DIG DEEP: Great gifts for gardeners

The garden is mostly put to bed for winter and it's time to find some gifts for gardeners.

This year's Christmas gift list is about ideas and places to hunt for something unusual. To help guide purchasing choices, here are two tips. Buy gifts that are equal to, or greater than, the knowledge level of the person receiving the gift. The gift recipient will have to stretch intellectually to use the gift enabling learning and better enjoyment. And, consider old items for upcycling potential as gifts that add a personal touch.

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Some of the most interesting gifts can come from unusual places. EBay for example offers a wide range of items, some that can be repurposed or used as is. For example, an antique cast iron apple peeler might make a good gift. I also found on their site a cool-looking vintage wood handle scythe. And a pair of vintage steel hand clippers for shearing sheep. Any of those items could be put to use or displayed as upcycled art.

A few interesting ideas for gardening gifts were gleaned from my friends and family. For example, miniature gardening indoors is currently popular with some people. It's an idea that finds nostalgic inspiration in the old terrarium gardens of the 1970s. There are some interesting-looking jars, glassware and even terrarium bottles to be found out there.

Another interesting gift idea comes from a friend of mine that lives out in the valley. He asked his wife for a chicken coop for Christmas. A few years ago I wouldn't have considered a chicken coop as a gift for an urban city dweller. But the times are a changing and the urban farming revolution has changed attitudes and municipal bylaws. Chicken coops can be bought as pre-fabricated kits allowing the person receiving the gift to enjoy chicken husbandry and fresh, antibiotic-free eggs.

Some gifts should come with a social conscience, such as seeds for growing plants. There is serious concern among some farmers, scientists and consumers about the safety of GMOs and pesticides in farming. Genetically modified seed has become a large profit-maker for Big-Ag, at the expense of farmer's freedom of choice and the consumer's right to know what is contained in the nation's food supply. Not to mention the loss of seed and genetic biodiversity in the world. There is also the problem of GMO seed escaping into the surrounding environment or farming field, and the affected farmers being sued for trademark infringement because the seed germinated in their field. When it comes to pesticides, a large percentage of seeds sold in North America come pre-treated with fungicide to prevent seed decay. The fungicides used are considered poisonous in the environment based on the use of the "precautionary principle" approach to governance. The lesson is to choose your seed supplier carefully. Fortunately, one of the best seed suppliers in British Columbia can be found locally. West Coast Seeds sells certified organic, open-pollinated, heirloom seeds for organic vegetable growing. Their seeds are non-GMO and not treated with fungicides. Visit westcoastseeds.com for more information.

An unorthodox Christmas gift is a motion-activated camera to see wildlife visiting the garden. A friend of mine has one such camera and he showed me some of the pictures the camera has captured. It was quite interesting to see a coyote, a bear and a couple of raccoons at various times of day wandering in front of the camera to reveal themselves on film. His camera is mounted at the end of pathway in the garden attached to a tree trunk at chest height. Any animal that walks down or across the path trips the camera's motion sensor and a picture is taken, singularly or in multiples. Prices range from $140 to $250 and higher. There are many sources for those cameras such as hunting stores and leevalley.com, which sells a few different models.

A couple of real gardening tools include a Syphonex or Syphonject for applying liquid fertilizer to pots and baskets by use of garden hose and stock solution bucket. This tool is for knowledgeable horticulturists who are competent doing fertilizer math. Another good tool for gardeners with cold frames or outdoor greenhouses is a Min-Max Thermometer. It records the highest and lowest daytime and nighttime temperature providing useful climate information for crop growing.

Lastly, some unusual gift ideas: How about a handcrafted bat house, bee house or bug motel to help with conservation and pest control in the garden. Or, perhaps a woven bamboo cloche for plant protection. I really liked a glazed ceramic compost crock pot for kitchen greenwaste that I found on the net. And my favourite: a custom, heated, metal and glass roof with stone foundation greenhouse, where gardening never ends.

Todd Major is a journeyman horticulturist, garden designer and builder, teacher and organic advocate. Contact: stmajor@shaw.ca.

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