I’M UP TO MY NECK in “stuff,” which means my filter for any purchases these days—whether for myself or for holiday gifting, even—is all about their utility factor. I’m the kind of person who gives my favorite mousetrap as a stocking stuffer, even. (Not always a crowd-pleaser at first but once they use it…converts!) My test: Does the item really do something for me, and do it really well? The things on my 2018 list meet that mandate. (The wreath up top, meant for indoor use, was made for me by my friend Pam of RetroRenovation from vintage ornaments, like this, should you be feeling crafty.)
useful gifts for giving (or for you)
Nitecore P12GT 1000 Lumens Compact Tactical Rechargeable LED Flashlight: We have no streetlights where I live, and power outages seem to be a regular thing, too. Maybe that’s why I’m always in search of the ultimate flashlight. This one weighs very little (just over 3 ounces without the battery in it), but packs an incredible punch of light. (Be sure to get a “bundle” that includes the charger if it’s your first Nitecore purchase.) Looking for a lower-priced torch? I like this one from Slyde, too; not as lightweight, or bright, but plenty bright for most situations.
ARS 18-inch Vineyard Lopper: As in the case with my choice of snips versus pruning shears (see them farther down the page), I got tired of over-efforting when pruning slightly larger branches with the wrong tool for the wrong job. My big old lopper, about 10 inches longer and a pound heavier, hardly get used any longer since I bought the ARS Vineyard Lopper at just 1.8 pounds (and just 18 inches long). Much more cutting control…and the same brand as my snips and my long-reach pruner and …
Cookbooks galore: Cookbook author and food blogger Alexandra Stafford and I just did our 2018 roundup of new favorites, in case you have some cooks on your list. (Our 2017 list, including our all-time go-to books, is here.)
Thermapen Mk4 instant-read kitchen thermometer, from ThermoWorks: As it sounds, an instant-read thermometer for cooks, whether grilling or roasting meats or even baking, or making caramel or custard. Get a highly accurate reading in a mere 2 or 3 seconds. “Cook’s Illustrated” says the Mk4 is great, and my various cookbook-writing and chef friends agree.
Sneeboer Flower Bed Trowel: Last fall, while planting garlic with help from a friend, I noticed that I was having an easier time of it as we worked our way toward the middle of a long, multi-row bed from either end. Compared to the usual garden-variety trowel he was using, the Sneeboer flower bed trowel—with a not-too-big, nicely scooped blade of stainless steel–just cuts into the soil better and gets the job done. The handle (mine is cherry; you can get ash as well) is nicely turned for a comfortable fit; browse all the Sneeboer trowels at Garden Tool Company to see which style is right for you. (Disclosure: My friends Blake and Anne Schreck of Garden Tool are blog sponsors.) Want a slightly narrower blade for tight spots? Try the Sneeboer Great Dixter model…and there are even narrower choices in the line, for digging dandelions and such. Perhaps you require a trowel that’s slightly wider, all-purpose? Try their Transplanting Trowel or the Half-Round version.
Noble Outfitter Stay Cool rubber boots: I have a thing for short black boots. I keep promising myself to reserve a pair that I don’t go out into the muddy garden with, for wearing when I need to look a bit more presentable, but then the urge hits and there I go, and every pair I have starts to look like the rest of my footwear (and trouser knees, and gloves, and … sigh.) There are various other trim colors, but I like the basic black. Noble Outfitter short boots (or also at this link).
ARS needle-nose nips, or fruit pruners: Did you ever use a regular pair of pliers when a needle-nose was really called for, or otherwise over-effort a task? I rarely use my pricey, famous-name pruning shears these days, instead doing most jobs with what are variously called grape scissors or needle-nosed fruit pruners, specifically ones by ARS. A traditional pair of bypass pruning shears might weight 8 or 9 ounces—like 224 or 252 grams—and the fruit pruners weigh like 4, or about 110 grams. Why place unneeded strain on your hand? In carbon steel, or stainless steel.
Brome birdfeeders: I do think Brome, as I have said repeatedly, has built a better birdfeeder with its Squirrel Buster line of various-size models. If an animal of greater than bird weight grabs on, the seed ports are automatically covered to prevent access. Plus: These feeders seem to keep seed in fresher, drier condition that conventional tube types, with a patented ventilation system as part of the design. With the small model (above right) I rarely even see a squirrel try to plunder it, instead scavenging below for fallen seed–though it does require filling more frequently. Important note: I still use metal baffles on the poles my feeders are hanging from to limit squirrel attempts, like the ones Audubon recommends in either wraparound style or “torpedo” (canister) style.
“Garden Insects of North America,” second edition: I have long relied on Colorado State’s Dr. Whitney Cranshaw’s 2004 version of this encyclopedic reference to the borers, mites, grubs, beetles, weevils, scale, slugs, sawflies, aphids, you name it that we may encounter in our outdoors rounds. The new edition, in collaboration with Dr. David Shetlar of Ohio State (listen to or read our 2018 interview), includes more and larger photos, organized the way we encounter the creatures: by where they occur, with chapters on insects that suck fluid from leaves, for instance, or others associated with roots or tubers. There is also an expanded chapter on beneficial insects like pollinators and spiders that help create balance. This is an incredible ID guide, not a “what to do when” prescriptive one, but without proper ID there can, and should, be no action plan even contemplated (beyond simply marveling at the cast of ingenious characters in the insect world). A must for every gardening household: “Garden Insects of North America.”
Lightweight, Drinking-Water Safe Water Right Hoses: If you are still lugging around traditional garden hoses (or if anyone on your gift list is), Water Right Inc.’s lightweight, drinking-water-safe models can fix that beautifully. I love the olive green (above), but there is eggplant and wine, too. Three diameters are offered, each in 25- to 100-foot lengths: the 400 Series (7/16-inch diameter), 500 (½-inch diameter, delivering about 25 percent more water than the 400) and 600 (5/8-inch, delivering another 25 percent. The biggest diameter weighs just 6.5 pounds for 50 foot of hose; the narrowest 3 pounds per 50 feet. Browse the Water Right hoses.
Thermophore Max Heat extra-large heating pad: This heating pad (which comes with a washable, durable flannel cover) will fix what ails you after a hectic day of garden chores (or just makes a good companion when crawling under the covers on a winter night). At 14 by 27 inches, about twice the size of a typical heating pad, it covers shoulder to thigh, or across both shoulders and then some, or it can wrap an achy arm or leg. An automatic timer switch turns it off after 20 minutes for safety. As un-sexy as it might seem, this might be every friend and family member’s favorite gift I’ve ever given them.
Kuhn Rikon kitchen peelers: OK, so maybe you don’t want to give mousetraps as stocking stuffers like I often do. Well, who doesn’t need one (or three!) of these in their stocking instead? I have used the Y-shaped Kuhn Rikon peelers for years, and my cookbook-author friend Ali Stafford can’t be without hers when in the kitchen. They’re indispensible, and inexpensive.