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Favorite Garden Tools for the City Garden

Right Tool, Right Task:  My Gardening Favorites

hand tools

Hand Tools

By Cyndy Crist

I suspect every gardener has his or her favorite tools to use in the garden, and what works best likely evolves over time.  My guess is that most of us start with one very specific kind of gardening – perhaps a flower bed in front of their house, or a small vegetable patch in the back – and the tools we use and value evolve as our interests grow and change. That said, I think there are a few tools that are likely essential for any gardener, at least anyone with a small, urban garden.  Here are my personal favorites, divided into two general categories – hand tools and long-handled tools.

Hand Tools.
I prefer to do most garden tasks with small hand tools.  I think the reasons are the same as those behind my infrequent use of gardening gloves – because I like to get “up close and personal” with my garden.  I like to gauge the soil’s texture, feel the roots as I gently pull them apart when transplanting, and know how firmly I’ve pressed the soil when heeling in newly planted specimens.  It does tend to wreak havoc on my fingernails, but it’s so satisfying.

My most used tool is a trowel.  I probably have six of them, since I’m always looking for one that’s a little larger, narrower, or somehow different from (and, I assume, better than) those I already have.  I’ve been disappointed in some that bent at the shaft when I worked hard soil.  Others have simply not fit my hand well or felt clunky.  My favorite is a Radius Garden 100 Ergonomic Aluminum Hand Trowel with a bright green handle and an angle that makes it ergonomically appropriate.  It’s really comfortable to use and strong enough to get the job done.

The other absolutely essential tool in my arsenal is a good pair of pruners, or secateurs. Here, I don’t think you can beat Felcos, the Cadillac of pruners on the market.  There are several options from which to choose, designed for specific tasks and hand sizes. I’ve had my #2, “The Original,”  Felco F-2 Classic Manual Hand Pruner for many years.  They’re definitely due for a sharpening, and if the blades ever get bent, they can be replaced.  Felcos are pricier than other pruners, but properly cared for, they will last forever.

My third choice is a Japanese pruning saw. I use this tool less often than some others because I grow mostly herbaceous perennials, but it’s indispensable for heavier cutting. I like the way it folds up for safe and compact storage, and it offers balance, strength, and sharp, jagged teeth that make short work of pruning woody plants.  My saw was made by The Rumford Gardener, but I was unable to find it via an internet search.  There are however, other sources of very similar saws.

Long-handled Tools

Long-Handled Tools

Long-Handled Tools
Much as I love to get “down and dirty” in my garden, sometimes my joints tell me that I would be well served to stay upright while I work in the garden.  For those occasions, I have a few more favorite tools.

The first is a weeding hoe with a small, V-shaped head made by Goserud, often called a warren hoe.  In the midst of so many British and Swiss-made tools, I’m proud to say that this one is made in Minnesota.  Its sharp edges and small shape make it ideal for getting into tight spaces to remove weeds or loosen soil.  Its light weight lets me use it for extended periods without getting fatigued from carrying it around.  Mine is Model #60, and it’s a beautifully hand-made tool.  If you cannot find the Goserud, Ames also makes a warren hoe that is of high quality; Warren Hoe 54″ Kodia

The second is a garden fork.  When I was first establishing my gardens (our lot was almost entirely covered with grass and well-compacted soil), a sturdy spade was essential to removing the sod and loosening the soil.  But now that I have turned all but about a 6X10 foot oval in the front yard into gardens and paths, I find a garden fork just as effective but more versatile. My current favorite is a Martha Stewart tool that I bought at Kmart.  It’s sturdy but not too heavy.

My third favorite is a small bamboo rake.  It looks like it could be a children’s tool, but it has an adult-length handle. It’s wonderful for removing mulch and leaves in the spring and for clearing out small spaces.  It works well for tasks for which a larger, more standard rake would be more likely to damage tender plants or get caught on nearby shrubs.  It’s diminutive, but a real work horse in my garden.

I want to mention one more tool with a much more limited role in my garden but which works beautifully when needed. It’s a Spear & Jackson e-series Edging Knife with a small, sharp, half-circle head on a sturdy T-handle.  It makes the task of trimming the lawn along the sidewalk a breeze and it also works well to tidy things up along other edges in the garden.  I love this little tool too much to leave it off my list.

Three Other Favorites.
Beyond tools, there are three other garden items that I find indispensable.  One is a pair of Crocs. I’m a real barefoot gal, and these are perfect to slip on as I head out to the garden.  They’re comfortable, sturdy, come in bright colors that make them easy to find when I leave them in the garden, and can be hosed off as needed.  I keep a couple of pairs in a basket near the back door so that they’re ready to go when I am.

A second item I use like crazy is a garden kneeler and seat made by Step 2 Corporation; Step 2 Garden Kneeler and Seat, 21.8″ L x 10.8″ W x 16.3″ H, Color Green (5A0100).  It has saved the knees of many pairs of jeans and provided impromptu seating when I need a little break anywhere in the garden.  One of the things I like about this particular kneeler is that it has an opening in the middle of the “seat” which makes it easy to carry around.  And since it’s plastic, it won’t rust or bend and, like the Crocs, it’s easy to hose off.

Finally, I need a good basket in which to put the detritus resulting from pruning, deadheading, and weeding.  I want something with a strong handle and that is sturdy enough to “stand up” when set down (that is, not collapse).  My favorite is a large, fireside-style wicker basket.  Its large, almost flat surface can accommodate just about any shape or size of plant material that results from my garden work.

Finding my favorites took some experimenting.  I purchased a few things that I thought I’d use but seldom did (who really needs a bulb planter when a long, narrow trowel works just as well but is more versatile).  Other purchases proved uncomfortable to use or just weren’t up to the tasks for which I bought them.  And I’m sure I’ve been dazzled by a few shiny new models that I really didn’t need but found visually appealing. These are the tools that lie buried in the bottom of my tool basket.  But it’s easy to tell which are my favorites.  They’re the ones that are dirty and scratched, well-worn and well-used.  And I can’t imagine working in my garden without them.

**None of the products featured in this post were gifted or given to me free of charge in exchange for links or press. No part of this post was paid for by any company.

Best Weeding (Hoeing) Tools for the Small Farm

Weeding is definitely the bane of the organic farmer, especially on farms that are considered small (less than 50 acres).

winged weeder; hula-ho; goserud weeder

1) winged weeder; 2) stirrup hoe; 3) diamond hoe

Larger organic farms are generally set up with wider rows that tractors can drive through with weeding implements, and small organic gardens are generally weeded by hand without too much trouble.

Our farm is 23 acres, but we “only” need to weed about 5 acres.  We have researched and tried all of the various weeding methods, from flaming to black plastic, with only a modicum of success.  I hate black plastic and have pulled it up from every bed it was used in.  Basically, we have come back around to hoeing the annuals, hand weeding the perennial beds, and tilling the paths.  After 14 years of this, the blueberries and perennials are fairly weed free and the tomatoes and annual beds are easy enough to hoe….if you get them early and stay on top of it.

Pictured above are my favorite hoes for weeding the annual beds.  The key is to use them early, when the weeds are very small and you can get around the tomato and pepper plants and any other annuals you may grow.  Then make sure you hit them 3-4 more times during the growing season as new and different weeds start to grow.  With the right tool at the right time, it’s not hard work and can actually be quite enjoyable.  Remember though, these implements are for use on young weeds, not in beds that have never been worked before.

My absolute go-to hoe for paths or larger areas is the stirrup hoe or scuffle hoe.  One that I have tried and liked is the Flexrake 1000L Hula-Ho Weeder Cultivator with 54-Inch Wood Handle.  The blade of a stirrup hoe easily cuts through young weeds at the soil line, or lifts them out of the ground together with their roots.  The great thing about the hula hoe is that the easy back and forth motion of this tool goes across the same patch of weeds twice with the same amount of work that a conventional hoe would on one pass.  One person compared it to the motion of vacuuming a rug, which is a good analogy.  You can clean out large areas of weeds in a short time and frequent use will stop weeds from returning.  The blade itself is not very sharp, but the design and technique of using the hoe doesn’t require a sharp hoe.  This hoe is not made for breaking up heavily compacted soil, and you will be disappointed if that is your task.  The handle is also tall enough that you don’t have to hunch over and put strain on your spine.

For the smallest areas, between closely spaced seedling plants for example, I love the Fisher Enterprises WW100 Winged Weeder 60″.  There is a caveat here however.  I have had my winged weeder for 10 years, and it has been very reliable for me.  Based on the comments on Amazon on this hoe, the quality has changed over time and the newer versions might not be as sturdy.  If you can still find one with the wood handle instead of the plastic, I would recommend that.  This weeder has a push-pull motion and the head is small enough that I don’t have to worry about accidently weeding my small seedling plants.  It comes in different sizes now, and I think I might try a junior size for hand weeding up close to the plants.

The diamond hoe, specifically the Corona Clipper SH61000 Diamond Hoe, is the sharpest hoe of the three and works the best for me when the soil is a bit compacted.  If the soil is too soft or has been tilled recently, I go with the hula hoe.  The secret to the diamond hoe is technique and using the blade design correctly.  If you keep the blade just barely beneath the surface as you push and pull back and forth, it will get the new weeds without bringing new weed seeds up to the surface.  If you use this hoe at the right time (on newly germinating seeds) it will only take one or two times and the weeds won’t come back.  I would highly recommend this hoe, but use it correctly for the best results.  I see that DeWitt also makes a diamond hoe, and although I have no experience with that particular hoe, DeWitt is generally a quality brand.  It is a little more expensive.

Well those are my favorites for my farm and my purposes.  It basically comes down to the right tool, at the right time, in the right conditions.  That is something that only comes with experience in your particular garden or farm.  I’ve tried a truckload of tools earlier on in my farming adventure, and these three are my favorites hands down.

Happy Weeding!

**None of the products featured in this post were gifted or given to me free of charge in exchange for links or press. No part of this post was paid for by any company.



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