In the Garden:
This spined soldier bug is the hero in a new computer game based on vegetable gardening, one of many new garden products available this fall.
Garden Gadgets, Gifts, and Gewgaws
Basically, my mother gardened with little more than a decades-old hoe that had been worn down to almost nothing from repeated sharpening, a basic garden rake, a fox-hole shovel from the big war, a mattock that she called a grubbing hoe, a watering can that should have been in a museum, and whatever cheap garden hose happened to be on sale at a discount store. Yet her gardens, both for flowers and food, were remarkable.
So, yes, you can garden with very little monetary investment in equipment. But, oh, what fun toys are! At least that's what some people might call all the tools in my barn. Begrudgingly, I'll admit that some were better in concept that in practice. Still, there are many that I wouldn't want to be without. All of which leads up to me up sharing with you some of the products that I recently saw at a trade show for garden writers. There were tons of new plants, which I'll write about early this winter when we're dreaming of spring. A number of vendors with different deer and critter repellents were there, too. More on that later, as well.
What I wanted to share with you now is a varied assortment of items more or less oriented to this time of year or ones that especially piqued my interest.
Okay, let me be perfectly clear. I have never played a game on the computer. I installed Bugfarm, an interactive DVD-ROM game, and I won't be playing it either. However, I think it's fantastic. If you have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or young friends, and you've wanted to interest them in gardening, this might be a great place to start (think Christmas present). Developed by scientists and educators, Bugfarm is an high-performance game designed to be a true-to-life simulation of both real gardening and raising beneficial insects. The hero of the game -- and the garden -- is the spined soldier bug, a beneficial insect that protects plants from their natural enemies. As a unique, non-threatening insect, the spined soldier bug serves as an ideal introduction to entomology and the notion that not all bugs are bad, plus it could spark interest in growing a real vegetable garden.
In the game, players are able to choose and maintain vegetable crops to plant in their virtual garden; raise their own army of beneficial spined soldier bugs in a virtual bug farm; deploy solider bugs to protect the garden; learn about the effects of both pest damage and pesticide use on plants; and earn blue ribbon for their prizewinning vegetables. There are three levels of difficulty, with a youngest suggested age of 7. Bugfarm is sold online exclusively at http://www.bugfarm.com.
Fiskars produces my favorite shovels and spading forks, bar none. They are reasonably priced and well made. They also make excellent pruning tools as well as a complete rainwater harvesting system.
For 2010, Fiskars has several new products worth checking out. If you have a small yard and wish that there was a quieter, less-maintenance way to mow the lawn, Fiskars is introducing Momentum, a reel mower that stands head and shoulders above other mowers of this type. Through its patent-pending design, the mower offers two times more cutting power than other reel mowers and is 30 percent easier to push. Plus, it has a special cutting system that does not need annual sharpening.
My own favorite new Fiskars product is the Sit & Store, an easy-to-pull cart for storing and transport of garden tools. It provides a rolling seat, internal storage, a dock for a 5-gallon bucket, a ride-along tool bin, a cushion for both sitting and kneeling. If you don't need a work seat, consider the Carry-All, a combination wheelbarrow and transport cart. Learn more about Fiskars tools at www.fiskars.com.
Not an antidessicant but a whole new concept in protecting plants from freezing, FreezePruf is a non-toxic spray that actually improves plants' natural freeze tolerance up to 9.4 degrees F, depending on the variety of plant. Developed by botanists, FreezePruf' protects plant foliage and flowers, both externally and internally, by enhancing its natural antifreeze-like properties and the ability to survive ice crystal damage. It is eco-safe, easy to use, lasts up to six weeks (for added protection, apply as new growth appears), and can be applied to fruit and vegetable plants as well as flowers, trees, and shrubs. For best results, FreezePruf is applied when the temperature is above 50 degrees F and a minimum of 8 to 12 hours before an anticipated freeze. For more information, go to http://www.liquidfence.com/FreezePruf.html.
Tree Owner's Manual
Okay, hopefully, everyone knows that trees are a good thing. As a quick refreshery, trees provide air filtration, water purification and conservation, climate control, lower heating and cooling bills, increase property values, and improve social interaction. Ever wonder how to take care of your trees? There's a Tree Owner's Manual that's available as a download at http://na.fs.fed.us/urban/treeownersmanual/. It is produced by the United States Depart of Agriculture Forest Service. Information in it includes buying, preparing to plant, planting, maintenance schedule, maintenance instructions, and troubleshooting.
U CAN Watering System
One of my life quests is finding the perfect watering can. I have one kind that is pretty close, but, unfortunately, it is no longer manufactured. The U CAN is an "all-in-one," lightweight, high-grade plastic, 2-gallon watering can that organizes common gardening tasks. This includes an integrated measuring cup and spoon, a waterproof compartment to store fertilizer, a reminder system for fertilizing, a place to hold gardening gloves, and a storage post for the removable sprinkler head. It also is engineered to evenly distribute weight while carrying, lifting, and pouring. Rubber grips make handling more comfortable. It is made in the United States and incorporates the use of recycled plastic. For more information, go to http://www.theucanbrand.com.
Okay, we're talking some serious fun here. Automatically photographing birds, wildlife, even time-lapse photos of your plants. The Audubon BirdCam is perfect for backyard and family use. Weatherproof, motion-activated, and easy to use, this digital camera captures photos and videos of your birds at 5.0 mega pixels. The BirdCam 2.0 is similar but is 8.0 mega pixels, has a timelapse feature, and a flash. The Timelapse PlantCam is 4.0 mega pixels, with the photos converted into a video so you can watch a long period of growth in a very short time. Visit http://www.wingscapes.com to purchase or find a local retailer.
Outdoor composting has come to a halt with temperatures below 60 degrees F. Of course, you can continue to put plant-based kitchen waste on your compost pile, but wouldn't it be nice to actually have it still becoming compost during the winter months? That's where worms come into play. By using worms to compost your food waste, the process is faster than traditional composting, and the end product is packed with more nutrients than traditional ways of composting. With worm bins you can compost year-round indoors or outdoors. There are a number of worm-composting bins out there, but my favorite is the Worm Factory. It is small, well-designed, easy to use, works well due to the unique design, and is made in the United States from recycled materials. Plus, it's available from the NGA Garden Shop at http://nga-gardenshop.stores.yahoo.net/worm-factory.html.
Care to share your gardening thoughts, insights, triumphs, or disappointments with your fellow gardening enthusiasts? Join the lively discussions on our FaceBook page and receive free daily tips!