Care And Use

Gardening Tools

Having a good set of basic garden tools can make your gardening experience much easier. Staples in my own hardware collection include a digging fork, shovel, hoe, rake, plastic and metal, a trowel, good outdoor scissors, and a pocketknife. Gardening twine, velcro straps, and stakes are also important to have on hand. And if you are going to be moving any quantity of yard clippings, don't forget a good wheelbarrow and a pitchfork.

When first starting out, the tools that will be getting the most use are usually the shovel, wheelbarrow, hoe and rake. Buy the best tools you can afford if you think you will be using them often.

After the beds are dug, you will be using the hand tools more often. The trowel and hand fork get a lot of use at this point. Some of your trowels are narrow and pointed, while others are wider, like a shovel. I use the narrow trowel for flower bulb placing, and the wider one for scooping out soil in pots or sometimes a wider hole in the ground for small plants.

Don't forget a pitchfork! Being in a semi∼pine forest, I use it often to grab hold of heaped stacks of pine needles being thrown into the wheelbarrow. Northerners must use them for end results of moving great piles of autumn leaves. A good pitchfork will have a solid handle and sturdy tines. Pitchforks are also good for turning compost piles. Try out the weight and balance before buying one.

Anvil and Bypass Pruners are good hand tools to help you trim and prune smaller stems and branches that have grown wayward. The anvil type are good for removing dead branches and other dry, woody material. Bypass pruners make a cleaner cut and are most gardener's choice for use with fruit trees and other basic gardening uses. Long handled pruning shears, also called toppers, create additional leverage through their length and are good for reaching into overgrown or crowded garden beds or thick groups of perrenials.

A lot of gardeners like to keep a pocketknife on hand for cutting twine, sharpening stakes, or other small cutting or whittling jobs. If you choose to buy one, choose one with a locking blade.

Of course, there are the big power tools such as a push mower, riding lawnmower, rotary tillers, and electric tree branch trimmers. Of these, I do not use a rotary tiller. When I break ground, it is with a shovel and some intense labor. A good electric tree trimmer that has a miniature chainsaw attached makes quick work of dying palm fronds or small diameter pine branches that are becoming at risk of falling.

Ladders can come in handy if you have ornamental trees or tall arbors. Since I have both, a good, sturdy aluminum ladder is always handy.

If your tools are beginning to dull, remember that it is always easier to keep them sharp than to wait until they are very dull and then think about sharpening them. With regular sharpening maintenance, your tools will always be ready for use and will make cleaner cuts, causing less damage to plant tissue.

The following list is an excerpt from a book by Rodale press, entitled 'Rodales Garden Answers', 1995.

  • Use a flat file for flat bladed tools and a half round file for shovels and other tools with curved surfaces.
  • Sharpen single bevelled tools such as hoes, spades and pruning shears on the angled (bevel) side only. Sharpening the flat side can destroy the tool's effectiveness.
  • File each tool at the angle that matches the blade's original bevel. Cutting and slicing tools generally have a shallow angled bevel and a keen edge. Digging tools have a steeped bevel to produce a thicker, longer lasting edge.
  • Look closely to find the bevel on well worn tools.Most garden spades are beveled along the back edge.
  • When sharpening, press the file down hard and push it forward and across the tool's edge at an angle, rather than straight into the blade. Use the full length of the file on each forward stroke., then lift the file up and off the blade on the backstroke.
  • Stop filing when you can feel a burr, or slight ridge, of metal along the full width of the blade's underside. Finish the edge by drawing the file lightly over the burr, flush with the unbevelled surface, to restore it.

Need to sharpen your hoe? You will need to first determine the bevel. To do this, hold it as you would when using it, then scrape the blade on a hard surface such as concrete. You will file the edges that create the bright scratch marks.

Finally, your tools should last you for many, many years if you make a rountine out of planning for one gardening morning or afternoon a year doing tool maintenance. Northern gardeners could choose a late fall day, southerners can do this after the summer monsoons if they like.Clean and polish them, using steel wool on the metal parts and tongue or soap oil on the wooden parts of your tools. If you find any chips or splits on the wooden handles, lightly sand them with sandpaper, and use wood glue to fill any large gaps. Brush light canola oil on moving partsto lubricate, such as scissors, shears and garden pruners. If you find surface rust on some areas of the metal parts of your tools, use the steel wool to remove and then oil over to protect.

If you have tools that have painted handles, such as your shovels and rakes, this is also a good time to wipe them clean with vinegar on a rag and then repaint them. This will seal them and make them strong for another year's use.

Always store your tools in a dry place and where the metal parts are not left on soil surfaces. If you leave a shovel standing in the soil, eventually this will wear on the tip of the shovel blade and cause undue rust.

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