Organic Gardener Henry Homeyer
Organic gardener Henry Homeyer of Cornish Flat, NH has been writing a weekly gardening article for New England newspapers for 18 years. He is the author of 4 gardening books, a University of New Hampshire Master Gardener, and a regular commentator on Vermont Public Radio. You may read his articles, including his blog posts, at https://dailyuv.com/gardeningguy. Below is Henry’s annual “Holiday Gifts for the Gardener” column.
Holiday Gifts for the Gardener
It’s that time of the year again: time to figure out good gifts for Uncle Albert and your sister Sadie. If they’re gardeners, gifts are easy to pick. There are plenty of items that cost from $5 to $300, and generally, one size fits all. Let’s look at some things I have used and like.
After giving a talk at the Milford, NH Garden Club recently, I bought some gardening gloves that were being sold as a fund raiser. These cost me just $5, and have already earned their keep. These are nitrile gloves made by the Atlas Glove Company. They have a waterproof palm and a stretchy, breathable fabric back. I have big hands, and the x-large size was perfect. Mine are black, but the smaller sizes come in a variety of colors.
I don’t generally wear gloves when gardening, as most are too thick – and I like the feel of the soil – but in cold weather I do wear them. These are thin enough that I can go easily feel the roots of a tender weed. The nitrile glove is the Atlas 370B series. I’ve also used a thicker Atlas glove with a natural rubber palm, the 300 series. These are both available at most gardening centers.
Does your loved one start plants by seed? Gift cards at garden centers or seed companies are nice. I get my seeds from several places: the Hudson Valley Seed Library, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, High Mowing Seeds, Renees Garden and a young company in New York State, Fruition Seeds. All have wonderful selections.
Weeds are the bane of many gardeners. One way to minimize their presence is to weed daily, mulch, or to put down weed mats. A Vermont company, Garden Mats (https://gardenmats.com) produces heavy-duty woven mats with pre-cut holes in a variety of patterns for different vegetables. I’ve used them – and re-used them. They last several years. They keep down weeds, hold in some moisture, but also breathe and let rain penetrate. They are 4 feet wide and come in lengths of 6, 12 and 18-feet for a cost of $11 to $31. They are definitely a labor-saver, and they claim the mats increase yields 10% to 20%, too. I like them, and also the fact that it is a small, family-owned business.
One of my favorite additions to my garden this year was a “VegTrug” from Gardener’s Supply Co. (www.gardeners.com). This is a stained cedar planting box on legs, about 6 feet long and 32 inches wide that retails for $279, with free shipping. It is V-shaped in cross section with the deepest portion 16 inches deep – deep enough for potatoes or tomatoes. It stands 32 inches tall, so no bending is needed to weed or to pick.
In my VegTrug I grew one patio tomato and pretty much every kind of herb: basil, dill, marjoram, thyme, sage, purple sage, chives, oregano and parsley. I even had a nasturtium cascading over one end.
One reason I loved my VegTrug was the convenience: it allowed me to have herbs near the house in a spot not otherwise suitable for growing. And the plants grew well, although in the heat of the summer they dried out more quickly than my garden near the stream, so I watered pretty much every sunny day. It uses 380 liters of soil mix, so I made my own, a 50-50 mix of peat moss and compost. The bottom is slotted for drainage, but it comes with a woven liner to prevent soil from washing away.
Every gardener needs a good weeding tool, and every year I recommend the CobraHead Weeder, because I believe it is the best weeding tool available. This tool has a single tine that is curved like the shape of a rising Cobra. I use it to tease out grass roots, to get under large weeds (so I can loosen the soil below them and pull from both top and bottom of the weed at the same time), and for preparing soil to plant. Now it seems a part of my right hand (though it is right-left neutral). At under $25 locally or from the manufacturer (a family business found at www.CobraHead.com), this tool is tough, strong, and made in the USA.
Every year I try to learn more about growing healthy plants. This year I paid $50 to join the Bionutrient Food Association (http://bionutrient.org/), and would like to suggest giving a membership as a nice present. One of the goals of the non-profit is to educate members about how to grow food that is nutrient-rich.
Much commercial agriculture depends on adding just 3 minerals to the soil (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) and basically ignoring the other nutrients that plants – and humans – need to be healthy. Growing vegetables year after year removes micronutrients from the soil that need to be replaced. The BFA offers information and workshops that I believe will help me to grow better food and stay healthy.
The last item for this year’s list is a lovely pair of stainless-steel garden shears for cutting flowers, herbs, and for use in the kitchen. Made in England, these shears are elegant as well as sturdy, and are said to be designed for small hands. Sold by Gardeners Supply (Item#8593404), they retail for $60 and come in a handsome gift box.
Santa, if you’re listening, I have everything I need. So you can just volunteer to come work in my garden next summer. I know it’s the off-season for you, and we both need to lose some weight, anyhow. We can pull weeds and eat cukes.