I have three or four of these incredibly sturdy 17-1/2″ x 25-1/2″ x 3″ deep plastic trays from Lee Valley Tools and could certainly use three or four more. They will hold 24 four-inch pots and can be heaved around and set down with a satisfying thump. Most of the plant trays you come across are thin black plastic that break after only a season or two of use. These trays you can practically stand on, though I wouldn’t recommend such cavalier treatment of a useful thing. They can stand up to freezing cold, and long sun exposure doesn’t do much more than roughen the surface.
Mine mostly live out in the garden shed, where I use them for potting up plants and as trays for seedlings, but they’d be useful for anyone working with beads or small parts that need to be kept corralled. I think they’d be great for messy kid play as well. I’ve run into similar versions of these trays at restaurant supply houses, but the Lee Valley ones are UV stabilized plastic. At $32 each, they’re not cheap, but my ten year-old trays look a bit funky, but work just fine! If you’re going to have something made of plastic, you should at least buy stuff that’s made to last!
My only whinge about these useful trays is that they don’t nest very well. Space is at a premium in my shed, and I simply don’t have room for them. Some day, I’ll get around to building the greenhouse of my dreams, and then I’ll buy a whole fleet of them!
My wife and I had a very large potted plant on the front porch that we wanted to move indoors. We had resigned ourselves to re-potting it into something smaller that would be light enough that we could lift it over the front door threshold and into a good location in the house. We were at the garden center looking at pots, surprised at what they cost, when I happened upon the PotLifter. If it worked, it would be cheaper and less work than re-potting.
The PotLifter easily strapped around the pot gave us each solid handles that we could grasp without stooping over. Once in place, the straps didn’t slip, and we were not only able to easily move the plant to where we wanted it, but when we decided that we hadn’t chosen the best spot, it was no sweat to move it somewhere else in the house.
The last time we had to move a large pot indoors, I improvised a ramp and we heaved the plant onto a rolling tray and into the house, nearly toppling it over. We left the plant right inside the door because we had barely been able to lift it onto the tray, and were afraid of marring our floors with the rollers. Now that we have PotLifter, we can decide if this pot is in the best place, and if it is not, we will easily move it.
In the course of years of gardening, I have tried a variety of tools to help you plant seeds. Most wound up gathering dust in a drawer. Seed spoons are my go-to device for small garden seed planting (several row feet, or a flat or two at a time).
Basically, it’s a set of two double-ended spoons with a different-sized cup on each end (4 cup sizes in all). As the catalog copy says, you stick the spoon into a pile of seeds and come up with one seed at a time. The narrow-pointed end helps you place it precisely where you want it.
It’s wonderful for planting carrots, or flats of veggie seed. It only takes a minute or two to find the appropriate size spoon for the seed you’re planting. I scoop up a seed, set it where I want it, and push it into the planting medium with the back of the spoon.
I find them especially useful for planting carrot seeds, which is an exercise in anal retentive frustration. A packet of carrot seed goes twice as far and there’s much less thinning needed. There are no special tips to lose, and the one at a time planting method is a huge saving on seed. They pay for themselves in just a few plantings.
My property is on a slope, so placing a wheelbarrow on the hill is a risky proposition. It often turns over. Level Legs stops this. I’ve used it for three months. Not only can it keep the wheelbarrow self-leveled on a 20-degree grade, I can also use it to tilt the barrow left or right by dropping one leg eight inches closer to the ground, making it easy to rake or shovel over the side. It’s easy to install — just remove the factory legs, and bolt Level Legs in their place.
[This video on Amazon does a good job of showing how it works. - Mark Frauenfelder]
I erected a 10×12 greenhouse in my backyard two years ago, with the intent to start all my herbs and vegetables from seed. This year, I expanded into starting all my annual bedding flowers for both summer and winter.
With what is now a year round hobby, I had the need to plant a lot of seeds, very many of which are so small that it’s nearly impossible to both see and pick up just one seed.
I found this compact, reasonably inexpensive, vacuum seeder that does the job perfectly. I start most of my seeds in mini soil blocks (reviewed here on Cool Tools). Because most seeds are dark in color, I empty them into a small, white, plastic tray. Here’s how it works:
1. Squeeze the bulb of the pro-seeder
2. Place the vacuum tip next to a seed.
3. Release the bulb. This creates suction on the seed and holds the seed against the tip of the seeder.
4. Transfer the seed to the starter block by squeezing the bulb.
In a short time, I developed the coordination of squeezing and releasing the bulb perfectly, to plant hundreds of seeds in a very short time. I’ve found nothing on the market that is easier to use, and, for about $20, nothing that compares on price.
I would also like to share a something that I’ve found to work very well for seed starting using the mini-blocks and pro-seeder. The mini-block compresses and forms a square of 20 starter cubes. I occasionally buy sushi at the grocery store. The packaging tray consists of a channeled bottom, and a snap-on clear top. Each tray holds 40 starter cubes. Once the cubes are made and the seeds are planted, mist the blocks with water, snap on the top, and you have the perfect mini-greenhouse for starting seeds. Germination is faster because of the heat and moisture held inside the tray. Even without a greenhouse, these small trays can sit in a sunny window in late winter to give you a head start on your spring planting. The manager at my local grocery store sold them to me for 50 cents each when I asked.
I have a very hard time keeping gloves on my hands when I’m gardening, my fingers seem to long to skip and go naked in the dirt. Foxgloves are the exception to the rule, in part because of their extraordinary sensitivity. You can feel the texture of the dirt, grab remarkably fine weeds for pulling, and when you’re done, the skin on your hands is not dried, dirty, or cracked, and there is no dirt under your fingernails. They protect your hands from blisters, and provide a modicum of warmth. Best of all, they’re gloves I actually wear!
That said, these are not the gloves for dealing with spiky thistles or blackberry vines. The thorns pass right through these gloves as though they aren’t even there. But for grubbing in the dirt and weeding everything that doesn’t have spikes, these gloves are excellent.
Once you get hooked on foraging for wild mushrooms, you begin to wonder why you can’t just farm them. Picking mushrooms from your backyard or basement would sure be a lot easier than roaming the hinterlands. Well, so far about 30 different kinds mushrooms can be cultivated, although none of the techniques are trivial. The delicate operations needed to produce sterile “soil” and inoculate the spores has been streamlined for some species (by using pre-inoculated plugs), but there is still a lot of skill and laboratory expertise needed to grow the rest. Most of what is known about mushroom cultivation has been distilled into the 3rd edition of this irreplaceable book. This is simply the best guide to growing edible, medicinal, and psychoactive mushrooms.
This is a fast-changing field where enthusiastic amateurs lead the way. To keep up with new possibilities, check the authors website at Fungi Perfect. Farming mushrooms is also becoming a business, and the Mushroom Growers’ Newsletter is the hub.
In one of my outdoor wood-chip beds, I created a “polyculture” mushroom patch about 50 by 100 feet in size. In the spring I acquired mixed wood chips from the county utility company–mostly alder and Douglas fir–and inoculated three species into it. One year after inoculation, in late April through May, Morels showed. From June to early September, Kind Stropharia erupted with force, providing our family with several hundred pounds. In late September through much of November, as assortment of Clustered Woodlovers (Hypholoma-like) species popped up. With noncoincident fruiting cycles, this Zen-like polyculture approach is limited only by your imagination.
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Growing tomatoes in a garden with limited space is a challenge, since the plants get tall, unwieldy and flop all over once the tomatoes start weighing them down. Keeping the plants off the ground is important, too, so your tomatoes aren’t in the dirt where they rot more easily or get eaten by slugs or snails. I used to buy tomato cages — open-ended, circular wire cages—to secure the plants — but they were never strong enough once the tomato plants got taller than 4 feet. The cages would slowly collapse, taking the plants with them, which was worse than if I hadn’t used anything.
Last summer I happened upon a simple, yet effective device to keep the tomato jungle under control: the cedar stake. Cedar stakes come in various lengths and can be found at any home-improvement or garden store. They are inexpensive, especially compared to tomato cages. I bought 6-foot stakes, one for each plant, and some stretchy vinyl tie that expands with the growth of plants. I jammed the stakes deep into my raised beds and loosely tied the tomato plants to them. As the plants grew, I would tie up the new growth. The stakes never once threatened to fall over, and even the bushiest, tallest tomato plants stayed in their allotted space.
This year I’ll be reusing the cedar stakes. They are naturally insect- and rot-resistant, so even though I left them in the ground much longer in the fall than I should have, they are as good as new.
I have had this saw for at least six years and use it quite often clearing and maintaining trails for cross-country skiing and walking. The handle is plywood, nicely edge-rounded and fits my hands well. The hook on the top end of the blade near the handle is great for dragging cut vines and brambles out without losing blood.
(Cool Tools is interested in learning about great online tutorials. If you know of one, please tell us about it!)
Magic mushrooms, which contain a psychedelic compound called psilocybin, have probably been ingested by people for thousands of years for a variety of reasons, including spiritual rituals and recreation. This 2009 article written by “Ganjaglutin” presents a step-by-step guide “for people who have never grown magic mushrooms before because it is a very reliable way to grow magic mushrooms.”
(Before you decide to grow magic mushrooms, check the legal status of Psilocybe cubensis in your locality. Wikipedia has an list of magic mushroom laws for different countries, but I can’t vouch for its accuracy.)
A quick description of the procedure
A substrate consisting of brown rice flour, vermiculite, and water that will feed and supply water to our magic mushrooms is sealed in ½ pint jars and sterilized in a pressure cooker, or boiling water. This is to kill anything that might endanger the mushrooms.
After the mushroom substrate has been sterilized and has cooled, mushroom spores are added to the substrate using a syringe full of spore solution. The spores germinate and colonize the entire jar full of substrate.
They are germinated at about 75-85 degrees F, in a dark place. The resulting ‘cakes’ are removed from the jars when fully colonized, and placed in a terrarium with temperatures between 75 and 80 degrees until mushrooms begin to grow from the cakes.