Don’t till wet soil

Tilling a garden at the wrong time can be damaging for certain types of soil. That is why it’s good to know when to till. Tilling at the wrong time can be disastrous for a garden.

Gardeners make gardens in all types of soil: sand, loam, clay or, more often, a combination of two or more of these types. Short of hauling in new topsoil, there is nothing you can do to change soil type. Adding compost will vastly improve a soil’s ability to sustain plant growth but will not change the soil type.

Soil structure is different than soil type. Soil type refers to the size of the soil particles and the percentage of the different particles. Sandy soils have the largest particles while clay has the smallest, silt falls somewhere in between.

Soil structure refers to the arrangement of the sand, silt and clay particles in the soil. In soils with good structure , the soil particles are clumped together. That gives adequate space between the particles allowing water and air movement into the soil.  That provides the ideal environment for plant growth.

Tilling while the soil is too wet can destroy soil structure making it difficult for plant roots to grow.

Sandy soils are the most forgiving soil type. In a garden setting, sandy soils can be quite wet and still be tilled without doing much harm to the soil structure. On the other hand, loam or clay type soils are much more susceptible to soil structure damage caused by tilling wet soil.

There’s a simple test you can do right in the garden to help you decide when it’s time to till your individual garden. Scoop up a handful of soil and roll it into a ball. Lightly poke it with your finger. If it falls apart easily, it’s OK to till. If the ball holds together it is too wet to till. Let the garden dry out and try the test again another day.

Roll a handful of soil into a ball.
Roll a handful of soil into a ball.

This time of year, a good rain or strong thunderstorm can dump enough water onto a garden to set back your tilling plans a day or two so always check your soil moisture first.

Bob

Save time and money by servicing your two-cycle outdoor power tool

Winter is the time when outdoor gardening stops and gardeners move indoors to get their power equipment ready for spring.

I took care of most of my equipment this winter, but not all. As the weeks went by, some things got pushed to the back of the storage shed. It’s like they went into hibernation and are just now waking up to see the light of day.

Last week I dragged all my power tools outside to make sure they would start. All ran fine except one. It is powered by a two-cycle engine — sometimes called a two-stroke engine. You know, one of those that you have to mix oil into the gasoline. String trimmers, chainsaws, leaf blowers are some of the most common tools that use this type of engine.

A two-cycle outdoor tool that has lost its power or won’t start or is hard to start, probably has carbon build up on the exhaust port. And that’s exactly what happened to mine.

Two-cycle engines require unobstructed air flow to run properly. After many hours of use, carbon deposits inevitably  build up on the exhaust portion of the engine –especially if it is run at slow speeds — making it hard or impossible to start.

Fortunately, cleaning those carbon deposits are a doable project for someone with some mechanical experience. It’s a good project to try if you want to progress beyond blade sharpening or oil changing.

Here’s one way to do it.

For safety sake it’s always a good idea to get into the habit of disconnecting the spark plug wire whenever working on gasoline powered engines.

Remove the heat shield from the muffler.

Then un-bolt the muffler from the engine which will expose the exhaust port. You’ll be able to see the carbon caked onto the exhaust opening.

Move the piston so it covers the exhaust opening by gently pulling the starter rope.
A typical exhaust opening.

Slowly pull on the starter rope to bring the piston up to cover the port opening. That will keep loose particles from falling into the cylinder. Stray particles inside the cylinder will cause scoring of the piston and cylinder walls, then you’ll have a bigger problem to deal with than just carbon deposits.

Use a small piece of hardwood sharpened to a point– or a screwdriver if the carbon is really tough — to carefully scrape off the carbon. Don’t dig into the underlying metal and be extra careful not to scratch the piston!

Once you have the carbon loose, vacuum it up with your shop vac.

Clean all muffler parts too.
Clean all muffler parts too.

Check the muffler and other parts for carbon build up too before you reassemble everything.

Check the exhaust screen to make sure it is clean. Not all engines have an exhaust screen.
Check the exhaust screen to make sure it is clean. Not all engines have an exhaust screen.

The engine should start easily and will have more power. This is the first thing a repair shop will do when they get a two-stroke engine . So it makes sense to try this first before taking it into the repair shop. You’ll save money and be able to use your machine right away instead of waiting weeks for it to get repaired.

Bob