Seems folks we talk to have been using their garden tools most of the winter and not for snow shoveling. For those who haven’t, it’s time to clean, sharpen, and oil, as well as check the handles and their attachment to the working end of the tool, if you didn’t do it last fall. We’ll be digging dirt soon.
Top quality, comfortable-to-use tools make the work of gardening a joy (“work” and “joy”: no contradiction there). A good shovel or turning fork with an ageless ash handle and some family history behind it is both a functional tool and a source of tremendous pride. How do you describe the feeling you get watching your kid edge his garden patch with the spade your grandfather used?
With the right gardening supplies growing organically is easy! Planet Natural has everything you need to get started: soil, seeds and fertilizer. Plus classic garden tools for making short work of those big jobs.
It’s easy to go overboard buying tools and stuff your garage with various scoops, weeders, trimmers, and shears. Which tools are absolutely necessary? Let’s keep it simple.
Turning or Spading Fork: Garden forks (another name) have tines like a pitch fork. Unlike a pitchfork, the tines aren’t narrow and sharp, nor do they curve. The flat, wide tines make them good for digging.
We’ve always considered this our favorite spring-time implement, good for breaking up and turning over garden soil, good for turning compost. We’ve even broken sod with it to expand our modest patch. Later in the summer it’s used to quickly turn over existing plots for 2nd plantings
Like all handled tools, make sure the attachment to the fork is tight and literally built forever. Ash is still the preferable handle choice — it’s light and durable — but fiberglass, though heavier, is also popular. Make sure that the handle is long enough for you (spading fork handles tend to be short, this facilitates digging straight-ahead, as into a compost pile) and that the “D” grip is comfortable.
Smaller, hand-sized fork editions can be very handy for those with raised beds.
Shovels: Even if a turning fork will work in a pinch, when it’s really time to turn sod, you want a round-end shovel with a sharp point that slices through turf. Shovels are good for edging gardens and borders and can be used to turn soil if you don’t have a spading fork. They’re absolutely necessary for planting trees and bushes, even bulbs in certain settings.
Flat-headed shovels are best for scooping things like gravel or wood mulch or quantities of lime or other soil amendments. (Never use your round-edge shovel to scoop up gravel, especially from concrete. It will badly dull the blade.) They’re also mighty helpful planting trees, after the hole’s dug, helping you cradle the root ball as you lower it into place.
Shovel handles — no “D” grip here — need to be especially durable. Beware cheap shovels with handles made of fir or some other soft wood. They’re more prone to break when you’re leveraging some large clod or stone you find sitting beneath your yard right where you want to plant. Keep all wood handles seasoned with mineral oil or the like, especially ahead of drying winters. Don’t use a shovel that’s handle has been freshly oiled unless you’re sure it’s giving you a solid grip.
Round-headed shovels work best when sharp. Do it yourself with a 10-inch flat mill file after a light application of oil.
Hoe: Most home gardeners will want a lighter, easier to maneuver narrow-blade hoe for their weeding, aeration, or planting purposes. Our broad-blade hoe comes out each spring to break up any clods that have survived our generous applications of compost. Again, the comfort and the durability of the handle is important.
Notice the curve of your hoe’s head where it attaches to the handle. This curve can be gently customized to make the tool more comfortable to use. Moving the blade up or down slightly (for safety, use a vise) will give you the perfect blade angle no matter how long or short your grip on the handle. Little things like this make a big difference when you have a lot of weeding to do.
Stirrup of scuffle hoes, one marketed under the name Hula Hoe, are the preferred weeding tools of some gardeners. They’re light and do a good job at shallow weeding and soil aeration.
Rakes: We used our broad-head, thick-tine rake, the traditional garden rake (not the kind usually used for leaves) for raking soil smooth and level ahead of planting and not much else. Flipping the head over, tines up, makes for easy surfacing.
Hand trowels and cultivators: There are a zillion kinds of hand cultivators available, some in classic style, some with innovative, multi-use designs. We suggest that you consider your needs — will you be doing mostly transplanting and hand weeding of a sort that’s generally done on one’s knees?– as well as your reach (some hand tools come with long handles). Trowels are good during planting time and especially important to container gardening. You’re going to need one of each.
There is other equipment we find indispensable, like a sturdy watering can (and one for the kids). And that doesn’t include pruning shears and a good gardening knife for bulb digging and dividing and who knows what else. What tools are in your gardening kit? Let us know, here or on Facebook. We’re always looking for a good suggestion. And, if you’re in or around Bozeman, stop in our retail store, we’re here to help!