Calgary AB — BY ROBERT GILES Special to The Globe and Mail Calgary
BY March, we have finished drooling over the seed and plant catalogues. We have scaled back our original dreams, which included buying enough gardening supplies to landscape a football field. It's time to turn our consideration to garden aids that make our labours less onerous and more fruitful.
Ottawa-based Lee Valley Tools has a set of tiny surgical brushes (five cm by eight cm) that have 1,900 unpunishing but diligent nylon bristles. They cost $5 for a dozen, are excellent for degriming soil-stained fingers and nails and also work as vegetable scrubbers.
Spiral steel tomato stakes 180 cm long, like those widely used in Europe, make excellent sense. Instead of tying the plants to the stake, weave the growing stems through the spiral, eliminating the possibility of constricting the stems as they thicken. These should last a lifetime. (Lee Valley sells five stakes for $23.) Plastic bulb baskets, 23 cm square by eight cm deep, are the proper thing for tender subjects, like montbretia, tuberose and acidanthera, which need lifting in the fall. The bulbs are spaced in the basket, and the basket is planted at the correct depth. The open-mesh construction permits full root development, and the basket, complete with contents, is dug up at season's end. (Lee Valley charges $7 for three baskets.) A deep sieve is used for sifting lumpy compost, lightly and evenly covering seeds or washing soil-encrusted vegetables. It measures 30 cm by 36 cm by 13 cm deep, with a sturdy poly frame and a 0.6-cm metal mesh screen. It's well worth $6.
Also from Lee Valley, a huge Mayan hammock from Yucatan ($69) will provide snoozing space for two adults, a couple of toddlers and the family spaniel. The hammock is made of well-ventilated cotton and the support ends are nylon cord. It measures four metres by two metres, and needs to be fixed to two strong trees to carry the load.
A transplant spade has a narrow (13 cm) and long (30 cm) deeply dished blade, designed to be used in confined spaces. Its sharp, rounded end makes it easy to split perennial rootballs. It's good for trenching too. (Lee Valley has two kinds: The carbon-steel version costs $19, the stainless-steel one costs $37.50.) Fly-away plastic, fabric or netting coverings can be held down with ropes or pinned to the ground if the covering is reinforced with two-piece grommets hammered together at the edges of the material (package of 10 for $40).
Stokes Seeds of St. Catharines, Ont., sells for $20 a robust, plastic high-walled tidy tray (55 cm by 61 cm by 20 cm), which will keep spills off the kitchen floor when repotting plants or doing other mucky jobs. It comes with a clip-on tool caddy.
A Stokes product called After Bite ($3.50) neutralizes the sting or itch resulting from attacks by pests. The applicator is pen-shaped and fitted with a pocket clip; a dab of the contents beats scratching with grubby nails.
Alberta Nurseries and Seeds sells Grow Dome, a translucent plastic for light diffusion to fit a 26-cm pot or hanging basket, for $8 each. This 32-cm high dome will protect young plants from late cold spells and provide a humid environment. The dome comes as two clip-together parts with top vents to let excess heat escape.
A plant obelisk, also from Alberta Nurseries and Seeds, in Bowden, is designed to sit in containers from 25 cm to 60 cm in diameter. This handsome 180-cm ornament consists of four cedar uprights with a cedar finial on top and two plastic rings to fix the "legs" in position. Climbers, such as sweet peas and morning glory, will twine their way upward. A kit costs $39.
Tomato ripening hoods, designed to keep frost from turning just- ripening tomatoes into frozen mush, are being sold by Dominion Seed of Georgetown, Ont., for $20 for three. Each hood consists of a tubular, ventilated piece of polyethylene 1.3 metres long. One end is attached to the top of the tomato stake and two plastic hoops spread out the tube, allowing it to surround the plant and drape to ground level. This retains enough heat to speed ripening, yet it doesn't stew the tomatoes.
Finally, if you live far from a well-stocked garden centre or home- improvement store, a wide range of more bread-and-butter gardening materials is available at Early Farm & Garden of Saskatoon. Of the 56 pages in the catalogue, 22 are devoted to all sorts of garden gear for indoor and outdoor growing, watering, seeding, pruning, digging, as well as fertilizers and pesticides. There are also power tools and a $2,000 chipper-shredder.