It’s one of the sad realities of modern gardening that the best tools for cultivating and working the soil are usually the oldest, says Peter Cundall of Gardening Australia fame and now writing for the Weekly Times.
“As we get older we realise the value of collections [of old tools]”
Many modern spades and forks look impressive but aren’t as easy to use and have relatively short working lives.
Cundall says the best fork is a short-handled one with powerful flat tines made from high quality spring-steel. It was made about 60 years ago and bought for $8 from a second-hand tool stall. It is a pleasure to use.
Colin Cambell, also from Gardening Australia, says that it is perceived that a poor workman or tradesman always blames his tool. And as a collector, he says this is a complete fallacy. Tools are designed to be used in a particular way for a specialised task, and a workman is meant to be master of the tools that he uses as well as being responsible for taking care of it and keeping it well maintained.
“As we get older we realise the value of collections like this, and realise that they are an essential part of our gardening heritage.
Cundall says that although many modern forks are ergonomically designed, the thick, impressive, stainless-steel tines, can snap like carrots when the going gets a bit heavy. Other cheap forks have weak soft-steel tines that bend and twist when under pressure.
He says use a short-handled spade for digging heavy clay and there’s o doubt about the superiority of forged, stainless steel blades for this purpose. A good one can cost $50 or more, but will last several lifetimes. And the more they are used, the better they become.
Cheap spades are a waste of space, unless the soil is a light, sandy loam. Most are made from moulded plate steel and bend easily in heavy soil.Take a look and like Cundall you may discover the odd bargain at garage sales and similar places, “I once acquired a Bulldog – easily the world’s best digging spade – but someone with excellent taste pinched it. I still sometimes lie awake at night, mourning its loss”, he says.
One of the best is a hand-operated mechanical hoe with a double-edge swinging blade fixed to the end of a long handle. It is easily pulled backwards and forwards and the sharp blade slices through seedling weeds just below the surface, killing them. You don’t even need to bend down to do the job.
A claw hoe is like a tiny plough. It is brilliant for dragging through the soil to break any surface crusting and is a great little cultivator. However it is useless for removing weeds because the hooked claws tend to straddle them. I’ve overcome this by stretching a strong, thin wire tightly between the two outer claws to allow weeds to be cut off just below the ground.
Most good garden tools keep in good condition for years provided they are stored under cover. Even the strongest wooden handles rot if the tools are left lying flat on the ground during wet weather.
It pays to get the best. And the best of the best tools are the old ones.