Useful Garden Tools for Growing Vegetables
Extra Garden Tools
There are a few more garden tools, other than your simple garden spade, fork and hoe, which will be found useful as you become more experienced and better able to judge what is needed.
This is a useful tool that can perform a hundred jobs about the garden. However, a blunt knife is an abomination. Not only does it not perform the task for which it is intended, but it is far more likely to cut you than is a sharp one. Make sure you get a strong knife with a good blade; toy knives aren’t intended for gardening.
These go under various proprietary and brand names but all do the same job, with greater or lesser efficiency. Their sole task is to break down duginto a suitable tilth for sowing or planting in, and nothing more. I mention this because, more than any other tool, ‘improvements’ have appeared with such monotonous regularity as to be boring. These are usually over-priced, too clever by half and certainly do no better job than the simplest design, if as good a job.
The most effective hand cultivator consists of four or five tines which are bent down and round through 180 degrees into something like a hook. You can make your own from an old digging fork on a hoe handle or you can buy rather more sophisticated ones with removable tines. Anything more complicated than that is completely unnecessary and likely to be too expensive for what it does.
You normally work backwards with a hand cultivator using a backwards and forwards motion until the soil has been reduced to the required tilth. It’s a very useful tool for incorporating a base dressing of fertilizer into the surface soil before sowing or planting whilst, at the same time, forming a suitable tilth.
This is a proprietary and patented type of hoe that combines the virtues of both the draw and the Dutch hoes. It has a stainless steel blade which is attached at one point only to the traditional hoe handle. This makes it similar to the draw hoe. However, the blade is held flat on the soil surface and is pushed backwards and forwards like a Dutch hoe.
Another innovation is that the opposite edge of the blade to the handle is flat and sharpened so that it can also be used with a sideways motion.
The Swoe is a useful tool that is the result of a lot of thought. Not at all gimmicky.
You’ll come across other tools from time to time as you walk round garden centres but you’ll find that they probably all do roughly the same jobs as those you’ve already got so be thoughtful in what you buy and make sure that it really is what you want. There’s little worse than spending hard-earned money on something which turns out to be no better than something you’ve already got which does the same job and which had been left in the tool shed by the people who sold you the house!
Whenever the subject of garden tools is considered, it isn’t usually very long before the question of what might be called ‘mechanical aids’ crops up. Just as there are gardeners who firmly believe that chemicals are a way of gardening, rather than an aid, there are also those who feel the same way about engines; whether they are driven by petrol or electricity. They cannot live without them — noise, smell and all.
A moment’s thought will bring to mind a whole array of what are euphemistically called ‘power assisted’ gadgets. There are grass cutters for every quality of sward imaginable. You can cut hedges, you can chop up raw materials for, and, as for cultivating the ground, well, there are more machines than most of us would know what to do with.
How many of these machines, though, are really necessary and how many are just an expensive and often rather useless luxury that is played with a few times and then put in the corner of a shed to be forgotten until the next jumble sale? The answer probably depends on your circumstances, the depth of your pocket and your thoughts about the compatibility of machinery and gardening in general.
What all this boils down to is that people who buy machines tend to fall into one or more of three groups: those who want to flash it about and impress others; those who think, or who have been convinced, that a machine makes life easier or that a particular one is something that they cannot do without; and those gardeners who genuinely benefit from them.
Clearly it is the last group with which we are concerned here but, before buying a machine, it is a useful exercise to look in the mirror and truthfully decide which group you really belong to. It may not make any difference to the final decision but a little bit of self-examination is always revealing.
There may, of course, be a number of reasons for needing a machine but there are two that dominate. One is that there is simply too much work for one pair of hands to do without mechanical help, and the other is that, for some perfectly good reason, you do not have the physical ability to do the job in question. The normal reason is the disappearance of youth. These are the only two really valid reasons that justify buying a particular piece of machinery. Many would add to the above the fact that a machine does a job easier and quicker I have my own thoughts on that.
The machine that we would be primarily concerned with whenis the Rotavator. It is safe to say that most models will do the job for which they are intended. Obviously there are exceptions but they are rare these days, as word soon gets round and they die a natural death. Machines that have been designed by engineers with little reference to gardeners are usually pretty easy to spot.
So really how valuable is a powered Rotavator? The not very helpful answer to this is that they can be both a blessing and a curse. Let’s take their virtues first. The main one is that they make an excellent job of breaking down roughly dug ground, and in a lot less time than it takes by hand. This is not particularly important in abut it can be a boon in a large one in the spring when everything seems to need doing at once and there is a big black cloud hovering overhead.
There is also no finer way of clearing the ground after one crop in preparation for setting the next. Everything is chopped up nice and small so that it can easily be dug in or just left as it is with the next crop being sown or planted without further cultivations. It is also particularly good at incorporating manure and gardenevenly into the soil.
Even if it is sometimes rather like taking a sledge-hammer to crack a nut, a Rotavator can be an excellent tool forbetween rows of vegetables or fruit. It should, however, only be used to a shallow depth for this purpose and only when the soil is dry. Also, just because a machine is doing all the work, this job must not be left until the are a foot high and seeding.
Top of the list of misuses must surely come digging. There is not a single garden Rotavator that can fully take the place of a spade, and never let anyone try to convince you otherwise. For a start, very few will go deep enough, especially on heavy land. All you can expect from the best of them is 6-9in (15-23cm) whereas we are talking in terms of 12in (30cm) to do any real good.
If used in place of a spade, many will break up the ground much too fine and create a puffy tilth. This is not what is wanted and, if ground in this state has to stand the winter, it will be mud in no time.
Another misconception about Rotavators, is that because all plant debris is smashed to pieces, this will kill it. In many cases it does, but not things like bindweed, ground elder and creeping thistle roots. If these are present in the ground a Rotavator is the finest way of spreading them about.
Lastly, and probably most serious of all, the continual use of a Rotavator can create a solid pan a few inches below the surface. This is caused by the blades smearing the soil at the same depth every time the machine is used.
Make no mistake, though, the Rotavator’s faults are not usually created by the machine itself but by gardeners using them either to do jobs for which they were not intended or simply misusing them. One of the worst things you can try to do with a Rotavator is use it to beat the soil in poor condition into a good tilth. This brings us back to that business of battling with the soil. A machine may have the power to chew up the ground when it cannot be done by hand, but all it will do to a soil in this condition is destroy the structure.
To summarise, therefore, a Rotavator used sensibly at the right time and to do the correct job is a terrific help and can save a lot of work. In the wrong hands it can ruin the soil structure in no time at all and make gardening an unbelievable burden. Nor does it pay to buy the cheapest you can find. As with other tools, you get what you pay for. Always buy a robust make that is not going to fall to pieces once it is faced with hard work. If you’re in doubt, it’s always best to buy a model recommended to you by a knowledgeable friend.