Gardening Tools and Equipment
It is often said that it is a bad workman who blames his tools, but the truth is that when it comes to gardening you need the right tools for the various jobs you will need to do. Without them, many a task that is easy enough with them is a back-breaking job.
Good tools are not cheap to buy, and cheap tools are seldom good tools. On the other hand, to start a garden the number of basic tools you require is not very large: you can add the refinements later.
Having spent good money on tools you need to look after them. Soil and plants contain acids that eat into metal, and really the corrosive effect of these is more dangerous than damp. It is always best to wash the dirt off tools immediately after using them, dry them, and on cutting edges apply a film of oil or grease. Where it is difficult to dry equipment, when cleaning the blades of some mowers or hedge-trimmers for instance, use paraffin or petrol rather than water. The cutting edges of cylinder mowers may be actually improved by applying molybdenum disulphide grease regularly after use. The molybdenum impregnates the surface of the metal and makes it tougher as well as protecting it from rust. Cutting edges on all tools should be liberally greased before putting away for the winter. A metal sheath is supplied for hedge trimmers which can be filled with a mixture of oil and paraffin thus keeping the blades in a permanent bath of grease. Powered tools should have all their metal moving parts well greased before storage. Petrol engines should be run with the petrol supply switched off to use up fuel in the carburettor, and then pipes and the tank should be drained whenfor the winter. Petrol tends to form into a jelly if lying over winter. Remove the sparking plug and pour about 1 oz. of engine oil into the cylinder head turning the engine over a few times to spread the oil to prevent rusting inside the head. The sparking plug can then be replaced. Do not wrap machinery in airtight polythene bags as this may lead to condensation and heavy rusting. The liberal use of grease is the best guarantee against rust. The wooden front rollers of mowers are easily removed for greasing the axle. Batteries for battery-powered engines should always be stored fully charged and topped up, and it may be necessary to recharge the battery at intervals of several weeks.
Some spades, forks and hoes are made with chromium-plated or stainless steel blades. These are not only less sticky to use, but also less liable to damage through rust and corrosion, although they are more expensive.
Blade lengths vary from 7 inches to over 12 inches and different types are designed for varying strength of use. A tread above the blade is generally preferred, though it is possible to buy treads which can be strapped to the foot. There are spades with specially sharpened edges or large tooth-like serrations which are recommended for cutting into heavy soils. Spring-operated spades take most of the labour out of digging, and once the knack of using one has been mastered it makes digging faster.
Every gardener needs a spade at some time or other (and a fork), but not every gardener needs a mechanical cultivator. Those with less than a quarter of an acre of cultivated ground can do without one, unless they have just taken over a rough patch of ground and would like to hire a cultivator to do the initial digging. Many garden shops or centres will hire out a mechanical tiller by the day. It will probably take you a morning to get the knack of managing the machine. It is well worth the expense to get the first job of breaking in the ground done efficiently and easily.
If your garden has a quarter of an acre of dug soil or more, the purchase of a mechanical tiller is a reasonable proposition. For those with gardens of over two acres, even with small amounts of dug ground, the purchase of a versatile cultivator is most labour saving. For example, if you get a machine to which ordinary tractor type wheels can be fitted it becomes a most useful machine for pulling a donkey cart for moving compost, leaves, and so on. You can even fit a snow plough on some makes for clearing a way for the car in winter. Purists say that every machine is only adaptable truly to one use, but this is a very doubtful proposition applied to mechanical cultivators. ‘Power packs’ are marketed which can be fitted to a variety of attachments, and while it would be a mistake to imagine you can use one machine to do everything, especially in a large garden, if you get two or three different uses out of your engine you will be very satisfied.
If you look after it you can reckon on a life-span of ten years, and even more than that if you look after and manage it really well. Some machines bought nearly 20 years ago are still in use!
To get back to the basic use, for really large cultivated areas the cultivator should be capable of taking the traditional plough attachment, because the plough can cut into a hard pan built up by successive years of rotary cultivation. However, for average-sized gardens, where a bit of double digging might be done once in a blue moon, say up to an acre in size, those propelled by the actual digging tines are quite satisfactory. The tines will cultivate right to the verge of the plot. Of this type the heaviest are generally those with engine directly over the tines, the others having motors projecting in front of the tines. Yet a third type has a separate power drive to wheels which propel the machine and to the rear-mounted tines. These would appear to need a larger turning area and are better on larger tracts of ground, part of their value being that the tracks left by the wheels are removed by the rear-mounted tines. Some of the tine-propelled models are braked by a depth control bar which acts by being depressed into the ground by the foot. Such models are well adapted to cutting into hard unbroken soil. It is important when buying a machine to consider its use and the type of soil with which it will have to deal. Retailers of these machines will demonstrate them, or allow you to try them out, or both, without any obligation to buy, and it is best, in view of the wide choice available, to adopt this procedure. Once the machine is purchased you will have to live with it for a good many years, so it is worth taking time over your choice.
Cultivation has to be done in rows if you use a machine, but it is quite easy to fill the gaps between rows (about 18 inches) by intercropping. There are especially light rotovators for shallow cultivation, and it is possible to look after herbaceous borders where the plants are reasonably well spaced by using one of these machines. Digging, cultivating, weeding and ridging can all be done, in fact everything usually done with the spade or hoe. Spraying, grass cutting and other types of lawn maintenance such as raking can be carried out with the help of various attachments. Other uses to which some types of these machines can be adapted include fertiliser mixing, distributing fertilisers, shredding, compressing air, bulldozing, scraping and cleaning muck off the ground and making concrete.
Types of hand-propelled wheeled cultivators are also available for making a fine tilth or hoeing between rows. Lastly, the long-handled hand cultivator with three or five curved tines is used for breaking up the soil around plants.
Like the spade, the fork is an essential garden tool with many uses. It is particularly adapted to digging heavy soil which tends to resist the spade. It is also handy when it becomes necessary to dig in between roots, as in root pruning, and is safer than a spade when digging among bulbs or root crops, as there is less chance of the tines cutting into the plants than with the long edge of a spade. Forks come in all sizes, the most useful being the sturdy four-pronged type for heavy digging and the light border fork for ladies’ use, or for working in borders crowded with plants. As with spades there is a semi-automatic version, and a fiat-pronged type for lifting potatoes.
The most popular type of tool for weeding round young plants or breaking up the soil around them is the draw hoc. There are many variations of style in the design of these hoes, but all operate on the chopping principle and incorporate a fairly narrow blade positioned at an angle to the handle. Such hoes may also be used for making seed drills. The traditional Dutch hoe has a D-shaped blade and is worked with a push-pull action to loosen the soil and slice the heads off annual weeds.
The standard metal-tined rake with up to fourteen stout teeth is most useful for levelling soil or breaking it down into smaller lumps after working it with the back of a fork. It is also good for working in fertilisers, though a flat-framed spreader called a lute is traditionally used for this purpose. The rake is also used for making seed drills and covering the seed.
Small Hand Tools
These are useful for close work in the rock garden or border or for potting and greenhouse culture. Trowels come in various sizes and are convenient for digging out small plants or bulbs, or making small planting holes. A thick pointed piece of wood called a dibber is also used for this last job. Hand forks are often used for mixing small quantities of compost in the greenhouse and for cultivating pot plants.
Bulb Planting Tools
One type of trowel has measurements marked on its blade to provide an accurate guide for the depth of planting and there are special tools which lift out a portion of the soil to make a hole for inserting the bulb. A heavy metal crowbar with a pointed end may sometimes prove helpful in planting smaller bulbs, but for fast work an ordinary fork or spade is often quite adequate.
Sprayers are useful for distributing insecticides, weedkillers and foliar feeds. An atomising spray is also handy for damping down in the greenhouse or to provide tiny droplets of water to prevent transpiration on conifers waiting to be planted out or to keep leaves fresh on cut flowers, etc. The small types with containers holding about a pint are best for the greenhouse; in the garden the size of sprayer used will depend on the area to be sprayed and the amount of spraying to be done. Syringes made of brass are generally sturdy and useful, drawing the supply of liquid from an open container through a plastic tube. Construction is an important element to consider when buying sprayers, because the pressure needed for spraying puts a strain on joints and washers, and leaks may cause dangerous chemical to run over your hands.
For really large areas pressurising pumps can be used to force pressure into canisters to supply a strong spray in quantity, the pumps being operated byor through an attachment on some types of cultivator. For most needs, however, a hand pump supplying two gallons, or one gallon or a half-gallon for smaller areas, is all that is needed. Reasonably priced pressure pumps incorporating modern plastic are available, including knapsack types which are more convenient to use. It is a good idea to order spare washers when buying the pump so that one is not caught short at the time of use.
A wheelbarrow is an essential garden aid. You are almost certain to need a garden line though a piece of string tied between two sticks will make a rough and ready substitute. Wear industrial gloves whenever you are dealing with hedges, thorns, stinging plants and general heavy work. A fine-rosed watering can is needed for greenhouse gardening and a watering can holding one or two gallons for the garden. A wide variety of sprinkler and hose equipment will take the work out of watering. Distributors and spreaders will be needed for various types of fertiliser and weed-killing equipment. A sieve with a 1/4 inch mesh is needed for sifting compost for greenhouse seed sowing and large-sized sieves made to fit on to a galvanised wheelbarrow are good for sifting garden soil in fairly large quantities.
Hedge-trimmers are almost an essential for anyone with a sizeable hedge these days. The power is supplied in a variety of ways according to the design of the machine. Battery and mains operated (in conjunction with a transformer) are two very useful types. The mains type can obviously operate only within the limits of the length of cable available. Some types are powered by petrol engines integral to the trimmer, and these are suitable for large lengths of hedges at some distance from the house. Yet others may run off electric power tools or as attachments to cultivators or motor mowers, with the obvious drawback that it may not always be easy to position the cultivator or mower conveniently enough. Incinerators are useful for burning rubbish and purpose-made metal ones are on sale. Similarly, handy compost holders made of metal may be purchased, and there are also ones made of wood.
There are many other aids to gardening, and new ones are constantly being invented. However, the above suggestions are intended as a guide to the gardener seeking to know what is essential for running an efficient and labour-saving garden.