A Neatnik’s Dilemma

Have you ever paused for a moment when removing the debris from around a plant?  That collection of organic matter that covered the ground not only helped to retain soil moisture, but eventually would decompose and release nutrients back into the soil.  So as long as the debris didn’t harbor disease, the plant would be happier if you left things be.  But would you be happier?  Probably not, unless you dress up the surroundings with mulch.  Even then I have seen examples of mulch covered gardens that I consider downright ugly.  3 to 4 inches of ugly doesn’t do a thing for me.  On the other hand, I love the effect created by a covering of mini bark.  I used to be able to buy “Pathway Bark” from Garden Time at Lowes, but now all they have available is “Pathway Groundcover” which more closely resembles sawdust than bark.  If you were at Jeannie’s pop-up sale, you might have noticed how great the landscaping appeared as it was dolled up with a covering of mini bark.  I asked her husband and he said he was able to get at Hasties.  He said it was rather expensive though.

As usual, I have strayed from my original topic—that of the dilemma of whether or not you should clean up around plants in your garden—are you making the plants happier, or making you happier?  You can do both, but more often I simply opt for me.  Just being selfish, I guess.

Stan, The Blog Man

A Bigger Burning Desire

LaVille and I have recently joined the weeding group working to maintain the WPA Rock Garden.  We meet between 9:00 and 9:30 each Thursday and park above the Rock Garden on the road that leads to the entrance to the zoo.  A finer group of volunteers you’ll never meet.  The task I have chosen is to attack the weeds in the paths with a torch.  Now the torch I use is the same one I use almost daily in our garden going after newly germinating moss, baby tears, and annual bluegrass.  Most of the weeds I toast are less than ½ inch high, so the small torch I use produces a small, concentrated flame that adequately bakes my prey.  (It’s the same torch I described in the blogs on the SPPC web site.)  Like I discussed before, the problem is that I have to bend over the weeds, and unless there is a breeze, the smoke rises up into my face.  I bob and weave about trying to avoid the smoke, but the days following a burning session are sometimes accompanied by irritated eyes.  I tried to solve this one day at the Rock Garden by wearing googles but was discouraged by the ridicule of my wife and the fear in the eyes of children walking the paths.

I just have to stop here and tell you what a fantastic place the Rock Garden is—thanks primarily to Daisy Mah who has made the garden so special.  The winding paths bordered by walls of granite boulders encompass plantings that are marvelous.  It is a joy to see adults with their kids wind through the garden.  Professional looking photographers seem always to be there.  Families have gatherings to celebrate occasions.  It is simply a happy place.

 Now, back to burning weeds:  Not only was the smoke in the eyes a problem, but I was pretty much exhausted after bending over for a couple hours.  And, of course, I always stunk of burned weeds afterwards.  My solution was to borrow a long torch from a club member.  I found this really worked well as the larger flame burned weeds probably ten times faster.  But also used gas ten times faster, and in 2 days I went through 2 tanks of propane gas.  I wasn’t too concerned because I was used to picking up tanks and garage sales and estate sales for no more than a couple bucks.  I went to the Davis Ace—no tanks.  I went to Home Depot—no tanks.  I went to Lowes—no tanks.  That’s when I found out that backpackers grab up these tanks as soon as they come in.  OK—Amazon—yes, but they’re over $11 each and would take a week to get here from the East Coast (No combustible gas aboard airlines.)  So I ordered a packet of 4—but just for use with my small torch in my own garden.

My new plan is to order my own bigger torch with a 10 foot hose that will connect to one of my 20 pound propane tanks used with the barbeque.  I’m going to lash it to a hand truck and roll it around the Rock Garden and hopefully eliminate all the weeds in the paths in a couple sessions.  I’ll add the results to this article after next Thursday’s session.

Weeks Later – I have to tell you that I am somewhat frustrated.  I can’t find any more weeds to burn in the paths for the Rock Garden, and it’s tiring dragging the hand truck with the propane tank attached through all the paths because there are raised steps involved.  But the good news is that I really love my new torch.  I no longer have to bend over with my small hand-held torch.  Smoke no longer rises up into my face.  The flame is much bigger and really hot.  If I can find the same model again on Amazon, I’ll picture it below.  It has a self-starter attached so I don’t have to carry around a flint starter.  Until you squeeze the handle, the torch stays lit with a gentle flame.  Then when you press the handle a roaring flame shoot out.  The size of that flame is easily controlled by the knob right near your hand. The 12 foot hose allows you to cover a big area without moving the tank.  Using a 20 pound tank is much much cheaper than using the small tanks that attach directly to the torch.  Plus you can always get the big tank refilled.  Good luck finding a small tank to buy when you need it.

The bad news is . . the chance that a reader of this article would ever need this torch is slim.  I can’t even use this torch on my own property.  Our lot is average-sized for homes built in the ‘70s and there is very little ground left where there’s no valued plant growing.  Then too, bark covers what is left.  I’ll probably take the torch out front and cook all the weeds growing the joints of the sidewalk and in the cracks of the poorly maintained asphalt of the street.  But other than that, my little torch is a far better choice for my personal weed problems.  But if you are fortunate enough to have a large property and unfortunate enough to have a huge weed problem, this is one honey of a tool for you.

Happy burning!

Stan, The Tool Man

P.S. My editor says I should mention that this is a tool only for use by responsible users who are careful enough not to burn down the State of California.

Clippity Doo Dah

LaVille and I like to take our Hyundai into the dealership in Vacaville because we take two cars and we spend the hours shopping at the numerous stores nearby.  There’s the factory stores, Target, Lowes, and many, many more all within a couple miles.  Well today after hitting Eddy Bauer, Lowes (several geraniums and great bougainvillea), the RH (the new Restoration Hardware—very disappointing), and Target, we came across a Dollar Tree.  The one thing we found there (other than the honey roasted peanuts and the Hot Tamales) was a package of Claw Clips.  Normally these would be used in your hair (not my hair), but we have found these tiny spring-loaded clips to be really useful in the garden for supporting delicate vines—like peas, clematis, passion vine, black-eyed susan, hardenbergia, honeysuckle, and morning glory.  So if you are into vines like we are, I suggest you visit your local Dollar Tree and seek out a package of Claw Clips—12 for a dollar.  If you find a photo of a clip below, I was able to figure out how to transfer a photo from my phone to a document.  If no photo, I failed again.

Stan, The Rambling Man
P.S. Don’t forget the peanuts!

Cl;aw Clips
Dollar Store Claw Clips

Losing Soil

You probably have noticed that you tend to lose soil through the drain holes in plant pots.  Ages ago—I think it was the Pleistocene—we use rocks to block those drain holes.  Then later I remember that we used chards of broken clay pots to prevent soil loss.  Recently we have used that fiberglass tape that is used to cover the seams of sheetrock.  I have 3 or 4 rolls of this tape that I’ve picked up at garage sales.  What’s good about this product is that you can use it over and over again.  I would give you a life-time supply if you would just let me know.  But since I know you won’t bother to ask, here is another solution to your soil loss problem—coffee filters.  The large size filters fit perfectly in the bottom of gallon pots and you can use filters torn in half or in quarter for smaller pots.  Large pots are where we have to resort to the webbed tape (and remember I have lots!).

Stan, The Rambling Man

Calling All Hosers

OK hosers!  This may be the hose you’ve been dreaming about.  The Flexilla is a 5/8 inch, heavy duty, lightweight hose that is kink proof under pressure.  I’m sure if you gabbed it firmly and gave it a good twist and pull, you could probably prove me wrong.  You wouldn’t do that would you?  Two of my closest gardening friends have this hose and swear by it.  I ordered a 25 foot length and can join their chorus.  Light weight and doesn’t kink—it’s a miracle.  Perhaps its most valuable feature is that being really flexible, it lays flat which means you are less likely to trip over it.  Its bright green color also helps too.  It’s lead free drinking water safe to boot.

You can buy this hose in different lengths on Amazon, or find it in various local stores.  If you look on Amazon you will see that it has had over 30,000 reviews!  It’s a good time to be a hoser!

Happy hosing,

Stan, The Tool Man     

WD-40 vs Silicone

I would hazard to guess that you have either a can of WD-40 or a can of silicone spray, or both, in your arsenal of improvement products.  Which of these is better?  Let me give you my opinion.  (If you don’t want it, stop reading.)

The term “WD-40” is derived from the fact that the aerospace company developing this product was trying to find a chemical that would displace water—thus “WD” stands for water displacement.  As it happens, WD-40 was the 40th formula that was finally successful in keeping water away from the skin of the Atlas rocket and preventing corrosion.  I have always found this fact fascinating.  (Not so much for you?…Oh well.)

I always include a can of WD-40 in my supply of tool sharpening equipment.  Not only do I use it to coat metal to retard rusting, but the spray tends to dissolve the gunk that accumulates on pruners and loppers.  (Oven cleaner and a brush really does a thorough job though.) And, of course, it is a lubricant that reduces friction and stops those irritating squeaks.  I also just learned from my Flipboard app (A great app for learning the latest news.) that WD-40, being oily, can be applied to wooden handles to reduce the occurrence of splinters.  Then, too, if you notice that the rocket in your back yard is starting to corrode, this product is a must.

Now, silicone, on the other hand, is not petroleum based.  Therefore it dries and has far less odor for use indoors.  Since it dries, it won’t trap dust and dirt.  Silicon is therefore ideal for lubricating the tracks of sliding doors and screens, lubricating tracks of drawers, improving the function of padlocks and doorknobs, and stopping the squeaks of door hinges.

On a personal note, I used WD-40 to lubricate the switch on my leaf blower.  The blower was set aside on a flat surface and was still plugged to a power cord.  While I was doing something else, the blower turned itself on, and since the air intake was blocked, the motor overheated and started a fire.  Being a slow learner, I bought the same model of leaf blower again.  Since the power switch on this one was sticking like the last one,  lubricated again with WD-40.  Believe it or not, this resulted in a melted switch.  Who’da thought!  I had to take the blower apart and hard wire it.  Now I have to discnnect the extension cord whenever I want to stop blowing.  So apparently it is unwise to use WD-40 on electrical switches.

So in conclusion, I would suggest that you have both of these products.  Use WD-40 where you want to leave an oily surface, and use silicone where you want to lubricate but leave a dry surface.

Stan, The Slow Learning Man

A New Hose

I’ve taken a chance here.  While walking the isle at Costco, I spotted a pallet of boxes of garden hoses—RAPIDFLO 100 ft length, 5/8 inch diameter, lightweight, tough, kink-resistant.  You see, LaVille has been wrestling with a rubber hose that has become stiffer with age.  (What’s new?)  She has had to drag it through the main iris garden and then wind it back up on the hose reel when done.  So I uncoiled the old, stiff hose off the reel.  Actually it now remains permanently coiled along the side yard. I then attached this new hose to the spool and turned on the pressure.  I could see that LaVille at the far side of the yard was now watering with less than expected flow.  Not only did the 100 foot length impede the flow, but the 5/8 inch hose itself was perhaps still somewhat flattened.  Maybe continued use will expand it—probably not.  Perhaps the company should change it’s name to SLOFLO.  But LaVille says that the gentle spray was actually desirable.  Anyway, when LaVille was finished watering, I had her close the spray wand valve to keep the hose turgid, and wound the hose up on the reel.  You don’t want a flattened hose on the reel.  That would really limit flow.  The winding task was truly easy to do because the hose is really lightweight.

So, do I recommend this hose?  The jury is still out at our house.  I would say that if you are tired woman handling (Is that sexist?) an old, heavy hose around, this may be the hose for you.  You can easily coil the hose in a large pot if you don’t have a reel.  I am going to assume that this hose design is less likely to leak as the expandable hoses tend to do.  Keep in mind that this is 100 feet of hose.  It seemed a little long for my yard that is only 80 feet wide.  As of 3/20/21, this hose if available at Costco for $39.99.  If you miss it there, Amazon has it for $55 (Yikes!).

Happly hosing,

Stan, The Tool Man     

RapidFlo Hose
RapidFlo Hose

Bucket Envy

If you want to stand out from the typical gardener who uses the ubiquitous ugly 5 gallon plastic bucket to contain everything from tools to weeds, here is your chance.  Tubtrugs is the maker of an entire line of colorful, flexible, containers that would fulfill your every need.  I have a friend that bought the 10 gallon size, and liked it so well that he bought 3 more.  Keep in mind that if you are like me and require the rigid edges of a bucket to assist your rise from the ground to a vertical position, this may not be your best bet.  But for those of you with younger legs, here is your chance to secure the envy of all your neighbors and gardening friends.  Amazon has a great assortment for you to peruse.  And remember, if it rains, Tubtrugs has you covered—better go with the 10 gallon size.

Stan, The Bucket Man

10-gallon Tub Trug flexible plastic bucket
10-gallon Tub Trug flexible plastic bucket