Gardening Ideas: Useful gadgets
There is a bewildering variety of gardening gadgets on the market, and new ones seem to appear every week, together with claims by their manufacturers that they will make your work much easier, or even that they are indispensable.
Some of these proprietary gadgets are indeed extremely useful, but there is also still considerable scope for you to use your initiative and imagination in designing new labour-saving gadgets, or modifying existing ones to suit your particular needs. There is much satisfaction to be gained from making your own gadgets at little or no cost.
Buying proprietary gadgets It is not possible to describe more than a few of the huge range of different types of gadget on the market, but the selection given below should include at least one that you would find very useful. All are obtainable from garden shops, garden centres or horticultural nurserymen.
Before buying any gadget however, particularly the more expensive ones, make sure that you know exactly what it can and cannot do, and how it will help you. Examine as wide a range as possible of different versions of the same gadget and pick the best, and always ask yourself if it really is worth buying— with money that might be better spent on more seeds, fertilizers, and so on. It may be that the gadget so highly recommended by the manufacturer is unsuited to your particular requirements or to your garden. If you rushed out and bought it, you might find that it spends most of the year lying unused in the shed.
Soil moisture indicators
Frequently, plants produce crops that are much reduced in weight or quality, due mainly to the lack of water. It is now well established that when plants are visibly wilting, damage has already occurred, and may be permanent. Beginners, on the other hand, tend to water their plants too often, which can also be harmful.
It is not always easy to assess with certainty when a crop needs watering. If you find this a problem, it is worth investing in amoisture indicator, of which there are various designs on the market.
Some types of moisture indicator need no batteries, while for others you do need to buy a small battery, but this will cost you very little1 and should last for about a year. Some models indicate the degree of soil moisture by means of the varying intensity of three electronic lights at the top of the instrument, one for ‘wet’, another for ‘moist’ and the other for ‘dry’. These light up when you insert the metal probe of the instrument into the soil, to the root depth of the plant, and press a small button on the casing.
The probes of most moisture indicators reach to a maximum depth of 25 cm (10”), and so the instruments are most useful for plants grown in pots or other shallow containers. They would be particularly useful, for example, with pot-grown tomatoes in the greenhouse.
The best type of moisture indicator has a meter that gives readings on a scale that is graduated in numbers, and an accompanying set of tables. You simply insert the probe, read off the number on the scale and look it up in the tables, which give optimum readings for a variety of vegetables and fruit as well as ornamental plants. After doing this, you will know whether or not to water your plants, and just how much water to give them.
One type of indicator assesses fertilizer levels as well as the amount of water in the soil or. It indicates the amount of these two factors by sound rather than by lights or a scale; the speed and volume of a series of clicks vary with the amount of moisture and fertilizer present.
Adjustable seed sowers
Sowing larger seeds at fixed intervals, or stations, in a row or drill can be done quite easily with adjustable seed sowers but this procedure can be very tricky with small, fine seeds, such as those of lettuces, brassicas or celery. If you buy pelleted seeds, you can then use seed sowers for these as well.
Such devices, though on a larger scale, have been used by farmers and market gardeners for many years, but have not been widely available to home gardeners until recently.
One small precision sower currently being marketed consists of a long-handled wheel bearing a chamber that releases the seeds singly at intervals. You simply walk along, pushing the tool along the row; it not only makesmore accurate, but also takes the backache out of the job. Such sowers will sow most pelleted vegetable seeds quickly and accurately, and can be adjusted according to the size of the seeds being sown. The rate of sowing (that is, the thickness or thinness of the row of seeds) can also be adjusted, by means of a small screw.
More sophisticated types of seed sower have two wheels attached to a long handle. The front wheel bears a V-shaped rib which cuts out a drill of the correct depth for most vegetable seeds, and there is an additional device that cuts further into the soil for those seeds that require deeper sowing. There is also a drag chain to cover the seeds with soil, while the rear wheel firms the soil and gives additional stability to the sower.
Finally, there is an arm at right angles to the seed-sowing section which marks out the position of the next row.
At the other end of the scale, you can buy little hand-held plastic seed sowers. These consist of a compartment into which you put the seeds, and from which the seeds are shaken out onto the soil or compost through an adjustable opening. Again, buy pelleted forms of smaller vegetable seeds.
One job which can sometimes present great difficulties is the fixing of fence posts; it may involve standing on unsteady steps, slopping wet concrete around, or waiting for workmen who fail to arrive on time. Using post supports provides an easier alternative method of doing the job.
Each support consists of a hollow box-shaped metal socket tapering to a point from its lower face. You simply hammer the tapered end into the ground, position the end of the fence post in the socket and secure it by means of bolts passing through holes in the socket. The supports are available in two widths to accommodate different-sized posts.
With a little ingenuity, time and care, you can make your own gadgets that will save both time and money. Making gadgets has an added attraction for the handyman—the satisfaction of making, as well as using, them. None of the gadgets described below require special skills or special tools to construct.
Springoften has to be done in a hurry, during the short periods when the ground is neither too wet nor too dry. To help speed up this task and make it easier, you can make a soil leveller from pieces of wood, nails or screws and bricks. When pulled over rough-dug ground, this tool will shatter the lumps of soil and level the ground at the same time.
The leveller is made from five short wooden boards which, when assembled, look like a short section of a pair of wide steps. The cross-boards are angled towards the direction in which you pull the device, by means of a loop of rope attached to the front board.
To use this gadget does require a fair amount of physical effort, but it is an extremely good way of preparing the soil quickly, especially for the weekend gardener with a medium-sized or large plot.
If you find that you need extra weight, screw 2.5 cm (1”) square battens on to the boards (as shown in the diagram) to provide a cradle for bricks.
During spring, when there are many jobs waiting to be done, all at the same time, the task of measuring and drawing out each seed drill can be very time-consuming. An easily-made multi-drill marker can save you time by allowing you to take out several seed drills at the same time.
This device consists of a piece of wood about 12.5 cm (5”) wide and 12 mm (1/2”) thick, with four markers, short pieces of wood with their ends sharpened to a point, screwed to the main piece. These markers should each be the same distance apart, that distance, and hence the length of the main piece, depending on the crop being sown. The most useful spacing to choose is 25 cm (10”) between markers, as this is a row spacing that can be used for many vegetables.
A wooden handle is fixed to the centre piece by means of a hinge or nails and is used to pull the multi-drill marker along the surface of the seed bed, so that the markers draw out four drills in the soil.
With practice, you will find that you can adjust the depth of the drills to suit the crop being sown by varying the pressure with which you pull the marker towards you, as when drawing out a single drill using a draw hoe or rake.
When drawing out the first set of drills with the tool, mark off the position of the first drill with a garden line, and then place the edge of the tool against it. The remaining rows will then be marked out automatically.
You may consider it worthwhile to elaborate on this design by making the four markers adjustable to different distances apart. You could do this by attaching the markers to the main piece by means of bolts, securing them by nuts on each side. Three useful distances would be 15 cm (6”), 23 cm (9”) and cm (12”). Then, if you have attached enough bolts at the correct distances apart, you will be able to draw one set of drills at a distance of, say, 23 cm (9”) apart, and then unbolt the markers and fix them onto bolts at a wider spacing, say, 30 cm (12”), to draw out drills for sowing a different crop.
Alternatively, you could make several of these tools, each with its markers spaced at a different distance.
This useful gadget saves you time when sowing seed in seed-trays or frames by quickly and accurately spacing out the seed. It will also save you money by economizing on seed.
It consists of a sheet of 6 mm (1/4”) thick plywood cut to fit the inside of a standard seed-tray, approximately 35 cm x 21cm (14” x 8-1/2’). Through this, drill 6 mm (¼”) holes, evenly spaced, with either eight rows each of six holes or nine rows each of five holes. After drilling the holes, sand down the sheet to remove the rough edges, and screw or glue two pieces of wood to serve as handles.
This is a most useful tool for sowing fine seed, which should be scattered thinly over the top surface of the gadget.
The board can then be removed carefully by means of the handles, and any seeds remaining on its surface tapped gently into the seed packet and saved for the next sowing. The seeds should then be pressed lightly into the compost or soil with a firmer, taking great care not to dislodge them.
The multi-sower can also be used for sowing larger seeds or pelleted seeds, although these can be sown quite easily and accurately by hand.
This consists of a lath (a long, thin piece of wood square or rectangular cross-section), which is drilled with a series of 6 mm (y) holes, at two convenient sets of spacing, one spacing on each of two opposite sides of the lath. Suitably trimmed short sections of dowelling are glued into each hole, leaving a 5 cm (2”) length protruding.
You can use this tool in two ways, either pushing the spaced dowels into the soil (by hand or with your foot), or just marking the position of the planting holes on the soil surface with a scratching action.
You can make two of these tools, one with dowels spaced 15 cm (6”) and 23 cm (9”) apart, the other with spaces of 30 cm (12”) and 45 cm (18”) between the dowels. This range of distances will be adequate for a number of the most commonly transplanted crops, such as, , lettuces, smaller types of and tomatoes.
If you have to plant out a large number of pot-grown tomatoes,, peppers or , you may well find your enthusiasm for the job considerably diminished by the prospect of stooping down to dig out the holes for the plants.
A pot dibber can make this job much easier, and, provided that the soil has been well prepared and is not excessively hard, it will also speed up the process considerably.
To make the dibber you will need a plastic pot, of the same diameter as the pots you use, some concrete and a stout length of wooden rod. Fill the pot with concrete and, while the concrete is still wet, thrust the wooden rod well into the centre of the pot, and allow the concrete to set around it. Then you can release your dibber by breaking the plastic pot carefully and removing the pieces, just as if you were shelling a hard-boiled egg. To use the pot dibber, simply force the concrete ‘pot’ into the soil, using your foot. Remove the dibber by the handle to leave a hollow of just the right size for your pot-grown transplants. Then you can remove the plant, complete with root ball, from the pot, ease it into the cavity, firm it in and water it as necessary.
Despite recent developments of handheld power-assisted cultivators, traditional hoes are still in the front line of the home gardener’s armoury of essential tools. The traditional practices of chopping the tops off weedand of stirring the soil are still just as important today as when our grandfathers used their hoes. Modern weedkillers may have lessened the need for mechanical weed control, but many gardeners do not like to use large quantities of these chemicals, and the necessity of breaking up the soil surface still remains.
Plants must have enough air and moisture at soil level; hoeing assists aeration and, at the same time, by creating a dust mulch, it helps to conserve moisture in dry weather.
With the more widespread use of concentrated fertilizers, improved pest and disease control and dwarf varieties of many crops, plant spacings tend to get closer as gardens become increasingly smaller. Such conditions call for the use of a special ‘safety’ hoe that will chop off the weed seedlings but leave your crops untouched.
A simple home-made design consists of an iron or steel strap about 19 mm (f) wide by about 12 mm (4”) thick. This is shaped by bending it in a vice, drilled and attached to a wooden handle by bolts.
To hoe with this tool, move the blade away from you, lower it onto the soil surface, press down the blade and draw it towards you.
Unlike conventional Dutch and draw hoes, this tool is most unlikely to damage crops because of the very nature of its design. The broad strap will not damage crops in its path, and the arms of the strap prevent the front edge of the blade from cutting the crops on the backstroke; this is achieved without affecting the tool’s efficiency in cutting out the.
Two single devices can be made from scraps of wood for firming compost and pressing in small seeds, one for use with seed-trays and the other for use with pots. Each consists of a 6 mm (3”) thick piece of wood, with a smaller piece 12 mm (2”) thick to serve as the handle.
The firming piece should be cut to a rectangular shape, 20 cm x 10 cm (8” x 4”) for use with seed-trays, and to a circle for use with pots, its diameter depending on that of the pots you are using.
Before you glue or nail the handle to the firmer, it is a good idea to sand both pieces smooth and paint them, to avoid the risk of the wood carrying disease. As most households have the odd part-full tin of paint, these firmers need cost no more than the time required to make them, if you use old scraps of wood.
One problem which frequently faces the home gardener is that of distributing fertilizer evenly onto the vegetable plot or around fruit trees and bushes. One way around this difficulty is to use a simple measure, such as a small plastic or metal container, suitably calibrated to indicate the various amounts required.
A number of measures are on the market, but you can make a simple scoop very cheaply to serve the dual purpose of measuring out fertilizer quickly and easily, and of distributing it as well. To make the scoop, you will need a 9 mm (¾”) thick piece of wood, a length of wooden dowel for the handle and a large empty plastic yogurt carton, cut down to serve as the scoop.
The measurer should then be calibrated by weighing out, say, 60 g (2 oz) of fertilizer (using a reliable set of scales), placing this in the scoop and marking off the level to which it reaches. Do this first in pencil and then, after emptying out the fertilizer, with paint or indelible ink for a permanent marking. Finally, fix the scoop to the handle by means of a screw and washer, and add painted wood strengtheners.
Frame support and ventilating block
Each year, many thousands of plants growing in garden frames suffer from lack of attention. Much of the trouble is due to gardeners not knowing how to deal with two common problems: how to prop up the frame light safely while carrying out various jobs inside the frame; and how to ventilate the frame properly.
The problem of propping up frame lights can be solved by using a convenient length of 4 cm square timber to which are screwed two wooden ‘jaws’ to grip the end of the light firmly, . Each jaw should be made from a 15 cm (6”) length of 4 cm x 2 cm (l-1/2” x 3/4”) timber.
Another important requirement is that the light is secured at the back so that it cannot slip. You can do this by nailing or screwing two blocks of wood onto the back of the frame base, raised so that they leave an edge, or ‘lip’, against which the frame light can rest.
To use the frame support, place its bottom end (the opposite end to the jaws) close up against the front of the frame base, and hold the top end clear of the light, which you then raise with your other hand. Next, fit the front edge of the light firmly between the two jaws, and check that they are gripping the light properly before releasing your grasp of both support and light.
This is a simple and easily made device for propping open a frame light in a variety of positions.
Obtain a piece of 5 cm (2”) square timber and cut from it three pieces, 15 cm, 10 cm and 5 cm (6”, 4” and 2”) in length. Then nail a 15 cm x 5 cm (6” x 2”) strip of 6 mm (1/2”) wood to either side of the three blocks after placing them one on top of each other.
You can then use the block to raise the frame light to a height of 5 cm (2”), 10 cm (4”) or 15 cm (6”). As you can also remove the frame light completely or shut it, you have a total of five ventilation ‘controls’ for your frame, which should meet all your needs.
If, as with some makes of frame, the light overlaps the base, then simply invert the ventilating block so that the lights rests comfortably on the block in any of the three positions.
The moving of a hosepipe can sometimes cause damage to plants, especially if you are careless and inadvertently drag it across a bed full of tender seedlings. The use of hose reels does not solve this problem completely.
A simple gadget for guiding your hose can be made quite easily from a piece of iron bar 45 cm (18”) long by about 9 mm (t|”) thick. Bend over about 15 cm (6”) of the bar to form a ‘U’ shape, : you can do this by securing the bar in a vice and repeatedly heating and hammering it until you have given it the desired shape. Then file down the long end to form a sharp point.
To use your hose guide, simply push the pointed end into the ground next to the hose so that the short arm of the ‘U’ almost touches the soil surface and prevents the hose from snaking about over the ground. The guide can then be pulled out and used elsewhere as necessary.
Watering can guide
Another job that sometimes causes problems is the watering of seeds or seedlings in drills in dry weather. The delivery of water via the rose of a watering can may not be sufficiently accurate and the whole area then becomes wet and muddy. If you use a watering can without a rose, the soil is likely to be washed away altogether, and the seeds or seedlings with it.
Some of the more expensive types of watering can have a spout extension supplied with them, which gives better control by reducing the flow of water. You can save money by making a simple guide to fit into the spout of your watering can.
Take a piece of cork, cut it to fit the end of your watering can spout, and make a ‘V-shaped groove in it. Push the cork into the spout, ensure that it is firmly fixed, and use the can normally. If you find that the flow of water is not sufficient, enlarge the groove to allow more water to pass through.