Did you clean and oil your garden tools before you put them away for the winter?
Although most of us know we should do that, many of us don’t. The hand tools go onto their pegs, the spades and rakes are hung upon their hooks, and the shed door is closed before the final cleaning takes place.
Maybe you meant to do to it next weekend. Maybe you just forgot.
Or may be you were fooled by our on-again off-again on-again winter and never were sure if the gardening season was really over yet.
Don’t worry. There is still time to give your tools a thorough cleaning before spring.
Here’s a simple method recommended by lazy gardeners everywhere:
Take a 5 gallon bucket and fill it with sand. Now mix in oil until the sand is damp. Knock any loose dirt off your tools, then plunge them into the bucket. The mixture of sand and oil should clean off loose debris while protecting your tools from rust.
If you are an organic gardener, you’ll want to replace the generic oil with a vegetable oil. Non-organic gardeners can try spraying the surface of the sand with WD-40.
If your tools are especially dirty or rusty, clean them with a wire brush before using the sand & oil mixture. You can use an old burlap sack to knock clods of earth and mud from the blades of spades and shovels.
And while you are cleaning your bladed tools, don’t forget to sharpen them.
For shovels, spades, trowels, etc, use a double-sided flat file. You can pick one up at any hardware store if you don’t already have one. Use the coarse side to file the outside edge of the blade to a sharp angle. Then use the fine side on the inside edge to remove nicks. Lastly, give a nice final polish to the cutting edge with the fine side of the file. Wipe the blade with an oily rag.
Before you call it done, be sure to rub wooden handles with a good coating of linseed oil to prevent cracking.
Sharpening pruners is a tricky task. Be sure to use a tool designed specifically for pruners and take extra care not to knick the thin cutting edges. Some pruners, such as Felcos, sport replaceable blades. If you do much pruning, it is a good practice to start every spring with a new cutting blade. While you are at it, check the spring and anvil blade as well. They may not need to be replaced as frequently, but they do eventually wear out.
Less delicate loppers and hedge shears can usually be sharpened with a small flat file. You’ll also find that some manufacturers, such as Sandvik, sell replacement blades for their loppers and shears.
If you want to keep your hand tools clean and sharp throughout the gardening season, try storing them between jobs in the oily sand bucket rather than hanging them from hooks or leaning them against walls.
Eventually, your sand bucket will be too contaminated with dirt to be an effective cleaner. However, before you throw away the sand, remember that oil is a serious pollutant. Check with the local Department of Ecology for approved disposal methods. Or save yourself the hassle, and use vegetable oil.