Home & Garden Columns
I rarely venture into my garden with constructive intent but without my Felco pruners and my hori-hori. Most of the time those hand tools are enough because I have a very small garden. Sometimes, though, I need to do something that requires two hands and a bigger tool, and I have my favorites among those too.
You know how the favorite recipes get spotted with flying sauces? Sometimes you can tell which are a gardener’s favorite tools, because they bear a similar patina; they’re polished by soil and the chrism of skin oils. I think it increases their value.
I actually spent $50 on a spade—some years back, when $50 was an even more significant investment than now. I’d looked at several trenching spades, but Smith & Hawken’s “poacher’s spade” won my heart when I picked it up.
I did postpone my gratification until after S&H changed its always overheated catalogue prose about the item; it just bugged me too much to read about the poacher sneaking around the estate, “dog at bay,” until he found a rabbit, cut its warren with the spade, and let the dog catch it. A dog at bay is anything but quiet.
Fortunately the spade is better then the copy. It’s a D-handled tool, which I generally dislike, but it works well in our heavy clay. The blade is long and narrow and fixed well onto its handle. It has enough footspace to use one’s whole weight on, and the leverage to make it count.
My other, longer-handled spade is a “lady shovel,” or “flower shovel.” I’m not that ladylike but I do know the advantage of a small-bladed spade in that clay, and of making two small loads to lift instead of one big one.
I recommend lady shovels for anyone who is older than 20 and/or smaller than a linebacker, for gardening here.
If I were really ambitious, I’d use a bastard file to sharpen the blade ends of both spades. This is kinder to the plants whose roots I bother when I dig, and indispensable for root-pruning plants to keep their spread in bounds.
The other tool-maintenance secret I learned in school (Remember, I’m someone who had to go to post-grad classes to learn “lefty loosey, righty tighty.”) is the Bucket of Oily Sand.
This is what it sounds like: a sound bucket, wide enough for the business ends of every soil-contact tool you have, filled with sand over which you’ve poured oil. What kind of oil? Something nonflammable, please, and nontoxic or inert.
If you remember to wipe it off after use, motor oil is OK. Keep it where you store your tools.
When you finish digging, take your mud-encrusted tool, scrape off the worst, and pump the blade up and down in the bucket, a la butter churn. Cleans, polishes, and protects against moisture all in seconds.
For more specialized tasks I have some more esoteric tools, and next week I’ll tell you where to look for the niftiest.