Get off to a good start in your garden with the right garden tools. These are my favorite products, the kinds of things that I could not live without and that make it easier to produce a more bountiful harvest.
Wheel Barrow or Garden Cart
You’ll want something with wheels to haul around compost, dirt and produce from the garden. You want something with handles that are not too far apart. We have a very uneven, sometimes very rutted yard (thanks to gophers and other burrowing animals.) So I really appreciate the balloon tire on my wheel barrow. And in my world, one wheelbarrow is not enough. So in addition to the standard metal wheelbarrow, I have a much larger plastic wheel barrow that has two wheels for more stability. And recently, I came into possession of a nice yard wagon. In a wagon, everything sits level. But when one end of the barrow is lifted, everything sits canted at an angle. So the garden wagon let’s me haul buckets of water or produce without worrying about tipping or spillage.
If you choose a quality wheel barrow, you will never have to buy another one. You can always replacement parts for broken handles and damaged wheels are easily found at the hardware store.
The Right Hoe
Believe it or not, choosing a good hoe is probably the most important decision you will make for your garden. A good hoe will make quick work of the most tedious and back breaking job and without a good hoe, many gardeners may find gardening chores too daunting.
There are three hoes that I use the most: a triangle hoe, a hula hoe (also called stirrup or scuffle hoe) and the regular, every-day garden hoe.
When buying a hoe, choose one with a long enough handle to allow you work without stooping or bending. I prefer a wood handle. With an annual cleaning and oiling, it will last forever and if the handle should break, it’s easily replaced. (This is true for all garden tools.)
The regular everyday garden hoe is great for evening out the soil or creating small hills for vining plants, breaking up clods, creating large furrows and for hilling up your potatoes and leeks. You may want to sharpen this hoe once a year or so, especially if you have dirt that bakes into a hard clay and is difficult to break up. If the head is at an angle (like 60° instead of the usual 90° angle) it’s easier to glide it just under the soil level for weeding. But I don’t weed with this hoe and my ground is pretty crumbly after years of adding compost and organic material, so it’s not important to me to sharpen this hoe. I find it’s too wide for most weeding–I want to take out the weeds, not the good plants–so I leave the weeding to the other hoes.
For weeding between plants, I like the triangle or warren hoe. I sharpen this hoe at least twice a season to keep it nice and sharp. It’s great for taking down weeds of all kinds. With it’s narrow point I can work close to my plants without hurting them. With it’s sharp edge it can get under the dirt and whack off weeds below the ground, taking them out root and all. In perennial beds or annual gardens, this hoe is just the thing you want.
But for the bulk of my weeding, I can’t say enough about the hula hoe. You know how two or three days after a good rain you go out to the garden to discover a lush green carpet of new weeds? This hoe will take them out just as quick as you please. Just work the hoe in a bit of back and forth motion just under the soil and it takes everything out in one quick pass. This past week we had three rains, each about 2 days apart, combined with warm (humid!) temperatures in between. My garden plants took off like mad–and so did the weeds. I went out to a garden of solid weeds, all about 2-3″ tall. But armed with the hula hoe, I weeded the entire 40′ X 40′ garden in less than an hour.
Now you can’t use the hula hoe in soil that is wet, heavy and clingy or clay-ey. It just won’t glide through the dirt. And hard-packed clay soil is also difficult to move through. It also won’t take out large, well-established weeds. For those you’ll use the triangle hoe or just pull them up by hand. But a single 30-60 minute session with the hula hoe once every 7-10 days will keep your garden beautifully weed-free. For most gardeners, this hoe will be worth its weight in gold.
Look for a bargain
I’ve given Amazon links to these hoes so you can see price and features of the hoes, but I encourage you to start all your garden tool shopping at rummage or estate sales, auctions or thrift stores. A sad-looking, well-used hoe can still be revived and made to like new: just remove all the rust with steel wool and a wire brush, sharpen the edge and oil the metal. Sand the handle to remove rough edges or splinters and give it a coat or two of linseed oil and your hoe is as good as new. Better, because older tools are usually better made than what’s in the stores today.
If you can’t find a good used one, go ahead and get the best price you can from local hardware stores or online.
Don’t let garden weeds overtake you–get the right hoe for the job.
If you’re going to do organic gardening (and why wouldn’t you?) you’ll want compost. Lots of it. So you’ll want to compost all your yard waste and kitchen scraps. You’ll need to frequently turn the pile, keeping it moist and well aerated. It can be back-breaking work. If you have chickens or other pests that like to disturb your compost pile, you will be forever trying to keep it neat and tidy. A compost tumbler is a must have.
There are several tumblers you can buy at the garden center or online, ranging in cost from $45-$300, depending on material, size and whether or not is comes with a stand or rack. A tumbler is worth the money. But you can save a lot of money if you make your own.
I took a class on making a compost tumbler. It cost just just $35 (including all materials) and 2 hours later I walked away with a completed tumbler. Now that I know how to make it, I’ve made two more for a total cost of about $10.
This tumbler makes composting a breeze. I get at least two batches of compost from it during the warm months. Then I get a third batch from all the kitchen scraps that I put into it all winter long. I’ve written about my tumbler and racks here, or you can watch the video I made.
If you didn’t know this has a name, now you do. It’s called a trug. It is a large flexible bucket with handles. And it comes in all sizes–from one gallon up to about 19 gallons.
It’s such a simple idea–and it is. Brilliantly simple.
Yes, it’s a bucket. But here’s what makes it special: 1-The handles are one piece with the bucket, so no breaking off. 2- It’s flexible. You can put stuff on top or squeeze it in to tight spaces and it will bend and flex to accommodate. 3-Being flexible, you can carry your load one handed. 4-It will hold a LOT of produce. Or weeds. Or fertilizer or just about anything you need lug around the garden. 5-It’s easy to wash–just hose down. You might need a little dish soap if it gets really muddy and mucky. 6-Great variety of colors. This one pictured is orange, but you can get it in just about every color of the rainbow.
The cost for a trug is $5-$20, depending on where you get it and what size you get. I bought my 6 1/2 gallon size three years ago on season clearance for $5. This TubTrug on Amazon is about $9.
During the fall, when everything is coming out of the garden, when I need every basket and bucket I can get, the trug is my first choice. It’s perfect for bringing food in from the garden, washing produce or storing it. The handles hold up even with the heaviest loads. In three summers of rugged use, mine have not shown any signs of cracking. In fact, I think I’ll be buying a couple more.
I simply have never found a seedling tray that I like. You can get the industry standard tray, a light-weight black plastic tray that holds 12 4- or 6-cell seedling packs. But the first time you need to move those trays, they will crack and break. Even if you are very careful and never crack them, they somehow always develop holes in the corner and you have water leaking all over when you go to water the plants.
My solution? I buy plastic bins at a thrift store or rummage sale, ones without a lid that only cost $1-2. Then I cut the bottom 3″-4″ off and use that as a tray.
But don’t throw the top portion away! It can be used as a barrier to invasive plants in your perennial beds. Just bury the top portion in your bed so that the top is flush with the ground. Then you can plant the plants that tend to be invasive (like everything in the mint family!) inside that barrier and not have to worry about them taking over your garden.
The Right Tomato Cage
There are as many designs and styles of tomato cages as there are days in the year. It can be mind boggling. I have not yet found the ideal cage–one that will hold my 5′-6′ tall tomato plants up off the ground AND is easy to store AND is affordable. So far, the one that comes closest to my ideal is the standard four-legged wire thing like this. It’s 54″ tall, so it will accommodate a plant that is 4′ or tall or less. Most of my plants are a good foot or more taller, so I still have a bit of vines drooping over the top edge. And when the plants are fully loaded with fruits, the cages can topple over. So I have some fence stakes or 5′ rebar that I put in the center to keep it upright.
Some garden centers may carry this cage. But make sure that it has four legs (and not three) and that the wires are the extra a sturdy heavy gauge so that they can stand up to the weight of the tomato vine.
Another cage that I really like is this one, called a tomato ladder. You can stack two or three to make it really tall for tomatoes but it doesn’t really cage them very well. What they are perfect for is peppers. Peppers don’t typically need to be caged, but like my tomatoes, my peppers tend to get big and sprawly. I like having the compact cage to keep them upright and the fruits off the ground.
Keep your tomatoes and peppers warm
Speaking of tomatoes, if you want to give you tomatoes a good start, you really should have them inside a Wall-o-Water. Wall-o-Water uses the thermal energy from water to insulate warm-loving plants (like tomatoes and peppers) from cold temperatures. When you fill the channels in this bag with water it stays upright and keeps your tomatoes safe from temps as low as 26°. I did an experiment and found that the tomato plants that got an early start in the garden protected by a Wall-o-Water did significantly better that the others. If peppers are your thing, then you’ll want Wall-o-Water’s for your peppers as well. This is the cheapest source that I’ve found for them.*
And keep them well watered
Almost all the problems that tomatoes have–blossom-end rot, cracking, leave viruses, slow fruit-set–come from watering problems. Too much water (or not enough) causes cracking and blossom end rot. Water on the leaves of the plants can cause wilt and fungus.
The trick is not to water with a sprinkler that puts water on the leaves but to give them a steady supply of water from bottom. That’s why people like soaker hoses, but a complete soaker system for the garden can be expensive. But this handy-dandy little device may be just answer. Put this watering spike close to the root of your tomato plant, then secure a 2-liter pop bottle on top and fill it up with water every two or three days. The spike allows the water to slowly seep into the soil. This ensures that the water gets close to the roots of the plant, not on the leaves where it might cause mold or leaf rot. And at about $1 a piece, it’s very affordable.*
Lightweight garden gloves
I rarely get excited about garden gloves. But I LOVE these super-lightweight gloves from Bellingham. These gloves are thin. I mean really thin, like surgical glove thin. That makes it easy for you to work with tender plants and seeds while protecting your hands. The palms and fingers are coated with polyurethane, so they are water proof. But they are lightweight enough that your hands won’t get hot and sweaty when wearing them in the summer heat. I also like the all-over floral design.
So, if you’re like me–you want to wear gloves to protect fingernails from being constantly dirty and hands from being dried out all summer but even the “thin” gloves are too thick for small work (transplanting small plants, working with seeds, thinning seedlings, etc)–you’ll really like these gloves.
There are two drawbacks with these gloves: since the gloves are thin, they aren’t much protection against thorns and stabby things. If you need to prune roses or pull out thistles, you’ll probably still want to use those other, not-so-thin, “thin” gloves.
And (second drawback): these are not easy to find. They still aren’t available on Amazon. So far, Bergeson’s Nursery, Bellingham Millwork Supply and Montesano Farm and Home are the only online sources that I’ve found. (And you’ll have to message Bergeson’s to get them, because they don’t list them in their general catalog.) If you want to try buying them locally or online, they are made by Bellingham Glove Company. (This is the same company that makes Atlas Gloves and just about all the other nice garden and work gloves you’ve seen.) The product number is C2603AP.
Once others learn about these super gloves, they will become very easy to find. And then you’ll be the cool one because you will have gotten yours before anyone else even knew about them.
If you want to plant bulbs in among your perennial plants, a shovel will just wreak havoc on established plants. Instead, you want to use this handy drill or auger. Not only is it perfect for working around established plants, it does the job at lightening speed. That makes a big difference which is especially handy if you have a zillion bulbs to plant.
And you won’t just use it for bulbs. You’ll also use it when digging holes for metal fence posts, pea and bean trellises. It’s indispensable when you are planting perennials in tight spaces or if you have lots of annuals to plant. You can attach it to any electric drill, but it’s especially convenient if you are using a cordless, rechargeable drill. It costs less than $15* and is worth its weight in gold.
Even for the organic gardener, a garden sprayer is an indispensable tool. You will want to have two: one for foliar feeding and one for bug control. I haven’t seen any noticeable difference between the different brands. Just choose one that has features you want. For me that means a size I can easily carry and a wand that is long enough to reach the plants without stooping over.
In the winter, be sure to bring the sprayer into the basement or garage where it will not freeze. No matter how well you empty it, there will always be water left in the nozzle. That water then expands when it freezes and breaks the nozzle. If that happens, you can just buy a replacement spray attachment instead of buy a whole new sprayer.*
I have a third sprayer, a smaller, 2 liter size that I use to spray the seedlings that I have growing to transplant later into the garden. Yes, you can just use a sprayer you get at the grocery store for $2. But if you have a lot of plants, repeatedly squeezing the trigger can get pretty tiring. The convenience of a pump spray is worth it for me.
Basic H is Shaklee’s original all-purpose household cleanser. It is a non-toxic, bio-degradable, phosphate-free surfactant. A surfactant is something that changes the surface tension and makes it easier for water to clean something. As a Shaklee dealer will tell you, “it makes water wetter.”
So what does that mean to a gardener? Just a very small amount–about 3-4 drops per gallon–will increase the ability of plants to take up water and create a healthy, complex root system. I put just a few drops into my foliar fertilizer and spray it on new seedlings to increase growth. I spray it on plants right after transplanting and about every 10-14 days throughout the growing season. This is especially important when we are in a dry spell. With this foliar fertilizer I can rescue the most bedraggled plant and restore it to full vigor in just a day or two.
My other favorite use for Basic H is to clean fruits and veggies coming in from the garden. Use Basic H instead of that expensive veggie soap at the store. Again, a little goes a long way– just 1/4 teaspoon in a sink full of water to wash dirt and residue from fruits and veggies. Since it’s non-toxic and tasteless, you don’t have to worry if any residue is left behind.
Note: I am not a Shaklee dealer and don’t have any friends who are. I’m giving this review because I really, really DO like Basic H and I think you will, too
There you have it. This is my list of the dozen garden tools that I have found most useful. Try them and see if they don’t make gardening just a little bit easier.
*Be sure you are getting the best online price. If you don’t already have it, you really should check out Honey. Honey is a browser extension that will tell you if you are getting the cheapest online price. When you go to check out it will tell you if what you are buying can be found for less somewhere else (and includes the shipping cost in the calculation.) It will also tell you if there are any coupons that you can apply. Use this link to get Honey installed on your browser and share with others to get even more savings.