Growing food involves some common gardening tasks but do you know what tools to use? Learn what tools you need and how to safely and effectively use them.
You could have a shed full of tools of every kind and description.
But that doesn’t help if you don’t know which tools you need for certain tasks.
The right tools make any gardening task much easier, but they do need to be used for the right tasks to maximize their effectiveness.
And if your yard is large you will need to gather up all the tools you need before you venture out into the “back forty”. Nothing wastes time more than having to go back constantly for tools you forgot to bring.
Let’s look at some common gardening tasks that you’d use to grow your own food at home and what tools are needed to complete those tasks.
Usually you will need more supplies than tools for this such as soil, seed flats or pots, seeds and water. However a few tools will make seeding much faster.
You’ll want a trowel to help move soil from bags to the seed flats or pots. I also typically use a yogurt container as it holds more soil than a trowel and therefore is faster.
I recommend having a chopstick or wood dowel on hand to poke holes for the seeds in the flats or pots. You could use your finger too, but the holes might be too big depending on the size of your fingers and the size of the seeds you are planting.
You’ll need a watering can with a fine rose to avoid washing away seeds. Or you can use a water hose with a fine misting spray but be careful as it is easy to overwater. Another alternative is to get a cheap plastic spray bottle to mist the top of the soil.
And if you are buying amendments and soil in bags, you may need a handtruck or dolly to move the heavy bags to where you are seeding. You’ll also perhaps need a broom or handbrush/dustpan to clean up if you make a mess filling soil into flats or pots.
Want to learn more about Seeding? Check out my Seed Starting Guide.
Once your seeds have sprouted and grown into decent sized seedlings or transplants you’ll need to plant them out.
To prepare the area where the transplants will go, you’ll need to possibly dig first to loosen the soil. So a long-handled shovel or fork will come in handy. You might also find useful some type of cultivator/hoe or even a regular rake to break up the clods of soil you will generate digging in the soil. Use a rake then to smooth out the soil and a hoe, rake, shovel or trowel to make furrows for the transplants.
You’ll find a chopstick or wood dowel is the perfect tool to prick out the transplants without damaging them. I find that using gloves with such delicate transplants doesn’t work well so use my bare hands. Not many transplants have thorns so you should be okay.
You can also use the chopstick (measure and make some marks for common planting distances) or your trowel to space out your transplants. I use my rake laid over the tops of my raised beds to provide a guide to keep rows straight if I am planting in rows. You could mark your rake as well and use it for accurate spacing.
Use a trowel or your hands to smooth out the soil around the transplant.
And again you will need a watering can with a fine rose to water in your transplants and give them some soluble fertilizer such as seaweed and/or fish to guard against transplant shock.
Typically this is not a popular task among gardeners, so using the right tools to do weeding is important to make the task at least a bit more bearable and not feel overwhelming.
Before you start you may want to use a hose to moisten the soil if you have not had any recent rain, as weeds will tend to come up much easier than in dry soil.
A proper weeder will handle deep rooted weeds such as dandelions. For that really large persistent weed that you might have missed, you may have to get out the long-handled shovel or spade and dig a more substantial hole to try and get the whole root.
A sharp hoe is the best tool for running just below the surface of the soil to uproot shallow-rooted weeds or cut off perennial weeds (they will grow back though in most cases). It can also be used to injure your foot if you are not careful and not wearing shoes so be careful! You can also use a cultivator (or in my case the other side of my hoe) to loosen soil and then you can pull the weeds out.
Be sure to wear gloves if you are digging up thistles or weeding close to rose bushes to protect your hands from the thorns.
A regular garden rake can then gather up the uprooted weeds.
Finally you need something to haul away the weeds either to the compost or to your municipal green waste bin. The latter is definitely the right place for weeds that have seeded or weeds that can sprout from pieces of root such as bindweed – you don’t want these in your compost!
Trugs come in handy for this task as they are easy to clean afterwards. However you can also use an old laundry basket, garbage can, pail, cardboard box or a bag. In some cases shallow-rooted weeds can just be left on top of the soil to shrivel up and eventually decompose.
And keep in mind the best time to weed. That will make weeding so much easier!
Take a wild guess what you need for this task: pruners of course!
Safety Equipment: Before you start you may want to put on a pair of gloves depending on what you are pruning. I’d also recommend a hardhat if you are cutting heavy limbs above your head. And a pair of safety glasses as it is very easy to get a piece of bark or a whole branch in your eye.
You will need regular hand pruners, long pole pruners, loppers, a bowsaw and an orchard ladder. Sounds like a lot but having these all on hand will make the task go quicker and with less damage to your trees.
If you want to make your own mulch, the final tool you will need is a shredder/chipper. This can shred a large pile of branches into a useful wood mulch that you can spread on paths and on your flower and vegetable beds.
The tools you need to water your plants really depends on how close you have a water source to where you’re growing everything and how easy you want to make watering.
The most basic way is with a watering can. Have a good location where you can easily fill up the can and consider having two, one in each hand, to be balanced if you need to walk more than a few steps to reach where you need to water.
The next step up is a garden hose. You can get more info on what hose I recommend in my post Upgrade Your Garden Hose. With the right length and attachments you can use the hose to water many plants quickly.
Finally having an in-ground sprinkler or drip irrigation system saves you the most time if you have the system controlled by a timer. You just set the timer once and your plants will be automatically watered. While an in-ground sprinkler system is often already available if you have or had a lawn, a drip-irrigation system that directs water directly to plant roots is much less wasteful of water and more effective for your plants to get the right amount each time.
This is of course the task that most of us really enjoy as a reward for all that hard work! I have the tendency to head out into the garden unprepared and end up balancing 4 or 5 apples or other fruit in my arms against my stomach, while I also try to hold a bundle of greens! Not the best way to do this as it is awkward and can cause you to drop things and then they will get damaged.
So remember on your maintenance walks through the garden to take along what you need to harvest.
I’ve covered harvesting vegetables in detail in a newer post and that post lists the tools you need to harvest them effectively: Harvesting Vegetables 101: Time To Enjoy The Amazing Abundance
For harvesting fruit nothing beats a fruit picker. With it you can pick an apple, plum, peach or pear on a high branch without needing to get out a ladder. Just be sure to empty the bag regularly as it can get quite heavy and hard to hold. For those times when you really need to reach high you may need to use an orchard ladder (three legs); avoid using a normal stepladder as it is hard to get it stable enough on uneven ground.
Preserving the harvest will be covered in future posts. There are some specialized kitchen tools you will need for that.
I recommend getting a special compost turning tool that inserts into the pile. When you try to pull it out, its wings spread out and help to move some of the material in the middle up to the surface. You can do the same with a garden fork or shovel in a pinch.
Some people like to use a compost thermometer to measure the temperature of the compost to know when they need to turn the compost and if it is hot enough to kill weed seeds. Or you could just stick a long metal rod into the compost, wait a few minutes and pull it out. There are also compost hydrometers that measure moisture levels in the compost.
You will have to regularly empty the bin and if you have more than one bin compartment you will have to also move contents from one bin to another to help rotate the partially composted materials. The easiest tool here for when the compost is done is a shovel. For compost that is still in the chunky stage a garden fork is better but be prepared to constantly have to clear material from the tines.
A compost sieve or trommel that turns on an axle is another tool that might come in handy. You can then easily sift out the material that hasn’t decomposed yet so that you get a finer compost.
And you’ll want to utilize a wheelbarrow or some other kind of garden cart to move the compost to your garden beds. Once in your beds, you’ll also need a rake to spread the compost evenly.
Just one safety warning: manufacturers of tools are always very careful to point out that tools should only be used for their designed purpose and should not be modified in any way. While this is good advice, it always is tempting to use a tool for another purpose or modify or customize it to work better. Just think it through carefully and don’t do anything that could jeopardize anyone’s safety including your own or cause property damage (yours or your neighbours’).
As you can see the right tools for the right tasks are important. Not having the right tools will usually mean the task takes longer, the end result may not be what you wanted and in some cases put your safety at risk.
It takes some practice and forethought to have the right tools on hand for the common gardening tasks, but eventually it will become second nature.