Ideally, gardening tools would never damage what you wish to preserve. Broadforks allow you to loosen soil without damaging it.
PHOTO: SEAN ROSNER
As we all know, there’s a lot of unnecessary — or necessary but poorly made — lawn and garden equipment on the market. To help you sift through the hype and identify products that meet high standards of functionality and durability, here are two more additions to our Quality Gardening Tools for Wiser Living series.
U-Bars Build Better Soil
Most gardeners will opt to use a tiller to prepare new ground or mix amendments into soil, but to follow the customary advice to “loosen the soil to 12 inches before planting,” your best bet is a broadfork (aka “U-bar digger”). “A what?” you may be asking. Well, u-bars are simply broad garden forks, with two handles instead of one.
Rather than loosening your soil using a rototiller that can kill beneficial fungi and worms, upset the layers of the soil, and cause hardpan layers in some soils, u-bars allow you to prepare planting beds without turning the soil over. It’s best not to mix the soil layers because some beneficial critters prefer to live near the surface, while others thrive deeper down. Also, rototilling can introduce excess oxygen to the soil, causing your precious compost to oxidize at faster rates than are optimal.
Once you establish your beds and begin adding compost and organic matter annually, it requires very little effort to work them with u-bars. It takes just a few minutes to loosen a 3-by-10-foot bed. Another advantage of u-bars is that you can use them in early spring, even when soils are too wet for a tiller. I find that once I fork over my beds, they dry out and warm up faster, so often I can plant a bit sooner.
From my experience, u-bars are definitely an essential tool for wiser living. Here are four companies that offer them: Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Lee Valley Tools, Red Pig Tools and Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. Prices start at about $120. Or, you can make your own: See Make Your Own Broadfork Garden Tool.
A Powerful Pruner
Every gardener needs a pruner from time to time. There are, of course, both cheap pruning tools and better made, high-quality models. But there are also different cutting mechanisms to choose from — one of which, the American-made ratcheting pruner from Florian Tools, is vastly more powerful than widely sold conventional pruners. The patented ratchet-cut mechanism on Florian pruners works like a car jack, using the power of levers to multiply your hand strength by up to 700 percent! This means you can make quick work of the toughest branches. Even dead wood is not a problem for these amazing tools. I once did a demonstration for some colleagues, and we actually broke the handle of the conventional loppers while trying to cut a dead branch. The Florian maxi-lopper cut the same branch with ease.
These ratcheting tools are especially well suited for anyone with arthritis or diminished strength. Florian Tools offers several sizes, starting with the hand pruner that cuts branches up to three-quarters of an inch in diameter. The 19-inch mini-loppers cut up to 13⁄8-inch diameter and the 28-inch maxi-loppers handle anything up to 2 inches in diameter.
I’ve been using both the pruner and the maxi-lopper for about 20 years now, and these tools are so powerful and durable that I would never choose any other brand. I’ve yet to find these exceptional tools offered in a garden center or store, though. The hand pruner pictured above costs $36.95, and includes a lifetime replacement guarantee from this third generation, family-owned company. It’s available at Florian Tools.
Cheryl Long is the editor in chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and a leading advocate for more sustainable lifestyles. She leads a team of editors which produces high quality content that has resulted in MOTHER EARTH NEWS being rated as one North America’s favorite magazines. Long lives on an 8-acre homestead near Topeka, Kan., powered in part by solar panels, where she manages a large organic garden and a small flock of heritage chickens. Prior to taking the helm at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, she was an editor at Organic Gardening magazine for 10 years. Connect with her on Google+.