This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our Disclosure Policy for details.
Every gardener has favorite work tools. When I was ten or so and instructed to weed the carrots, my favorite tool was a scratcher–a short-handled, three-pronged thing. (I don’t think I held that job for very long…carrot-growers will understand.) Always accompanying the scratcher–I think they came in a set–was the trowel, ideal for digging holes of all shapes and sizes. Especially good for little hands.
I have a different toolset these days. A lifelong gardener, I’ve had the opportunity to try out a variety of implements and helpers; some work, and some are best left to the realm of short-lived gadgetry.
Here are my favorites.
1. A good wheelbarrow
We have replaced too many wheelbarrows to let this one go. Yes, they’re expensive for a first-time-out gardener. But trust me, buy the best one you can, like the heavy-duty Jackson 6-Cubic Foot Wheelbarrow. The other ones will rust/rot out and you’ll find yourself buying a new one sooner than you expected.
2. Five-gallon buckets
You will need at least two.
A wheelbarrow goes a long way in garden transportation, but buckets pick up where the wheelbarrow stops. Some examples:
Moving compost. When it’s time to move material from the winter composter to the summer composter, buckets are the easiest. These have high sides: four feet tall. Who wants to shovel from the wheelbarrow back into another container? Put it into a bucket instead, and just dump over the side. Two steps instead of three.
Weeding. Rather than pile weeds to move later, I fill a bucket, five gallons at a time, and then dump. (Where to dump? The chicken run, holes in the landscape…but that’s another topic altogether.)
Manure tea. Gross, but the plants love it! Put one or two shovels of old (rotted) cow/horse manure in a 5-gallon bucket and fill the bucket with water. A few days later, scoop the water (tea) out of the top and feed to nutrition-seekers like pumpkins, squashes and broccoli. Dump the remains in the compost!
I discovered the beautiful utility of five-gallon buckets thanks to leftovers from our house-building project. We still have a few of those. I thought I needed more at one time, and bought a few from a local hardware store. (That project did not last, but the buckets soon found other uses. They were cheap and well worth the investment.)
3. A shovel to match your ground
A good shovel is indispensable. For digging new ground, look for one with a handle you can lean on. A pointed shovel is best, especially if you have rocky ground to contend with, as I have. Look for a fiberglass or composite handle to hold up against rock or weather. We have replaced a couple of wood-handle shovels, but the current composite handle model has lasted the longest.
4. Watering wand
Rather than installing a drip irrigation system, I’ve opted for hand-watering. I spend early summer evenings reveling in new growth in the garden, from new transplants just placed to seedlings a few weeks old. Hit those tender plants with a stream from the hose, though, and they’re history! What’s needed is a gentle rainfall, or the next closest thing: a gentle rainfall from watering-wand.
Choose a long-handled Watering Wand and set it to the finest spray you need for your young plants. Then point it upward at an angle. This is the crucial step. The water will then fall gently as rain. Drink up, seedlings!
5. Moveable compost bins
There are many, many fine and beautiful structures in which one can keep decomposing kitchen scraps and garden remains. The trouble is that when it’s time to transfer, it’s a cumbersome project to shovel the goods out of the old bin and into the next location.
The Compost Bin by GEOBIN is gorgeously simple in design, but lightweight and brilliant in its mobility. It’s an adjustable columnar shape, with toggles to close at any diameter you like. When it’s time to move or remove its contents, just twist the toggles to release and move the entire structure.
I bought one to try when my original compost bins gave out. I’ve since bought two more–a total of three seems to be the right size to complete my compost rotation.
6. Compost Sifter
If you’re serious about composting, you will want to sift your compost into your wheelbarrow for delivery to the appropriate garden bed. You can buy one, but we made our own. (I should say, my husband made it. He builds, I grow.) It’s a square piece of half-inch hardware cloth, stretched over two-by-fours at a width to fit a wheelbarrow. If you prefer to buy, here is one of similar design.
7. Garden Fork
I use an antique garden fork to turn, by hand, the soil in every raised bed. It’s a lot of work but worth it! I don’t walk in those beds, so they stay light and uncompressed. They do need fluffing before a new crop goes in, though, and for that I use the trusty garden fork.
If you are a hand-garden-turner, you will need a good garden fork. Look for one with four flat tines.
8. Sturdy work gloves
At first, I dug in the garden with my bare hands. Why not? I use moisturizer afterward; so what if I have dirty fingernails for a few months of the year. Well, that got tiresome after a season or two. It turns out that wearing gloves isn’t such an impediment after all. I still bare-handedly push seeds into fresh soil, pull baby carrots, and a few other things. But for bulk projects like weeding, shoveling manure and compost, pruning tomatoes and digging potatoes, I don a good pair of gloves.
Don’t get me wrong, there are no gloves that will last forever. (Have you found some? Please let me know!) I buy a new pair every two or three years. I look for gloves that are at least a little waterproof; because if they aren’t, they won’t last through the first soggy seeding/weeding. (They shrink, and then don’t fit.)
What must-have garden tools have you found? Please share!
Between the Stumps is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.