These are my favourite tools of the trade, says Mary Lowther. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Favourite tools and a few for the wish list

If you find tools second hand, look for cracks in wood and rust spots on metal and give them a bye.

By Mary Lowther

This is a good time to start planning a garden because you have all winter to gather equipment you’ll need next spring.

If you find tools second hand, look for cracks in wood and rust spots on metal and give them a bye. Some older tools are quite heavy and can make gardening an unpleasant chore, so leave those for Paul Bunyan types. Better tools have a nail or screw driven through the metal sleeve that slips over the wooden handle for extra security, but this is not a necessity. You want the handle long enough that you don’t have to bend over when gardening. A shovel with the metal rolled over where you plant your feet is easier on your shoes and allows you to put more weight on the shovel when you dig.

I have two hoes; the solid hoe I use to break up clods of soil and the stirrup hoe I use for weeding. The metal part looks like a stirrup and swings a bit so it’s great for weeding back and forth, cutting my weeding time in half. I carry a small whetstone in my apron pocket to keep my shovel and solid hoe sharp, but the stirrup hoe can’t be sharpened.

I used to just keep small tools in my jeans pockets, but I started wearing an apron a couple of years ago because it holds more stuff than pockets. It’s a small canvas apron with three pockets, designed for gardening and doesn’t get in my way when I’m working. Small tools like secateurs don’t cut through the canvas. Secateurs are like strong scissors that only cut on one side and are perfect for cutting most plants, but for larger items I use a linoleum knife. My pocket knife lives in my pants pocket though, because I use it when I’m not in the garden too.

Other tools I can’t do without include a rake, pitchfork for compost, a trowel and a wheelbarrow. Gloves aren’t a necessity but they give me more strength and less nausea when I have to pick up slugs et al and they also protect my skin against cracks and nicks.

I’ve tried some things that other folks recommended but don’t work for me. Knee pads kept slipping off and were too much of a hassle to wear. The pad designed to kneel on is just more stuff to carry around. The transplant hole digger also doesn’t work for me – you push it into the soil, twist it and pull out a chunk of soil, leaving a hole the size of the pot you’re going to transplant. I like to dig a hole bigger than this, mix fertilizer into the bottom and fill the hole with water before I transplant.

When my kids were small I didn’t buy children’s gardening tools for them and they used the few adult tools I could afford. We had an allotment garden back then and they were more interested in our neighbour’s raspberries anyway.

One can never have enough tools though, and I’ve got my eye on a few more, although these require some creation on my part. I want a boot scraper and brush affair that sits outside the door for when I’m finished gardening and need to scrape and brush the mud off my shoes. A piece of heavy duty length of conduit stuck into the ground would help straighten the tine of my potato fork: one sticks the bent tine into the conduit and bends it back into place. Finally, water pipe insulation tubes cut to fit the handles of my small tools and taped into place might make them easier to use.

Notices: The Cowichan Community Garden, located at the corner of Stone Avenue and Stevens, will be accepting jack-o’-lanterns and leaves that haven’t been sprayed.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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