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SOMETHING FOR THOSE WHO LIKE TO GET DOWN AND DIRTY

Don't forget the gardener on this year's Christmas list.

Although the calender may indicate there won't be much digging in the dirt for the next several months, a new tool, some reading material for the winter or even a sack of manure is sure to bring a smile to any gardener at holiday time.

Let's look first at some of the latest published works.

This one caught my eye immediately, "The Homebrewers Garden." What could be more satisfying than growing your own garden and then drinking it. That's right, beer fresh from the garden. Besides, if it doesn't turn out to please the palate, it can always be used to kill a few slugs.

Experienced homebrewers Joe Fisher and Dennis Fisher venture into their garden in search of quality organic ingredients and guide fellow homebrewers to success in "The Homebrewers Garden." They detail tips and techniques for growing, tending, harvesting and using hops, six different grains and 42 varieties of herbs to create distinctive brews.

The authors assure readers that space need not limit creativity. Everything needed to make beer can be grown in small plots and container and trellis gardens.

"The Homebrewers Garden" is published by Storey Books and is available through local bookstores or by calling (800) 441-5700, Dept YP or visiting www.storey.com. The cost is $14.95 or $18.40 including postage.

Garden ornaments have become very popular. Anything from flamingos to bent-over large people to ceramic wildlife are available. Those black cutouts of people have caused me to take a second look a time or two as well.

Could the scarecrow be making a comeback? If Felder Rushing has anything to say about it, they will. He has authored "Scarecrows: Making Harvest Figures and Other Yard Folks," another Storey Books publication. Rushing takes readers on a tour of the best of the best in scarecrow design from across the country and provides step-by-step instructions for creating masterful yard art.

What better family activity could there be than assembling a scarecrow that the kids, neighbors and any other passer-by can enjoy? And who knows, it may save a shrub or two from a hungry deer.

I've always enjoyed a good scarecrow and am somewhat disappointed that they rarely make an appearance these days except during late October. "Scarecrows" can be had for $19.95 ($23.40 with postage) by calling (800) 441-5700 (Dept YP), visiting www.storey.com or through a local bookstore.

When the winter reading season is over, almost every gardener can use a few good tools. Although this column annually calls for the purchase of tools, gardeners continue to struggle with the floppy bladed shovel, the pruners that won't cut because the blades separate, a trowel folded on to itself or the rake with the broken handle.

Take a look at what is hanging in the garage and then head for a store that sells tools. My best advice is not to skimp on dollars. Cheap tools are that way for a reason and while in the holiday spending mood, get a few good ones. A good tool will last a lifetime.

On our Christmas tree farm, I still have my original Corona No. 830 hand shears. This summer I broke the spring, but after a $2 fixup it was on its way again. That pair of shears has pruned well over 100,000 trees and is as good as the day it was purchased. Felco is another good trade name in shears and the old standby No. 2 is hard to beat. Both of these will cost $35 to $45. It's money well-spent. Like I said, don't skimp when buying tools.

Sprayers are another tool that many gardeners lack. Even in this day of fewer pesticides and a more organic approach, an occasional spray of something may be required. When folks come to me with a problem that requires a spray, one of the questions I always ask is, "Do you have a sprayer?" Although some pesticides come in self-contained sprayer bottles, the choice of products is severely limited.

While you're at it, buy two. One sprayer for weeds only and the other for insects and diseases. It is risky if one sprayer is used for both; injury can result from leftover weed killers in a sprayer. Here again, do not skimp on cost. A good-quality sprayer, well-cleaned out after each and every use, will last a long time.

A trowel? The only trowel for this gardener is one of fully cast aluminum. I have several and always lose them before they break. In fact I've never broken one. They are virtually indestructible and are not that expensive. Don't spend 99 cents on a trowel that will last two "digs." Spend over $5 but less than $10.

And lastly for that gardener who is really into it, consider a local manure product, Bionsoil. This product is made locally with cows, trees, Canadian peat, other organics and is processed by Bionsoil Inc. in Amherst. As with all manure products it is rather low in nutrients (0.3-0.2-0.1), but is a good source of organic matter and some fertilizer at the same time. Follow package instructions for use, but consider additional sources of nutrients such as 5-10-10 to supplement it.

I tried it this summer when I potted up some perennial Phlox stolonifera Frankly, I did not like it by itself as a potting soil so I mixed it half and half with a peat moss-based soil mix and the plants greened up and performed terrifically. Although local outlets are not known by this gardener, a list of them can be obtained by calling Bion Technologies at 691-3385. It's a local call.

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