Even though the calendar says spring, the weather says winter. Struggling through the loooonnnngggg “spring” in Chicago’s Zone 5 can be a chore. Especially when I really, REALLY want to be out there digging and planting. It would all be much easier if Peter would just give in and get me the greenhouse I’ve been wanting – we don’t need that last chunk of lawn anyway!
It hasn’t all been miserable whining about wanting a greenhouse (an annual event) and bemoaning the cold, we did get some of the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and basil started in the garage so that’s a plus. But after that ball gets rolling it is still too cold to do much else…
Really, I’m an optimist! Soon enough we’ll be basking in actual spring-like weather and planting away. It’s just that I’ve been missing sharing my gardening thoughts with all eleven of my readers (love you!) so I wanted to forget the nasty weather and jumpstart the garden talk by discussing tools. Yes TOOLS – the last desperate act of a Zone 5 garden writer in the final stretch… here goes.
First, I’d like to say that good gardening isn’t about shiny toys or the best gadgets. Most of us like to think of gardening as an opportunity to recycle household stuff to prevent it from going to the landfill. However, a few well-selected tools, well cared for, can make your gardening life easier and last for many years if you take care of them properly.
DISCLAIMER: Nobody paid me to say nice things about their products. These really are my favorite garden tools. What are yours?
My heart used to belong to the Ho-Mi Korean Garden Plow (long name) until I met the Cobrahead. In all truthfulness, four years ago at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show Peter bought the Cobrahead and I bought the Ho-Mi. I’ve been stealing the Cobrahead from him ever since. Sometimes he insists that he gets to use it and I go back to the Ho-Mi – which is a very nice tool… but it is no Cobrahead.
We have the long-handled Cobrahead and it does everything I need it to do. With some leverage it can pull out a deeply rooted plant, scratch compost into the soil, weed. It really is versatile and amazing. Since we plant so intensely, the tool’s small size can get in tight spaces and it is light and easy to manage. We’re buying a bunch of these this year at The Peterson Garden Project because they’re so versatile.
My next favorite tool was found through a lot of trial and error. Having a good garden snip is important. I have tiny hands so I like these pointy, skinny bladed snips by Fiskars. Their fancy name is “Softtouch (r) Micro Tip (r) Pruning Snip” (at least it rhymes.) They’re spring loaded so they work with you (some aren’t believe it or not) and they don’t have any loops in the handle to create blisters (don’t laugh – it happens!) They are also very affordable which is good because I am often misplacing mine and have several pairs (I found one in the car the other day). I use them for almost everything from deadheading to harvesting herbs.
Ironically, the only other cutting tool I like to use – which has none of the soft-grip-spring-loaded-loop-free attributes of the fancy-named Fiskars I was just extolling – is these Bonsai Scissors. They’re old school and beautiful. Peter tends to gravitate toward using these. We keep them in a vase by the door so if we’re going to the garden they’re in easy reach. If you were laughing before about the pruning blisters, stop right here. That’s the only drawback – if one is obsessive compulsive about training tomatoes and needs to cut a lot of garden twine then there’s a chance a blister might develop.
As I mentioned, we plant intensely so smaller scale tools are in order… for instance, I bought a shrub rake (which is the same as a regular rake except fewer tines) a few years back at a yard sale and it is now my favorite clean-up tool. I do get annoyed when the tines hook on a garden staple holding down the drip irrigation but have learned to live with it.
Everyone needs a trowel for hand digging… I’ve tried many of them. [People seem to want to give them to me as gifts including a metal one my mother tole painted for me. It also had a big bow on it.] None have caused blisters but I have gotten a thumb cramp now and again with those that have no contour in the handle. My new favorite is this ergonomic-a-liscious version from Corona Tools. It is design specifically to fit the hand and it really does prevent muscle strain/cramps. If you’re still laughing, consider how much time it takes to plant 90 tomatoes… you might understand the value of an ergonomic trowel!
I have a lot of those Fiskars snippers because I misplace them frequently. Once I got this garden tool belt from Garden Things the problem went away. [How brilliant is this that you can put the twine in the pouch and not have to go searching for it?!] This handy – and perhaps geeky – garden belt has made my garden time more productive – more digging, less looking for my gear.
Finally, I know I said that gardening is about reusing stuff – which we do all the time – but year one in The Yarden we made an investment in these faux bamboo garden stakes/connectors from Gardeners.com and we’re glad we did. Some of us with engineering degrees (you may guess who that is) like them more than others as they’re kind of a garden erector set. They’re durable, flexible and show no sign of needing to be replaced in this lifetime. These are another great lifesaver in an intensively grown garden where we need to go up – up – up for all sorts of crops.
So those are the go-to tools for us in The Yarden. I can’t wait to start using them instead of talking about them!
PS Full disclosure #2: I have one more favorite garden tool but the photos are too embarrassing to show (even for me). It is a bicyclist flashlight that attaches to your head with a velcro strap. Sometimes I get home very late from work and I need to inspect things no matter what the cost. Peter laughs at me the minute I put it on but it is very effective!