In the long run well-designed and soundly made tools are more effective, pleasant and even safer to use.
Like me, most gardeners are suckers for new tools. We go on accumulating these over the years, then settling on those that offer a unique solution to our specific task.
Let’s briefly consider a few of the tools you will need for tasks around the homestead. In all cases, I recommend spending the extra money up front to buy well-designed and soundly made tools. In the long run, such tools are more pleasant, effective and even safer to use. Indeed, they are cheaper: Buying a well-made tool often costs less than buying, and later replacing, a shoddy tool.
There is an endless variety of spades (for cutting into compacted earth), shovels (for moving looser earth) and scoops (with larger, more bowl-shaped heads for moving even looser material like ground corncobs). Some will have long handles, while others have shorter handles ending in a D-shaped grip for working in tight quarters. Most gardeners end up with a number of variations on the theme.
While the garden cart is better for bulkier loads of lighter materials, the wheelbarrow is better for dense, heavy loads such as earth and rocks. The best tribute to the wheelbarrow I’ve seen is the beautiful pond at the old Nearing place in Maine, which Scott Nearing dug out by hand, one wheelbarrow load at a time.
You’ll want a hay rake to gather up grass for mulches. A good hay rake is light, with a wide head securely attached to the handle. I’ve had trouble with both wooden and nylon teeth breaking when they snag on tough weeds, and I am still looking for my ideal hay rake. Another must-have is the garden rake, with close-set steel tines at right angles to the handle, for raking out bumps and clods, as well as smoothing seedbeds in preparation for planting.
This is a digging fork with a D-grip handle and stout tines either square or flattened. In a small garden, this type of fork is sometimes used for loosening the soil without turning it topsy-turvy, in lieu of the broadfork. In any garden, it’s a great tool for planting the larger potted transplants, digging potatoes or uprooting small saplings or big, tough-rooted weeds.
Again, you will end up with several versions of forks, depending on the nature of the materials you typically handle. A hay fork is essential for lifting raked hay into the cart, then distributing it as mulch. Handling manure, however, requires a wider, more scoop-shaped head with more tines, set closer together.
The gamut runs from heavy “grading hoes” for shaping ridges (as for sweet potatoes) or grubbing out saplings and big, tough weeds – to crescent-shaped Asian style hoes for delicate weeding work around established crop plants – to “action hoes” with oscillating heads that cut weeds off beneath the soil line on both out-stroke and in-stroke – to the “collineal hoe” designed by Eliot Coleman, with its thin, narrow, razor-sharp blade, used from a fully standing position, like sweeping with a broom.