The end of the growing season is a great time to review your garden tool collection. And, because your memory is still fresh from the labors in the garden, it’s the best time to be honest with yourself about what tool worked like a champ … and what tool was being, well, a tool. Online shopping means we have access to just about every tool and brand there is, from retailers that sell the latest and greatest to sites like Ebay and Etsy, where vintage tools can be had for a deal. Your options for building a top-notch tool kit are wide open.
I wanted to share some of my go-to tools. I have the usual suspects: a hand trowel, a spade, a long-handled shovel, a pitchfork. But here’s the list of tools I use every single day in the garden.
First, a word about tool carriers. I’ve been through a lot of tool carriers. It seems like such a simple thing, am I right? But then you get into the growing season, and suddenly all of the faults of thing rears it head.
Gardening is dirty business. It should be dirty business, because we gardeners do love soil. So, as you’re moving around your garden, and your tools go from carrier to soil and back again, dirt, dust, stray leaves, debris, and even bugs, make their way into the carrier.
Ideally, your carrier should sturdy and hose-out-able, with a handle or handles that don’t interfere with your tallest hand tools. Cloth is impractical, because as soon as you start dealing with mud, you’re dealing with a mess.
For several years, I used a garden hod, until I acknowledged that the hod was better for carrying the harvest than the tools. The hunt went on again. This spring, I found this chicken wire egg basket at Hobby Lobby. It’s the perfect size, holds all my hand tools, accessories, and seed packets. The wood-covered handles are comfortable. Next season, I might line the bottom with mesh so that small and pointy things don’t poke through, but otherwise, it’s surprisingly serviceable.
Hori Hori Knife/Soil Knife
This was a tool I avoided buying for a long time and then immediately regretted the delay after one use. It’s largely replaced my hand trowel.
The blade is sharp — not chef’s knife sharp, but sharp — and one edge is serrated for slicing through roots and vines.
The blade also has a gentle curve to it, and slips easily down the side of a pot.
If you buy a quality hori hori knife, I’d recommend purchasing a sheath as well. This is one tool that’s a little bit too dangerous to be sitting out bare.
Nejiri Weeder/Hand Held Hoe
The Nejiri Weeder is probably my all-time favorite tool. Its sharp blade cuts through dirt, making it an excellent cultivator for shallow-rooted weeds. The pointy tip is easy to get between two plants, so if you’re an intensive planter, this tool is a must-have.
I also use it to break up heavy soil and mix in additives as I plant. Mine is seven or eight years old, and despite nearly daily use during the growing season, there’s no substantive wear to it — I think it will outlive me, actually.
Needle Nose Pruners or Garden Scissors
When the summer vegetables start cranking, there’s no handier tool than a quality pair of needle nose pruners. Long, thin blades slip right between leaves and stems to carefully snip cucumbers, basil leaves, tomato trusses, and peppers without damaging the plant structures around them.
I’m really hard on these things. In fact, I have yet to find a pair that lasts more than two seasons. The pair shown above is actually broken, so I’ve spent the 2015 season using garden scissors. Which work pretty well, by the way. I do, however, miss the delicate blades of a pruner — scissors are a little brutish — especially when dealing with herbs and cherry tomatoes. I’ve been through all of the brands, so I’ll just have to see what spirit moves me come February or March — do I go cheapo again, or try another high-end piece?
But don’t let my trials with needle nose pruners scare you away from them: they’re extremely handy — almost a requirement — in the herb and vegetable garden.
There’s lots of disagreement about the use of gloves amongst gardeners. Some believe it’s sacrilege; others don’t like dirt under their fingernails.
I’ve worked with enough spiny vegetables — cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, to name just a few, plus a stubborn infestation of thorny thistle — to have a deep appreciation of gloves. For regular day-to-day gardening, I wear a lightweight glove with a suede palm and fingers on my left hand. This leaves my right hand free for working tools with small parts and harvesting delicate vegetables, and a protected left hand for moving prickly squash vines or yanking out a thistle plant by its roots. For heavy-duty garden clean-up or mulching, I have a sturdy pair of suede leather gloves.
Wherever you land on the day-to-day glove debate, you’ll be happy to have at least the heavy duty gloves — invest in a nice pair that are thick, but let your fingers have a reasonable range of movement. A cuff over your wrist is handy for muddy spring and fall work.
In addition to my go-to tools above, I always carry a few indispensable accessories with me:
- Stretch tie tape: I use this for everything from repairing fencing and cages to securing branches on stakes to creating border lines between different varieties of sown seeds. Unlike twine, it lasts all season, and its stretchy nature is easy on growing vines and expanding stems.
- Twine: a good all-purpose workhorse. Stretch tie tape is not biodegradable, so I try to use twine whenever the job doesn’t require the sturdiness of the tape.
- Garden staples: these things are like binder clips in the office – I’m constantly finding unexpected uses for them. Not only are they handy for securing row covers and landscaping cloth — their primary purpose — but they can pin a chicken wire fence securely to the ground, guide unruly squash vines in one direction or another, and even serve as mini stakes, as I did with the grafted spice globe basil plant I grew this year, which was perched precariously on its healing stem until I bucked it up with a couple of staples on either side.