Editor’s note: Get Growing, written by the La Plata County Extension Office’s Master Gardener Program, appears every other week during the growing season. It features timely tips and suggestions for your garden and landscape.By Clint Kearns
As surely as fall signals the harvest and the end of many gardening tasks, it also signals that it’s time to store tools for the winter.
Just as our high altitude sun, frequent storms and drying wind can be hard on our plants, they can be hard on our tools, too. If the wooden handles on your garden implements have dried out, turned gray and are beginning to show cracks and splits, this is a great time for tool maintenance. Moreover, if those steel tool heads were used in rocky soil, the paint or lacquer applied at the factory has worn off, leaving exposed, scratched metal that will rust if stored in a damp shed for the next few months.
For the wooden handles, I suggest a solution that has been used to preserve things for thousands of years. Linseed oil is a natural oil made from flax, Linum usitatissimum. Boiled linseed oil has been the preferred treatment for tool handles by farmers, ranchers, loggers and my grandfather. However, it is an old-time method, largely overlooked and underused today.
Boiled linseed oil will restore the finish and provide an excellent non-slip coating. To apply it, first put on gloves. You want to apply multiple thin coats so they can penetrate and dry, otherwise you will get a sticky, gummy finish. Just wipe on thin coats with a rag. Linseed oil is exothermic when exposed to air, so you must not store the rags wadded up in a pile or container, as they will spontaneously combust. Hang them open and flat over a wire fence or clothes line, or store them in a reasonably air-tight metal container.
To provide some protection to the metal tool heads, first, thoroughly clean off all soil and then dry them in the sun. I suggest spraying them with kitchen cooking spray, just a light coating. There are commercial products designed as rust inhibitors for tools, but I do not recommend their use for vegetable garden implements. They are labeled as biodegradable, but reading the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), the handling, clean up and containment warnings make me suspicious. I do not want them in vegetable garden soil.
Lastly, hang your tools on racks out of contact with the ground or concrete floor. In spring, your tools should be ready to go to work.
Clint Kearns is a current Colorado master gardener volunteer. He lives in La Plata County.