A sand-filled trough will keep small garden tools from vanishing -- and keep them in good working order. Fill a trough or other container with sand to 1 inch from top. Pour in about 1/4 cup of motor oil (sand should have a slightly moist texture); stir. When returning tools to trough, wipe them with a rag. The sand will keep tools clean and sharp, and the oil will keep them rust-free.
Give each herb its own personalized pot, and you'll never snip the wrong sprigs -- or lose the markers -- again. Clustered together, the pots make a charming little garden. Individually, they're portable and easy to handle: Bring the basil indoors, for example, when making pesto, instead of stooping in the garden. When you plant the herbs, label the rims with a permanent felt-tip marker, and use these pots year after year.
A galvanized paint bucket makes a practical and inexpensive caddy for a garden hose and sprinkler. Drill three holes in a triangular pattern in the bottom of the bucket. Depending on your wall, bolt or screw the bucket to the wall; strengthen the cut edges of the holes with washers.
Instead of bringing garden vegetables indoors to clean, rinse them outdoors as soon as you pick them -- and give the remaining crop an extra drink, too. In late June, for instance, when it's time for the first harvest of crops sowed in early May, take along a colander and a garden hose. Some baby lettuces and radishes might be ripe for picking, but other lettuces and root vegetables won't be. With the benefit of the additional water, the veggies that need to stick it out through the summer have a smaller chance of wilting, bolting, getting bitter or hard, or cracking.
The garden is just a slightly tamed wilderness with hazards all its own: It harbors insects that bite, thorns that scratch, and other potential nuisances that may require simple first aid. This basic kit includes alcohol for cleaning wounds, first-aid ointment, cotton balls, bandages, tweezers for thorns and splinters, insect repellent with sunscreen, and, finally, hand salve to sooth and soften your dry skin at the end of the day.
Streamline your round of gardening chores by sorting debris as you go. Throw biodegradable waste into a wheelbarrow, ready to dump on the compost heap when you're finished. Keep other yard trash -- labels, broken pots, and rocks, for example -- separate in a bucket hung over the barrow's edge with a large S hook.
Seeds saved from past gardens may be worth sowing -- but only if they pass this test: Fold 10 seeds in moist paper towel, place in resealable bag, mark with date and type. Watch to see how many germinate. Multiply that number by 10 to calculate the percent of germinations. More than 70 percent is passing. If between 40 and 60 percent, sow thickly. Below 40 percent, it's best to buy fresh seed.
Create a mini gardening center that you can tote while you tend your plants. Start with a carpenter's nail belt, which has one big pocket: Measure the width of each tool, such as a trowel, then add an inch for extra space. Use a pen to mark widths on belt. Stitch along marks, creating several pockets. Tie the belt around a bucket, which you can use to hold larger items or to collect debris.
An office in-box can work hard outside, too. Turn one upside down and place it over young plants to protect them from curious cats and other creatures. The metal grid keeps pets from uprooting and trampling delicate plants, such as herbs, and will allow your plants to grow freely.
To create an indispensable reference guide to your garden, staple seed packets to index cards and organize them in a recipe box. Staple only one edge of a packet, so you can flip it over to see instructions for growing. On the lined side, note when the seeds were sown, when they sprouted, and any other dates you might need for future seasons.
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