tip:  I try to get them online rather than in a big box store where the price is always higher.
  7. A sharp knife or pair of scissors nicked from the kitchen – nice to have on hand to cut baling twine and great for cutting off produce rather than trying to pull it off.  Having lost several battles with eggplant and peppers, I tend to keep a sharp knife in my garden basket and use it with malice aforethought.

Bonus Tools You Can Use
Here’s are a few more items I’ve learned to keep on hand or invest in.  They all help to make my gardening go a little easier:

  1. A good bug book – this could be one of your larger expenses but, believe me, you will be grateful for putting out the cash.  Why?  There are a whole lot of good bugs in the garden that will do battle with the bad ones without you lifting a finger.  But, if you don’t know the good from the bad, you could be killing your soldiers and giving the enemy a chance to overrun the battlefield, i.e. your garden.  I bought Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Crenshaw and the up close images of bugs help me identify what I’m battling.
  2. Soaker hoses – using soaker hoses saves water but they can also slow down or stop soil-born diseases that are spread by spraying and bouncing water on plants.  And I found and use what I think are the best soaker hoses in the world just last year – the Gilmour Flat Soaker hose.
  3. A small propane torch – the handheld kind – I use this to burn tent caterpillars off my fruit trees.  It’s a bit brutal but it burns the nest and the caterpillars before they can strip my trees.  Oh, and you can use it to burn out poison ivy, too.
  4. Raised beds – I make mine with 2 x 12’s (NOT pressure treated) and plastic anchor joints from Home Depot.
  5. A good pair of secateurs like Felco F-2 Classic Manual Hand Pruner. These hand held clippers can cut through a 1” branch like it was butter.  They let you trim inside the plant, bush or tree instead of hacking off the outer foliage or branches.

These lists contain all tools I consider nice to have if you want to move beyond dabbling in organic and decide to grow most of your produce every spring, summer and fall.

Bit of advice?  Before you buy any of these items, look on http://freecycle.org  or http://craigslist.org  to see if you can get them for free or cheap!

Tell me about your favorite gardening tools and why you like them!

Next week, how to handle being bugged without using pesticides.

Organic Gardening Made Easy – Practical (Free) Tools You Will Use

I call this section in my book, “Practical Organic.”  Why do I think organic gardening is practical?  Just this.

Unlike traditional gardening, if you go organic, there are a lot of things you will NEVER have to buy.

You do not have to buy any chemicals or herbicides.  You don’t have to have fancy sprayers or a rototiller – not even one of those small ones named after the bug that prays.

The short list of what you need is dirt, water, seeds and sun.  If you try organic gardening and don’t like it, you’ve probably only invested a few dollars and some time.

But if you do try it and you do like it, you probably already own just about everything you might need to get started.  What you don’t own, you can usually get, for free.

So, here’s my list of what you need to be an organic gardener:

  1. Dirt – free.
  2. Seeds – cheap to buy and even cheaper if you save some for next year’s garden.
  3. A big spoon or small shovel – something to dig holes with when transplanting.
  4. Newspapers – free if you ask your neighbors and co-workers for them.  You can use them for mulch and make transplant pots with it, too.
  5. Straw – free if you find a farmer who has old or moldy straw to get rid of and which works just as well as the golden yellow stuff.
  6. Some found items that your cukes, tomatoes and peppers can climb
    Cucumbers growing up an old inner spring.

    Cucumbers like to climb and did great on this old bed spring.

    up or grow in.  When I say found, I mean things like the old double-bed spring I use for climbing vegetables or the headboard and footboard from the cast aluminum bed that I found on the side of the road.

  7. Epsom salts – dirt cheap in half gallon milk shaped containers.
  8. A bucket – free if you can get a hold of a kitty litter container or a dog food bucket.
  9. A mug – free if you liberate it from your kitchen and use it to deliver water or fertilizer right to the roots of your plants.
  10. Twine – free if you (or someone you know) buy straw by the bale, save the baling twine and use it to tie up plants.  You can also get tons of baling twine in any horse barn.  NOTE:  Do NOT use green baling twine.  It has been treated with strychnine to kill mice and rats.
  11. Old, sheer curtains, old bed sheets and even old mattress covers – free if you save yours or ask relatives and friends to give their old ones to you.  They don’t look as pretty as commercial row covers but they will keep frost off your baby plants.  And they’ll slow down all the bloody beetles that want to share your food.
  12. Access to a public library – free and there are always books and magazines about organic gardening ready for you to browse through, borrow and take notes from.Oh, and libraries have computers and internet connections. Using them is free. And online is just FULL of ideas, tips and advice on organic gardening.  All you have to do is put in your search terms and hit Go.
  13. An old 3-ring binder and some paper – can be free if you ask co-workers to save used copy paper and write on the back.  NOTE:  I consider this a requirement for my gardening.  If I don’t write down a tip or a “lesson learned”, I forget and end up repeating my mistakes again and again and again.
  14. A bit of inventiveness, a dollop of gumption and enough courage to try, fail and try again.

There’s no hurry.  You don’t have to have all of these things all at once in order to get started.  In fact, I accumulated all the items above over the years.

So, you can garden happily without most of them but there will be some challenges.   Next week, tools that are “nice to have.”  These may cost a bit up front but may also save you a lot over your lifetime as a gardener.