Edible Gardening Series: Question of the Week – Tools
By Carol Wyatt-Evens and Sarah Bostick
Gardening in Florida can be incredibly rewarding and incredibly frustrating, at the same time. If you are new to the region, you soon learn that gardening in the Sunshine State can quickly become a full-time job. While our subtropical climate is perfect for growing an abundance of different vegetables, fruits, and herbs, it also can present some overwhelming challenges.
We can help! UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County agents and staff have created an online edible gardening resource center. The website features short videos from our 25-episode “Edible Gardening Series” webinars, along with blog posts and resources lists for episodes. Get help on an array of topics that befuddle many gardeners.
This week’s Question of the Week:
How do I choose the right tools and take care of them in the right way?
When it comes to gardening tools, there is a seemingly endless list of options and it can be hard to know which tools are the right tools for you. Rather than give you a list of must-have tools, today’s blog is going to focus on three things: choosing the right tools for your physical comfort, basic care and maintenance of your tools, and strategies for sanitizing tools to prevent plant diseases and food safety issues.
Choosing the right tools for your physical comfort
- Gloves – many gardeners prefer to wear gloves while working in the garden but finding the right pair of gloves can be challenging! People with small hands can have a particularly hard time finding gloves that fit. If you have small hands, search for gloves made for women or gloves that come in multiple sizes. “One size fits all gloves” are generally much too large for people with small hands, making gardening cumbersome and frustrating. It is also a good idea to invest in a pair of washable gloves. Gloves can quickly become stiff and rough as they absorb water and soil. Washing washable gloves keeps them much more comfortable.
Wheelbarrows and garden carts – wheelbarrows and garden carts can be fantastic tools for lightening the load in gardening but the spectrum of prices and designs on the market can be overwhelming. A traditional wheelbarrow has just one wheel.
The traditional design requires a strong back and arms to prevent it from falling over while moving it. If you are prone to back aches or feel like your upper body strength isn’t what it used to be, investing in a two-wheeled wheelbarrow or a four-wheeled garden cart is a great idea. These are much more stable, meaning that they are much less likely to wrench your back. Four-wheeled carts with a dump function are particularly handy in a garden.
- Snips, pruning shears, loppers and scissors – the options are endless! Many cutting implements get the job done, but can be hard on your hands, particularly if you have arthritis or small hands. For small-handed people, search for cutting implements made for small hands. An increasing number of tool companies carry a wide array of snips and gardening shears, including designs for women and for left-handed people. If you are prone to hand-pain, it is also important to invest in cutting implements with a well-designed self-springing mechanism. A good spring means that your hands don’t have to work as hard.
Basic care and maintenance of tools
Once you have good tools in your gardening tool kit, it is important to take care of them! Here are three tips for taking care of your tools:
- Never put tools away dirty – leaving dirt, mud, and plant debris on your tools will quickly damage your tools. Before putting tools away, wipe or rinse each tool and then put them away clean. This will go a long way in preserving the longevity of your tools and keeping them working at their best.
- Sharpen blades annually – snips, shears, lopper, scissors, saws, and other cutting devices get dull, just like your kitchen knives. Dull blades require more effort on your part and are more likely to damage plants and cause injury to you. It is a very good idea to sharpen all your gardening blades at least once a year. You can learn to do it yourself by watching a few DIY videos or take tools to a gardening center, tool shop, or other location that sharpens tools.
- Oil springs and hinges – some tools greatly benefit from periodic oiling of springs, hinges, and other moving parts. Oil helps to keep tools functioning like new, preserving your hands and the lifespan of your tools.
Sanitizing tools is a foreign concept to most gardeners but is a highly recommendable practice to add into your gardening routine. Here’s why:
- Many plant diseases are spread from plant to plant by your hands, gloves, and tools.
- Nematodes love to catch a ride from one garden bed to the next on your tools and gloves.
- Pathogens that cause human illness can be spread on your tools and gloves.
Here are two examples of why and how to sanitize tools:
- Tomatoes are one of the most challenging and rewarding veggies a gardener can grow. One of the most challenging elements of growing tomatoes is disease management. Tomatoes are susceptible to dozens of different bacterial, viral, and fungal diseases. Some of these diseases require direct contact between an uninfected plant and an infected plant or something that has just touched an infected plant. Many gardeners like to prune out diseased stems, bent branches, and suckers. That means your hands and your snips can become the things that transfer plant diseases from one plant to the next. If you are pruning multiple tomato plants, soak your snips in rubbing alcohol or diluted bleach for at least a minute between each plant and change gloves (or wash your hands if you are un-gloved). This simple step will greatly help to slow the spread of disease in your tomatoes.
- Birds are a wonderful part of any environment – and just like every other creature on Earth, they poop. And because they poop while in flight, they sometimes poop on your garden. Bird poop contains a few different pathogens that can make people sick. If a bird has pooped on a plant in your garden, it is a very good idea to cut off the leaves that are affected. After cutting off poopy leaves, sanitize your snips by soaking them in rubbing alcohol, bleach water, or hydrogen peroxide and wash your hands or change your gloves. If you skip the sanitizing step, you can spread pathogens to other parts of your garden.
The Edible Gardening Series and blog series is a partnership between the following UF/IFAS agents and Sarasota County staff:
- Sarah Bostick, Sustainable Agriculture Agent
- Carol Wyatt-Evens, Chemicals in the Environment Agent
- Mindy Hanak, Community & School Gardens Educator
- Kevin O’Horan, Communications Associate