Gardening Tips: Tool Time

Editor’s Note: We’re reaching into Michelle’s Smith’s archives for posts as useful now as when they were first published, like this one, which we last shared on 7 October 2020.


What to do this week

You might need a garden shovel or something similar in the next month or so, who knows, but generally, this is the time of year you should be cleaning, organizing and storing your garden tools for winter. It is a good idea to put your garden tools away clean and serviced so they are ready to go in the spring. You will be glad you did when you go to fetch them and find that you didn’t put them away all gummed up and muddy and blunt, I can assure you.

For shovels, this means you have to brush off the dirt, perhaps using a wire brush if it is caked on clay you are dealing with. Then sharpen the tips. You can use a sanding block for sharpening. If your shovels or other tools have wooden handles you should use a bit of mineral oil on the wooden part so the wood doesn’t dry and crack. The same treatment is recommended for your hoes and other large tools.

Garden tools. (Photo by Spitfire at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,, from Wikimedia Commons)

Garden tools. (Photo by Spitfire at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, from Wikimedia Commons)

Pruning shears and other secateurs — including all shears, clippers, and pruners — deserve the same treatment but should also be cleaned with a bit of solvent. Don’t store them with resins and plant oils gumming up the mechanisms. You can use any solvent you may have around, or go for a citrus-based solvent. I often use kerosene because I usually have it around, but any solvent will do.

Once you have everything cleaned up and sharpened, both large tools and hand tools, it is a good idea to take the extra step of rubbing the metal parts with mineral oil to add a bit of rust protection.

I store my tools in logical order: for example, I store the orchard-related things all together and at the front as these are the tools I will be needing first come spring. (Orchard tools include shears and pruning equipment, dormant oil and bug traps.)

Another related task is to clean your apple-maggot traps, those little red spheres you use in your orchard to trap pests. Clean off the Tanglefoot coating with a citrus-based solvent. Tanglefoot is the sticky substance you put onto the sphere so that flies stick to it. Don’t use kerosene or other strong solvents, as the pests might not like it and you want them to be attracted to the trap.

It will soon be a good time to take hardwood cuttings, if you want to propagate your currants, roses, elderberries, lilacs or other hardwood producers you may have. When the leaves fall off, the plant is in dormancy, and that is the time to do it. The most important tip I have for this sort of thing is to make the cutting in such a way that you will remember which end is up, or the growing end. This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised how difficult it can be to identify the up end even after two minutes spent fetching the pots. Some people cut the bottom end at a diagonal and the other end straight to help them identify which end to put down into the peat moss-filled pot.

Make your cuttings at least six-inches long. A foot long is better if you are able. Use big pots. I use 11-liter plastic ice cream buckets, as they are the perfect size (and the perfect reason to strike up a friendly relationship with the staff at your local ice cream parlor.) Dip the end you want to root into water and then into #3 rooting hormone before planting. Bury the cutting about two thirds of the way into peat moss or a peat moss-based soil mix. If you have tree-wound dressing you can put a bit on the top end. These compounds are readily available at any good garden center. Once the cutting is planted, cover the pot with a plastic bag and store it in the basement or any other cool, dark place for the winter. You can safely forget about them until spring.





Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.





The Cape Breton Spectator is entirely reader supported. Please consider subscribing today!