What I Have Learned about Yard Work

In the course of working some 75 hours cleaning up the grounds at the Old Library, I won’t say I have perfected my yard work technique, but I have learned a few things about both uniform and tools.

The Old Library is just 0.2 mile away, so the first time I headed up there, I was on foot, armed with only a rake and pruning shears. It soon became apparent that some of the vines I was pulling down had grown too fat to be cut with secateurs, so on my next trip I also brought lopping shears. To rake the debris out of the yard and into a pile by the street, I had to rake it across a sidewalk, so I also added a broom and dustpan to tidy up the sidewalk. At this point it was clear I couldn’t carry everything by hand, so I started driving to the library with all the tools in the back of my car.

That first day (December 22), I wore my usual walking outfit for a temperate day in winter: T-shirt with “French terry” knit pants and hoodie. This proved to be wildly unsatisfactory. Thorns constantly caught in the knit, and at some point the jacket became too warm, and I took it off, leaving my arms exposed to the thorns (at 76, I have old-lady skin that tears easily). Clearly, this wasn’t going to work. The next week I wore jeans and a woven shirt with longer (¾) sleeves. The shirt provided more protection to my arms (I still got some scratches), but the jeans were a disaster. I hadn’t wanted to wear my “good” jeans, so I wore an old pair. The elastic in the waist was so stretched out that I was constantly having to hitch them up! Another nonstarter.

My yard work was interrupted by roofing work at the library, but when I returned two weeks later, I had a new uniform that has served very well. I concluded that what I needed was overalls, which I ordered from Amazon. I paired those with a long-sleeved tightly woven collared shirt (one of several with a Microsoft MVP logo, which I have no other occasion to wear). This outfit has worked very well.

An essential part of the uniform is also the goatskin gardening gloves I requested for Christmas. These have proved to be adequate to every task.

As I began to work farther from the street, it wasn’t practical to rake debris directly into piles, so I needed some way to haul it. Obviously, a wheelbarrow would have been helpful but (a) it was not practical to put one in the car, and (b) most of the library property is well above street level (with a steep embankment across most of the front), making it more practical to carry than to roll. So I started bringing an old garbage can that we had long used for this purpose.

As you can see, it’s in pretty bad shape. With just one working handle, it was unwieldy to haul, and when it was filled with packed leaves and pine straw (especially if they were damp), it was very heavy. So I looked for a substitute at Walmart. All the trash cans I found were either too big or too small, but what I did find has turned out to be the perfect answer:

Having two handles would have made a big difference by itself, but another benefit is that, when I am bent over to pick up debris, I don’t have to stand all the way up to dump it in the tub, which is less than knee-high, and I can even kneel beside the tub for further efficiency. Because it has a smaller capacity, it doesn’t get impossibly heavy. Yes, I have to make more trips, but they don’t wear me out as much, and actually the capacity is not that much different—17 gallons vs. 20.

Over time I have added to my arsenal of tools. In addition to the rake, pruning shears, lopping shears, broom, dustpan, and tub, I now carry hedge clippers, grass shears, a trowel, and a weeder. It had become quite a chore to load all this stuff in the car and then unload it again twice a week, so a few weeks ago I decided that, since I hardly ever go anywhere else anyway, there was no good reason not to just leave everything in the back. That saves a lot of time at the outset, and it really makes a difference when I come home, worn out, and don’t have to make several trips to hang up tools!

My corn broom was getting pretty worn out, so on the same trip when I looked for a replacement trash can, I also intended to buy a new broom. A new corn broom would have cost about $5, but I was seduced by a Libman Indoor/Outdoor broom that came with its own dustpan. I have to say it is worth every penny of its exorbitant price, as it sweeps really well. I already had a good dustpan, bought with the intention of replacing a vintage Sears Maid of Honor dustpan (which I assume I’ve had as long as I’ve been married, which will be 54 years this June)—which it does not, but it’s probably better, really, since it weighs about a third as much.

What I have learned about the dustpan, however, may be the most useful lesson of all. Once I have raked up a pile of leaves, there remains the job of getting them into the tub. I can scoop them with my hands, of course. Actually, this is the most effective method when debris is tangled up with vines, as is frequently the case at the Old Library (sometimes it consists almost exclusively of vines). Alternatively, my Fiskars leaf rake has a detachable head that can be used as a scoop, but the one time I tried detaching it—just to see how it would work—I thought I was never going to get it back on properly! In any case, I tend to alternate raking and scooping, so that would be impractical. What I have found, though, is that a dustpan is just as handy for scooping up debris off the ground as it is for sweeping it up off the sidewalk. So that is my household hint for the day: use a dustpan as a leaf scoop!

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