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Gardeners Advice


Essential tools for serious gardeners
17 Nov

Essential tools for serious gardeners

Posted By: rocket veg Category: Growing Veg

Dark, damp autumn days with little chance of doing any pleasurable gardening – the perfect time of year to take stock of your collection of gardening tools and maybe drop one or two pre-Christmas hints for any new tools on your wish list! At this point, give a bit of thought as to which tools you really need as opposed to the ones which will be fun to have but are likely to get little use. If like me you love good tools, it’s easy to get carried away and buy things which aren’t really needed.

Basic tools for veg growers

In his wonderful book, ‘How to run an allotment’, first published in 1940 to support the wartime ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign, Alec Bristow sets out what he considered to be the ‘indispensable implements’ – namely a ‘spade, fork, rake, draw hoe, water-can and garden line.’ Although written over 70 years ago, the explanation for his choice is as relevant today as it was then, that these six tools should be enough to enable someone to run an allotment successfully. However, Mr Bristow goes on to acknowledge that there are other tools which are ‘useful additions.’ I would certainly add a hand fork for weeding and a dibber for sowing larger seeds and bulbs.

Gardening tools have changed little over the years, their design meeting a specific need, a classic example of form following function.  Modern materials have enabled the production of stronger and lighter tools, but although I appreciate the innovations which plastic and stainless steel have brought, I much prefer my ancient carbon steel tools with their chestnut handles worn smooth from years of service. Stainless steel tools may be easy to clean and keep nice and shiny, but tools which receive regular use have little or no time to rust.

Choosing tools

Unlike Mr Bristow, I don’t intend suggesting my own list of tools, instead offering some personal advice when it comes to choosing a new garden implement.

Firstly, expensive does not necessary mean best. Tools are personal things, better judged by attributes rather than what’s on the price tag. Look for a practical handle, crafted and shaped to fit the hand without chafing the skin and raising blisters. Inspect the blade or tines – the business end of the tool. A good spade needs to have a blade which slices easily through the soil; a fork should have sharply pointed tines for dividing clumps and sifting out the thinnest-rooted of weeds.

A good tool should also be a thing of beauty. It will invite touching and holding before buying – feeling the weight and getting a true idea of balance. Will it prove to be too heavy and make the job harder? Is it strong enough for the task? For this reason, I would struggle to buy a gardening tool via a website, no matter how good the images and description are, although customer reviews are often helpful.

Avoid fads – the latest ‘must-have’ tool which features in an article in the colour supplement of a weekend newspaper. Such tools are, of course, perfect for a specific task but will then gather dust in the tool shed for the majority of the year.

Search for bargains. Shops selling items gleaned from house clearances often have a few old garden tools for sale. Many of the tools I use on my allotment have been acquired this way and if selected with a bit of care (look out for tell-tale woodworm holes in the handle…) and given a good clean, will give years of excellent service. 

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