Now is the time to care for your lawn and garden tools. Sharpen the lawnmower blades, drain and replace the engine oil, replace or clean the sparkplug and blow the dust and dirt from the cooling fins.
When I service my gasoline engines during the winter months, I also like to squirt a few drops of oil in the cylinder head before I replace the sparkplug. If you have an electric mower, all you need to do is sharpen the blade and clear the vents of debris. I have an electric mower that is 41 years old and still in use.
Pruning tools also need to be sharpened. Some pruners can be sharpened without being taken apart, but I find that taking them apart allows me to do a better sharpening job. Many of my loppers and hand pruners are more than 30 years old and still in perfect condition. After sharpening and putting them back together, I wipe the steel with a rag soaked with 30-weight motor oil. This keeps them from rusting.
The pruning saw is probably the most abused and mistreated tool in your gardening cabinet. Most pruning saws are designed to cut on the pull stroke. For a pruning tool to cut live wood, the saw teeth need to make a cut wider than the thickness of the blade. This is accomplished by setting the teeth so that every other tooth is bent outward and opposite of the previous tooth. Unless the teeth are properly set, the saw blade will bind, thus making sawing difficult and exhausting. The teeth should always be set before they are sharpened. Yet few gardeners take time to set the teeth before filing them sharp. The tool for setting the teeth of saws is not expensive but often difficult to locate. Mine is made by Craftsman.
Hedge shears that are sharp are easier to use, and they cut the foliage clean. Hedge shears that are dull make jagged cuts. When you mow a lawn with a dull lawn mower blade, you’ll notice a few days later the surface of the grass has developed a silvery sheen. Dull hedge shears also result in cuts that soon develop a yellow or silvery hallow. Because the cuts are jagged, the edges of the cut leaves do not heal uniformly and tend to dry to a crisp.
Maintain your tools now, and your work will be easier and your results better come spring.
The Skinny on Green Manure Crops
Q: Aren’t green manure cover crops just as good as compost for the soil and easier to produce?
–Carl Levitt, Lusby
A: Frequent cultivating and tilling destroys soil’s organic matter. Green manure crops help in maintaining the organic matter level in your soil. The crop absorbs the nutrients that would be lost by leaching during the winter months, which helps in reducing the need to fertilize.
Adding compost in addition to growing a green manure crop will increase organic matter in your soil. Growing a cover crop for several years without tilling it under will add organic matter. The more we disturb soil by plowing, discing or tilling, the more we destroy organic matter. This is why no-till agriculture contributes to increased organic matter in soils.
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