The Hippo


Jul 23, 2019








Gifts for growing
What to get the gardener in your life


 I try to give good, practical presents that will last — though some won’t, because they are edible presents. Each year, for example, I dehydrate cherry tomatoes, apples, pears and hot peppers. A pint bag of dried cherry tomatoes represents a lot of work — and love. First I had to start the seeds and raise the seedlings. Then plant, stake and weed the plants. Harvest when ripe, cut in half, dry for 18 hours or more, and then bag them. A pint of these babies is about 240 dried cherry tomato halves. A delectable gift.

Dried apples and pears are easier. I have a kitchen tool that will peel, core and slice apples and pears. You skewer the apple, turn a crank, and it’s ready to use in a jiffy. A few dried apples will fill up a quart bag, and a good tree will last a lifetime. The slicer I have is called the Triple-Action Apple Machine and it’s available from King Arthur Flour ( for about $25.
Dehydrators are serious presents. I have two. The Cadillac of dryers is the Excalibur. Mine has nine trays, a timer and a thermostat. The hot air blows across the trays, so all dry in equal time. Mine, Model 3926T, sells for around $300 (
For a more economical price you can get a Nesco American Harvester dehydrator. They come with heat and blowing units either on the top or the bottom of a stack of trays. Those closest to the heat dry first, so you have to keep checking them and moving trays around. But they only cost $130 to $150 from the manufacturer ( I like the dehydrator with bottom heat best. But they take longer and use more electricity than the Excalibur (1,000 watts per hour of use versus 660 watts per hour for the Excalibur).
I spend a lot of time working outside when the grass is wet or paths are muddy. I like dry feet, and nothing compares with my Muck brand boots. I’ve had them for over 10 years, wear them nearly every day in spring and fall, and they are not even thinking of wearing out. Mine are 10-inch-high slip-ons, green, insulated. Warm. Looking online, I think it is called the scrub boot. They cost $60 to 70 a pair. (Of course I bought mine on sale for less.)
At this time of year I’m battling mice and squirrels that want to get in the house to find food and lodging. My old house has a stone foundation, so it lets them in here and there. Recently I got something called Mice Magic from Gardeners Supply ( which claims to repel them, avoiding the need for trapping them. Mice Magic comes in sachets like tea bags that are very fragrant with spearmint and peppermint. Each lasts, it says, for 30 days. I have them in my basement and in the attic storage areas that tend to accumulate rodents. So far, they seem to be doing a good job, and these would be good presents. A box of a dozen costs $29.95.
Speaking of mice, I recently got a watering can shaped like a mouse, complete with ears and whiskers! This is a metal watering can for indoor plants that makes me smile every time I use it. It pours nicely and holds a nice amount of water. It’s available from Gardener’s Supply for $19.99. 
Every Christmas when I write this column I mention tools, including the CobraHead weeder. This is, simply, the best weeder in America. It’s a single-tined weeder shaped like a bent finger — or a rising cobra. It can get under weeds and grasses, and tease them out. Available at garden centers everywhere and most seed companies, it is also available online at for $24.95.
Other tools I’d recommend? A collapsible rake. These can be adjusted to open widely, to 24 inches, or closed down to just 8 to 12 inches. There are several brands, and prices range from under $10 to about $25. All metal.
Books are great for gardeners, too. This fall I attended a lecture by Thomas Rainer and bought his book, Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes, co-authored by Claudia West. It’s an interesting read, presents many provocative ideas, particularly for urban and suburban gardeners. They explain, for example, that we often plant gardens with plants that would never be together in the wild — they have entirely different needs for sun, water, pH — and we could do better planting those that have similar requirements (Timber Press, $39.95).
Last winter I attended a talk by Celeste Longacre and bought her self-published book, Celeste’s Garden Delights: Discover the Many Ways a Garden Can Nurture You (available for $25 at It’s a nice book that gives tips for growing, storing and using vegetables. 
So Santa, I don’t really need anything, but if you want to drop off a load of reindeer droppings, they’d be great for compost.

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