Get Your Garden Growing with Low-Tech Tools

Trading petroleum for muscle will keep you in shape and save you money.

| March/April 2009

  • Bountiful harvest
    A bountiful harvest is possible without the use of gasoline-powered tools; and it's cheaper, too.
    Bruce Coleman Photography/Gary K. Smith
  • Garden cart
    A garden cart helps with myriad tasks around the farmhouse and the garden.
    Steve Maxwell
  • Scythe
    A scythe is handy for cutting tall grasses and other plants to be used for mulches.
    Matthew Stallbaumer
  • NRG trowel
    The curved grip of an NRG trowel is easy on hard-working hands.
    Peyton Baldwin
  • Broadfork
    The author uses a broadfork to prepare garden soil for planting.
    Harvey Ussery

  • Bountiful harvest
  • Garden cart
  • Scythe
  • NRG trowel
  • Broadfork
Completing Your Garden Tool Kit 

Humans use tools to shape the environment, but our tools shape us as well – in particular, our assumptions and ways of doing things. Most of us have grown up believing that motor-powered machines are faster, more efficient and do the job better than the muscle-powered tools our ancestors used. But in many cases, those simple tools may be more appropriate for the task at hand. This is often true when working in your home garden.

Simpler can be better

Using human-powered garden tools has many advantages. First, consider the enormous difference in initial cost between hand tools and motorized machines. Also, maintenance costs are likely to be much less with hand tools. It’s more likely that you’ll be able to handle repairs yourself, too.

As for efficiency, we usually forget that human-powered tools require less energy per unit of work than most power tools. Further, every experienced gardener knows it is more efficient to work, plant and weed soil that is deep, mellow and retains its moisture. The tools that help us nurture productive soil are the tools that are also the most efficient in the long run.

When weighing the choice of powered versus low-tech tools, I offer this supposition: Say you want to convert a piece of established pasture sod to garden soil that is more fertile, productive and easily worked with each passing season. I propose that you can easily accomplish this task using three simple and supremely low-tech tools: a scythe, a garden cart and a broadfork.

Why not use a tiller?

It’s true that killing and turning under the established sod would be accomplished faster with a power tiller – in an afternoon, as opposed to a whole season with the alternatives discussed below. However, someone once said that patience is a virtue, and that’s certainly true when it comes to nurturing productive garden soil.

Choosing a particular tool can shut off creative thought about alternatives. As the saying goes: If your only tool is a hammer, every task looks like a nail. Choosing to use a power tiller blinds you to an important question: Why till at all?

10/13/2014 11:44:33 AM

Great article on simplifying the tools you really need in the garden.

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