April's Ag Advice by April Borders The frost has come to claim the last of our gardens and we have seen our first snow. It's time to put our tools and gardening gloves away for the season. Or is it? Before we put everything away for the winter, we should look to see if our tools are in shape for next year. A little maintenance now can prevent frustration and expensive repairs in the future.
Clean and polish your tools. Use water and a wire brush and remove caked in mud from spades, forks, trowels and other digging tools. This helps to not only keep your tools in good shape but helps with disease control for next year. Sharpen any tools that need it. Polish all metal parts with steel wool, then wipe with an oily rag to coat and protect the surface from rust. WD-40 works well for this.
Disinfect pruning shears and loppers by soaking the cutters for a full minute in a 10 percent bleach solution (one part chlorine to nine parts water). Then wipe the metal dry and oil to prevent rust. Lubricate pruner and other tools with moving parts using lightweight oil.
Check the handles of your equipment. Inspect wooden handles for chips or splinters. Sand any rough areas and rub all wooden handles with tung oil. Be sure to get plenty of oil into the area where wood and metal meet. Once they are done, hang your tools in their proper spot so you can easily find them next year.
Clean up your trellises and stakes. Brush off all soil from wooden trellises and stakes and let them dry in the sun for a few hours before storing them. If disease was a problem in your garden, wash the stakes and trellises with a 10 percent bleach solution. Again, make sure they are dry before storing.
Drain the water out of your hoses and store them on specially designed supports or reels or coil loosely to prevent damage. Don't kink them! Sags and kinks can weaken the hose wall. Storing indoors will extend the life of the hose.
Thoroughly wash and rinse your sprayers. Most pesticide manufacturers recommend triple rinsing. This includes all parts of the sprayer from the holding tank to the nozzles. Oil moving parts following the directions provided for your particular sprayer. Tip the sprayer upside down or hang upside down when not in use.
Power equipment requires additional winter preparation. Always disconnect the spark plug before servicing power equipment. Wipe the equipment to remove grease, dirt and plant material. Inspect machines carefully for loose or missing nuts, bolts or screws. Tighten or replace as necessary. Clean or replace the air filter.
Examine tiller tines and chipper blades for wear or breakage. Replace if necessary. Lubricate moving parts according to manufacturer's instructions.
For four-cycle engines (these have separate oil and gas systems), change the oil and drain the gasoline from the tank. Then run the engine until all the fuel in the line and carburetor is gone. For two-cycle engines (oil and gas mixed together), if you haven't used up all the fuel while doing end of the season chores, add commercial gas stabilizer to the fuel in each tank. Run the engine for a minute or two to make sure the stabilizer fuel is in the system. Remove and clean (or replace) the spark plug. Reinstall the plug, but leave the wire disconnected.
Tool maintenance isn't as much fun as using the tools in the garden. But with the investment that you have in these tools, it's time well spent. Spend an autumn afternoon preparing and storing your tools for winter.