Soil and Cellar

Growing and preserving foods in Seattle


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Cleaning and Sharpening Your Tools

My pruners before cleaning and sharpening. They worked just fine - not very dull or chipped, but not as well as they work when properly cared for.

My pruners before cleaning and sharpening. They worked fine – not dull or chipped, but not as well as they work when properly cared for. Aside – when they are open like this I think they look like an excited bird. Or bad joke eel.

I haven’t written about the garden lately, because there isn’t much “happening” out there these days, plus, um, brr. However, yesterday was gorgeous, so I wanted to get out and do some pruning. Late winter is a great time to prune! And like most gardeners, I love love pruning, it’s so fun and satisfying.

Taking the pruners apart. Felco pruners are the best, and all parts come apart easily and are replaceable. However, all pruners have some kind of screw holding them together at the pivot point. Take apart as much as you can (that you can tell you'll be able to reassemble later!)

Taking the pruners apart. Felco pruners are the best: all parts are easily removed and are replaceable. But all pruners have some kind of bolt holding them together at the pivot point. Take apart as much as you can (that you can tell you’ll be able to reassemble later!)

We had a few nice days earlier this month, but I didn’t get out in the garden. In part, that’s because I didn’t clean or sharpen my tools last fall, and I wanted to do that first. I haven’t done that in a couple years. Ideally, I would have cleaned them at the end of the fall, and stored them in the basement so they would stay dry. I didn’t do that, so there’s a fair amount of gunk and rust on them.

When you disassemble your pruners, do it on a towel or something that will contain the mess and also make it easy to find all the parts later.

When you disassemble your pruners, do it on a towel or something that will contain the mess and also make it easy to find all the parts later.

Back in the day, I was a gardener for a living. I cleaned my pruners seasonally, and sharpened them at least once a year. I’m not a professional gardener anymore, and I don’t think I’ve sharpened my tools since I was. I had to buy a file and stone! It can be a project to clean and sharpen your tools, particularly if you are new or it’s been awhile. But it’s important to do. Sharp tools reduce the work for you and make cleaner cuts. Also, keeping your tools clean makes them last longer.

I didn't get a picture of me cleaning! I guess I was all soapy. Ideally you'd use warm soapy water and some steel wool to scrub away the shmutz. I didn't have steel wool, so I used a green scrubbing pad. It worked ok but not as well as the steel wool. In addition to soap and water, sometimes you should dip your tools in a bleach solution, particularly if you've been working on diseased plants.

I didn’t get a picture of me cleaning, but here they are cleaned! I guess I was too soapy to grab the camera. Ideally you’d use warm soapy water and some steel wool to scrub away the shmutz. I didn’t have steel wool, so I used a green scrubbing pad. It worked ok, but not as well as the steel wool. In addition to soap and water, sometimes you’ll want to dip your tools in a bleach solution, particularly if you’ve been working on diseased plants.

Tools can spread diseases from one plant to the next, or around on one plant. I don’t have huge concerns about this in my garden, other than black spot on the rose, but I still don’t want to create problems where they weren’t before by spreading disease.

I’ll be doing the rest of this post as a photo essay, because a picture tells a thousand words, right?

Here's the cutting edge before sharpening. My pruners are bypass pruners (the blades move past each other). There is only one beveled edge on the cutting blade, so I only sharpen one side. If you have anvil pruners, you sharpen both sides of the blade, like you would with a knife.

Here’s the cutting edge before sharpening. My pruners are bypass pruners (the blades move past each other). There is only one beveled edge on the cutting blade, so I only sharpen one side. If you have anvil pruners, you sharpen both sides of the blade, like you would with a knife.

File the blade first, particularly if it's been awhile or you have large chips in the blade. File in the direction you cut (see the red arrow), life the blade, and file in the direction again. Don't rub back and forth.

File the blade first, particularly if it’s been awhile or you have large chips in the blade. File on the same angle as the bevel, and file in the direction you cut (see the red arrow). Lift the blade, and file in the same direction again. Don’t rub back and forth. Try to keep the angle of the bevel even throughout the process.

Now do the same with a stone. I got this stone for $2 at a hardware store, they are worth having. The stones in kitchen stores are more expensive (and the saleswoman tried to talk me out of it, thinking I was sharpening my knives with a stone. I have a knife sharpener for that!) Working with a stone on your knives is a skill you probably don't have, and you can mess up your knives if you don't know what you're doing. Pruners are less precise.

Now do the same with a stone. From the striations you can see I did run the back side of my blade on the stone, to clear off any burrs from filing. I got this stone for $2 at a hardware store, they are worth having. The stones in kitchen stores are more expensive.

Ta-dah! Look at the cutting edge, so sharp!

Ta-dah! Look at the cutting edge, so sharp! You can also tell I was working with a pretty good angle, since not too much else got shaved down.

Before reassembling all the parts, lubricate everything you can. If it moves, spray it. When I was a gardener, I also used grease in the pivot point, but I don't have any laying around the house.

Before reassembling all the parts, lubricate everything you can. If it is a place where metal sits on or moves against metal, spray it. When I was a gardener, I also used grease in the pivot point, but I don’t have any laying around the house.

Reassemble all the parts. Sometimes it takes a couple times flipping the pieces around, they don't fit intuitively. You might want to take a picture of it at the start. (This is the photo of me reassembling after cleaning, I took a few days in between steps, that's why it doesn't look sharpened.)

Reassemble all the parts. Sometimes it takes a couple times flipping the pieces around, they don’t fit intuitively. You might want to take a picture of it at the start. (This is the photo of me reassembling after cleaning. I waited a few days in between steps due to time constraints, that’s why it doesn’t look sharpened.)

In the above photo, you can see my initials carved into the handle. These are pruners I got over 10 years ago working at an Arboretum in Philadelphia. Pruners for a gardener are like knives for a chef, they are personal. People don’t share (usually). I’d rather buy replacement parts for these than get a new pair. (Felco is the best, they will sell any single part individually. You get the blades in any store that sells them, but online they have everything.)

Here she is, reassembled. Again, this is post-cleaning but pre-sharpening.

Here she is, reassembled. Again, this is post-cleaning but pre-sharpening.

In action! I did a lot of pruning on my pear tree yesterday. With my sharp pruners, it was a cinch!

I did a lot of pruning on my pear tree yesterday. With my sharp pruners, it was a cinch!

Not only was it easier to cut with sharpened pruners, they were easier on the tree. Look at that, no jagged edges, no squeezing the branch while you cut. I still got it :)

Not only was it easier to cut with sharpened pruners, they were easier on the tree. Look at that, no jagged edges, no squeezing the branch while cutting. Yup, I still got it 🙂

I’ll be cleaning all my tools soon, and sharpening a few, too. My loppers definitely need it, but also my shovels. Soil and rocks are so hard on the edge of a shovel, and sharpening will help with ease of digging and cutting through roots.

Once you get this “housekeeping” done, your gardening experience will be much easier. Happy gardening!


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Anyone Need Any Banana Chips?

Have a banana chip, please! (I will be storing any I don't eat soon in plastic bags inside the jars, but they are so much prettier this way for now.)

Banana Bonanza! (I’ll keep the ones I plant to eat soon in jars, but most of these will be put into will be plastic bags inside the jars. But they are so much prettier this way for now.)

So get this. I went to the fruit stand the other day, looking for a snack. I was buying smoothie fixins at the sale fruit table, when I saw it: a box of about 30 bananas for $0.99! A dollar? Sure, they were ugly, but even if only half were edible, that’s still an insane price. I had to stop myself from buying 2 boxes.

Box of bananas for a buck!

Box of bananas for a buck!

If you’re reading this blog, chances are that you’ve done this kind of thing before. You see a great sale on something, buy too much, and then have it coming out of your ears for months. It’s the same with gardening, you love tomatoes so much you plant 6 plants, and then are finding ways to eat tomatoes with every meal. No? Come on, be honest, we’re all friends here. Learning food preservation has enabled my habit, because now sale food isn’t as likely to go to waste.

It turned out the bananas weren’t as bad as they looked. They were actually slightly under-ripe, with only a few bad spots on the flesh. My guess is that they were unsellable because the peels were covered in brown spots, or were the onesies left over by people breaking off a few from a bunch. I think there was only one that was actually mush.

Letting bananas sit in cool water with lemon juice, to keep them from browning.

Letting bananas sit in cool water with lemon juice, to keep them from browning. But don’t let them sit in there too long, they go soggy.

And as it happens, D doesn’t like bananas. So here I had 30 bananas that I needed to use up all by my lonesome, and I knew just what to do with them… dry them!

I got a wonderful gift this year for Christmas from my S-I-L, a food dehydrator, (plus a great book called The Dehydrator Bible.) I’ve wanted a dehydrator for a year or more, but never felt like shelling out the money for something my oven or the sun could do just as well. But of course, the oven is too hot, and I never use the sun, because I’m not that on top of it. I’d probably forget them outside.

There she is! I keep the dehydrator in the basement, even though it's nice and quiet. It's just so big and I don't have many outlets in my old kitchen.

There she is! I keep the dehydrator in the basement, even though it’s nice and quiet. It’s just so big and I don’t have many outlets in my old kitchen.

My dehydrator has been great so far. I’ve dried apples, blueberries, pineapples (my favorite!), and bananas. They haven’t all been hits (I don’t recommend Pink Lady apples for drying, they turn into something not unlike Styrofoam), but even when they weren’t great, it was always fun or unexpected. I didn’t dry the blueberries correctly, but I still thought they were really good on oatmeal, little bursts of flavor.

My dehydrator is definitely making it so that I’m seeking out the cheapest fruits, because I know I can extend their life and create lots of great snacks.

I think I dried a total of 8 trays, each holding about 3 bananas. Try to keep them spaced so they aren't touching, to allow for better air circulation and also so they don't dry stuck together.

I dried a total of 8 trays, each holding about 3 bananas. Try to keep them spaced so they aren’t touching, to allow for better air circulation and also so they don’t dry stuck together.

The last time I did bananas I got those tiny bananas and sliced them length-wise. This time they were full sized, so I sliced them in rounds (more or less) about 1/3” thick. I let them sit in a bowl of water mixed with lemon juice to keep them from browning while I chopped (and chopped, and chopped). Then I dried them for 8.5-10 hours at 135 degrees.

Here they are finished. You can see they stick a bit to the tray, so do remove them while they are still warm.

Here they are finished. You can see they stick a bit to the tray, so do remove them while they are still warm.

And now I have banana chips. Lots and lots of banana chips. They are slightly chewy, they should be firm and almost leathery when done, not like those rock hard ones you used to get in trail mix. Some slices took longer than others, but that was easy enough to remedy. I pulled them all off the trays and any that were very squishy got put back in for another hour or so.

When they are done they should be a little flexible. However, you don't want them to be "juicy" anymore. A fine line, perhaps? I did notice that the bananas that weren't as ripe dried faster and have a chalkier texture, although they are still quite tasty!

When they are done they should be a little flexible. However, you don’t want them to be “juicy” anymore. A fine line, perhaps? I did notice that the bananas that weren’t as ripe dried faster and have a firmer texture, although they are still quite tasty!

Also, I learned from my book that bananas should be removed from the trays when still warm, or they stick. I can attest to this! Also, things the book won’t tell you: my basement smells like bananas, and I’ve had that song lyric “this s**t is bananas, b-a-n-a-n-a-s” in my head all week.

If you want some banana chips, come on over, I’d be happy to share!