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.
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
I love to garden, but I have a hard time figuring out whether a particular spot is ideal for a particular plant. I recently discovered the EasyBloom, a tool that when staked into the ground tracks data for sunlight, humidity, soil drainage, temperature, and, for an added monthly fee, soil fertility.
By tracking these variables the tool is capable of identifying whether an environment is suitable for a particular species of plant. It can be used to analyze why a plant is not doing well, and even alert you when the plant needs water. It functions indoors and outdoors. I have used it multiple times and it has saved me time and money, since I now know what to plant where.
The EasyBloom connects to the computer via USB and includes software to analyze the data that it produces.
This Gerber machete has a normal 16″ blade on one side and a serrated saw on the other side. I go gold prospecting in very overgrown and brushy areas, so the hollow ground machete blade will take care of the smaller stuff and the saw is right there for the occasional limb or larger brush.
This eliminates carrying a saw with me when I already have a lot of other equipment to carry. I had never seen a machete with a saw on the back, and when I noticed it in the catalog I knew I had to have one.
[Note: A commenter pointed out that Gerber recalled an older version of this machete. This model has an improved handle and many other reviews noted an improvement in quality post-recall.--OH]
As an avid gardener I do a lot of hand watering. Nozzles, as a whole, are awful. The levers are hard to hold down, they leak terribly, that don’t last long, and the spray patterns are useless.
Then I got a Bon-Aire nozzle (I didn’t buy it, the company sent it to me.) I was like, oh sure, another nozzle. Rather use my thumb, thank you.
I’m pretty sure the first time I used it I was hooked, and I’ve had it for 3 years. It’s fashioned like a fire hose nozzle, and that’s the beauty. Easy to hold, spray patterns are perfect, turns on and off in either direction, and works smooth as glass.
I have nothing to do with the company, just think this nozzle is outstanding all around. Full disclosure: I’m a staff home & garden writer at the Orange County Register.
[Update: Some commenters have pointed out that this model is made of aluminum. A stainless steel model is also available for $25. Also, for anyone experiencing a leaky hose these rubber washers offer a quick fix.--OH]
We’ve recently planted trees in the midst of a dry-spell and have struggled to keep them watered. We have since discovered the Tree Gator. It is a bladder filled with water that wraps around the tree. As the water slowly leaks out it keeps the tree watered for as long as a week.
We use the 15-gallon Treegator Jr for the smallest of newly planted trees. They also make a 20-gallon version for larger trees. Beats dragging hoses from tree to tree.
The Effort-Less birdfeeder is a gravity-fed dispenser that is easy to fill and clean, holds a lot of seed, provides a second lower tray for spillage for birds that typically feed on the ground. It is elegant, durable, and allows large numbers of birds to feed peacefully for long periods of time. It has an effective squirrel guard and is free-standing on a hefty base.
The quality and design of this simple birdfeeder stand out. The design is a total rethink of many traditional styles that obviates all of the problems with other feeders. The quality is in the myriad thoughtful details of materials, construction and presentation that make it perform perfectly.
All of the parts fit together exquisitely when one follows the extremely clear instructions. Assembly was actually fun and without stress.
We have numerous feeders and fountains for the birds. After introducing the Effort-Less, we have seen a sudden influx of numerous kinds of rare birds, sometimes in large flocks. Not sure if this is coincidence or an overlapping of factors. Nonetheless, the birds are surely making good use of the feeder. We have owned this from spring to the beginning of autumn and it has made birdwatching a great pleasure in our lives.
I like this new telescoping tree pruner from Fiskars. It is much better than the old tree pruner I used to have that was just a long wood stick with a pulling string attached to the blade. Not only was it heavy, but the string easily tangled. The new one from Fiskars is made with aluminum and is much lighter. The best feature is the pulling mechanism built into the handle. It is convenient, easy to use, and doesn’t tangle. It also comes with an attachable saw for branches that are too large for the pruner, but I have yet to try that out.
I use the tree pruner every summer to keep the branches from growing too close to the power lines in my garden in order to prevent fires.
After trying several types of gardening on my homestead in the rainy Pacific Northwest (where my favored “no-till” sheetmulching seems to fail miserably), I’ve settled on the lightly-cultivated approach of Steve Solomon (soilandhealth.org). The old-fashioned and well-sharpened garden hoe is the workhorse of this technique.
After going to every garden center and hardware store around, and going through a few cheaper units with bad handles and unsharpenable blades, I decided to spend what it takes to get a good one. Imagine my pleasant surprise when the finest hoes I could find online were the same price OR CHEAPER than the flimsy, cheaply made Mexican and Chinese imported units.
Rogue Hoes are all about $25 and come in a myriad of sizes and blade shapes. I use the 65g for general soil-mixing-and-moving and weed slicing and the 60S “stealth bomber” to remove weeds from tight spots. The blade takes a very keen edge with a little filing and the handles should last a very long time with occasional oiling and the most basic of care: keep them out of the rain and hang them with the blade and handle off the ground.
There exist a seemingly endless variety of hummingbird feeder designs, and over the years we’ve tried many only to encounter a variety of annoying shortcomings. However, we have finally discovered the perfect feeder: the Aspects HummZinger Hummingbird Feeder. We have been using 4 of these feeders for about 5 years, and are completely satisfied with their design.
Where we live, mold growing inside a hummingbird feeder is a constant problem. Most feeders are extremely difficult to clean due to their vacuum feeding system that requires a narrow-necked food reservoir. The HummZinger feeder solves this problem by using a simple bowl reservoir, not a gravity feed. Thus, when you pop off the top you have a completely open container that couldn’t be easier to clean. Another problem is that ants would occasionally find one of our feeders. Once this happens the only solution is to move the feeder and hope they don’t find it in the new location, or add an ant trap, which are hard to find. The HummZinger feeder solves this problem by having an integrated ant trap. Just fill it with water, or let rain do it, and you’ll be ant free. A final problem we’ve experienced with some feeders is that rain water can easily run into the feeding holes, diluting the solution to the point where it no longer attracts the hummingbirds. The HummZinger feeders address this problem by having a raised flower design around each feeding port that diverts much of the rain water. While this isn’t a complete solution, this feature definitely reduces the problem.
The feeders come in 8, 12, and 16 oz sizes, with 3, 4, and 6 feeding ports respectively. The feeders are constructed of an “unbreakable” polycarbonate and come with a lifetime guarantee. We use multiple feeders in the “Mini” 8 oz. size because we find that the eastern Ruby Throated hummingbirds don’t “play well with others”, and too many ports on a single feeder lead to excessive squabbling. However, in the western US, where I have seen swarms of hummers happily sharing a feeder, the 16 oz model may be a better choice.
The only potential fault I can see with these feeders is that even the 16 oz model has much less capacity than many gravity-feed brands, which means that they must be refilled more often. We don’t find this a problem because by the time one of our feeders is empty it is also in need of a cleaning to avoid mold.