The right tools for the job

A collection of garden tools leaning against a green wheelbarrow

One of the joys of growing fruit and veg is the fact that you don’t need any high tech equipment. Although it can be tempting to spend lots of money on kit, you will find that just a few good tools are all you need.

These can often be picked up second-hand from boot fairs and old tools have the advantage of being worn in for you – wooden handles may be smoothed from use, making them more comfortable in the hand and less liable to cause blisters. Check the provenance of such tools if you can as boot fairs may be used to dispose of ‘borrowed’ goods.

A good basic tool kit includes…

  • Spade: Ideal for digging, also for planting, moving soil, compost, sand etc. and for skimming weeds.
  • Fork: Perhaps the most useful tool of all for veg growers. It can be used to dig, to break down the soil, break up hard pans (hard layers in the soil) and as arake. It can also be used to move and spread manure or garden compost and to lift root veg such as potatoes and carrots.
  • Rake: Essential for levelling soil and breaking it down to a fine crumbly structure for sowing seeds, also for gathering fallen leaves and debris.
  • Dutch hoe: For slicing through weeds and breaking up the surface of the soil around rows of growing veg to allow air and water to permeate the soil. The edge of the hoe can also be used to make a seed drill in the soil.
  • Hand trowel: Essential for planting and extracting deeper-rooted weeds.
  • Pocket knife: For cutting string, trimming harvested crops, general jobs around the garden.
  • Secateurs: For pruning fruit trees and bushes.

Buying advice

A plant being pruned by someone.

Whether you are buying your tools brand new or second-hand, do try them out first to ensure that they are right for you. Gardening can be a strenuous job, but can be made much easier with good quality tools.

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When looking for tools avoid cheap versions as these are likely to bend or break very quickly and will lack balance. For example, in the case of a spade and fork you may well be wielding both for long periods so you should choose amodel that you can lift comfortably in one hand. However, it should be strong with a good length of socket.

The wooden handle should be securely riveted to the socket and the rivet head filed down so there are no sharp edges to hurt your hands. The handle top – whether D or T-shaped should also be firmly fixed to the top of the handle. Most prefer a smooth plastic D-shaped handle but this is a matter of personal preference and it is wise to wear gloves in any case when digging to avoid blisters.

It is very important that spade or fork is the right length for you. This varies a great deal from model to model so do tryout as many as you can before you buy. As a rough guide, the top of the handle should be at about waist height when you stand up straight next to the tool.

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Finally, look for a well-defined foot rest to reduce strain on the foot when digging. For safety and comfort safety shoes with steel toecaps and ametal foot plate in the sole are also highly recommended.

Hoes need to be sharp in order to do an effective job of killing weeds. Some are supplied with a sharp blade but if not sharpen occasionally with a file or angle grinder. Cutting tools must also be kept sharp – a dull knife is not only less useful around the garden, but is more dangerous since more pressure is needed to cut through string or stems.

Other useful tools

A garden line or measuring stick (both are easily home-made) are useful for getting straight lines when making seed drills and a dibber is handy when planting seeds in pots. Some gardeners prefer less traditional tools for digging, such as long handled spades, mattocks or the Chillington Canterbury Hoe.

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A small border fork is useful for weeding in between rows or pricking over the soil and a potato fork, with wide tines, is great for harvesting spuds without spearing them – which can be quite achallenge!

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About the Author

Shannon Butcher
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