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Quality, care means equipment lasts longer

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We had our Scag mower serviced a few weeks back, she had suffered from some sort of oil leak all summer and looked a little weary and unkempt so I felt a bit negligent when I dropped her off. Taking care of the lawn and garden equipment was something that was pounded into my world view of farm responsibilities when I was growing up.  Plus, I am well aware that if you don’t take care of your stuff it means it doesn’t work when you need it. The old mower (my neighbor refers to her as an “antique”) came back beautiful because after she was repaired she was also power washed…I felt even more guilty when I realized how dirty I had let her become. Daddy would not be pleased.
This not so gentle reminder to take care of our lawn and garden paraphernalia set me to task.  I collected birdbaths, decorative planters, terracotta pots, lawn furniture and hoses for barn, garage and basement storage.  All of these items can be damaged during the winter if not stored properly.  And I have managed to damage every one of these things over the years so I speak from experience. The water well is still functional because we equipped it with a drop-in heating mechanism.  And, let’s not forget, that our weather hasn’t really been that threatening to begin with.

Wood, iron and plastic
Ceramic and terracotta items should be cleaned and dried and then stored in the basement or the garage (where freezing temperatures will not do any harm as long as the pots are dry).  I’ve found, too, that winter squirrel activity around terracotta pots can prove dangerous.  The squirrels start digging in the dirt, they knock the pot over and it breaks into a dozen pieces.   The sheep have managed to do the same when I let them graze freely outside of their pasture.  The more expensive a pot is usually means that it was fired at a higher temperature and is less susceptible to winter damage, but if they can be cleaned and easily stored go ahead and do it.  I have seen heavily glazed pieces crack because a tiny bit of moisture expanded during a freeze.

Be sure to drain your rubber hoses before you store them in the garage, as well.  Moisture left in the hose can cause them to spring a leak if they are left out in freezing temperatures.  Pick a sunny, warm day to hang them over a fence or stretch them out in the yard.  Handling frozen hoses can cause trouble, too.  Yes, I have snapped some clear in half doing it.  Learn from my impatience.

Lawn furniture should be stored in a protected area, regardless of the material.  Wood, wrought iron and plastic are all affected by the wind, rain and freezing and thawing that takes place during the winter months.  Treat wood with a conditioner; sand away rust on wrought iron and repaint if necessary and clean plastic with a mild detergent.
Lawn mowers, blowers
and weed trimmers

Motorized, two-cycle equipment like lawn mowers, blowers and weed trimmers (those that you mix oil with the gasoline) can either be run dry at the end of the season or left fueled, but only if you have stabilizer in the gas mixture.  If you leave the non-stabilized oil/gas mixture in the tank it will “gunk up” the engine and it will not start for you next spring. I have been told that the gas evaporates leaving a watery mix behind after several months of sitting around. Replace spark plugs and sharpen the blades to save time next spring (my winter service this year was the fastest turn around in the history of me! And remember how clean she came back?  Probably because they had the time…) If you have equipment with four-cycle engines use up the fuel and change the oil before you put it away for the season, ideally.  
Always blow or wipe away grass clippings, oil and gas accumulations from your equipment (see why I feel so guilty).  Chemicals should be stored at moderate temperatures.  Keep them in a warm, safe place away from children during the winter months.  Thoroughly clean sprayers and spreaders with warm water and soap, most chemicals have corrosive effects on the moving parts that make these items useful.  Avoid this by putting them away clean and dry.
(Jeneen Wiche is an avid gardener from Shelbyville. She can be reached at Jwiche@shelbybb.net. or at  www.SwallowRailFarm.com)