Kitchen Knives as Garden Trowels

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Here is a great repurpose that saves money: Our favorite planting tools on the farm are kitchen knives and masonry trowels. Garden trowels are specialty items that can get pricey when you need many for volunteers on the farm.

Instead, we gather everyday kitchen knives from yard sales and donations. They are often about a dime a knife. Kitchen knives are perfect for planting seedlings from our 72-cell trays. Seedlings slide out with the guidance of a kitchen knife, then the knife is used to dig a hole and cover the seedling with soil.

We use steak knives for harvesting crops that need to be cut flat at ground level, like lettuce or napa cabbage. Although we buy the harvesting steak knives new, a box of steak knives is still a savings as compared to garden tools.

Masonry trowels are $3.50 at a hardware store as compared to $8.00 for a transplanting trowel in the garden department. Masonry trowels seem like they were made for planting from 4-inch pots, they match in size so well.

We like the straight edges of masonry trowels for making perfectly rectangular holes in the soil for seedlings shaped out of 4-inch pots. We grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squashes in 4-inch pots and transplant them out to the field, using these trowels.

Of course, masonry trowels weren’t made for planting anything at all, but the sizing is just right for it. They are also heavy-duty, made for mixing heavy cement, so they last a long time.

With kitchen knives as well as masonry trowels, we put the tool into the soil as deep as the seedling’s length. Move it back and forth once, making a rectangular hole for the seedling. The seedling can be dropped right into the hole and covered with a bit of soil.

I am not sure why garden trowels are always curved. That can be useful when scooping soil like a handheld shovel, but for transplanting, I find straight edges to match the shape of seedlings best. It just so happens that these straight edge tools — kitchen knives and masonry trowels — are perfect for the job, a money-saving repurpose for gardeners.

What other tools do you cross over to use on the farm or in the garden, in disguise as garden tools?

As you may observe from the photos, we use woven landscape cloth as mulch, so we are planting into a designated size hole. My husband, Phil, adapted a disposable plastic mulch layer to lay and re-roll woven landscape cloth so that one roll of cloth can be re-used for many years. You can learn more about our mulching story, leading up to our use of woven landscape cloth, and watch a video about the mulch layer.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life on the farm’s Facebook Page. For more about House in the Woods Farm, go to the House in the Woods website, and read all of Ilene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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