Gettin’ down and dirty in the valley

Valley Oak Tool Co.’s e-newsletter is a useful go-to for the backyard gardener

Local organic gardener and toolmaker David Grau demonstrates how to sharpen a wheel-hoe blade with a mill bastard file in this still from a YouTube video.

Local organic gardener and toolmaker David Grau demonstrates how to sharpen a wheel-hoe blade with a mill bastard file in this still from a YouTube video.

Organic gardening in the valley
My job as Greenhouse columnist, as I see it, is basically to pass on to readers useful information related to environmental, economic and social sustainability (the three pillars of sustainability, as outlined by the United Nations in 2005). Along those lines, I’d like to let readers know about the contents of the latest Gardening Tips e-newsletter put out by Valley Oak Tool Co. (and, for the unaware, the existence of the useful newsletter in general).

Valley Oak Tool Co. is headed up by David Grau, a longtime local organic gardener, gardening teacher and maker of gardening tools, such as the popular wheel hoe. Grau’s decades of experience in the organic-gardening world come to bear upon the newsletter’s short, informative pieces.

In the Jan. 4 issue, a piece titled “Tools, Tools, Tools” goes into the importance of doing maintenance on one’s garden tools—such as cleaning, sharpening and oiling them as needed—at this time of year. A link is supplied to a video called “Weeding with a Wheel Hoe,” in which Grau (pictured) shows the viewer how to sharpen a wheel-hoe blade with a mill bastard file, as well as how to use the handy wheel hoe in one’s garden. Go to to watch the video.

“Selecting Seeds” notes what a lot of us backyard gardeners have been delighting in lately: the arrival of seed catalogs. “The seed catalogs have been arriving in our mail,” the article says. “The attractive photos and descriptions make some of us inclined to order many new seeds.” Ain’t that the truth?

My recently arrived, jam-packed new 212-page catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is, as always, pretty much coffee-table-worthy despite it not having a hard cover. It contains a wealth of historical, planting and intended-use information (some veggies, folks, are meant for livestock) about—as well as numerous great photographs of—the vegetables, herbs and flowers that result from the planting of the company’s vast array of open-pollinated, non-GMO seeds.

Go to to order your (free) 2014 catalog from that fabulous company.

Valley Oak promotes Redwood Seeds, another fine heirloom/open-pollinated/non-GMO seed company in nearby Manton, as well as Wild Garden Seed, in Philomath, Ore. “Buying seed from sources close to where you grow supports your local seed farmers and also helps increase local food security,” the article reminds us. Go to to learn more about and to order from Redwood Seeds, and to to do the same as far as that company is concerned.

Composting is a great way to keep biomass on your property, keep food waste out of the landfills, and help build soil life as microorganisms will be attracted to the bioactivity in the pile,” we are told in a short piece titled “Composting.”

The silver lining, as far as composting goes, to our current dry weather conditions in California is pointed out: “[W]e still have a good selection of dry leaves from our deciduous trees around. Dry leaves are a great foundation for making compost. A pile of leaves alone will eventually turn into a crumbly finished product. With the addition of grass clippings and spent produce, or with soiled chicken litter, and some water, the pile will more quickly turn into a crumbly finished compost.”

Go to to learn more about Valley Oak Tool Co. and to subscribe to its free Gardening Tips e-newsletter. Contact Valley Oak by phone at 342-6188.

A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all, it teaches entire trust. –Gertrude Jekyll, famed British horticulturalist