Besides a Tractor, a water proof and easy-to-clean pair of boots, and a nice sharp knife, what tools do we use the most? Which do we reach for most often throughout the day? This question was emailed to us by one of our Permaculture Students and it is a good question and fun to think about…
This fall has been a long and warm one, and we have found ourselves getting better prepared for winter than usual. So I have gotten the opportunity to gather up the tools and clean them up for storing. I thought I would also take some photos!
The criteria for making this list was consistency of use as well as having multiple purposes, sometimes being a less expensive, less complex alternative to some other popular tool.
The Heavy Hoe
The first tool that popped into my head as a top favorite is what I call the “heavy hoe” It is like a wide and heavy one-sided pick ax. This one is from Mark’s grandfather’s tool collection. We had to replace the handle…but the hoe part is antique.
I can’t live without this one – it is a perfect weight – not too heavy to lift, yet heavy enough to dig into the soil with me having to push it. Really lovely tool. Look for these hoe tops at garage and barn sales and grab them if you see them!
Light Weight Hoes
Well, as useful as the Heavy Hoe is, you will also need Light Weight Hoes. I keep several different styles with me in the garden.
I use these hoes mostly for weeding and light cultivation around plants. I use the middle one the most – I call it my Heart Hoe.
I like these hoes better than other styles of weeders as I like the control I have with these – our gardening style is intensive and we have a lot of plants growing close together, and these hoes can work around them with ease.
The different sizes fit into different rows of vegetables, and they make me change my position and hoe in different ways. I think this is very important with large and repetitive tasks like weeding. Alternating between different styles will make you put pressure on different muscle groups and joints and give others a rest. It is important that you don’t hurt yourself farming. Farming and gardening are great exercise but be conscious of what your body needs. Garden like you are in a yoga or pilates class not like you’re in a race.
Wide-Tined Hand Cultivator
And along the same lines as hoes, I love this type of hand-held cultivator. I keep these at arm’s reach almost all summer. Note the spacing of the tines – it is hard to find cultivators like this, with wide, splayed-out tines, but they really make a huge difference especially in rocky soil.
You can use this hand-cultivator for almost any garden task – it digs holes, weeds, cultivates, chops – what more is needed? I never use a trowel, only this tool.
Some thoughts on Classic Shovels
We use three different shovels. One is a very short-handled shovel, small-scaled shovel – only about 2 feet in total length. I’ve seen them sold for kids.
This is very handy for cleaning out rabbit hutches and nest boxes. The short handle also makes it really easy to maneuver in small spaces like raised beds and even large pots.
We also use the shorter-handled versions of all shovels. We don’t even own a long handled shovel. They are just easier to maneuver in spaces like compost piles and chicken coops, which is where we use them the most.
We have a flat or straight-edged shovel and a pointed or spade shovel. Both have their uses and it is difficult to substitute one for the other. We really don’t use shovels for digging holes. Our ground is very rocky and we usually use the Heavy Hoe instead for any holes that need digging.
A Flat or Wide-Tined Pitch Fork
We use a wide-tined fork mostly in our chicken coops. We practice something called the Deep Bedding Method where the chicken manure in the coops starts composting inside the coop. To do this, we don’t clean out the old bedding from the coop, instead we keep adding new bedding (mostly pine shavings) to the old stuff and mix it in with the pitch fork. This keeps the moisture even throughout the bedding and gets air down into it as well. It never smells. By the time we have to take some out (which is only about once a year), we are shoveling out gorgeous and fluffy almost-composted manure.
We also can use this fork for loosening and aerating the soil in our garden beds. Although it is not as efficient as a wider and larger Broadfork, it still gets the job done.
Goat Hoof Trimmers
These are constantly being used around here and not for trimming goat hooves! I have to say, I like them better than the traditional felco number 2 pruners… I prune everything with them!
The orange handled ones are pretty classic in the goat world. They are heavy duty and never get stuck and never seem to dull out. I’ve been using them non-stop for 8 years now.
The white handled ones are for bigger hooves – they are super heavy duty. These have gotten stuck a few times, but they were easy to get apart and clean. And then, they got right back to use.
Little Folding Pruning Saw
For pruning thicker branches, the other main tool we use are little folding saws. The smaller the better so they fit in between branches and don’t keep getting caught up. These saws are amazing – you don’t have to put a lot of pressure on them to saw – you just focus on keeping your motion straight and the saw just bites its way gently through the branch.
Folding is nice for carrying them around safely. And try to get one that has teeth that are sharp on both sides – so the saw cuts on both the forward and the back strokes.
A Fine-Mist Watering Can
For watering, this watering can is just fine. It is actually great as it has its handles set up for easy carrying and leaning over and pouring. Great engineering.
But for using Compost Teas, Manure Teas, Biodynamic Preps, Herb Teas, or any foliar spray style fertilizer application – this watering can is wonderful. It can be used in most gardens instead of a backpack sprayer. The brand is Haws. The key to its greatness is the large and fine-holed spray top.
This fine misting strainer lets you thoroughly douse a plant with a light coating of whatever tea or prep you are applying. It spreads out beautifully. The top can be removed for easy cleaning.
Floating Row Cover
I tell people, I wouldn’t be trying to farm or run a plant nursery without Floating Row Cover!
We use it for protecting the plants in the field through the whole season. Sometimes it is protecting them from too much wind, or from insect pressure, or from cold, or from sun so they can harden-off properly. We use it over lettuce and cold-weather crops in the heat of the summer and as the first frosts of winter strike.
I also use it as shade cloth in the greenhouse. It cuts back on the glare and gives some areas of the greenhouse a bit less blaring sunlight.
And I use it to keep deer from eating things, and I throw it over the blueberries just as they are starting to ripen to keep birds from eating them all.
I use Floating Row Cover to harden off all my seedlings, most of which I start under lights inside the house. From there the young plants are moved into the greenhouse and a piece of Row Cover is placed over them. It is light enough not to crush them and airy, holding in some moisture but not bogging them down like plastic would. The covering is enough to protect them as they get used to the sun and wind and keeps any insects off too. Great stuff and you can keep reusing it for years if you take care of it.
Long S Hooks
For people with fences and trellis and greenhouses these S Hooks are fabulously useful. They come in different lengths, are quite inexpensive, and you can find them in greenhouse supply catalogs.
I use them to hand things from the greenhouse rafters, which is the primary way they are marketed. I also use them along fences where I have vines, brambles, etc. growing. Instead of having to tie up such things you can just hook them on these hooks which are super easy to adjust and move as the vines grow.
And then they keep coming in use for other things – like hanging bird houses from tree branches or lowering bird feeders from arbors… Or hanging holiday lights … which is the activity that made me put them on this list!
Counter-Height Work Table
Whether you are designing and building your own work table or buying one premade – make sure the height is right for you! When you work, you shouldn’t have to bend forward. Working like that gets uncomfortable and downright painful very fast.
Start with your kitchen counter. Stand next to it and think about how comfortable it is for you. After I did this, I realized that I’d be more comfortable with a work table 4 inches higher than the kitchen counter.
Giant Water Troughs
We have a water trough inserted in our work table which is great for potting seedlings.
But we’ve acquired quite a collection of Giant Water troughs over the years. This is another great thing to watch for at garage and barn sales.
You can use them for watering large animals or letting your ducks swim in them. But we use them for growing juicy and delicious celery and pak choi all summer long. We fill the troughs and then place the growing flats of plants on cinder blocks so that the trays are submerged only about 1/2-1 inch in the water. It works great. We use azolla to keep mosquitoes out.
We also drag the troughs into the greenhouse for the winter. They act as heat sinks, helping in quite a significant way, to maintain warmer temperatures. If the greenhouse watering system freezes like it did in last winter’s extremely low temperature, then you still have water for watering the plants!
We also use one trough in our mushroom growing – using it to douse logs inoculated with shitake spawn to encourage fruiting!
They can also be used in non-water capacities like as brooders for chicks or as giant pots for plants.
So yes Giant Water Troughs are always useful!
The last tool – Easy to Carry Bins
I have spent years of my life without an ample supply of easy -to-carry bins and I can’t believe how stupid that was!
My Mum came up to the farm a couple years ago with a big bunch of Bus Boy Bins that she bought at a restaurant supply company. I started using them that day and have probably used them every single day since. I use them for obvious things like harvesting and carrying groups of potted plants. But I also use them for soaking trays of seedlings in water, for brewing compost teas, for transporting chicks and baby fish, for gathering manure from under the bunny hutches, for mixing potting soil, for gathering weeds, for just a ridiculous amount of tasks! So worth having a bunch of these on hand and ready to make your life easier!
I am sure I will think of other really important tools and wish that I included them here, but this is a pretty comprehensive list of the stuff we use the most through the year.
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