Pig For Victory No.2: What does what? A guide to the tools you'll need.

There are probably now more tools knocking around in sheds and outbuildings that have come and gone in a blaze of glory under the guise of 'making gardening easier' than the population of most cities. It is a truth universally acknowledged that tools given to you as Christmas presents whose packaging exclaims such things as 'In minutes', 'You'll never look back' or 'Guaranteed to make gardening easier' will now be gathering dust. Years from now you'll find them and because you've lost the user guide will have no idea how it works or what it is for. 

The right tools used the right way will do wonders for your vegetables.


You will have tools in your shed that may have been passed down from relatives, friends or neighbours and these tend to be best tools, the worn tools rather than worn out. Their handles will be polished by the palms of many gardeners. There are two schools of belief, and belief it is because that's what gardening is in the end, that steel handles are better than wood. Frankly, we don't care, it doesn't matter, it all comes down to the individual gardener and their belief. Use what you feel comfortable with, use what you have and if you don't like it, try something else. At Pig Row, we prefer wood because it doesn't rust and doesn't bend like steel and when the handles do break we can replace them and keep the tool. This is more to do with economy with us and we get cross with tools that are in the prime of their gardening life that are thrown out because the gardener hasn't taken time to oil or sharpen them. Tools need a sharp edge, and an afternoon in autumn spent sharpening your tools and oiling them will pay dividends in the following year. 

Dutch and Draw hoe, how to use them and why you should have them.

In the above photo, from left to right, are the Dutch Hoe and the Draw Hoe. Hoes will be part of your spring, summer and autumn life. They will become part of your gardening body during these seasons. You will find them wonderful to lean on as you look at your growing plants and if kept sharp will slice off unwanted weeds. A Dutch Hoe works on the push principal, you slice towards the weeds, cutting them off at the roots just under the soil level. Always hoe on a dry day and the weeds will shrivel away. The Draw Hoe is drawn towards you in a chopping action, the Draw Hoe can also be used to make ridges or furrows to plant peas. These are the only two hoes that you will ever need. Other hoes are often variations on this push or pull principal. Both these hoes were inherited from my Dad, the handles are new but the heads are older than both me and my Dad.

Border and Potato Fork, how and what they should be used for.

In the above photo, from left to right, you have a Border Fork and a Potato Fork. These forks are wonderful tools but have two distinct jobs. A Border Fork is used to prepare the ground and break up the soil, aerate lawns and move fresh manure. It is a tool used in the soil and other soft material but shouldn't be used to break up hard sub-soil or worse still bedrock pans. Here you will have to use a mattock or pick. Use the right tool for the right job. You may have heard this time and time before, it may make you sigh, or raise your eyebrows or you may fall into the school of 'I can't be bothered to go to the shed to get the right tool' but stop. A high proportion of gardening accidents are a result of people using the incorrect tool. A few of these are the person from Birmingham who used an onion hoe to remove a blockage from a petrol mower that was still on. The people across Greater London who used their Border Forks to dig out rocks from their garden only for the prongs to snap and fly into their thighs, crotches and in one case, eye. The gentleman from Norfolk who used a hoe to move a mains cable, sadly now departed. There is a reason that we should all use tools correctly and safely, if the tool in your hand is straining, you are using the wrong tool for the job. Step back, appraise what is needed and in the case you don't know what to do, seek advice. The Potato Fork will only be used to dig up potatoes or root crops you don't want to damage. The tithes on the Potato Fork unlike the Border Fork are blunt, I am sure those people in Greater London had wished that.

Garden Rake or the fool's folly when laid down the wrong way.

The Rake, the joke tool, the tool that does indeed whack you in the face if you lie it the wrong way round and step on it - we've done it and many of you will have done it with the accompanying BOING and dull THUD - is a tool that you will use to turn your lumpy soil to a fine tilth. It is not for moving soil around or chopping off weeds (that's the hoes job), the rake is one of the tools for creating new beds to sow in. The Rake is the final tool in use after digging over a new bed with a spade (we'll come to that tool), you use your feet to tread down the clumps (sods) and then rake it level removing any weeds, roots that come towards you with the rake. You could spend hours taking stones out that you have raked towards you but don't take out too many, stones are important heat reserves and moisture holders in soil. They also contain minerals that leach out over eons. A Rake should be easy to move across the soil, if you are finding it hard to 'push and pull', you need a lighter touch. A Rake should glide across the soil, it should not be a struggle, a job that makes you grunt and means that you are actually pushing and pulling soil around.

The workhorse of the garden.

Above is The Spade, it The Spade, purposefully and meaningfully it has a reverential title. It is one of the oldest tools in your shed, it is the work horse of your garden, it should be cared for, treated with respect and sharp. It should be comfortable in your hand, easy under your foot and a delight to dig with. The Spade is like a good meal, you know what you like to eat, you know you will enjoy it, you know you will be talking about it the next day, you know you can eat that meal anytime, any place, anywhere. That's The Spade. It will dig your trenches, post holes, hot beds, bean pits, compost, it will shovel your muck and will last a lifetime if nurtured. This Spade is older than me, found in a junk shop and brought back to life and it cost £5. It took me one hour to clean, sharpen and oil. It has lasted me all summer and will last me many summers to come. In another post we will be talking about how to dig properly, and digging the right way will mean The Spade will last longer than you.

Hedge shears the most useful of tools.

Above are Hedge Shears, for many of you these may not be a necessary tool in your garden but stop and consider how many times you need a tool like this. Think of all those cutting jobs like shearing back the herbs hard, chopping off long ornamental grass in the borders, cutting green manures or hedges. Hedge Shears work better for you than secateurs. If you have a hedge, they will be more invaluable than a hedge trimmer. They will last longer than a hedge trimmer and there is no danger of you cutting the electrical cable (again, a high proportion of gardening accidents are down to electrical accidents). They are less noisy, easier and cheaper to run then electrical or petrol trimmers. They give you time to consider the cuts you are making. Keep Hedge Shears sharp and oiled and you will slide through hedge cutting. We have cut our hedge in the orchard in less time with a sharp pair of shears than we have spent prepping a petrol trimmer. 

Secateurs are in your pocket all year round.

In the above photo are Secateurs. Secateurs will be in most gardeners pockets throughout the season. Treat them kind, don't use them to cut wire, they were not made to do that. Keep them clean, sharp and you will easily cut and prune with these beauties. Again, secateurs are like The Spade, they are personal to the gardener. Every gardener has a favourite pair of secateurs and when they are lost, they are like losing something you simply cannot replace. Never underestimate the power and the usefulness of a good pair of secateurs; never be without a pair.

A good knife saves time.

A good knife works wonders.

In the above photos are a Knife. A Knife is a great tool to have for cutting produce like lettuce, cabbages and for cutting string for tying in produce and plants. A good knife becomes a handy tool for propagation when taking cuttings. Keep it sharp, use it safely.

What a trowel is for.

How to hold a trowel. Save your wrists.

The above photos are of a Trowel. The Trowel is one of the most maligned tools in the garden shed. We all think we know what they are for but not many of us hold them the right way. A trowel should be held almost like a claw, this helps the wrist holding it, it makes it easier to plant those young plants. You may not agree with this but try this and your wrists will thank you. The Trowel is used to plant young plants, bulbs and weeding.

Hand fork and it's uses.

A great weeding tool.

The above photos are of the Hand Fork. The Hand Fork is the Rolls Royce when is comes to weeding between plants. It a useful tool to get into awkward spots, when close up weeding is needed or the soil needs breaking up between plants. It is a tool that tickles the soil and has much in common with the hoe, in looks and in the way we use it.

The onion hoe can be used to weed among over vegetables too.

Finally, the Onion Hoe in the above photo. This lovely little hoe is useful to weed between plants where traditional hoes are too large to get in between. The Onion Hoe is used to weed between onions but is useful in any bed where plants are close together and there is a danger of you slicing off the top growth with a traditional hoe. You may think this won't happen but this year we sliced the top growth off a new hornbeam whip. We often forget how sharp a good hoe is.

These are a few everyday tools that you will use more than that potato scoop that supposedly saves time, but in truth means you end up on your knees crushing spuds and swearing at the soil.

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