Garden Tools on Parade (with handy links!)


You know that special satisfied feeling of using the best tool for the job?

Or maybe it’s satisfaction tempered with not aching so much after you’re done with that job because the tool worked with you rather than against you.

I’ve already mentioned at great length my love of the Swiss-made Glaser hand tiller. But it seems a reasonable thing to post on some of the other tools that make my garden life easier.

Second on the list besides my hand tiller is my strong-yet-lightweight digging fork from Lee Valley tools. The entire head is stainless steel (no rust!), and the kiln-dried ash d-handle is just the right length. For taller folks, there is a slightly longer-handled version.

While the digging fork is the classic potato-harvesting tool, they are also great for aerating your beds and digging out long-taprooted weeds like yellow dock and burdock.

The idea behind this tool is different than a pitchfork or manure fork, which have lighter-weight tines meant for transporting or pitching compost, manure, or hay. This one has heavy-duty tines that can be slid right through the heavy clay soil and levered up without bending (like so many cheaper-made digging forks will).

A couple of the other tools on the list come from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. There’s a good reason I get many of my tools from them–they specialize in well-made hand tools for the market gardener–people who can’t futz around with flimsy craftsmanship and poor design.

Eliot Coleman (market grower author of such helpful tomes as The New Organic Grower and Four-Season Harvest) designs and tests many of these tools himself, and it shows in their versatility and usefulness.

Where would I be without my broadfork? This was a pretty expensive tool purchase (those who’ve bought big tillers are laughing right now), but once a grower has the technique down–place fork tines in bed, step on cross piece (balance!), work down into soil, lever up, pull out, step backward a couple paces, repeat–this baby can really help fluff up a bed and allow plant roots to go deeper.

The broadfork, in my mind, ought to entirely replace tilling after the initial working up of the garden. It is a hardpan-breaker where tillers are hardpan-makers. It goes deep in the soil, yet doesn’t invert or greatly disturb the soil structure. And it’s kind of fun to use–getting into that quiet, rocking rhythm rather than feeling jarred and fume-poisoned after wrestling with a tiller.

Besides the hand-tiller, my favorite short-handled tool has to be my Japanese hand hoe. By far the cheapest tool on the list (it was about $11 when I bought it), it is very light, very flexible, and really maneuverable for getting weeds in and among transplants and direct-seeded beds. Its niche is between the stirrup hoe, or other long-handled hoe, and hand-pulling/thinning in those super-delicate spots.

The only caveat–if you have one, you need a hone for it. The thin, razor sharp blade does not stay that way–especially if you occasionally come upon little rocks right under the surface, but the nice thing about having a thinner blade on this kind of tool is that you can grind out the nicks pretty quickly.

The best long-handled hoe by far that I’ve used is the stirrup (sometimes called “hula”) hoe. Do you actually use the traditional “farmer hoe” to HOE? Jeez whiz–don’t you know they’re for mixing wheelbarrows full of cement? The end of a stirrup hoe looks, well, very much like a stirrup, and it generally has just a little forward-backward wiggle on it.

Instead of the chopping motion you need to remove weeds using a farmer hoe (hello, backache!), this one employs a back-and-forth action just slightly under the top surface of the soil. The opening inside the stirrup lets the weeds you’ve severed go right through and decompose/dry out on the soil surface. I got my stirrup hoe at the local hardware store.

The soil does have to be fairly dry to use the stirrup hoe, and the weeds cannot be incredibly thick or huge. Which brings me to my last favorite garden tool: when weeds get too big and too out-of-control and are threatening to go to seed, I bring in the lawnmower.

We all want to believe that we would never in a million years let any part of our garden get overgrown, but let’s face it: weeds don’t sleep. It’s not a bad idea to set up wider, permanent beds and keep the aisles right about the width of the mower in case you can’t get to the garden for a few days and mulch is in short supply.

The farm push mower, with the blade set at two inches, is a saving grace when the tiny summer weeds turn into monsters after a few days of rain.

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One response to this post.

  1. you should always keep your garden tools in low humidity area to prevent them from getting rusty ‘;*

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