It takes some tools to grow a good garden. Visit any garden store and you can find a tool for every conceivable purpose. There are gadgets and gizmos to remove weeds, clip particular plants, water, check for soil moisture, turn the soil, rototill the soil, plow, make furrows and on and on. If you are just starting to garden you might wonder how you can afford to take up such a hobby. Keep in mind that man found ways to grow crops long before the age of the gadget and particularly before the advent of the small engine. You probably don’t want to go back to the age of a sharp stick or stones attached to posts to do your garden chores, but you only need a few highquality basic tools.
It isn’t necessary to lay out a bundle of money for garden tools, but it is worth paying for good sturdy equipment. It is frustrating to have the tools you count on break, crack or fail to fulfill their purpose. Most of the basics require a little sweat equity and energy, but if you think of it as your exercise program, you won’t mind as much.
When looking for quality, check on more than the brand name — although that can be a good place to start. Check the strength of the metal parts and also look for good, sturdy handles. Hardwood handles will last for many years if you take good care of them. Fiberglass handles are also very tough and may handle tougher jobs than their hardwood counterparts.
Basic garden tools
Spade or spading fork: A spade (or shovel) is needed for digging the ground, turning under organic matter and planting and harvesting. It also serves as a method to break up large clumps of soil. If you have not tried a digging fork, I recommend one. You could be in for a real effort saver. These forks look like a short-handled pitchfork but have heavy tines that will stab into compact garden soil and loosen it without as much effort on the part of the gardener as a shovel.
Rake: A rake is a necessity for smoothing out the soil after spading and preparing the seed bed. Sometimes in wide-row planting a rake is useful to thin out masses of seedling plants. It is also useful to pull together trash and weeds for disposal.
Hoe: A hoe is an obvious garden requirement. Hoes are used to remove weeds and to cover seeds after planting. Use the corner to create v-shaped rows for planting and/or furrows to carry water. You can find dozens of kinds of hoes on the market. They come in an array of designs that show the imagination of the creator. Each lays claim to somehow better removing weeds, and some do it better than others. Some are designed to glide through the soil surface to cut off weeds while they are small. Others come to a point to chop into hard surfaces. You may find that you like some form of gliding or other specialized hoe to remove young weeds just below the soil line, but they do not replace a chopping hoe that can be used for digging under larger weeds. Make sure that whatever one you choose has a solid, heavyduty metal blade that can withstand a hard job.
Yardstick or tape measure, twine and stakes: It is nice to be the person who can sight the end of a row and head for it in a perfectly straight line. It would also be nice to have a great sense of space so that you can space the rows using the guestimate approach. In the days when most gardens were furrow irrigated, these approaches worked very well, but it takes a pretty solid sense to keep everything straight and well spaced if you are planning to use a sprinkler. For most of us a measuring tool makes for a nice, tidy garden with evenly and appropriately spaced rows. Put a stake at each end of the row and pull a length of twine tight between them to mark the straight line from one end to the other. Then use it as a marker as you plant your rows along the twine. The measuring tool helps space the rows apart evenly and the twine is tied between the stakes to help create straight rows. If you use drip hoses for water, lay them out where you want them so they can mark the places where the seeds should go.
Trowel: Although you should have a shovel, the miniature hand shovel or trowel is one of the handiest gadgets you can have for your garden. It is very useful for transplanting and for loosening the soil around plants. It is also useful in flower beds and other areas where you do mass plantings because you can reach in between the plants and dig out just the offenders.
Caring for your tools
Cleaning and storing: Clean garden tools after each use. It doesn’t have to be a major project and probably won’t be if you do it immediately. While loose, dry soil falls off of tools, most of the soil we work with is neither loose nor dry. A putty knife or other flat blade is handy for scraping off dirt if a quick rinse doesn’t do the trick. Keep tools rust free. If they do begin to rust, soak them in kerosene for a few hours and then use a wire brush, steel wool or fine sandpaper to remove the rust. Find a place to store them where they can hang up out of the way of the elements.
Take care of handles: At least yearly — preferably in the fall — rub your wooden tool handles down with linseed or similar oil. It seals out the water that causes them to form slivers and become weak. Clean off fiberglass handles.
Keep cutting tools sharp: Many of your garden tools have a cutting purpose whether it is cutting off weeds and other undesirable plants or whether it is used for cutting or chopping into the soil. Keeping the metal parts of hoes, shovels and trowels clean goes a long way toward keeping them from becoming dull. You may need to use a file periodically to hone the edges of these tools.