Good sharp tools that are the right weight make a gardener’s life much easier. I would put them under the categories of hoes, rakes, shovels and trowels, forks, and clippers and loppers. Tools should be cared for so the handles will stay tight and not rot, and metal should be occasionally cleaned and sharpened.
My hoes are probably the most often in my hand. My husband bought some very high quality hoes from Rogue, which continue to be my favorites.( I see they are listed as Prohoe.)
I have a heavy field hoe which is strongly built and easy to sharpen, with enough weight that you are basically lifting and dropping it, using the weight to power through tough root clumps.
I have a long handled hoe with a small shallow blade which is great for hilling up soil and fine work around plants. But my all time favorite is the hand hoe, pictured at the top. This is the tool I would be lost without. It is sharpened on three sides so you can work like a surgeon amongst the plants. It has the perfect weight and balance so you just get the chopping rhythm going and move along effortlessly. It almost works by itself. I just cultivated a badly weedy 10 foot rhubarb bed and 60 feet of okra in less than an hour. There are many exotic hand hoes and cultivators but this is the one that I know makes my life easier.
Another great tool is the weeder wedge. Mine is a Rogue as well. It is sharpened on all sides so you cut on the push and the pull, and you just sort of mop the garden with it. It is a bit dangerous. An intern at Colchester Farms told me she kept sliding through plants so she eats the evidence. It doesn’t get things like Canada Thistle which come straight up from Hell so you’re just giving it a haircut, but it cuts through shallow roots and Morning Glories and creates a sort of shallow “dust mulch” which prevents other weeds from germinating until the next rain. It’s great for keeping ahead of weeds, but only if you stay on it. It’s less good with established weeds. I also have a stirrup hoe that works the same way but I like the wedge better. It is a finer shape for cutting where I want to cut with minimal effort.
The weeding hoe is actually a small 4 tine rake. Now, this may be the wrong name, but this is what I was told it was called. It can be used to comb through hoed soil and remove weeds so they don’t reroot, it can be used to loosen weeds so they are easier to pull, it’s great for mellowing soil in preparation for seeding, and I love it for pulling out ground ivy. Mine belonged to my grandmother.
A spading fork is very useful for turning over new soil when amending by hand, and I like it for digging leeks, carrots, garlic and potatoes. Just step on the fork and lean back. Easy. Handles tend to rot because I leave them in the soil too often,and then when I lever back it cracks or the fork falls out. I need a better quality fork, or I need to take better care of my cheap forks.
Hand trowels have many purposes. I have one with a cutting edge for dandelion roots, but my favorite is my grandmother’s, which is large and has a heavy wooden handle. I use it mostly for transplanting. It is deep enough to get under the plant and get more of the root system. There are so many cheap ones for sale at big box hardware stores. If you use a cheap one enough to bend it, you’re ready to get a decent one.
Clippers and loppers are indispensable to me. With the clippers, or secateurs as the British say, I can do quick trimming and minor surgery. I have some stem borers in the raspberries so I need to carry them with me tomorrow and cut below the wilt until I believe I got the critter. This is why smart people unlike myself have clipper holsters.
Loppers are great for anything too small to bother sawing and too big for the clippers. For me I feel it is important to get loppers with leveraging action. I am not a weakling but but I do a lot of lopping and I have less upper body strength than a man. Maintain your cutters with a lubricating oil- I have always liked 3 in 1 oil because I want to drip it in place rather than spray it. Notice that you can tighten them with the screws that hold them together. They do loosen, and then they don’t cut well. They can be sharpened, either professionally or by you but whatever you do only sharpen the OUTER edge of the blade or you will ruin the clippers by creating a permanent gap between the closed blades. I use my Dremel tool with a rotating sharpening stone. Makes life easier.
I should mention a hand cultivator with tines. I had one from my grandmother that finally came out of its handle. It did a great job going into tight spots and with the raking action you wouldn’t accidentally cut a plant. I loved it for getting ground ivy out of the flower beds because it both dug and raked, and it combed the ivy and grass out of the flowers without injuring their roots much. It had a nice springy action. Maybe I’ll fix it.
A shovel is such an important tool for everyday life. I used one a lot this spring digging big holes for new shrubs and fruit trees, and for digging up saplings that came up where I didn’t want them. Girls should understand that digging a hole is just a matter of shovelfuls. You can do much more than you have been told you can. I dug a hole 3 feet deep and five feet long when my dear old Labrador died. It was good to dig at that point.I understand that as a flower of the South I should have a man dig holes for me that so my little hands don’t get callused, but when the man is on the road or isn’t properly educated in these matters, I can drop that act and do it myself.
Take care of your tools. Don’t leave them lying in the garden. Hang them in in a dry place. In winter, give them a going over. Organize. Clean and sharpen blades. Make sure handles are in good condition; you can buy replacements at the hardware store for most decent tools. I have applied homemade beeswax/turpentine polish to my handles, but something ate it- you can see the grooves-, but perhaps maintenance with linseed/turpentine oil might work. I admit I don’t oil my handles; maybe I should. Tools that are taken care of last forever, and can be passed on. They develop a sort of well-loved feeling in the handle. I like to think my grandmother and our friend Steve Moaney would be tickled to see me using their tools today.