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Use winter to clean, sort, fix tools and seeds needed for spring planting

The early onset of winter has driven diehard gardeners indoors. Our only connection to the ground at this point is shoveling snow. Just think of it as water for next year’s garden. Now it’s time to tackle some indoor projects.

First is cleaning up the tool shed. Most of us tend to just drop the tools back in there haphazardly. They are often still covered with dirt, dull from a season of gardening or just in need of some TLC. The power equipment was probably just parked after the last use.

Hand tools need a good once over with a wire brush to take dirt and rust off the blades before coating them lightly with oil to prevent further rust. Rust is rough and makes it harder to push a tool into the soil. Wooden handles need to be checked for rough spots – the kind that can create a sliver when you least expect it. A little sandpaper and a light coat of oil will eliminate most of the problems.

Tools with blades can benefit from a sharpening. Sharp shovels and edging tools make digging easier. Use a metal file to remove burs from edges and then dress the edge until it is sharp. Wear gloves when you do this as the edges can cut you. Pruning tools are best sharpened with a whetstone that can work into tight places. Follow the angle of the blade to restore the edge. They can also be handed off to a professional sharpener if the task is too daunting.

Power equipment should have the gas run out of the tank or some fuel stabilizer added to prevent starting problems in the spring. Since the engine will be warm after running a bit, change the oil and lubricate moving points. Clean off caked on grass and dirt and spray on a little oil to prevent rust. If this is too much effort, take the power equipment into the shop now when they have time to work on it in between snowstorm rushes.

One last job is to gather up any leftover seed packets and get them organized so you will know what to order from the new seed catalogs. If properly stored, most seeds will be viable for several years with a few exceptions. Store seeds in their original package in a cool, dry place. I store mine in the garage in a wooden box with a tight lid to keep mice out. Other options are a plastic or metal bucket with a lid. For space, a cool bedroom or basement will also work

To check the viability of seeds in the spring, roll 10 to 15 seeds from a packet in a damp paper towel. Place the roll in a plastic bag for a few days until the seeds start to sprout. If less than half the seeds germinate, throw them out and get new ones. If a little more than half sprout, plant more seeds than is called for on the package to get a good crop.