Henry Homeyer: Holiday gifts from and for the garden

By Henry Homeyer
©2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

By the time you read this, Black Friday has passed us by. I know that some people stand in line that day, starting before the sun comes up to get special deals on electronic games and various widgets, but I have never done so. And won’t. My loved ones get good, practical presents that will last. Here are my ideas for gardeners to give – or get.

Actually, not all my presents will last. Some are edible presents. Each year, for example, I dehydrate cherry tomatoes, apples, pears and hot peppers. A pint bag of dried cherry tomatoes represents a lot of work – and love. First I had to start the seeds and raise the seedlings. Then plant, stake and weed the plants. Harvest when ripe, cut in half, dry for 18 hours or more, then bag them up. A pint of these babies is about 240 dried cherry tomato halves. A delectable gift.

Dried apples and pears are easier presents. I have a kitchen tool that will peel, core and slice apples and pears. You skewer the apple, turn a crank, and it’s ready to use in a jiffy. Much less time consuming than cutting cherry tomatoes in half and arranging on a tray. And of course, a few dried apples will fill up a quart bag, and a good tree will last a lifetime. The slicer I have is called the Triple-Action Apple Machine and it’s available from King Arthur Flour (www.king arthurflour.com) for about $25.

Peel apples quickly for drying as gifts.

As to the dehydrators, those are serious presents. I have two kinds, and like both. The Cadillac of dryers is the Excalibur. Mine has nine trays, a timer and a thermostat. The hot air blows across the trays, so all dry in equal time. Mine, Model 3926T sells for around $300 (www.excaliburdehydrator.com).

For a more economical price you can get a NESCO American Harvester dehydrator. They come with heat and blowing units either on the top of the bottom of a stack of trays. Those closest to the heat dry first, so you have to keep checking them and moving trays around. But they only cost $130 to $150 from the manufacturer. (www.nesco.com). I like the dehydrator with bottom heat best. But they take longer and use more electricity than the Excalibur (1000 watts per hour of use versus 660 watts per hour for the Excalibur).

Muck boots are a must for many gardeners.

I spend a lot of time working outside when the grass is wet or paths are muddy. I like dry feet, and nothing compares with my Muck brand boots. I’ve had them for over 10 years, wear them nearly every day in spring and fall, and they are not even thinking of wearing out. Mine are 10 inch high slip-ons, green, insulated. Warm. Looking on line, I think it is called the scrub boot. They cost $60 to $70 a pair. Of course I bought mine on sale for less.

At this time of year I’m battling mice and squirrels that want to get in the house to find food and lodging. My old house has a stone foundation, so it lets them in, here and there. Recently I got something called, “Mice Magic” from Gardeners Supply and which claims to repel them avoiding the need for trapping them.

Mice Magic comes in sachets like tea bags that are very fragrant – with spearmint and peppermint. Each lasts, it says, for 30 days. And one only needs one in a room to discourage the mice. So I have them in my basement and in the attic storage areas that tend to accumulate rodents. So far, they seem to be doing a good job, and these would be good presents. A box of a dozen (item #8592441) costs $29.95.

Where mice belong: A ‘mice’ watering can.

Speaking of mice, I recently got a watering can shaped like a mouse – complete with ears and whiskers! This is a metal watering can for indoor plants that makes me smile every time I use it. It pours nicely and holds a nice amount of water. Available from Gardeners Supply for $19.99. (item #38-315)

Every Christmas when I write this column I mention tools, including the CobraHead weeder. This is, simply, the best weeder in America. It’s a single-tined weeder shaped like a bent finger – or a rising cobra. It can get under weeds and grasses, and tease them out. Available at garden centers everywhere and most seed companies, it is also available on line at www.CobraHead.com for $24.95.

Other tools I’d recommend? A collapsible rake. These can be adjusted to open widely, to 24 inches, or closed down to just 8 to 12 inches. There are several brands, and prices range from under $10 to about $25. All metal.

Henry Homeyer and friend with composted cow manure.

Books are great for gardeners, too. This fall, I attended a lecture by Thomas Rainer and bought his book, Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes, co-authored by Claudia West. It’s an interesting read, presents many provocative ideas, particularly for urban and suburban gardeners. They explain, for example, that we often plant gardens with plants that would never be together in the wild – they have entirely different needs for sun, water, pH – and we could do better planting those that have similar requirements. (Timber Press, $39.95).

Last winter, I attended a talk by Celeste Longacre and bought her self-published book, Celeste’s Garden Delights: Discover the Many Ways a Garden Can Nurture You (available for $25 at www.celestelongacre.com). It’s a nice book that not only gives tips for growing vegetables, but also for storing and using them. I got some good tips from it, including a better way to store beets.

So Santa, I don’t really need anything this Christmas, but if you want to drop off a load of reindeer droppings, they’d be great for my compost pile.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeHenry Homeyer's Notes from the Garden

About the Author: Henry Homeyer is a lifetime organic gardener living in Cornish Flat, N.H. He is the author of four gardening books including The Vermont Gardener's Companion. You may reach him by e-mail at henry.homeyer@comcast.net or by snail mail at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, N.H. 03746. Please include a SASE if you wish an answer to a question by mail.

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