To have correct and well taken care of gardening tools is a great place to start any gardening endeavor. Here at Deer Isle Hostel and Homestead we only use hand tools (non-powered) in our gardens since we find that we can get the job done easier and more efficiently with a more correct impact on the soil and less impact on our bodies than we would with any machines.
A good gardening tool is lightweight, ergonomically correct and has a positive impact on the soil. In most of our garden area the top soil is deep and light after years of building it with natural amendments such as seaweed, oak leaves and manure and very little disturbance is needed. We use tools that air and lift the soil and break up clumps and very rarely is there any need for turning or deep digging. Here are my 5 favorite gardening tools:
This tall two handled fork usually comes with a 30 inch, 7 tines wide head. It's pushed into the ground by stepping on the flat upper part of the head and the handles are used as leverages to lift the soil without turning or excessively breaking it up. The large area covered by the broad head makes it time efficient and lessen the impact of gardener since fewer lift/bend movements is needed to cover the same space. The tall handles allows for a more upright position than a standard digging fork and the leverage aids to lessen the human power needed.
We use the broadfork as a way to “fluff” the soil up in the spring prior to planting but as the years go by and the quality of our soil improve we find the need for it to be less and less and that we often can skip this step in the garden preparation.
I use the slicing hoe as my main way of weeding. I can stand up straight and lightly scritch-scratch between plants, in the paths or around the garden perimeter. The hoe head is a narrow blade about an inch wide and 6 inches broad. It cuts the weeds at the base and stirs up weed seeds to prevent them from germinating.
Each year we plant a couple of thousands allium plants (garlic, leeks, onion) and a simple wooden dibble is a great way to create the holes where to put the seeds and seedlings in. We use wooden pegs left over after building our timber framed buildings. Any stick that is easy and smooth on the hand and can make a hole 4 inches deep and wide enough for a garlic clove will do. The dibble makes it to my favorite-tool list since it's the ultimate low-tech solution for how we go about planting our biggest crops.
I often quietly acknowledge the instrumental role the wheelbarrow plays in my life as a homesteader. From the creation of our gardens to the building of our house, the driveway and the garden soil, to providing firewood, creating orchards and hauling water, the wheelbarrow is the tool we reach for. We use a Jackman wheelbarrow with a heavy duty metal tray and a tough tire that we keep well filled with air. Be aware though that a wheelbarrow is only as useful as the garden design allows for. The paths and gates need to be broad enough and narrow, sharp turns avoided. Any obstacles such as steps or steep slopes quickly renders the wheelbarrow useless, or at the very least, turns it into a challenge instead of an aid.
Japanese Digging Knife
My Tomita Japanese digging knife, a hand held tool, is a multi-functional tool with a stainless steal blade with a pointed end, one serrated edge and marked inches. I use it to I pull weeds with long tap roots, cut stems, dig holes for transplants and measure the correct distance for where to put the seedlings. This kind has a slim, lightweight handle which allows me to use it for a whole day without tiring my wrist or my hand.