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THE CALIFORNIA GARDEN

Idle ground, busy hands

April 13, 2006|Tony Kienitz | Special to The Times

SO it's spring, prime time for gardening. But what's this? California is still vexed by this stuff called "weather," with the possibility of more rain forecast for later in the week. What's a respectable gardener to do? Though you may not be able to work in your garden, you can do many things to prepare for your return to earthly matters. Some practical rainy-day projects:

Gather old T-shirts. Boxer shorts too. Pull the ragged ones out of the dresser, tear them up and keep them on hand to put in the bottom of patio pots. Cotton wicks water to the bottom, draws roots down and promotes healthy plants.

Make a seed sprouter. Wash out an old, glass mayo jar and sterilize it with hydrogen peroxide. Poke holes in the screw-on lid. Then put leftover seeds from last year inside, soak them in water for several hours and strain the water through the perforated lid. In a few days, some seeds will germinate, others will not. Plant the healthier sprouts when the weather is better. It's a great way to use up those pesky half-packets of seeds.

Visit a coffee shop. Order your joe and ask for the used grounds. Coffee grounds are superb garden amendments. Ask if you can have a few of those thick cup wrappers too. They're great to use around baby plants as slug and snail barriers.

Embark on a slug safari. On drizzly days, slugs and snails venture out earlier in the day than normal. It's easy to handpick and remove these guys from the garden. Feed them to your ducks.

Pick up worms. When the rain breaks, take a glass jar and begin your earthworm farm. You'll find worms around the walkways, confused and grateful for a warm place to land. Put your kitchen scraps into a 5-gallon can, dump in the worms, set the farm on a pot dish, cover with a board, put it in the garage and let the magic begin. Use the critters' castings to enrich your soil.

Sharpen your shovel. For safety reasons, most shovels are shipped to stores with their blades still dull, but every seasoned gardener knows that a sharpened shovel makes for quicker work. Sharpen the blade just like you would pruning shears: the outer side beveled, the inner flat. You can use a manly-man file or take the knife-sharpener out of the kitchen drawer.

Make a sand can. Nothing prolongs the life of your tools quite like having a 30-gallon trash can half-filled with sand infused with a quart or two of clean linseed oil. Thrusting tools into the oily sand will protect your hands and feet from sharp edges and prongs. Pull out the tools, and they emerge clean, shiny and less likely to spread disease.

Bend spoons. Old forks too. They make quirky plant tags. Perhaps some of you have the super-psychic mind powers of Uri Geller, but the rest of us will find a hammer and pliers more useful. Write plant names on the face of the spoons, or write them on cardboard and stick them between the tines of forks. Next time you think, "Gosh, this plant looks so great, I want another just like it," you'll know what to shop for.

Savor a cliche. On one of those rainy days, curl up by the fire with a good gardening book and a steaming cup of marble mocha macchiato.

Tony Kienitz is the author of "The Year I Ate My Yard."

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