Story last updated at 3:59 p.m. Thursday, October 24, 2002

Mild autumn leaves time for gardening
By Rosemary Fitzpatrick
I'm still weeding. What are you doing? Now is as good a time as any to get that grass out of your perennial beds and vegetable plot. The ground is so wet that the grass pulls out from the roots very easily, you don't even need a tool. I do believe that grass is the most invasive weed that we have.

I have been considering using some sort of lawn-edging material when I remembered that all it really takes is a sharp spade. For some reason I let go of that very logical and actually easy method of making a nice neat edge to a border. Use your spade to cut the grass roots all along the edge of the border, it may be helpful to make a slight trench in the process to create definition.

Give this a try, and now is as good a time as any. Grass has a way of encroaching into a bed, and if you can discourage its natural habit you will be farther ahead come spring.

This brings me to a sharp spade. I am very pleased to announce that when I reached for mine it actually was sharp. What a novelty. I have practiced what I preached: kept my tools sharp all season long. If you haven't, may I suggest that you put them up for the season in tip-top shape so when the wonderful moment comes around that we can begin to garden in earnest your tools will be up to the task.

Take a wire brush and clean off all the soil and muck that has accumulated since the last time you used your tools. It is really amazing just how fast a wire brush will do the job. That done, take a file and run it over the edges at about a 45 degree angle, you'll see nice new metal gleam back at you.

Using fine sandpaper, give the wooden handles a go over. Now take linseed oil on a rag and wipe the whole thing (wood and metal) with it. Be generous. This will protect it from drying through our very long, dark winter.

Also, try to keep your tools out of the weather. Take the ones that you will not be using for snow removal and store them in your crawl space, garage, tool shed (lucky you), wherever they are not exposed to the elements.

The tricky thing to sharpen are your pruning shears. I bought a little kit that should work just perfectly, but it doesn't. Apparently I need to reread the directions. But there is nothing more satisfying than a sharp pruning shears.

Mine will need to be at the ready this winter because I intend on doing some serious pruning to deciduous trees. This is best done when the sap is not running, and what better time is that than in the deep dark winter? I shall be prepared.

Run the gas out of your weed-eater and lawnmower before you store them away. They will be grateful in a mechanized sort of way.

I have used my accumulated ground egg shells in my strawberry beds and perennial beds to thwart the slugs. I grind the broken-up shells in the blender. The little bits will slit the slugs bodies as they attempt to crawl over them to create mass destruction.

These mollusks have already laid a billion (at least) eggs, so I should have been on this much earlier. Shame on me. If you haven't been slug hunting lately take a look under anything with a broad leaf and you will find a cozy colony. Anything that forms a mat, like dianthus deltoides, will likely have a slew of slugs snuggled down.

Take your grass shears and cut them in half. Or quarters. Or eighths. Or sixteenths. It depends on just how much you hate slugs.

The goal is to encircle each new raised bed in the vegetable garden with copper flashing as a means of slug control. It has been written, even proven, that slugs will be turned back by the electrical current that copper sends through their bodies.

Bonnie Perata, a market gardener in Seward who came to the Homer Garden Club to speak a year or two ago, said that it takes at least 4 inches of copper to do the deed. Well, let me be the first to inform you, there is no copper flashing to be had in the state of Alaska. So there.

I have friends that just left for Michigan and will search some out for me. If that fails, I do have a daughter in Bellingham and she should be able to find something for me. I am terrified of what it will cost when I do find it.

I had the great good fortune of having Donna Bauer, gardener extraordinaire, stop by for a visit. I have been struggling with the shape of one of my beds, and I told her my intentions of doubling its width. She pointed out (as did Liz Johnson) that doubling would mean much more work, and the point here is to streamline what I do, not add to it.

She made a suggestion that is so simple a solution and, in hindsight, so obvious. If you have a dilemma in your garden, get someone else in there to take a look. Fresh eyes, fresh perspective, can make a difference.

Keep gardening. This is a long and mild fall. Take advantage of it.