by Mary Jane Butters

Hard-To-Find Gardening and Farming Tools -- Levin to his urban brother after a day of mowing with a hand scythe:

"You can't imagine what an effectual remedy it is for every sort of foolishness. I want to enrich medicine with a new word: Arbeitskur. Arbeit is German for work, movement, energy; kur means cure." - Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, 1876

The repetitive labor of hand weeding and planting -- the bending, pulling, up-and-down rhythm of your body requires tools that prevent strain, frustration and waste of effort. They should feel like well-designed extensions of your hands and feet. The cheap, dull gardening tools found abundantly in common hardware stores are made using porous metals that bend easily, are difficult to sharpen and wear out quickly. They don't work and don't fit. They discourage the first-time gardener. You can tell, though, when you've found a good tool -- and you'll be hesitant to let go of it at the end of a gardening session.

Here are a few hand tools for a lifetime of pleasure:

Tool Bucket that Doubles as a Garden Seat -- With this gadget, you carry everything you need out to your garden in one easy trip. Wrapped around a 5-gallon bucket, this 10-pocket tool belt provides a comfy place to sit while working. You can rinse off your tools and put them right back where they belong in the weatherproof mesh belt. The bucket lid is textured with a non-slip surface that fits snugly on top so the inside of the bucket stays dry. If you try to use just any 5-gallon bucket, you'll be frustrated every time you try to remove the lid. (Most 5-gallon buckets require yet another tool to get the lid off.) Visit Gardener's Supply Company on the Web at (888-833-1412), item #31-923.

12 " Digger -- This little tool does the job of a trowel, knife and tiller. Its razor-sharp serrated teeth cut through roots, weeds, vines and sod. The knife blade on the other side cuts burlap, weed matting or twine. The blade is welded to the handle at a right angle for prying and digging up hard-packed soil. It comes with a holster and can be found at Duluth Trading Company, (800-505-8888), item #W48.

Amish Hoe -- An Amish saw maker with years of garden experience has built his dream hoe for you. The blade is feather-light and made from high carbon Swedish steel -- the kind used in high-quality cutting tools. It is sharply honed on three sides -- perfect for hoeing weeds in between rows using the wide edge and in between plants using the narrow edge. The gooseneck blade is set at a 70-degree angle to cut parallel to the ground when you're standing upright. It has a strong, sanded hickory handle. You can choose a 5 ", 6 " or 7 " blade. (888-780-4975), item #AMH5.

Pruners -- The Swiss-made Felco Pruner was once available only to professional horticulturists. The Felco #2 is their original model and still the best. It has an anvil blade, wire-cutting notch and tempered bolt with parts that are easily serviced, since they aren't riveted together. Whether you have a full-scale nursery or a single rose bush, the Felco Pruner is designed to prevent wrist fatigue. (800-940-1170) item # 296772.

Skillers Brown Duck Tool Vest -- If you steward several acres that have fencing, farm animals and irrigation, you'll want to head out the door every morning with a fully loaded tool vest. It's easy to take off and put on even when fully loaded. Large armholes give you the freedom to move no matter which way you reach or stretch. An internal 2 " nylon belt adjusts to take the weight off your shoulders and hips. It's made with heavy cotton duck and is machine washable. For women, the smallest size manufactured is a medium. For small frames, though, it's easy to take off a couple of inches in the shoulders using a needle and thread. This one is a must at Duluth Trading Company, item # 9937.

Hand Scythe -- Almost 20 years ago, I read an essay written by Wendell Berry, a Kentucky farmer and poet, that mentioned a Tennessee family which was still making and selling hand-carved wooden scythes. I tracked them down and bought one. Unlike American-style scythes that you've probably seen hanging in old barns, the Marugg scythe uses an Austrian design that complements the contours and dynamics of your body like a glove. In happy contrast to a noisy gas-powered weed eater, the Marugg scythe is a meditative way to cut tall grasses and weeds. A hand scythe can perform a moderate-size task in less time than it takes to fire up, maintain and repair its mechanical substitute. Call Marugg Co. at 931-592-5042.

Next Week: Sharpening and Caring for Your Tools

Publication date: 06/26/03

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