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Finding new gardening tools right at home

Laura Dean Bennett
Starr Writer

Maybe you’re a veteran gardener – an old hand with a green thumb who has plenty of gardening tools at your disposal.

Or maybe you’re a beginner gardener, who’s been making do with a serving spoon snatched from the silverware drawer.

Either way, repurposing household items for gardening can be a lot of fun and will certainly appeal to your thrifty side – and might even make gardening a little easier.

Let’s start by looking around the house to see what we can find.

If you have any old colanders or laundry baskets lying around, they can be put to work outside.

They can hold weeds and clippings for the compost pile and, at the end of the growing season, they’re useful for harvesting fruits and vegetables.

A laundry basket can also be used to carry gardening tools or for storage in the potting shed.

Don’t throw away those old, stained aprons with large pockets.

Wear one while you’re gardening, and you’ll have a place for your seed packets, clippers, spade, etc.

Those fancy plant markers that you see in the catalogues are adorable, and would probably look great in the kitchen garden at Mt. Vernon, but you can have perfectly serviceable plant markers without spending a penny.

All you need are chopsticks and several lids from small plastic sour cream or yogurt containers.

Cut two slits in each lid, write the name of the plant in permanent marker on the clear side, slide a chopstick through the slits and there’s your plant marker.

Chopsticks are also handy for removing tiny transplants from seeding containers, staking up small transplants and for marking the locations of seeds, bulbs or herbaceous perennials – the ones that are impossible to see in the winter but, come spring will grow again.

They are also perfect for making a holes for exact placement of seeds.

They can also be used to pick up large bugs, caterpillars, slugs and snails from your plants. Who wants to touch them with your hands?

Take-out Chinese food containers with the nice wire handle are great for starting young plants, and small yogurt or sour cream containers can be transformed into slug traps.

Cut some holes in the top rim of the container, fill it with cheap beer and put on the lid.

Dig a shallow hole the diameter of the container and nestle the container in the hole.

The slugs check in, but they won’t check out.

Take-out “plasticware” can also come in handy.

A plastic knife makes a good identifier for seedlings.

And the tines of plastic forks – inserted handle-down in the soil beside baby plants – will prop up a leaning seedling until it can stand on its own.

Those “one pound” plastic salad and deli containers with lids are also keepers.

The lids will keep the moisture in, making the containers just the thing for starting seeds. Your seeds will stay damp longer, and the soil will stay warmer, making this the perfect environment for germination.

Clean the container, poke a few holes in the bottom for drainage, add your soil, plant the seeds, water and put on the lid.
In a few days you’ll likely start getting sprouts.

After your seedlings are transplanted, you can keep a stack of “seed starters” for next season – just wash, rinse and thoroughly dry them for storage.

Larger plastic containers can be repurposed for berry picking or gathering all kinds of small fruits and vegetables. And you can put them straight in the fridge with their handy cover.

A grapefruit knife, with its sharp, curved blade is perfect for transplanting little seedlings. It also makes a good weeder for your flower pots or container garden.

If you have an old wooden spoon that you can spare, move it out with your garden tools and use it for mixing fertilizer, breaking up potting soil or stirring compost tea.

Large paperclips come in handy for shutting open seed packets.

When it’s time to retire clothespins from laundry duty, they, too, can have a new career as garden helpers.

They can secure errant plant stems to a vining string, hold bundled herbs and flowers for drying and keep spiders out of garden gloves.

Fold over the tops of the gloves and secure with clothespins to stymie those adorable little arachnids.

As every neophyte gardener knows, old dining room and kitchen serving pieces – forks, ladles, knives and oversized spoons – come in handy for digging and transplanting.

A cracked bowl or crock can have a new life as a soil mixing bowl, and a scratched serving tray or a chipped platter can make a nice catch-all for spilled soil during transplanting.

No need to buy flower pot saucers – mismatched or chipped plates and slightly cracked saucers or bowls are perfect for containing water overflow under flower pots.

An old paper towel dispenser that doesn’t go with your new décor can have a whole new life on your potting bench.

Set it or mount it there and you’ll always have paper towels handy for quick cleanups.

An old egg beater or wire whisk can be used for mixing up fertilizers or bug potions.

Old newspapers come in handy for all kinds of things, and they are a wonderful, biodegradable way to keep weeds under control.

Spread newspaper over the open spaces of your garden, leaving an opening around each plant, and then cover the paper with a shallow layer of compost, soil, or mulch – just enough to cover the papers and keep them from flying away.

The newspaper will let water sink into the soil, but will keep weeds from growing through it.

Keep the dirt in the garden and out from under your fingernails.

Attach a soap dish and a nail brush to your potting bench.

Dig your fingernails into the soap before you put on your gloves, start gardening or do anything outdoors.

This will make cleaning your hands and fingernails so much easier.

Playing around with potting soil can often make a mess, and not only of our hands.

Keeping your tools in good shape is important if you want to keep from spending the money it would take to replace them.

You’ll need is an old dish pan and an old hand towel to keep on your potting bench.

You’ll also need to save your next empty lotion or hand soap pump bottle.

Fill the bottle with mineral oil and use it to squirt the oil onto your metal garden tools.

The mineral oil will help keep your tools clean and rust-free.

It makes caked-on mud or sticky sap easier to remove. And just plain dirt will slide off easier, too.

Wash and dry your tools after each use, then rub them with fine steel wool to eliminate nicks, wipe them with mineral oil and store them until they are called back into service.

And, there’s really nothing wrong with dipping into a kitchen drawer to find something to use in the garden.

But, remember, once you’ve been using something from the kitchen for gardening, it’s a bad idea – maybe even dangerous – to return it to duty inside the home for household use.

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