Keep­ing tools up to the mark



Sticky sap gums up secateurs mak­ing them hard to use and may po­ten­tially trans­mit dis­ease from plant to plant. Some secateurs can be taken apart for clean­ing and sharp­en­ing. Lay out the pieces in or­der so it’s eas­ier

to put them back to­gether. (Tak­ing pic­tures of each stage of dis­as­sem­bly is help­ful too.) Give them a wash in warm soapy wa­ter. You might need a sol­vent to re­move har­dened sap – try meths or iso­propyl al­co­hol. I needed steel wool to re­move the dirt-in­grained star jas­mine sap off th­ese two pairs. The red-han­dled tool is a di­a­mond file. It’s small enough to fit be­tween the blades for a quick touch up with­out tak­ing the secateurs apart. Use a whet­stone for re­ally blunt blades. Oil the sur­face and sharpen only the bev­elled edges of the blades. Lay the bev­elled edge flat against the whet­stone and pull it to­wards you re­peat­edly un­til the sur­face is shiny and the edge is sharp. Th­ese looked and felt like new when I was done.


Ar­bor Day isn’t the only time to plant trees! All through win­ter there are calls for vol­un­teers to help at parks around the coun­try. On Queen’s Birth­day week­end I joined about 180 other vol­un­teers at a tree plant­ing day at Tawha­ranui Re­gional Park on the coast east of Matakana, north of Auck­land. To­gether we planted more than 4500 plants (mostly manuka and flax) in only a cou­ple of hours. The event

was run by the Tawha­ranui Open Sanc­tu­ary So­ci­ety Inc (TOSSI) which works in part­ner­ship with Auck­land Coun­cil to enhance the park.

A preda­tor-proof fence across the Tawha­ranui penin­sula keeps the park free from pos­sums, stoats and rats so it’s a refuge for na­tive birds. TOSSI pro­jects in­clude a nurs­ery grow­ing plants to re­gen­er­ate the wet­lands and bush habi­tats for threat­ened species, pest con­trol and track de­vel­op­ment. It was a great day out for all ages – from 80-years-old to ba­bies in back­packs – and lev­els of ex­pe­ri­ence. Some vol­un­teers had never planted any­thing and needed to be shown how to use a spade and (tact­fully) told to re­move the plas­tic planter bags. There were jobs for all – chil­dren col­lected the planter bags to be reused, su­per-dig­gers forged ahead mak­ing ex­tra holes fol­lowed by planters. Oth­ers supplied wa­ter and fruit or sliced moun­tains of onions and coleslaw for the bar­be­cue lunch that fol­lowed. Check For­est and Bird, the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion, coun­cil web­sites and com­mu­nity pa­pers for sim­i­lar events hap­pen­ing some­where near where you live. If you can’t find one, iden­tify a lo­cal eye­sore that needs a help­ing hand and start your own group to make it hap­pen!


Here’s what my gear looked like when I got home from Tawha­ranui! Clean your boots and tools with soapy wa­ter but make sure they are dry be­fore you put them away. Wipe tools over with an oily rag to pre­vent rust. I keep my hand tools

(a Ni­washi, Trovel, weed­ing knife and a grub­ber) in a bucket of sand laced with oil. They’re easy to find and rust-free. You can clean gar­den­ing gloves in the wash­ing ma­chine. No need to turn them in­side-out. Use cold or luke­warm wa­ter, not hot.


Mint sauce, potato salad and mo­ji­tos all re­quire a healthy crop of mint and now’s the time to re­vive your plants. Mint can live for ages in a pot with only a trim now and then to re­move rusty leaves. But re­plant when the pot gets over­crowded or weedy. Turf out the old plant, re­place the pot­ting mix and re­plant sec­tions of stem each at­tached to a clump of roots. Cut­tings sprout eas­ily in wa­ter too. Keep a full jar of mint on the kitchen win­dow sill so you don’t need to trek to the herb patch on wet nights. Don’t put sur­plus mint roots in the com­post heap – ev­ery bit will grow!


My kale sailed through last win­ter with­out a touch of whitefly. This year I haven’t been so lucky. I planted the seedlings ear­lier, so sus­pect the warmer tem­per­a­tures al­lowed the whitefly to move in. Wash­ing the leaves be­fore cook­ing be­comes a te­dious job if you also have to win­kle out any pas­sen­gers. White­flies lay their eggs un­der the leaves of toma­toes, bean, cu­cur­bits and cit­rus as well as brassicas.

Big pop­u­la­tions can build up quickly in the warm, dry con­di­tions in­side glasshouses. Clouds of adults fly away when sprayed, so tar­get their larvae in­stead. If you use sprays, coat leaves with or­ganic in­sec­ti­cide, neem oil or a pyrethrum-based spray and re­peat when you spot a new gen­er­a­tion. I pre­fer not to spray my food crops. In­stead, I’ve been re­mov­ing the worst af­fected leaves and splash­ing the rest with soapy wa­ter – with­out com­plete suc­cess. A friend says she uses spray-on cook­ing oil – the sort that’s used to grease muf­fin pans. Ap­par­ently the trick is to spray the un­der sur­faces only and hold the can 20cm away so that the leaves only get a light coat­ing. I’ll test this and re­port back!

This col­umn is adapted from the weekly e-zine, get grow­ing, from New Zealand Gar­dener mag­a­zine. For gar­den­ing ad­vice de­liv­ered to your in­box ev­ery Fri­day, sign up for Get Grow­ing at: get­grow­

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