I’ve been thinking about the weird tools that I use every day—things that don’t look fancy, but I cannot imagine doing my job without. At school it could be the biggest binder clip, or the ancient staplers—we go through more staples, thousands of them, than I ever thought possible—but I think it is the tiny screwdriver I confiscated from a kid who was thinking about dismantling a desk in class. (Don’t laugh—a famous wild child with Mark’s last name’s parting shot was to unscrew at least ten desktops on his last day. And he liked me.) I use it all the time to unjam said staplers and pop lead out of the electric pencil sharpener, among other things. Once in a great while, it is pressed into service by a ninth grade boy who needs to repair his finger skateboard.
Here, at The Urban Homestead, there are several contenders. There’s baling twine taken from the hay bales that I use to tie up everything because it does not rot in half a season. And it’s often green, a nice touch. There’s the staple gun, which attaches said baling twine to the fences and garden beds, as well as plastic to the cold frames and many other such things. Love the staple gun—do not love how it always runs out of staples right when I am precariously balanced in a garden bed with a bramble sticking into my back. I’m pretty fond of those tiny nails called brads that hang pictures and kitchen equipment inside and can be used to build hazelnut branch trellises outside. Canning jars are ubiquitous. Holding all sorts of food besides jam and pickles, they are our version of Tupperware and they can pop in to the microwave without off-gassing.
But the most useful thing in our house—even more than the milkcrate, which is not so important now that I have bookshelves and do not move every year—is the five gallon bucket. I prefer the shorter, squatter version, because it is easier to carry when you have short arms, but any will do. We use it to haul and store apples and pears and potatoes at harvest time, move compost in all of its forms from extra trimmings during the Grand Peach Canning to finished and sifted mulch, carry greywater and pompost to the back forty… It sorts and totes tools of all sorts, keeps bailing twine in order, stores lime after the bag rips open, and, with a few holes in the bottom, functions are a planter or a watering funnel. Mark sits on one and weeds into another when he goes on a false dandelion rampage in the front yard. With a good lid, it can hold wheat and oatmeal for the winter or rabbit food in the shed. In the winter, an abandoned five gallon bucket becomes our rain gauge for the season. It has to be the one most useful object in our garden shed. And I wonder, how do people garden without them….are they forced to buy those fancy plastic tubs in decorator colors? What a waste.