Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
Over the years I’ve used many different gardening tools in various gardens I’ve had. I’ve borrowed tools from friends — that useless lawn edger with three spiked wheels was not a hit — and I’ve purchased or been given tools. Spades, forks, reel mowers, scythes, and curly hoses, have all made their way through my hands. Working to economize my tool needs, I’ve assessed the tools I’ve found essential to working in my garden.
The Felcos are the best pruners I’ve used. The ergonomic design and replaceable blades makes for the best hand pruning. In my collection I have two of the number 2 models, one number 6, and one number 8 model. The smaller 6s are my go-to favorite for most hand pruning jobs. My small hands have good control of the tool, and the small blades make for getting into tight spaces very easy. The number 2 model was my first experience with the brand, and it is a good, all around pruner. I recommend getting a scabbard to hold the pruners, which can be clipped to a belt or a pocket. This keeps them at the ready while working in the garden.
A few years ago I got the Felco loppers with straight handles. These are lightweight and such a pleasure to use. The loppers I’d used in the past were just a bit too heavy for me, and made pruning tiring. With the Felcos I can go for as long as I need to get my pruning done, without fatigue setting in.
One of the first new tools I bought when I moved to my house was a 12 foot aluminum orchard ladder. The backyard had a large peach tree, much of the fruit being produced out of reach. I knew I'd need a ladder to harvest and to prune the tree. The aluminum ladder is fairly lightweight and easy to move. Once in place to harvest or prune the tree, it is easy to move the ladder around the tree, to get to all parts of the tree. The orchard ladder's main benefit over a regular ladder is that is essentially a tripod, and the third leg can be put over lower branches and limbs, providing access to the interior of the tree. That third leg can be pushed into the soil, which helps with stabilizing the ladder. I use the ladder not only to harvest and prune the peach tree, but also to access ripe grape bunches which form up high in a canopy of trees into which the vine has climbed. I also use the ladder to get up on the roof of my house when it is time to clean gutters and sweep away pine needles in advance of autumn rains.
The most recent addition to my tool shed is a wheel hoe from Valley Oak Tool Company, where I work. This is a tool I wish I'd had years ago. The beauty of the tool is in its ease of use and variety of attachments available. I use a hoe blade attachment for removing great swaths of English ivy. I made a video of the tool in action, doing just that. The weight of the tool does most of the work, with me guiding it back and forth. It is a huge improvement over how I had removed the ivy in the past—with shovel, pruners, and rake. The wheel hoe allows me get right into the ivy and cut away the runners on the first pass, and then go back to the cleared area and cut the roots deep under the soil.
I also use the cultivator attachment, which helps me prepare the soil for planting. The cultivator can also be used to incorporate compost or other amendments into the soil. I've used it to de-thatch parts of the remaining lawn in the front yard. In the chicken yard I like to take a few passes to help work the soil to accept any accumulated manure.
And the best part of using the wheel hoe is that, unlike a rototiller or other gas powered tool, I am able to garden in peace and quiet. I can hear birds singing in the trees, I am not overwhelmed by exhaust fumes, and only have to refuel myself to keep working. At the end of the day, I give it a quick hosing off, dry it off, and hang it up.
The small flock of chickens I have is happy to come along and do bug control after I've cleared a patch of ivy, or cultivated an area to be planted. Chickens are great at weed control too. They'll not only eat weeds, but also weed seeds they scratch up in the soil. They eat fallen fruit, pick over garden debris before it is added to the compost, and scratch up snail, slug, and other insect eggs from the soil. Their manure is a great addition to my compost pile. Mixed with wood shavings and straw, I get a rich product after the compost has cooked.
Chickens make my garden feel more alive, and their antics can be very entertaining to watch. I explain to my friends that I am studying chicken social dynamics. I also appreciate the bounty of eggs I collect. They taste great, and I get to share the bounty with my friends, who are quite appreciative of the eggs too.
Observation of the garden is as important a tool as any I have. To sit and look at the garden gives me time to reflect on what changes I'd like to make, what limbs to prune off the shade tree, and time to enjoy the work I've done. It is a place to sit in the garden and sip a cool beverage on a hot day. A place to rest and enjoy the garden is essential for the well being of this gardener and my garden.
Carla Resnick is Operations Manager at Valley Oak Tool Company, makers of ecological gardening tools. She is a Permaculture teacher and designer, and is based in Northern California, and is an avid gardener of edible, useful, and decorative plants. She also breeds five-toed, crested chickens. Contact Carla by visiting her website.