One of the Joys of Maturity
The Old Guy's Shopping Guide for Gifts for Gardeners - 2016
Folks often wonder what gift they should get for novice or advanced gardeners. To help non-gardeners with this task, I'm sharing some of the gardening toys I wouldn't be without.
Gardeners love books with lots of colorful photos of vegetables and flowers and solid gardening advice. My go-to gardening book for years has been Crockett's Victory Garden. It covers most vegetable gardening issues, is written in an easy to understand way, and is beautifully illustrated. A used paperback copy of the now out of print book typically runs just $4 or $5 shipped from either Amazon or Alibris.
If you have just a bit more to spend, round out the Crockett collection with Crockett's Indoor Garden and Crockett's Flower Garden. While the photo at left is of my copy of Crockett's Victory Garden, I also picked up a used, hard cover version of the book a few years ago for just $12, as my paperback was getting a bit worn after thirty years of use.
Another title that is getting a bit worn is Rob Johnston, Jr.'s Growing Garden Seeds. Johnston, founder of Johnny's Selected Seeds, was also instrumental in the growth of the Seed Savers Exchange. So it's no surprise that he wrote an excellent, simple guide for seed saving. At just $2.95 plus shipping, it's a great buy.
Rounding out my short list of essential gardening books is Nancy Bubel's The New Seed Starter's Handbook. This title pretty well covers everything involved in starting, hardening off, and setting out flowers and vegetables. It's chock full of useful tables, too, helping gardeners get transplants started on time. Of course, if you want to go cheap, you could just give folks the link to our how-to story, Growing Your Own Transplants.
Like Crockett's Victory Garden, I have two copies of the Seed Starter's Handbook. With both, I keep one copy in my office and another downstairs for easy reference!
Moving into the kitchen, I couldn't do without the Ball Blue Book Guide To Preserving. It is THE ESSENTIAL SOURCE about safe canning, freezing, and other methods of preserving. Besides the old, time honored paperback version, it's also now available in the Kindle Digital Edition.
Our main cookbook has always been The Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Cooking. Our copy is held together with duct tape. While also out of print, new copies are still available, although used copies seem to be the better deal.
Tools and Such
Our regular Shopping Guide for Gardeners has a pretty complete listing of the standard tools needed for gardening. Since this page is a gift guide, I'll try to stick with stuff you can wrap and put under a Christmas tree.
A gardener never seems to have too many trowels. The things break at the handle, get lent out and not returned, or simply grow legs, wonder off and hide somewhere. Good ones with strong handles and a grip that doesn't cause blisters are a treasure. I'm lucky to have three or four trowels now, with three of them being what I consider good ones.
Surprisingly, one of my good trowels came in a Fiskars 3 Piece Softouch Garden Tool Set. The wide trowel quickly broke (at the handle when working hard ground), but the soil scratcher and narrow trowel have held up well and the grips are easy on ones hands.
One of my current wide trowels is a no-name one I got at a favorite garden center. While you can order good trowels online, going to a garden center or hardware store and trying out the handles for comfort is a good idea. Of course, during the holiday season, many garden centers don't have much of a selection of hand tools, replacing such stuff with Christmas decorations. My other, good wide trowel is surprisingly another Fiskars.
Two more hand tools that I think any gardener would appreciate are the CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator and the Esschert Design Dibber/Bulb Planter. Both tools look a tad dangerous and probably should best be kept out of sight of little ones.
I wrote about using the CobraHead in an August, 2013, posting about cleaning up some nasty grass weeds in our East Garden. Since then, I've used it a number of times in similar situations to remove well established grass weeds in the garden and in our flowerbeds. At $24.95, it's a bit of an expensive one trick pony, but it really works when removing nasty weeds.
We got our Dibbler from Burpee, although Amazon carries them too, but at a slightly higher price. Our dibbler required a bit of repair and improvement before it became a really good tool. It, or similar tools, really speed the process of planting garlic cloves (or flower bulbs). Note that I refer to the tool as a "dibbler" with an "L," as its name really comes from a dibble or dibble stick, something you use to make a hole or furrow in the ground. Dibber?
For Those of Us Getting Up in Years
Bad hips, bad knees, arthritis in the fingers and back, it all comes with the territory of getting older. Fortunately, there are some adaptive devices that can make things a bit easier on not-so-gracefully aging bodies. A Large PVC Kneeling Pad or something similar saves a lot of wear and tear on ones knees when working in the garden. Similarly, any kind of portable kneeling bench may also be helpful. I couldn't do without my kneeling pad, but my kneeling bench has never made it out of our basement plant room, as I find it to be so useful there.
While it would be difficult to wrap one up to put it under the tree, a good garden cart, especially one that is easy to clean and holds water, is a great garden helper. I haul all sorts of stuff with ours and also use it when soaking and washing carrots. When transplanting, I load it up with plants, buckets of fertilizer water, and my garden tools to save trips to and from the house and garage. Our cart is an Ames brand, possibly because that's what the hardware store had when we bought it, and it was cheap.
Since I do an annual nag on the subject, I can't omit suggesting sun protective clothing for garden gifts. Lightweight shirts and sun hats with serious UPF ratings (50 or so) can help gardeners with skin cancers keep on gardening.
Food Preservation Stuff
Food preservation tools are a bit more expensive than most of the items I've listed above, usually in the $50-100 price range.
We didn't buy our food dehydrator. It was first a loan and later a gift from one of our daughters who didn't use it. Even though we didn't pick it out, our Nesco American Harvest Four Tray Dehydrator has turned out to be just what we needed to dry all sorts of herbs and spices. Its product description says it can be expanded to twelve trays, although the add-on trays are pretty expensive.
With our reduced size garden this year, we didn't grow any herbs, spices, or peppers for drying. Our dehydrator's only use this summer was drying garlic to be ground for garlic powder.
A pressure canner makes a great gift for gardeners. Ours is a 17-quart Presto, big enough to both pressure and water bath can quart jars. (Note, Presto's 16-quart pressure canner isn't tall enough to water bath quart jars!) Besides its dual use, I've been thankful that parts for Presto canners are readily available in stores and online. Over twenty years, I've had to replace the main seal and the handles for the lid.
While a pressure canner is a great tool, a water bath canner is usually lighter and easier to handle for canning high acid foods such as tomatoes and pickles. Another option is a steam bath canner. Although not FDA approved, we used a steam canner years ago for our tomatoes and pickles until its top rusted out. (The base of the steam canner still shows up on our blog, being used to bottom water our hanging basket plants on our back porch.)
Canners are an area where you can spend as much as you want. I found an All-American 41-1/2-Quart Pressure Cooker/Canner on Amazon for $399.99!
Some Fun and Silly Stuff
Not pictured, but certainly conversation starters are the Bo Muller-Moore created Eat More Kale shirts. Bo fought and won a trademark battle with Chick fil-A to trademark and continue making and selling his shirts. The fast food giant seemed to think that "Eat More Kale" infringed upon its trademarked "Eat Mor Chikin" slogan. Muller-Moore's site now also offers a "Kale Isn't Chikin" design!
My wife, Annie, gave me a bunch of Eat More Kale shirts last year for Christmas. Whenever I wear them out, especially when shopping, the shirts usually draw a comment or question.
A Soil pH Tester, a bottle of Clonex Rooting Compound Gel, work gloves, or some garden anchor pins should easily fit into most Christmas stockings. The quality Klein Kitchen Shears (which work great in the garden and break down for washing) might require something to keep their tips from poking a hole in the stocking. The AcuRite Big-Read Rain Gauge and the Droll Yankees Bird Feeder will need a rather tall stocking, but should still light up your gardener's eyes.
A membership to the Seed Savers Exchange is a great gift idea. Membership provides a small discount on seed ordered from the Seed Savers Store, but more importantly provides the Seed Savers Annual Yearbook, published in January or February each year. The Yearbook is filled with thousands of open pollinated seed offerings from gardeners who save seed. If you're hunting an obscure, older seed variety, the Yearbook is the first place to look for it.
I won't tell my story again here about a good hoe, I'll just give you a link. But let me offer the advice that a good scuffle or standard hoe with a bow on it makes a dandy Christmas present. One can usually find them at a good hardware store.
If I've not peaked your interest as yet, you might check out the following pages:
This is our third year of publishing a holiday shopping guide of possible gifts for gardeners. Most of the items on this page are ones we currently have or have had in the past and have used with some regularity (other than that $400 pressure canner ). We also have a more complete Shopping Guide for Gardeners page that covers tools, chemicals, and seed starting items.
Please note that your experience with the products listed above may vary from ours.
From Steve Wood, the at Senior Gardening
last updated 11/18/2016