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Holiday Gifts for the Gardener



It’s that time of the year again: time to figure out good gifts for Uncle Albert and your sister Sadie. If they’re gardeners, gifts are easy to pick. There are plenty of items that cost from $5 to $300, and generally, one size fits all. Let’s look at some things I have used and like.

 

Nitrile Gloves

Nitrile Gloves

After giving a talk at the Milford, NH Garden Club recently, I bought some gardening gloves that were being sold as a fund raiser. These cost me just $5, and have already earned their keep. These are nitrile gloves made by the Atlas Glove Company. They have a waterproof palm and a stretchy, breathable fabric back. I have big hands, and the x-large size was perfect. Mine are black with silver palms, but the smaller sizes come in a variety of colors.

 

I don’t generally wear gloves when gardening, as most are too thick – and I like the feel of the soil – but in cold weather I do wear them. These are thin enough that I can go easily in my pants pocket and pull out my pocket knife, or feel a tender weed. The nitrile glove is the Atlas 370B series. I’ve also used a thicker Atlas glove with a natural rubber palm, the 300 series. These are both available at most gardening centers.

 

Does your loved one start plants by seed? Gift cards at garden centers or seed companies are nice. I get my seeds from several places: the Hudson Valley Seed Library, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, High Mowing Seeds, Renees Garden and a young company in New York State, Fruition Seeds. All have wonderful selections.

 

VegTrug

VegTrug

One of my favorite additions to my garden this year was a “VegTrug” from Gardener’s Supply Co. (www.gardeners.com, Item#8586918). This is a stained cedar planting box on legs, about 6 feet long and 32 inches wide that retails for $279, with free shipping. It is V-shaped in cross section with the deepest portion 16 inches deep – deep enough for potatoes or tomatoes. It stands 32 inches tall, so no bending is needed to weed or to pick.

 

In my VegTrug I grew one patio tomato and pretty much every kind of herb: basil, dill, marjoram, thyme, sage, purple sage, chives, oregano and parsley. I even had a nasturtium cascading over one end.

 

One reason I loved my VegTrug was the convenience: it allowed me to have herbs near the house in a spot not otherwise suitable for growing. And the plants grew well, although in the heat of the summer they dried out more quickly than my garden near the stream, so I watered pretty much every sunny day. It uses 380 liters of soil mix, so I made my own, a 50-50 mix of peat moss and compost. The bottom is slotted for drainage, but it comes with a woven liner to prevent soil from washing away.

 

Cobrahead

Cobrahead

Every gardener needs a good weeding tool, and every year I recommend the CobraHead Weeder, because I believe it is the best weeding tool available. This tool has a single tine that is curved like the shape of a rising Cobra. I use it to tease out grass roots, to get under large weeds (so I can loosen the soil below them and pull from both top and bottom of the weed at the same time), and for preparing soil to plant. Now it seems a part of my right hand (though it is right-left neutral). At under $25 locally or from the manufacturer (a family business found at www.CobraHead.com), this tool is tough, strong, and made in the USA.

 

Every year I try to learn more about growing healthy plants. This year I paid $50 to join the Bionutrient Food Association (http://bionutrient.org/), and would like to suggest giving a membership as a nice present. One of the goals of the non-profit is to educate members about how to grow food that is nutrient-rich.

 

Much commercial agriculture depends on adding just 3 minerals to the soil (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) and basically ignoring the other nutrients that plants – and humans – need to be healthy. Growing vegetables year after year removes micronutrients from the soil that need to be replaced. The BFA offers information and workshops that I believe will help me to grow better food and stay healthy.

 

Garden Shears

Garden Shears

Weeds are the bane of many gardeners. One way to minimize their presence is to weed daily, mulch, or to put down weed mats. A Vermont company, Garden Mats (https://gardenmats.com) produces heavy-duty woven mats with pre-cut holes in a variety of patterns for different vegetables. I’ve used them – and re-used them. They keep down weeds, hold in some moisture, but also breathe and let rain penetrate. They are 4 feet wide and come in lengths of 6, 12 and 18-feet for a cost of $11 to $31. They are definitely a labor-saver, and they claim the mats increase yields 10% to 20%, too. I like them, and also the fact that it is a small, family-owned business.

 

The last item for this year’s list is a lovely pair of stainless-steel garden shears for cutting flowers, herbs, and for use in the kitchen. Made in England, these shears are elegant as well as sturdy, and are said to be designed for small hands. Sold by Gardeners Supply (Item#8593404), they retail for $60 and come in a handsome gift box.

 

Santa, if you’re listening, I have everything I need. So you can just volunteer to come work in my garden next summer. I know it’s the off-season for you, and we both need to lose some weight, anyhow. We can pull weeds and eat cukes.

 

Read Henry’s blog at https://dailyuv.com/gardeningguy. You can get an email update every time he posts.

 

Holiday Gifts for the Gardener



 

          When I was a boy I believed in Santa Claus long after most other kids had given up on him. I must have been in fifth grade before I started to doubt the story of the jolly old elf. I’m not sure if that was due to my own personality, or because my parents and older sister deluded me. Or maybe I was just plain dumb, back then. But now, as the holidays approach, I try to choose gifts that only the real Santa would know are perfect. For gardeners, it’s easy.

 

Every Gardener needs some basics: a good weeding tool, a pair of hand pruners and a transplant shovel. For me, the weeding tool is a no-brainer: virtually anyone who has tried a CobraHead weeder (www.CobraHead.com) agrees that it is perfect. It’s precise, light-weight and is fabulous at teasing out long roots. Curved like the tine of an old-fashioned horse-drawn cultivator, I think of it as a steel finger. Available at good gardener centers everywhere, or from the company on-line for less than $25. And it will last forever.

 

Pruners and loppers are great gifts, too. Most of us –by my age at least – tend to misplace pruners, so even if your loved one has a pair, a second is always a great gift. And they get dull, so a new pair of sharp ones is a treat. Don’t go to a big box store and buy the cheapest you can. Buy quality pruners even though they can cost in excess of $50. The two brands I like are Bahco and Felco. Both are excellent. They come in different sizes for different size hands, so talk to a knowledgeable sales person. I personally do not like those with rotating grips that allegedly prevent carpal tunal.

 

I’ve had a pair of loppers made by Fiskars for at least 10 years that still work great – I use them a lot, even on large diameter branches. They are geared, so they don’t take great strength to use – and they never get “sprung” the way so many loppers do. Mine is the PowerGear 32” lopper, rated to cut branches up to 2 inches in diameter. Available locally for a little under $50. They also come in smaller sizes. All are lightweight and of good quality steel.

 

Transplant shovels are often overlooked by gardeners, but they do a much better job at moving plants than an ordinary shovel, so everyone should have one. I got mine at my local hardware store –LaValleys –  where it is called a drain spade. Not sure why. The blade is long and narrow – 15 inches long and just 6 inches wide. I like the long blade for getting under the middle of a perennial and prying the plant loose after a few judicious probes.  At less than $20, even Santas on a budget would approve.

 

Holiday gifts

Holiday gifts

At the lower end of the cost spectrum are plants. I don’t advocate giving anyone a house plant -that’s too much like giving a puppy. Most gardeners have enough –nay, too many – house plants. But an amaryllis bulb is a good gift. They bloom, and then you can either throw it away or hold on to it and coax it to bloom another year (though that’s often more trouble than it’s worth). Prices range from grocery store amaryllis under $8 to fancy ones already potted up and ready to bloom at a florist shop for $15 or more. The bigger the bulb, the more expensive – and the bigger and more dramatic the blossoms.

 

Also around $10 would be a small bottle of Super Thrive. This is a seaweed and plant hormone extract that is great for helping stressed plants. And right now, many house plants are stressed due to the short days and lack of light. I find it helps them, and I also use it on transplants in the spring. Available locally.

 

A good blank book with quality paper is a nice gift if your loved one likes record keeping. It’s great to be able to look back, 5years later, and know the name of the variety of bulbs or daylilies you planted. Such a book is also good for sketches of the garden.  

 

On the other end of the cost scale would be a nice dehydrator. I wrote recently about the Excalibur 9-tray dryer for fruits and veggies (www.excaliburdehydrator.com). It’s about a $300 present, so think of it as an investment: it’s an energy–efficient dryer for your tomatoes and apples and more.

 

Books are excellent presents, too. Santa, are you listening? I want Michael Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs. I know it’s expensive ($79.95), Santa, but it has 952 pages and 3530 color photos. It’s the new bible for woody plants by my favorite, highly opinionated tree expert. He even wrote a nice blurb for the back jacket of my last gardening book (Organic Gardening (not just) in the Northeast, A Hands-on, Month-by-Month Guide –just $17.50 in paper). And if you want us to keep on believing, we have to get the goodies. And I’ve been good this year!

 

Henry, a.k.a. Santa’s Helper, can be reached at the North Pole, P.O. Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746 or henry.homeyer@comcast.net. Like Santa, he makes no promises except for his gardening book, which he can send you signed and personalized.

 

Holiday Gifts for the Gardener



Gardeners are easy to shop for. We all need the practical (rubber-palmed stretchy garden gloves, watering wands, garden scissors, plant labels) and appreciate the whimsical (a nice garden gnome to surprise the grandkids). Gardening books keep us occupied during the long winter nights, and garden tools keep us dreaming of perfect peonies. Here are some suggestions for the gardener you love.
 
This year I discovered Tubtrugs. They are multipurpose, brightly colored, somewhat flexible containers made of food grade plastic that I like to fill up with weeds. I also use them when harvesting veggies or carrying hand tools; you can fill one with water to soak a dry potted plant or wash a small dog. They are easy to carry – handholds are built in. They come in 4 sizes from about 4 gallons to about 20 gallons. I have the 2 smaller sizes, which cost $11-14. Available at your local garden center or from www.tubtrugs.com.
 
As much as I don’t like plastic, I found another plastic product that is very handy: an Oxo brand watering can. As with other Oxo products, I find it not only functional, but handsome – and these come in a variety of colors. I like that the spout lets you see the water level inside when filling it up, and it rotates for storage (snuggling up, sort of, against the reservoir). The rose, which breaks the stream of water into a spray, is very fine for watering delicate plants, but I often just pull that off and water directly from the slender spout. They come in 2 sizes: 2 gallon ($28) and an indoor model that is just 3 quarts ($18). Available locally or on line.
 
Each year I have to tout my favorite weeding tool, the CobraHead Weeder, as it works so darn well, and I have met so many gardeners that just love it. It is a single piece of steel with a small, eye-shapede head and a curved handle. It has a nice bright blue, recycled plastic handle. It gets under weeds to pull from below while I tug on the topside; I use it when planting, too, stirring up the soil and teasing out grass roots. I like that it serves lefties as well as righties, and is light enough to please elderly weeders as well as big lunks like me. Cost? About $25. Available locally or at www.cobrahead.com or   1-866-962-6272.      
 

Holiday Gifts for the Gardener

Books help get gardeners through the winter. We read and plan when we can’t weed and plant. I recently got a very handsome, glossy-photo book by Jeremy and Emily Gettle, co-owners of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. He is quite a character – he started at age 3 and was growing 2 acres of vegetables by age 18. He started his own seed company when he was just 22 years old and now 33, he has quite a large operation – and a book.
 
The book, The Heirloom Life Gardener: the Baker Creek Way of Growing Your Own Food Easily and Naturally, is interesting and full of personal stories and anecdotes by Jeremy. He is opinionated, which I like, too. Best of all, it has a directory of garden vegetables that not only tells you how he grows them, but guides you to save your own seeds. It’s $30 in hardcover.
 
Another book I like is Ancestral Plants: A Primitive Skills Guide to Important Edible, Medicinal and Useful Plants of the Northeast by Arthur Haines. This is a fascinating technical book for survivalists, among others. It tells you not only about edible and medicinal plants, but which ones to use for making your own rope or are useful when starting a fire without matches. Haines is young (forty-one), and a serious scholar, having just written a 1,000 page taxonomy of plants.
 
Haine’s book gives information available in no other book I have found. So, for example, he tells you to eat eastern prickly gooseberries one at a time so that the crushing of the berry is done with teeth, not the palate (to avoid the prickles), and that it is high in Vitamin C, antioxidants and pectin so it can easily be made into jam. Each plant has at least 2 excellent color photos and 2 pages of text. $23 in paper available locally, or from www.anaskimin.org.
 
Each year I find some nice products from Gardeners Supply Company in Burlington, VT (www.gardeners.com or 888-833-1412). This year I like their pesto storage cubes for freezing pesto or tomato paste. They have attached lids, and fit into trays for storage. At $7.95 for 8 cubes they are a good gift. I also like their Root Storage Bin which costs $34.95. It is a sturdy wire bin lined with jute fabric designed to hold carrots, beets etc. in a cool dark cellar. It allows you to layer moist sand in it, keeping the veggies from drying out. It fits in a fridge I use for storing veggies. They also sell the Tubtrugs mentioned above. Since Gardeners Supply is an employee-owned company that supports lots of good causes, I enjoy supporting them, too.
 
I’ve been using LED lights this fall to pamper my houseplants, and I find my plants are much healthier this year. Best of all, for 42 watts of electricity I am getting the equivalent of 250 watts of light, and the spectrum of light, the company says, is just right for making plants happy. I got mine from Sunshine Systems (www.sunshine-systems.com or 866-576-5868). Each unit costs about $150 and is suitable for illuminating 5 square feet of plant space. The lights are designed to let you connect several together, which is handy.
 
          Lastly, as an author I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my own new book: Organic Gardening (Not Just) in the Northeast: A Hands-On, Month-by-Month Guide (Bunker Hill Publishing). It’s a collection of my best writings from the past 10 years, organized around the calendar year. It’s $17.50 from your local bookstore or from my website (www.Gardening-guy.com).
 
So give Santa a hand. Go get something nice for the gardener in your family. And remember to try buying local first: local bookstores, local garden centers – only buy on the Web as a last resort! And Happy Holidays to you all.
 
Henry Homeyer is the author of 4 gardening books. His Web site is www.Gardening-guy.com.