Growing heirloom plants
Resources for gardeners
of the pleasure of gardening depends on having the right
tool for the job, and some tools, like some plants, become
A garden tool is typically made up
of a handle and a business end. Knowing a little about those
two components can make selecting and using tools easier.
A long handle provides greater
leverage, which makes digging
easier. The strongest, most
shock-resistant wooden handles
are made of ash; next best, of
hickory. Wood has an inherent
flexibility, which isn't true of metal or rigid plastic.
The grain of the wood in a
tool handle should run
lengthwise in the handle, not
across it, or it will break.
Wet wood rots. With tools like
shovels and hoes, rotting is
most likely to occur where the
wooden handle and the business end, such
as a metal
blade, are attached.
It is at this juncture that tools are
most likely to break.
Unvarnished or worn wooden handles
should be rubbed down with
linseed or canola oil when you
get them out in the spring,
and again when you put them
away in the fall, to keep them
from becoming rough. If you
are gardening organically and
plan to use linseed oil, read
the label, as some linseed oil
is treated with a fungicide.
Handle color is important.
Dark-colored handles make
smaller tools easy to
loose. On long-handled tools, like shovels and rakes, dark
handles are hard to see, creating trip hazards. A
bit of bright paint on any
handle is a good thing.
Soft handle materials, for
example those on some
ergonomic hand tools, wear out
Try on a tool before you buy it to be
sure the diameter of the
handle is comfortable in your
Older hand tools were sometimes
made with straight handles
because this was easy to do, but straight handled
tools like trowels put a
strain on joints in the wrist
and fingers. Goose-necked
tools are easier to use
because they provide greater
leverage. The goose neck is
part of the metal blade of the
Blades, tines, tangs, and sockets
The working end of a tool (blade, tines, etc.) is
usually made of metal. Some
hand tools are made entirely
of a single piece of metal.
The best metal for tools is
polished stainless steel,
which is very hard and resists
rust. Cast aluminum-magnesium alloy tools
are more durable than straight
cast aluminum. Some metal
tools are painted or given an
epoxy powder coating; both
wear off with use.
Avoid metal hand tools with that attach to their handles with hollow,
U-shaped metal handles or tangs, as
these bend and break more easily.
Metal blades may be attached to
handles in several ways; the
most common are:
A socket is a
metal cone that extends from the business end of a tool.
The wooden handle of the tool fits tightly into
this cone, and is held in place by a
rivet or screw. A socket may
be formed with the working end
of the tool from a single piece of metal, which
gives the strongest tool; or
it may be welded to the metal.
Whether a tang or a socket is used, the place where the working end of a tool is joined to its handle is
point on a tool, and the area
most likely to break.
Maintenance and storage
– not just pruners and
loppers, but also shovels,
hoes, and trowels -- are much
more efficient to use. A sharp
hoe will cut weeds cleanly
at the surface of the ground,
disturbing less soil and
bringing fewer weed seeds to
the surface to sprout, so that you
need to weed less often. A sharp
shovel or trowel will also lighten
the stress on your body
because it does its job more quickly and
with less effort.
cutting tools like pruners and
loppers will do less damage to
plants because they cut
cleanly, and -- again -- are easier on
Cleaning and oiling
metal tools away dirty; dirt
is hygroscopic (it absorbs and holds moisture), and that spells
To prevent rust, oil
the metal parts of your tools on a regular
basis. An easy way to do this
fill a clean, five-gallon pail with
clean sand, then pour in a
quart of oil (used motor oil works well for this) and stir it around.
cleaned all loose dirt off a
metal tool blade, push the
blade into the oily sand and
run it up and down a few
times. Then use a rag to wipe off any
excess oil, and hang up the tool to
Hanging tools up is a good idea because:
It gets them off the floor and
out of the way
prevents rust by keeping the metal parts of tools away
from dirt or concrete floors, which tend
to be damp
It makes it easy to see the
working end of the tool each
time you put it away, so you can be sure each tool is clean and well maintained
Lumberyards, farm stores, hardware
stores, gardening stores, online –- all are good tool
sources. But most of my tools have
come from yard sales, farm auctions, and second-hand stores.
Of course, you can buy tools new, but when you can get an
oak-handled shovel in mint condition for $2,
shelling out ten times that for a new
tool is a bargain if it
doesn’t work well for you and
your body, so the “try before
you buy” mantra holds true
even at a farm auction or a
yard sale. Heft it, hold it, move it through the motions of
what you want it to do.
the years I've tried a good many tools, from gas-powered
mega rototillers to hand trowels. In general, small really
is beautiful; sustainable gardening means less digging and
more composting; and my essential arsenal of garden tools
has become quite modest. Below is one person's list of
garden tool essentials.
I use a basket to carry the tools I use
every day in my garden, and I try to remember to always take
it with me, even when I'm just going to grab a handful of chives. Otherwise, I set out to do one
thing and end up needing the
tools to do three others; having my basket at hand saves
me endless trips back to the
house. This basket holds:
- I use this to tie up plants, lay out furrows, etc.
Cotton yarn is more flexible than string,
and less likely to hurt plant stems. Cotton breaks
down in the garden, and can go
into the compost heap; synthetic yarns seem to last forever,
and may pose a threat to birds and other wildlife. I buy my
heavy cotton yarn at Goodwill or other second-hand stores,
where partial skeins are a bargain. I look for heavy stuff
-- packing string tends to disintegrate too quickly, breaking easily after
just a few weeks outside.
Buy garden gloves at the end of the season, when they are on sale, and get
several pairs. Try them on for
size, snug but not tight, or
they will let dirt in, and
also give you blisters.
They should be flexible but
not waterproof (those get too
hot and damp).
I like brightly colored gloves (harder to
lose) with stretchy, knit backs and rubberized fingertips
and palms for a good grip. Not too thick, so that you have a good
sense of feel in your fingertips. With heavy gloves, I tend
to take them off
"just for a minute," and never
put them back on again.
I keep an old pair of scissors in the
basket to use for cutting
string, pruning soft growth
from plants, etc.
Large, open handles make them easier to use
when I'm wearing gardening gloves.
planting trowels usually have
a short handle, slight gooseneck, and a wide, cupped
They are easiest to use
edges are fairly
Ash or hickory handles last the longest.
To find the best trowel for your hand and wrist, you’ll need
to try them out.
Recently a range of
ergonomically designed garden
trowels have come onto the
market, among them the Radius
(with a semi-circular,
cushioned handle) and the Fist
Grip (with a handle
perpendicular to the blade). I haven't
tried either of these, but would like to.
Narrow bladed transplanting trowels often have a
measurement scale on the blade to
plants and bulbs, etc., at the
steel is the best material for
alloys are also durable.
Avoid trowels with u-shaped
metal for the tang or handle, as these
bend too easily.
shears - Pruning
come in two basic designs:
pruners work like
move past one another
when they cut.
pruners bring a sharp
blade down against a flat
surface, cutting like a
knife and a cutting board.
I prefer a
bypass pruner, because if kept properly
the stem or branch as it cuts, leaving a cleaner wound that
will heal more quickly.
in different sizes and with
various kinds of handles. Look for:
grip that fits your
Blades that can be
A pruner that is assembled
with nut and
so that you can buy
replacement parts when it
stops working, rather than
the entire pruner
A locking device that keeps
the pruner closed when not
in use, so that you don't
cut yourself on it when
it’s in your basket
Capacity to cut branches/stems of up to
half an inch in diameter
A ratchet pruner, which makes pruning
A right- or left-handed pruner, depending
on which you need
oil pruning shears
after each session in the garden, and between plants if you
are pruning diseased growth. Antibacterial
it easy to clean pruners
between plants if
you are concerned about disease.
This little hand weeder is
for digging out plants with deep taproots.
It is also useful for
relocating tiny volunteer plants,
like aquilegia, in early
Shovels and spades
The terms shovel and spade are often used
interchangeably, but shovels
typically have broader blades
and are used to move material
around, while spades have narrower blades, and are used for
excavating in certain ways.
Garden spades have a D-shaped tip whose edge cuts more easily into the soil.
Both spades and shovels have flattened
shoulders at the top of their
blades. When you dig, your
foot rests on this shoulder,
so that you can use your leg
to push the blade with more pressure.
Sand shovels have flat tips, which
work better for moving heavier
loads, such as sand.
Shorter shovels and spades often have
a grip at the end of the
handle. It may be
semi-circular, D-shaped, or
edging spade has a half-moon blade that is used to create a neat edge along a walk or
bed. It slices soil or
turf away to leave a clean, straight line.
transplanting spade, also
known as a tile spade or a
has a long,
narrow blade. This works well
for removing larger plants from
crowded beds, and also for
digging narrow trenches.
The traditional, long-handled
hoe allows you to
as you work, which is easier on
your back. Keep the blade of the hoe sharp,
so that you can slice off weeds at soil level.
Don't use a hoe to dig or chop; it isn't
designed to do either, and using it this way will wear it,
and you, out.
The Warren or delta-blade hoe
a small, triangular blade with a sharp
sides and tip, and works really well for hoeing
between crowded plants
A hand hoe is a small tool, about 18" long, that is
used when you are working at ground level, whether you are
making a few furrows, or weeding between plants.
The garden rake is a sturdy rake with heavy tines in
a rigid, straight row. It is used to level garden soil or to
rake heavy debris. The width of the head is important;
too wide and it is awkward (and exhausting) to use;
too narrow and the job takes
leaf rake is
a more delicate tool, with flexible tines
arranged in a fan shape. Metal, spring-loaded heads tend to
last longer, and are better for wet leaves. A head
that is too wide gathers too much at a stroke, and is tiring to use.
Pitch forks are handy for moving loose hay or mulch, for picking up piles
of weeds, and for turning compost.
digging forks can be used much like a spade, for turning
compost, loosening soil in a garden bed, or scooping up weed
I love old-fashioned, galvanized tin watering
cans. It’s nice to have various sizes, from a
one gallon to three gallons; write their capacity
unobtrusively on their tops.
It’s also nice to have some
with “roses,” the pierced caps
through which the water flows,
and some without,
so that you can control the velocity and
amount of water you will
It is important that
can is sitting level,
the opening of the spout is
a couple of
inches higher than the
water in the can, so
that you can carry a full can
of water without having it run
out the spout
(and down your leg) as you walk.
When you're looking at
second-hand watering cans, it’s
important to check
for splits in
and bottom seams, as these are hard to
Wheelbarrows are essential for hauling
plants, weeds, soil, flower pots, the
occasional youngster, etc. etc.
It’s important to find the right size
wheelbarrow for your space and your strength. Often smaller
one wheel in the front and two tines or braces at the back.
Some have two wheels at the front, which gives more
stability but makes them less maneuverable.
garden on a slope, having
a wheelbarrow with two front wheels
for stability, so that it won’t
tip easily ,is a good
If you need
to turn on a dime, having
a single wheel in front is
a good thing.
Check to be sure the bed of
the wheelbarrow is designed
to concentrate most of the load
above the front wheel(s), rather than near the
handles. That way, the barrow
shoulders the load, rather