Thursday, June 25, 2009

Garden Lessons Learned the Hard Way

As Grandpa Wicka used to say while repairing the tractor at the family farm outside Wibaux, Montana: "Education Costs Money." And that includes your garden education, as well. Here are three tips that took awhile (and not a few dollars) for me to learn:

Buying a wheelbarrow? Replace that inflatable tire with a foam filled tire. Yes, that foam-filled tire/wheel combination may set you back an extra $50, but you will never again have to worry about a flat tire. Or purchase new inner tubes. Or buy that gooey "fix-a-flat" stuff. Or spend your first ten minutes in the garden each day with the air pump. This goes double for any gardener with an extensively thorny berry patch, where wheeling that barrow can easily cause punctures.

Shopping for garden pruners? Buy quality pruning equipment, and shop at a store that also carries replacement parts for those pruners. And don't base your purchase on brand name alone. Felco, Corona, Fiskars and other manufacturers do make high quality (and high priced) pruners. But they also may produce inexpensive lines of pruners for the big box stores and chain stores. 

For example, that $2.37 bypass pruner by Fiskars may not have replaceable blades, a replaceable latch or even the ability to disassemble the unit for cleaning, sharpening and oiling. But the $34 bypass Fiskars do have a removable nut so that you can replace and clean the blades, as well as being a better design that may be more comfortable for extended use. The cheaper models might last a year; a good hand pruner by Felco or Corona can last a lifetime, with proper care. 

One other tip: for general pruning chores, choose bypass hand pruners instead anvil pruners. Anvil pruners crush the stem, and can leave a messy cut that may invite pests and disease if that branch is alive. Anvil pruners are fine for your cut flower garden (sealing the moisture in the stem until you get the flowers into a vase of water) or for removing completely dead branches.

When choosing your first drip irrigation system, buy it from a store that's going to be in business for a long time. That store will be your best source for add-ons and replacement parts for your particular system. An irrigation supply store is the best place to shop. Or, choose a reputable online irrigation store, such as Dripworks, based in Willits, California. 
There is no uniformity among manufacturers when it comes to their "half-inch tubing" sizes. The outside diameter of that half-inch mainline drip tubing can range from .620 to .710, depending on the manufacturer. Which means that shopping for fittings, such as couplers, can be a a daunting experience if you're shopping at a different store. The good news: there are universal couplers available that are adjustable to fit most half inch tubing. The bad news: in my experience, they break down after too many years in the sun. 

A tip: take a piece of your existing half inch tubing with you to the store, to make sure that the fittings (couplers, tees, elbows) you purchase will, indeed, fit. 

Another tip: note the color on the ends of the couplers, tees, and elbows that you already own and use. Buy the same color when shopping for more of those parts. Some couplings (as pictured above) allow you to join different sizes of half-inch drip pipe, or reduce from a three-quarter inch pipe to a half inch pipe. 

One more tip: Shopping for drip fittings and you don't have that spare piece of half-inch pipe with you? Let your finger be your guide. Stick your little finger into the opening of one of your existing couplers, tees or elbows. How far does your little finger slide in? Remember that point on your finger, and then you can shop for couplings by "trying them on". Another good reason to always carry hand sanitizer: it might help you get those couplings off your finger if they get stuck.

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