With the temps outside dropping into the single digits, it looks like we are back into winter mode. So here’s a way to overcome the late-winter doldrums — take a look at your gardening tools and make some upgrades where necessary. With that in mind, here are 3 offbeat tools that are worth adding to your collection.
2-Way Loop Hoe
I literally stumbled across this tool about 12 years ago. Someone had abandoned a metal 2-way loop hoe in some tall grass, and my foot caught the metal handle. After dusting myself off, I pulled it out of the weeds and gave it a look-over. Then I brought it home and started using it, and I was astounded at how great of a tool it was.
Basically it’s a double-sided blade on a rounded rectangular piece of metal that is attached to a long handle. The blade has a slight spring motion to it. You work the handle back and forth, and the blade sinks into the ground a half inch or so and sweeps along parallel to the surface, cutting weeds off at the root. You can weed large patches of ground in just a few moments. It’s almost effortless, because the blade does all the work for you. What kind of genius came up with this?
These retail for about $30 or so.
Have you ever hit a root, or a rock, or a thick clump of sod that you just can’t move with your shovel, hoe, burly arms or whatever? Well, these sorts of difficulties require a real heavy hitter on your side — a mattock.
A mattock consists of a heavy (5 pounds usually) metal head that has a thick cutting blade on one side, and either a pick or an adze-like blade on the opposing side of the head (pictured here is the pick-headed version). The head is attached to a very robust wood handle. The combination of these 2 elements — the heavy cutting head and the long thick handle — gives you an enormous amount of chopping power when you swing this thing. It’s little wonder why Medieval peasants used mattocks as a weapon in battle.
In your own battles with rock and roots, the mattock is a perfect ally. It will blow through a root in a few swings, and dislodge rocks with ease. It you are trying to cut through thick sod, a well-aimed hit with a mattock will toss that clump up in the air and send it winging 5-10 feet. It requires some practice to get the art of the swing down to a science. It’s good to wear a pair of safety goggles, because a mattock causes a lot of chaos — dirt flying, woodchips flung far and wide, etc. And just like you would with a chainsaw, you need to take a stance that protects your legs from being struck by the blade should you completely miss your target.
A good mattock sells for about $35 and will last for a long time.
I know, there’s nothing offbeat about a shovel. But an all-metal shovel isn’t so common for gardeners. Most people prefer to buy a wooden-handled shovel. They are cheap, and you get what you pay for.
The great weakness of a wooden-handled shovel is the handle itself. A shovel works best when you can get leverage on it, by pulling on the handle and prying out whatever it is you are digging (dirt, rocks, etc.) Oftentimes, that wooden handle will snap under pressure, especially if its a few years old and it’s been left outside for awhile.
An all-metal version usually has a slightly thicker shovel blade, attached to a metal tapered handle — tapered into a somewhat oval shape, as opposed to a wooden handle’s rounded shape. This shape adds to its strength. The handle and blade are fused together. That adds to the shovel’s durability. The toughness of that metal handle makes all the difference. It can withstand pulling/prying pressure that would snap a wooden-handled shovel in an instant. Its uniform heaviness also makes it a better balanced tool, allowing you to really drive that blade deep into the ground and pull your full weight on the handle. Once you’ve used a metal shovel, you’ll never go back to its cheaper wooden-handled cousins.
The cost of a metal shovel is high ($40 or so), so that’s why you don’t see many gardeners buying them. Think of it as a longterm investment that will outlast a lifetime’s worth of wooden handled shovels. In that regard, it’s a bargain.
John Macone operates an organic farm in Amesbury, Mass. Fresh vegetables, fruits and eggs are available seasonally at reasonable prices, and seedlings will be available in the spring. To stay on top of what’s available on the stand, check out his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Farmerjohnsfoods/