Any self-respecting gardener should have the tools of the trade, and the very best ones at that. Nothing much can be accomplished without proper tools, but the truth is that some of the modern tools that offer the moon don’t actually help increase your yield in any way. People have always cultivated the land and grown edibles with little more than simple, handheld tools.
Novice gardeners and hobbyists may be the ones most attracted to the latest gardening gizmos, but veterans are not completely immune to their charms. Who wouldn’t fall for something that helps you do a better job in half the time?
But the expenses, both for buying the tools as well as running them on either electricity or gas may not always be justified. That’s not all. Traders conveniently avoid mentioning the extra weight lugging and expensive maintenance routines involved, while harping on all the new features.
Let’s have a look at some of the not-so-essential-tools that the industry has been tempting us with:
1. Leaf blowers
It’s pure power in your hands––to keep your yard and driveway as spotlessly clean as your hardwood flooring in the family room and to wake up the neighbors to admire the results. This annoying gadget causes as much air pollution as sound pollution, not to mention the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels.
The original gas-powered blowers used 2-stroke engines that are extremely polluting. The 4-stroke versions are a little less polluting, but still have exhaust fumes equivalent to those produced by automobiles. Electric leaf blowers, whether wired or cordless, may not cause air pollution from exhaust fumes, but the environmental impact is much the same since fossil fuels are used to produce electricity.
Leaf blowers stir up animal and bird droppings, mold, and soil-borne pathogens and allergens. When these are thrown up into the air, severe allergies and asthma might result.
Even the relatively less noisy models of leaf blowers have the capacity to destroy the peace in the neighborhood. Together with air pollution, this has resulted in restricted use or total ban in several residential areas.
Apart from causing a public nuisance, this gadget is associated with hearing loss in users. Landscape maintenance workers are given ear plugs and muffs to reduce the impact. If the repetitive action of raking is blamed for arm and lower back pains in the workers, lugging around the heavy equipment also has a similar impact on shoulders. They are often rotated between tasks to mitigate these ill effects to some extent.
A simple, long-pronged rake can do most of the work that a leaf blower does, without raising a dust storm or rousing the poor neighbors. For a home gardener, raking the old fashioned way not only provides a great workout but is also a less invasive way to collect leaves and debris. Save some money and skip the leaf blower!
Electric chainsaws can transform the simple gardener into a lumberjack and wood carver too. They can even be used as concrete cutters. While this powerful tool is a dream-come-true for jack-of-all-trades type persons, it comes with many occupational hazards, that shouldn’t be part of gardening.
These include environmental pollution and personal health risks from inhaling the fumes from the 2-stroke engine powering the machine. Potential for developing tinnitus and hearing impairment from sound pollution is high, but all these risks pale in comparison to other life threatening ones, even with all safety measures and protective clothing. The handheld device is known to ’kickback’ or fly out the operators hands when it gets snagged on the wood, causing serious physical injury and fatality.
Chainsaws do make trimming plants and cutting trees faster, but they are not essential when these chores can be done by less dangerous tools and by engaging professionals with experience for special tasks.
3. Alligator lopper
This is another mean machine that does justice to its name. It holds tree branches, and even whole trees of 4 inches diameter, in its grip and helps you chop them down quickly. It combines knife motion with a much easier scissor motion to make the cut. Lightweight and portable, this battery powered electric tool is a great improvement on chain saws. Its safety profile is better too.
For a gardener who is incapable of wielding an axe or a simple hand saw, this machine can make cutting small trees child’s play. But how often do you cut down trees as part of gardening? If you mean to buy it for pruning, heavy-duty shears or long-handled loppers should do just fine.
4. Motorized hedge trimmer
Motorized hedge trimmers have been developed to make trimming and shaping of hedges and topiaries easier and faster. There are many versions, but the most powerful of them are gas-powered. Gardeners may prefer to use the light-duty version that is electrically powered and lighter to handle. But the electrical cord can get in the way. Battery powered ones take care of that problem, but they are light and sometimes flimsy.
Do you really need a hedge trimmer? you should keep in mind that your humble shears can do everything that this machine does. Hedge trimmers use a mowing action to trim bushes, so fallen leaves and other debris can snag the mechanism. Cost, operating expenses, and maintenance aren’t justified unless you have a lot of hedges to trim and shape.
5. Hedge trimmers with debris collection
This one looks more like an iron used for smoothing out wrinkles in clothes. Shredding the debris and collecting it in a bag is the main advantage of this improved version of a hedge trimmer. Designed to cut and trim branches up to a half-inch in diameter, it does a good job on well-kept hedges. But the ones allowed to grow out of bounds may be a problem.
Concealed blades and the two-hand operation make it a safer tool than the regular trimmers, but it is quite heavy at nearly 15 pounds, and tiring to use for longer periods. Some problems like drive belt breakages are reportedly not repairable.
Again, for all the hype, it does nothing more than what your shears can do except saving the time and effort of cleaning up the debris.
6. Electric indoor compost bin
Gardeners are always hungry for good quality compost and the electric compost bin offers to make it in less time and with little effort. This is projected as a take–all composting system that uses sawdust pellets to balance out the green waste from kitchen and container gardens. It has a heating element to aid the composting process as well as for turning the compost.
There are many things nature can do much better than any contraptions ever can, and composting is one of them. We need to justify the use of power too since the high temperature that should cure the compost is supposed to come from the composting process itself. Any gardener who has composted knows that these bins are ideally placed outdoors as things can go wrong at any time. That includes foul smells, slimy contents, and leachate.
A much cheaper outdoor compost tumbler should do a much better job than this expensive, electrically powered gadget. The only excuse for using it should be the unavailability of even a few feet of outdoor space.
7. Flame weeder
Gas powered weed wands and the ones using liquid paraffin claim to zap the weeds once and forever. The advantages are said to be cleaning up walkways and even garden beds just before the crops sprout. It can reportedly sterilize soil and compost.
Flame weeders may be quicker than hand weeding, but killing the top growth doesn’t destroy the regenerative power of some persistent weeds like dandelions. Apart from the risk of burning your plants and yourself, and the nuisance of lugging along the gas tank, you could think of less expensive ways to control weeds. One way to reduce weeds is by soil solarization and the use of landscape fabric.
Technology is here to stay, and it will continue with the development of advanced gardening gadgets. But they can’t eclipse the simple effectiveness of time-tested, traditional tools.
Simple, effective tools essential for gardening:
1. Spade or shovel
Spade and shovel are terms often interchangeably used for digging tools that lift up and move material, which, in gardening, are usually soil and compost. Spades are time-tested gardening tools; you can use them for a variety of tasks such as making ditches and filling garden beds. They can be used to scoop up and move sand, gravel and compost.
Usually made of sheet steel, spades can have a wide, flat edge or a slightly pointed one, depending on the purpose. The long handles may be in line with the blades or at an angle. A spade is worked by pushing the blade almost vertically into the soil or heap of compost and then stepping on the shoulder of the blade to push it down further. The handle is turned down towards you to lift up the soil.
Spades with angled handles have an advantage as they offer better leverage without having to bend too much. Lightweight plastic spades are quite hardy for most shoveling purposes, but metal spades may be essential unless you do most of your gardening in containers and raised beds.
2. Hand trowel
You cannot probably do without a handheld trowel even if you have all kinds of motorized gardening tools at your disposal. This indispensable, handheld tool is often used to dig into the soil and compost and to fill pots and containers.
Use it to break up hard soil or root out weeds growing near your plants. Make small holes for planting seedlings or bulbs. Add fertilizers to the root zone and blend them in with the trowel. You can use it to lift up whole clumps of plants to transplant them or cut into the rhizomes to remove a just a small division. It can pretty much do anything that you would do with a spade but on a smaller scale.
3. Hand weeder
This is another simple tool that you will find handy even if your garden consists of just a few containers. Digging into the soil to lift out the weeds is its main purpose. It can get to the weeds in tight areas such as between flagstones and among your crops. Cobra-head weeder has a spoon-like tip and a curved shaft that makes weeding very easy. Pronged models are good for getting at grasses and sedges with fibrous roots. You may need a special dandelion weeder to pull up these deep rooted plants and nut grass without leaving any of their growing parts behind.
If you have hedges and bushes to trim, a good pair of shears comes in handy. Shears with long blades can be used for this job. It may take some practice to get the hang of trimming hedges neatly, but it goes without saying that this simple device has a much better safety profile than powered hedge trimmers. There are no switches to meddle with or any maintenance manuals to go through, although the blades have to be kept sharp for a neat job.
Unless you have tall trees in the garden, sturdy models with longer handles can be used as loppers. You can even cut branches that are nearly an inch in thickness. Smaller ones can be used for harvesting and deadheading with ease. Working with spring loaded shears is much easier.
5. Garden rake
Raking fallen leaves off the ground may be the most obvious use of rakes, but this useful garden tool can be employed for a lot of different tasks in the garden. Light weeding can even be done with a sturdy rake. You can pull up shallow rooted weeds and gather them up for disposal all at one time. Mix small amounts of soil and compost and smoothen the top layer of garden beds with a rake. Break up and remove thatch in the lawn without denuding it, and then smoothen out all the unevenness with the shorter side.
Choose a rake according to your gardening needs. You can get them in all sizes and materials. The lightweight plastic ones are cheaper but good enough for light jobs. Even small children use them without fear of harm. The sturdier iron rakes come with either short prongs or long prongs, or in a combination of the two.
6. Garden fork
A strong, sturdy garden fork is an essential tool for any gardener. Used like a spade, you can loosen the soil with it. The tines are narrow and sharp and they dig easily into the soil. Use the fork to lift up the soil and turn it over. It beats other mechanical and electrical tools when it comes to working up uneven ground. It can work around rocks and lift smaller stones without getting damaged.
In many situations like weeding and harvesting root crops, a fork may be better than a spade. The tines help lift out whole weeds without cutting through their roots and underground stems. The tubers can be brought up without damage.
The origin of this single-wheeled cart may be traced to 2nd century China, but it took a millennium to reach the western world and eventually evolve into a device for transporting materials in the garden. Working on the principle of second-class lever, the wheel barrow allows load sharing between the front wheel of the carriage and the person handling it.
This simple vehicle can take care of almost all the transportation of materials around the garden. It helps you carry large loads of leaves and garden debris to the composting site and the finished compost to the garden beds and containers. Things like fertilizers and farm manure that you source from outside in bulk can be easily distributed. It becomes your buddy while doing most of the gardening chores, be it planting, weeding, feeding, pruning or harvesting.
So, if you are just getting ready to sharpen your tools for the season, or even just starting out for the first time with a garden, be careful not to be swayed by the enticing ads and glamor of power tools and gimmicks. However, also be sure that you have the best basic tools your money can buy.