Keeping tools up to the mark
CLEAN, SHARPEN YOUR SECATEURS
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.
TAKE PART IN COMMUNITY PLANTING DAYS
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!
TAKE CARE OF GARDENING GEAR & TOOLS
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.
REVIVE MINT PLANTS & TAKE CUTTINGS
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!
WATCH OUT FOR WHITEFLY ON YOUR BRASSICAS
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: getgrowing.co.nz