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Between the Rows

Between the Rows: Tool Time

When faced with the array of garden tools at the garden center, a new gardener can be forgiven for being confused and unsure of how to decide what is needed. There are all manner of shovels and rakes, trowels, cultivators and weeders, as well as grass clippers, pruning shears and loppers. Where to begin? How much of an investment will be required?

In fact, very few tools are absolutely necessary, as any experienced gardener who finds herself using the same handful of tools, will tell you. Over the years, I have accumulated a number of tools, some of which are very useful, but are rarely called into action. The tools I use most often are a heavy-duty, red-handled trowel that has inch measurements on the blade; a Korean hand hoe; a cultivator claw; a Cobrahead weeder; and a pruning shears. The Korean hand hoe (or plow) is my very favorite, useful for digging, cultivating, weeding and making furrows.

What this collection of favorites tells you about my garden technique is that I like to work on my hands and knees. I even usually wash my floors on my hands and knees. I have a regular spade and a short-handled garden spade, which are necessary when breaking sod or turning over a garden bed, or digging out a perennial for division. After that rough work is done, I am on my knees.

Other gardeners like to do as much as possible standing up. One day I was talking to Ev Hatch, an experienced farmer and gardener, and he said his favorite tool was the hoe. A hoe is a basic tool and it comes in a variety of forms. The Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog shows several types. The hoe that I have used most successfully is what Johnny’s calls a stirrup hoe.

One thing my five favorite tools have in common is that they are all very sturdy and of good quality. A first-time gardener may wince at the cost of a $20 trowel, but mine has served me well for some years.

One drawback to many hand tools is that they have green or wooden handles. This makes them very easy to lose in the garden. In earlier years, my husband ran over a number of my tools with the lawn mower turning them into fascinating little sculptures, and doing the mower no good at all. I have one friend who always wraps his tool handles with orange tape. He says this has saved him a lot of money over the years. I like my red handled tools, but I painted the wooden handle of my Korean hoe yellow, about as bright as orange.

Of course, over the course of a few years, a collection of garden tools can grow substantially. Sometimes you find you need a special tool, like a dandelion digger, which is very efficient for digging out dandelions and other weeds. Sometimes you are given a tool as a gift, or can’t resist a good tool at a tag sale. And, sometimes, you inherit good tools that also bring fond memories.

I confess that when I was at a garden talk recently, I bought a little bright red shrub rake, which has a short and narrow fan of teeth. I love all things red, but it is also similar to the little rakes that the Blossom Brigade uses on the Bridge of Flowers. Maybe if I have a rake like theirs, I will also acquire some of their skill and discipline.

Because I have roses growing in grass, shrubs and small trees, I have a small array of tools to handle some special chores. I have grass clippers to trim the grass around the roses, which is a big job. Good-quality clippers help make it go more easily. I have my Felco No. 8 pruner, which is all I need for pruning the roses. I have even learned how to sharpen them with a file.

Other pruning tasks in my garden take only long-handled loppers and my small saw, which was (amazingly) bought at the Museum of Modern Art in New York many years ago.

Once you have your tools, you need to organize them. I hang my spades and rakes on the wall of my little garden shed and keep my hand tools in a “trug,” a wooden basket made for tool carrying. This tool-filled trug lives right by our main door, where it is always handy.

Farmers Market today

Today, the Greenfield Farmers Market’s season begins. It will open at 8 a.m. and close at 12:30 p.m. Cooks and gardeners will be able to find fresh greens, cheese, bread, honey, maple syrup and vegetable starts and perennial plants. There will be the music of Co-op Jazz from 10 until noon! For full details, check http://greenfieldfarmersmarket.com. Markets in Ashfield, Bernardston, Charlemont, Conway and Shelburne Falls will be starting soon.

Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site: www.commonweeder.com. Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.

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