By Jannie Vaught
Solstice is December 22. This is the final descent into darker shorter days with deeper cold at night. Then the light begins to return on the 22nd. and slowly we climb into lighter mornings and longer days. In some Old Northern customs, they consider this as Spring. Here in central Texas, we wait till the temperature warms and the first shoots begin to show to call it Spring. This time of year is on the go as this gardener is covering the in ground beds with compost and mulch from the chicken yard that has sat for some months, pruning pear, plum, almond, and crape myrtle trees and general clean up and burning old woody material and spent tomato stalks to make sure to eliminate pest and disease.
I have a stone fire ring that I use and only on wind-free days. I let the leaves fall where they may, only to rake a few paths clear for walking. And when all the leaves have fallen off the fruit trees I do spray with a natural fungicide and then a week later Dormant oil. Do some study on the product you use and follow the label directions. When first I started Organic gardening I was a “No Spray” but when my trees died due to borer and fungus, I woke up and realized that as a Gardener I am tending them and their health. So the research began and I use plant-based sprays, copper, neem and as close to natural dormant oil as I can. This has given my fruit trees protection from burrowing bugs, and fungi problems. I do keep compost and leaf litter a good 2 foot away from trunks. For a good monthly garden checklist, The Natural Gardener nursery in Austin has a monthly what-to-do list. When I need reminders this is where I go.
This is also a good time of year to get the garden shed cleaned out. Clean and repair and oil tools. I have an old coffee can with motor oil-soaked rags that I keep on the top shelf for oiling the shovels, hoes, and saws, a bucket of sand with motor oil in the sand to place my shovels into when I’m working. Don’t forget the wood handles, replace broken ones and oil with lemon oil. Some of them need sharpening and this is a good time to take a closer look. Especial oil where the metal meets the wood as this will dry and shrink away and the tool becomes loose. Good garden, good tools. Don’t forget the rakes. I seem to use fan rakes, bow rake, and my pitchfork as much as the shovel and hoe. And having them ready and in good repair keeps the garden flowing and I’m not having to stop and repair. Good time to check your faucets and hoses also. We have been using a Broadfork for a number of years and although it was a little expensive I use it still, I can lift and break open compacted areas with this big tool. It was awkward at first as I had never used one, but now it is a first use tool and covers a wide swath of garden area, and no fuel or motor needed. We got a scythe last summer and we’re just getting the hang of using it when the season changed and it wasn’t needed but we will bring it back out to the garden and grass next year. It is another tool that you need to learn to use, you have to stand and swing at just the correct angle. Another old school tool I added was a hand sickle or a rice knife, a curved blade on a wooden handle. I bought a very cheap one just to try it out, I used it through the summer and had good results cutting small areas down, but it was cheap and didn’t last, so this year a better one is on the list, one I can sharpen and oil.
There is always something to do in the garden world. When we purchase tools it is an investment and they need care and a place to stay out of the weather for future use and longevity. A favorite tool in the gardener’s hands is an old friend, they fit just right. I find comfort there.
Growing Green and cleaning tools with Jannie