Save money by keeping your garden tools in shape with these tips

Jessica K. of Windsor asks: Do you have some suggestions on how to clean my new and used garden tools?

Keeping your gardening tools clean helps prevent rust, keeps the edges sharp and removes caked-on soil and sap. Good tools can be expensive, so to avoid the need for frequent replacement, keep them clean and in good working order.

All garden tools should be cleaned and wiped down after use to remove soil. If you won’t be using certain tools for awhile, give them a thorough cleaning and inspection before storing them. If pruners or saws are used to prune or remove a diseased plant, they should be cleaned and disinfected before using them on a healthy plant. A squirt of Lysol spray will work. Some gardeners say dipping the tool in bleach diluted with water and wiping it dry, before using it on the next plant, also works. But be aware that bleach can damage blades, so be sure to rinse and clean the tool thoroughly when you’re done.

Use a strong spray from the garden hose to remove soil. Scrape off stuck-on mud with a trowel or plastic scraper. To remove residual soil, fill a bucket with hot water and add about one tablespoon of dishwashing liquid per gallon of water. After removing the stuck-on soil, place the tools in the bucket and let them soak for 15-20 minutes. Rinse the tools and dry them with a microfiber cloth or an old towel. Look over each tool thoroughly for signs of rust. If you spot rust or pitting, use a stiff wire brush or steel wool to scrub it off. Wipe the tool with a little vegetable oil to help loosen the rust while you scrub it off. If any tool feels sticky, the safest product to remove it is a citrus based cleaner. Turpentine, lighter fluid or Goo Gone are good backups. When cleaning, pay close attention to the hinged areas.

For tools with wooden handles, those handles will eventually begin to dry out, split and loosen from the metal components. Once or twice a year, use a medium-grit sandpaper to sand down the handles to remove the rough spots and splinters. Rub the handles with linseed oil for a protective barrier to help repel water. If they’re in really bad shape, most wooden handles can just be removed from the metal component and replaced with a new handle.

Tools that have moving components, like pruners or shears, need oil to keep the moving parts working correctly and smoothly. Place a drop or two of machine oil on the hinged parts. It’s also a good idea to take these tools apart once a year and rub down the screws and bolts with a machine oil. This will help remove the hard-to-see rust and any mineral deposits.

Any of your gardening tools that have an edge — like hoes, pruners and shovels — will need sharpening every so often. The large blades and edges can be sharpened with

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Fall garden Q&A: Keeping out pests, pruning trees and lots of lawn care advice

Washington Post Gardening columnist Adrian Higgins answered questions recently in an online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: What can the home gardener do about clover taking over a lawn? Last year, I fought crabgrass, and this year, it’s clover. Crabgrass was easier to pick out by hand. Any easier, earth-friendly remedies?

A: Clover isn’t so much a weed as a state of mind. If you come to regard it as a desirable component of the lawn, you won’t have to keep fighting it. Yes, there are herbicides that work against it, but it actually feeds nitrogen into the soil, is an important nectar source for pollinators and only gets expansive when the lawn is allowed to thin. Live with it, but push it back by overseeding the lawn.

Q: What is the best time to prune trees (suckers from plum trees and extraneous branches from a Japanese maple in a pot)? And must the cuts be treated with anything after pruning?

A: Most pruning of deciduous plants is best done during winter dormancy, not least because you can see the structure of the tree or shrub much better then. Other good times to prune are after the flush of spring growth and also right after flowering, so that you don’t affect bud set for the following season. One of the worst times for pruning is over the next few weeks, when cutting back could induce fresh new growth that will be susceptible to frost damage. Wound treatments are no longer recommended.

Q: I have about 40 Knock Out roses. Some have branches that look stressed: lighter green leaves and rust-colored spots. What can I do to address this? And on a related note, would this be a good time to fertilize the roses?

A: I have reached a point where I can’t look at another Knock Out rose. If you enjoy this overplanted magenta flowering shrub, more power to you. You might lay a modest top dressing of rose feed to keep its floral cycles going through the fall. This variety is prone to rose rosette disease, spread by mites. Remove infected plants to curtail its spread.

Q: This August, crabgrass has taken over my lawn. What steps can I take now to minimize the problem next year?

A: Crabgrass is a direct result of lawns that are too thin. Thick, lush lawns are your best bet against weed infiltration. Crabgrass is an annual, so you can either spot-treat or simply hoe them now, but you will have to renovate the lawn to address the problem. Count on using a pre-emergent herbicide in early spring with follow-up applications.

Q: I have a 25-by-25-foot community garden plot that I have divided into quarters, and I rotate my beds each year for a four-year rotation. But for a garden that small, is rotation actually beneficial?

A: Rotation is desirable but almost impossible in such a small garden. I would move varieties around as best you can, but if you see

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In the Garden: Keeping track of the year’s ups and downs can improve next year’s harvest

I know it’s not the end of the garden season yet, but with fall fast approaching, I’ve been taking a critical look at how this year’s garden performed.

Gardeners in the Inland Northwest and across the country have seen the impact our changeable weather patterns have had on our plants. While there’s nothing we can do about the weather itself, it’s a good idea to think about what we might do differently next year.

Our very wet, cool spring impacted the production of many warm-season crops. My tomato plants are still being very stubborn about ripening all of their green tomatoes. I’ve been engaging in my annual three-step pruning routine in order to encourage them. This consists of severe pruning and cutting back the amount of water they get.

In the spring, I learned that wilting seedlings can mean they are too wet rather than too dry. All of our rainstorms really set back our melon and tomato plants.

One change I’m considering for next year is to reduce the amount of plastic sheet mulch I use on the beds where warm-season crops such as melons, winter squash, tomatoes and eggplants will be grown. The mulch increases the temperature of the soil and the amount of light reflected up into the plants, which in turn increases productivity, but I want to see if it makes enough of a difference to warrant using it every year.

This year, we grew our onions from small bulbs (sets) instead of plant starts. Many readers have told me their onion plant starts didn’t grow well and, in some cases, were infiltrated by onion maggots. I located an online source for onion sets this spring, and our plants grew better than they have in the past few years.

One of the fun things we tried was growing winter squash up and over an arbor made from cattle panels. At planting time, I envisioned needing a hard hat during the summer because there would be so many squash hanging from the top of the arch. Even though the plants grew well, the arbor got more morning shade than I’d like, which impacted the plants’ productivity. Next year, we’ll move the arbor to a much sunnier location.

Our best idea was growing potatoes and a few tomato plants in cloth grow bags and large pots. All of them did beautifully. This helped us expand the footprint of our garden without having to make more raised beds. You might consider this for 2021.

I was disappointed in a new broccoli cultivar called Millennium. After I harvested the primary heads, they didn’t form secondary heads, which is unusual. Next year, I’ll go back to Early Dividend, which is an excellent producer.

What’s my big goal for 2021? Do a better job of succession planting. This requires planning ahead to anticipate when a crop will be finished so you can quickly replace it with a new planting. As always, my goal is to get the maximum yield from our garden.

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Your guide to keeping food moths, fruit flies, and other horrors at bay in your kitchen

I will never forget my first run-in with them. It felt sort of dirty, and not in a good way. It was a Sunday morning, The Archers on the radio, mixer lifted on to the kitchen counter, oven preheating. I lifted a plastic tub of flaked almonds down from the shelf and to my visceral and skin-crawling horror, well, the tub was crawling, moving, pulsing with tiny white larvae. The top of the container was thick with white webbing.

Do you have the enormous good fortune to be reading this somewhere in the Outer Hebrides? If so, now seems as good a time as any to ask whether you could hear the scream that pierced the calm of my London kitchen. I was surprised no one called the police. In fact, they probably should have as over the ensuing 24 hours I did thousands of utterly merciless murders (sorry-not-sorry, once again, to the man who called me speciesist when I wrote about killing clothes moths).

Food moths – Mediterranean flour moths, Indianmeal moths, Ephestia kuehniella, Plodia interpunctella, whatever you want to call them – no thank you, strictly not welcome here, and I will do everything I can, armed with vacuum cleaner, hot soapy water and bin bags, to rid myself of them. By the powers vested in me by Kilner and Ziploc, be gone from this place.

If you find even the merest hint of an infestation (you may see the tiny moths fluttering about, too), don’t waste a second. Start by taking everything out from the cupboards. Next, give cupboards – and shelves and drawers – a thorough vacuum, then toss the bin bag or empty the cylinder contents into the outside bin. Give everything a thorough wash with hot, soapy water, paying close attention to any dark, hidden places. I thought I had got rid of them all and then found some taking a nice rest cure inside the drawer runners.

Next, inspect everything before you put it back. Look carefully for webbing, larvae and pinprick holes in packaging. Examine under paper labels and packet seals, and around the rims and lids of jars. They love flour, cereals, grains, nuts, dried fruit, some dried herbs and pasta particularly, so pay close attention to them. Toss anything that shows signs of infestation into the outside bin. If you have dried goods such as flour that don’t appear to be infested but which you’re worried about, seal them in a plastic bag, and put them in the freezer for a week to kill any larvae, before decanting them into Kilner or other glass jars, or plastic tubs with tight seals.

When everything is soothingly moth-free and order is restored, stick some food moth pheromone traps up in your cupboards (Demi Diamond Food Moth Traps, £6.99 from stopmoths.co.uk). These work by attracting the male moths, which stick on to the paper and then can’t mate. They also provide a good way to monitor whether you still have an infestation –

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Preparing For A Flood: From Flood Insurance To Keeping Your House Safe

Nobody expects to find 10 inches of water in the living room. Did you know that floods are the number one natural disaster in the United States? Unfortunately, it can happen to anyone, and the best thing you can do to protect your family and home is to be prepared. Read on to find out some things you can do before this natural disaster strikes.

Plan Ahead

-Buy flood insurance: Believe it or not, a regular home insurance does not cover water damage. This is why it's highly recommended that business owners and homeowners purchase flood insurance. Just remember that it takes 30 days after your purchase for your flood insurance protection to become valid.

-Build your house on the right place: Avoid building your home and business on low-lying land next to a river. These areas extend from the banks of the river to the walls of the enclosed valley walls. Even when these areas remain dry for many years, when there's abundant rain, your house can be in great danger.

-Take care of electrical appliances: You should elevate your HVAC and electrical systems, including the wiring, at least one foot. Doing this will help you prevent short circuits and potential fires. Also, take into consideration that any electrical components inundated, even if it's just a short period of time, must be replaced.

-Build a barrier: In order to prevent water coming into your home, you can also build a barrier. You can either build a levee out of compacted earth or masonry. Masonry is a structure made of individual components that are bound together. Besides protecting your home, the greatest advantage of these types of barriers is that they won't change the appearance of your house.

-Seal your house: Install water shields over the windows, doors, and any other openings. Also, coat the walls with waterproof sealant. Remember to seal all the lower areas of your house.

During A Storm

-Be alert: watch or listen to the news. Get updated information constantly, in case you need to leave your house.

-Move to a safe place: You don't need to wait for instructions to move to higher ground. However, if you decide to stay home, and at some point the authorities determine that an evacuation is necessary, you must leave! If you have time, before you leave bring the outdoor furniture inside your house, and move important stuff to the upper floor. And don't forget to lock your house!

-Be safe: Know what areas fill with water faster and try not to drive or walk near them. In addition, avoid all contact with floodwater. It's dangerous because it contains chemical waste or sewage. If for some reason you come in contact with it, wash yourself right away with clean water and soap.

Following these recommendations will help you be prepared in case of a flood. Remember to always be safe!

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Tips For Keeping Cool in an Uninsulated House During the Summer

A few years ago, my husband and I, along with our two young daughters spent some time living in Africa and Latin America. Both countries were hot, hot, hot in the summer time. Not only was it hot, but it was humid as well.

I remember one night in Africa we were sleeping (or should I say, trying to sleep) in an upstairs motel room. There was no cross ventilation, and I dare say the temperature was close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It was humid as well. By some miracle, the girls went to sleep fine. My husband and I on the other hand were desperately tossing and turning in sheer sweaty exhaustion. We couldn’t sleep for anything, we were so freaking hot!

Finally, our desperation bred a plan. We got a pair of socks and soaked them dripping wet in the sink. We then proceeded to put those sopping wet socks on our feet. Amazingly, our bodies cooled down considerably and we were able to sleep for a couple hours–until the socks were dry. We got up, wet them again, and repeated the process the rest of the night. Our desperation had certainly turned into a mother of invention.

We now live back in the good ole’ US of A. However, we don’t have one of those nice comfortable new air-conditioned houses. Ours is an old farmhouse with just enough insulation to keep the mice happy in the walls. So how do we keep cool here? Let me share some of our tips. Maybe it’ll save you some horrible hot sleepless nights.

1. We have trees shading our house. Now I know that’s kind-of a long-term solution, but planting a tree is a whole lot cheaper than tearing out walls and re-insulating.

2. We open the windows AFTER dark and put box fans in them blowing the cool air into the house all night long. In the morning, right when we get up, we remove the fans and close the windows up tight to keep the hot air out.

3. We keep the windows covered. It’s amazing how much heat a window can let in. We keep dark curtains pulled over the windows that let in most of the sun–even during the day.

4. We put window air conditioner units in the bedrooms. It’s too expensive for us to air condition the entire house, but we do find running a couple units at night is affordable and makes sleep much more comfortable.

5. We move most of our activities during the day to the coolest part of the house. Our master bedroom happens to be on the east side and is therefore not heated up by the hot afternoon sun as much. We moved the TV and even my office into the master bedroom and find ourselves spending a lot of time in there. If it gets too hot, we shut the bedroom door and turn on the window A/C unit for a little while to cool it down.…

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