Florian Ratchet-Cut Pruning Tools

My wife and I have used Florian tools for 12-to-15 years including their hand pruners, brush loppers and pole-pruner. What makes Florian tools so excellent is the ratcheting mechanism. It lets you bite down with the jaws, then as you release the handle (or rope, in case of the pole-pruner) the jaws stay set. The ratchet then moves up a notch for a better mechanical advantage on the next stroke. Very powerful and very fast. And you don’t wear yourself out cutting super-size stuff.

Here’s what my wife has to say: “I can cut fat stuff that I can’t cut with any other loppers, and I don’t get tired doing it.” That’s it in a nutshell.

We first found them in a booth at the North Carolina State Fair, and now stop by every year to see if they have anything new.

-- Chuk Gleason  

Florian Ratchet Cut Pruners

Available from Amazon

Florian Maxi-Lopper
Manufactured by and available from Florian Tools

Sample Excerpts:

Florian Ratchet Cut Pruners

Fiskars 12′ Pruning Stik

We’ve got a line of trees standing over an old fence line covered in grape vines. For pretty much the last 10-years, I’ve been keeping the trees healthy and vine free with the help of my Fiskars Pruning Stik.

I’ve had some of the traditional long handled pruners, and they all broke or something, I don’t have them anymore – no reason to remember anything other than disappointment. When I found the Stik, I knew I had the right thing.

The telescoping version gets well into underbrush, up into trees, all over. The angle-adjustable head helps too. It’s easy to use, reliable and easy to maintain (a little WD40 on the cutter, occasionally). The only hair to split is that the locking lever on the head catches on stuff now and then and unlocks, but no big deal.

The “tape” line (not a rope) that transfers your effort to the head lays flat, and is very hard to tangle. The head separates from the pole (but stays attached by the line) when you ask it to bite more than it can chew and it locks up on something or gets tangles in brush. The “tape drive” and the telescoping stick work perfectly without any adjustment other than your extending the stick. All very slick.

Our trees have grown very nicely with the vines taken out of them, over and over. Maybe some day we’ll get more to the root of the vines, but so far this thing truly helps our trees.

-- Wayne Ruffner  

[Note: We first reviewed the Fiskars Pruning Stik back in 2010!--OH]

Fiskars Pruning Stik Telescoping Tree Pruner

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Fiskars

Sample Excerpts:

DR Trimmer Mower

Twenty years ago when I moved from the city to the rural acreage I now inhabit, I started researching all kinds of tools. I came across a small ad for a strange-looking contraption called a DR Trimmer/Mower. Picture a rotary lawn mower with an oversize weed whacker instead of a blade, and you’ll have it. I ordered one and was VERY glad I did. Nothing else comes close in keeping vegetation under control, even in tight spots like under fences. If I could only have one yard-maintenance tool, this would be it, hands down. In a pinch, it can even serve as a conventional lawn mower.

My original DR served me faithfully, and in fact still works well though it’s showing its age. But recently the manufacturer made an offer I couldn’t refuse to us early adopters of the original, so I updated to this new model. It has a few nice refinements but isn’t fundamentally different from my 1992 model. Highly recommended for people with lots of weeds, grass, and even brambles to keep under control.

Tips: the optional bigger engine in the 8.75 model is nice but not essential. Electric start is an optional luxury; my engine starts easily with a pull cord. I don’t think the self-propelled option is worth the money and added weight and complexity (YMMV). Don’t be afraid to experiment with different cutting line sizes and types: the stock line lasts a long time but I don’t think cuts as well as Oregon’s Nylium Starline.

-- Rob Lewis  

DR Trimmer/Mower Pro 6.75

Available from DR Power Equipment

Oregon’s Nylium Starline

Available from Amazon
Manufactured by Oregon

Sample Excerpts:

Red Pig 2-Tine Hand Weeding Fork

Jekyll Weeder.jpg

The 2-Tine Hand Weeding Fork (also called the Jekyll Weeder after prominent gardener Gertrude Jekyll) is the best tool for hand weeding whether you are getting out dandelions, clover, grass or what have you out of your flower bed (I also use it to remove dandelions from the lawn). It is strong, won’t break the root before your ready, and is aesthetically pleasing (one of my friends considers it art in her home).

I’ve been using one for 4-5 years, and have bought many as gifts. I enjoy the fact that not only is it durable and well-made, but that it’s also handmade in Boring, Oregon. In fact, Red Pigs website points out that they are the only producer of hand forged garden tools in the country. Very cool!

-- Sharon I.  

Red Pig’s 2-Tined Hand Weeding Tool

Available from and manufactured by Red Pig

Stihl FSE 60 Trimmer


I have used several borrowed models of both electric and gas powered trimmers. The electric plug-in Stihl FSE 60 is my favorite by far. It is quiet and strong. The only concern is that when used continuously for half an hour or more, it gets very hot. I find that it is better to use it in shorter intervals.

It works better than other models and is easier to clean. While I have to wear earplugs when using it, it is far from the teeth-shaking monstrosities that disturb the neighborhood. I couldn’t see going to a gas powered trimmer unless I were very far away from an electric outlet. It is a bit more expensive than big box electric trimmers, but way better. The only reason to buy something like a Black & Decker or McCullough electric model is if you were only going to do a few light jobs one season and never use the thing again.

I was surprised that this dealer distributed model was so much better than the big-box online-marketed alternatives. In value, it’s one of my best tool purchases ever.

— Bill Owens

I initially bought my Stihl FSE-60 reading a review at Consumer Search. The Stihl FSE-60 is not available at big boxes. They are only available at stores who function as local Stihl dealers. Presumably, this makes customer service a more personal experience and does a positive service to those smaller hardware stores trying to survive the big box onslaught. In any case, I bought mine a year ago in Kearny, NJ.

The balance is a bit weird. In your hands it has a bias to the rear, which is helpful, but necessary because it is powerful. VERY powerful. It uses a two-string configuration, and it’s a bump-feed. I found it to be efficient and effective. I may have only bumped it twice during a day’s use, whereas the Black and Decker it replaced was more bump than trim. It’s heavy, but not so heavy as to make it a terrible chore. It’s solid and quiet for a trimmer. Cleaning is easy after use as well. I suppose in comparison to the old B&D I had it’s superior, but I don’t do enough yard work to say definitively that it’s the best. I like it a lot, and I’m glad I bought it from a local dealer.

— Christopher Wanko


Stihl FSE 60 Electric Trimmer
$110 (varies with dealer)

Available from Stihl

Earth Ponds


Ponds can be used for swimming, wildlife magnets, irrigation, iceskating, fire protection, water gardening, landscaping, and fishing. You can build your own pond in your backyard, farm, or wherever.

Tim Matson is the established guru of building ponds with an earth-seal, rather than with a plastic or concrete lining. For 30 years he’s been creating, advising, and collecting knowledge about pond-making. His classic Earth Ponds (2nd ed.) is the basic how-to, and comes with a DVD. It supplies the needed lessons in siting a pond, building it, maintaining it, enjoying it, and also restoring old ponds. This is not your average how-to; it’s beautifully written and a joy to read. If you find the basics to your liking and need more, Matson has an updated Sourcebook with plenty of resources, and an illustrated encyclopedia of pond variations and building techniques. Finally, Matson has a helpful website with more videos and sources.

-- KK  

Earth Ponds: The Country Pond Maker’s Guide to Building, Maintenance and Restoration 
Tim Matson
2012 (Third Edition), 152 pages

Available from Amazon

Earth Pond website: http://www.earthponds.com/

Sample Excerpts:

earthpond1.jpegScraping bottom in the pond basin Ray searches for flaws in the earth seal–clusters of pervious stone or gravel that would be the source of potential leaks. He carves out these patches and substitutes watertight soil. A good seal is the best defense against seepage. Pond makers who claim they can waterproof impossible sites with chemical additives and underwater dynamite blasts should run out of town. Like a potter’s bowl, the earth pond is molded with a  blend of materials. In addition to drawing a sufficient supply of water, this site consists of good watertight soil: about 10 to 20 percent clay and an even mix of silt, sand, and gravel. Preliminary test holes in the pond basin are crucial in evaluating the worthiness of a site.



The sand drop is another well-esteemed pond keeper’s trick that takes advantage of the ice deck. It’s an upkeep technique well suited to older ponds in need of restoration, particularly where aquatic vegetation or mud get unruly. To set up a sand drop, the pond keeper spreads a two-to-four inch layer of sand–not salted road sand–over the ice. In spring when the ice thaws, poof! The sand falls in a uniform layer over the basin floor. Sand works like an inorganic mulch, shading out weeds and, like the finings in a beer crock, holding down sediment. In muddy ponds, it’s a good carpet material for the basin floor. One of my neighbors was able to use a sand drop to eliminate the slimy bottom in her family’s pond, along with snakes and leeches. True, the sand drop does fill in the pond to a minute degree, but it’s not often done, and it sure beats herbicides.


Trout have a reputation as fussy feeders, picky as spoiled Siamese cats; yet for three years I’ve watched my brook trout gain weight without an ounce of supplemental feed. I see them feast on the bottom as much as in the air: the water is as transparent as an aquarium. I recall my neighbor’s drawdown and follow-up trout stocking: clearly, the fish were pitching in to keep it clean. And I recalled an old Vermont tradition: to keep the farmhouse water clean, a trout was dropped in the well.


Fixing low-tide ponds begins with a search for leakage. Ponds with piping often leak around the outside of the pipe or through seams, gaskets, and valves. In most cases, unless a fitting can be easily replaced, pipe repair involves digging up the line to repair joints or to implant anti-seep collars.

Brome Squirrel Buster Bird Feeder

brome birdfeeder.jpeg

During the summer, the yard may have held flowers and been bathed in bright sunshine, but the winter can be cold, dark and barren without birds to fly around and liven things up. Wild birds are lively and colorful, and the seed you supply will keep them around and help sustain them through the winter. They are endlessly fascinating to watch and hear, and they really don’t eat very much.

Squirrels, on the other hand eat quite a bit. You don’t need to feed them, but if they can get to your bird feeder, they’ll empty it in no time at all.

Here’s where the Brome Squirrel Buster Plus comes in. The endless battle of wits between Bird Feeding Man and Squirrel is won most of the time by Squirrel. You will start off grossly underestimating the squirrel’s athleticism and sheer persistence. They can jump, and hang, and climb better than you can ever imagine. Happily, the human’s superior intelligence is manifested by many models of “squirrel-proof” bird feeders.

The best of which, especially for the price, is the Brome, made by a company in Canada. Birds, having evolved to be light for ease of flying, perch on the bottom and eat at will. Squirrels, being larger and heavier, weigh the bottom down and close off the openings (thus keeping them from just trying to shake the food out). The quality is high, the pressure is adjustable (to keep out starlings, grackles and other possibly large, unwanted birds) and all the parts are replaceable. It also has a lifetime warranty against squirrel damage. Your bird seed supply will take a long time to run out – the feeder has a large, 3 quart capacity and there will be no thievery.

Brome Squirrel Buster Bird Feeder

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Brome

Cyclone Rake

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I have about an acre of land with a lot of mature oak and hickory trees. They drop a lot of leaves each fall. I got the cyclone rake about 11-years ago, and it is just amazing.  In one full day I can clean the entire property of leaves and be ready for winter. I’ll fill it 40 or so times throughout the day and emptying is reasonable. I make a leaf pile in a back area of the property for compost.

The 5-HP engine pulls the leaves from the mower discharge and grinds them further into small bits. One time using the attachment hose I sucked up a small block of wood with no damage to the impeller. However, there was a minor crack in the housing which I was able to patch with a short bolt and a couple of fender washers. Hickory nuts, sticks, pine cones and leaves get sucked up without issue.

Before it was several days of hard labor hauling load after load in a garden wagon, the cyclone rake was worth every penny.

-- John Dyer  

Cyclone Rake

Available from and manufactured by Cyclone Rake

All New Square Foot Gardening


I decided to try my hand at gardening again after last having a vegetable garden in college 35 years ago (which I remembered involving a lot of work). After doing some research online I found Mel Bartholomew’s squarefoot garden method appealed to my inner geekdom. Bartholomew’s method relies on building and gardening in four-foot by four-foot plots/boxes. He then provides details on how to plan the optimal mixture of soil, fertilizer, and supplements to match whatever you want to grow in them. After using the method for three years I am a sold.

The method assumes you know nothing, does not require you to be very handy, is inexpensive, takes up a minimal amount of space and water, is very practical and detailed, can easily be entirely organic, requires minimal weeding, and, best of all, yields lots of fresh veggies. What more could you ask for? The other books I looked at required tilling, fertilizing and weeding rows or did not focus on the basics.

-- John Cowling  

All New Squarefoot Gardening
Mel Bartholomew
2006, 272 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:



Compost Crank


I discovered the compost crank about three years ago when I switched from the previously reviewed compost tumbler to compost bins. For those who don’t know, unless you are willing to wait years for finished compost, you need to get oxygen and moisture to the microbes that rot or break down the plant materials. And so you have to aerate the pile of materials by turning it.

I had used devices, purchased from the big box stores, that have wings on the end of a metal shaft with a handle. The theory is that you plunge the metal shaft into the pile and the wings open up as you pull outward allowing you to lift the organic material. The problem with that is that it turns out to be a back-breaking aerobic workout.

Instead, the compost crank is like a great big version of an old fashion hand drill. You just crank or drill the end of the shaft (the end looks like a metal pig’s tail) and then lift or pull upward which comparatively is exponentially easier than all of the other methods I have tried. How did it change my life? Well I’m fifty-eight and it probably saved me from a coronary attack!

— Eugene Pummill

I’ve used the Compost Crank for about 1 1/2 years. This lightweight, over-sized corkscrew allows you to get deep down to the bottom of your compost where no garden fork or spade could ever penetrate and turn it with ease. I was an “old school” fork-user for many years but this has changed my composting experience for ever. The Compost Crank is also easy on the back, as well as the eye.

— Andy Sheen-Turner


Compost Crank

Available from Oak Tree Seed Manufactured by Lotech Products