Make gardening a little easier with these helpful tool suggestions from our editors
By the Heirloom Gardener Editors
When it comes to moving, spreading, and leveling soil or mulch, a good soil rake is a must-have tool. Combining beauty and brawn, the Haws Stainless Steel Soil Rake does the dirty work in style.
“I never thought I’d call a soil rake beautiful, but this rake certainly is,” says editor Russell Mullin. “And what makes this rake so aesthetically pleasing also makes it superbly functional: the mirror-polished head sheds wet soil and resists rust, the handsome ash handle provides a sure grip and plenty of reach, and the rivets through the elegant long-lipped socket firmly attach the head to the handle.”
Haws has been creating fine, functional garden products since 1886, and this rake combines excellent Greenman tool design with Haws heritage to carry on that legacy.
When the garden is exploding with produce and you have tomatoes up to your ears, more rosemary than you know what to do with, and a fruit tree that’s putting on like crazy, having a dehydrator that can handle your garden bounty is a real boon. And when it comes to dehydrators, the Excalibur 9-tray unit is the cream of the crop.
The boxy, 9-tray units from Excalibur are tried-and-true, and they’re still made in the United States. Editor Russell Mullin can attest to their time-tested design: “I inherited a 15-year-old unit that’s still going strong.” And while the design hasn’t changed much over the years (when it works, it works), there have been some upgrades that make the new units even more convenient to use. “My new 9-tray unit has some great upgrades compared with my older model: a clear front cover that lets me check on the progress of whatever I’m dehydrating without opening the unit is a neat new feature that I really appreciate.”
But the thing that really sets the Excalibur apart from other dehydrators is its multifunctionality. Not only does it dehydrate fruits, vegetables, and herbs beautifully, but the removable trays and box-like design allow you to proof bread and make yogurt inside the unit as well.
The square trays are a user-friendly shape, especially when compared with the donut-shaped footprint of many stackable units, and the BPA-free mesh screens are fine enough for herbs, release well, and are easy to clean. With 15 square feet of drying area in a 17-by-19-inch footprint, you can dehydrate a lot in a small amount of space. Russell says, “Another feature that I really like is that there’s no need to rotate trays. I set the timer, walk away, and come back when the time is up. This helps free up my time to work on other projects, like harvest from the garden.”
Editor Hannah Kincaid recommends the easy-to-grow Bee Feed Flower Mix from Seed Savers Exchange for gardeners interested in attracting more pollinators to their property. “I was really impressed with the germination rate of this gorgeous flower mix, and the 3-by-40-foot patch that we planted was absolutely abuzz with pollinators,” says Hannah.
This mix contains a blend of early-, mid-, and late-blooming annuals and perennials for a season-long display of color. “All we did was direct sow the seed about a week before our average last frost. We worked the seed into the soil using a rake, and then we kept the whole bed well-watered until we saw consistent germination. The mix of colors is extremely eye-catching, and we experienced an abundance of poppies, daisies, and forget-me-nots.”
$5.50 for 1 ounce
If you want a beauty of a shrub that also appeals to your feathered friends, consider American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana).
The best aspect of beautyberry isn’t its habit — loose and leggy — but its spectacular show at the end of the year. Editor Rebecca Martin has had a pair of beautyberry shrubs in her backyard for about a decade. She especially enjoys the vibrant purple fruit. “After the leaves turn yellow in fall,” she says, “the purple drupes really stand out. The birds attack the fruit after the leaves drop, usually after a few frosts, and the branches are stripped by Christmas.”
The shrub can experience winter dieback at the northern end of its range. That happens during especially cold winters in Rebecca’s Zone 6a garden, but her shrubs always come back in spring. “I just prune the ends of the dead branches, and new growth quickly fills in with warm weather,” she says.
Is there a garden or kitchen product you can’t live without? Tell us about it! Email a short description to Letters@HeirloomGardener.com, and you may see your favorite product featured in an upcoming issue.