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A Bit of Earth Readers suggest their favorite garden tools

  • Published Friday, July 11, 2014, at 2:33 p.m.

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You can tell what causes the most work for gardeners by the tools they use.

When they own different sizes of hoes, I think you know where this goes.

Awhile back I asked readers to let me know about their favorite tools. Hoes were the most-mentioned. I guess an implement that can help make weeding easier has to make the cut.

Joan Fox said she was introduced to the Nejiri Gama hand hoe by fellow master gardener Charlene Schneider while they were working on the grounds committee at the Extension Center. It has an 18-inch handle which Joan uses for heavy-duty weeding while she’s on her knees, and for random weeding from a standing position ($23 plus shipping, www.gardentoolcompany.com/18-nejiri-gama-hand-hoe).

“I ordered one for my 95-year-old mom, my daughter, and my sister. It’s far and away my favorite,” Joan said via e-mail. “Charlene says there are others similar, but some have a welded head, and they aren’t durable. My mom calls hers ‘the machine.’ ”

That advice about the welded head applies to other tools as well. After going through a few trowels that got bent out of shape, I found a single-piece non-welded Craftsman trowel at Sears several years ago. I loved that thing. But I haven’t seen it in a couple of summers. Figures that when I finally find something that lasts, I lose it.

Charlene says she also likes to use a long-handled stirrup hoe, the type whose head wiggles back and forth and cuts both directions. And she also uses the Weed Comb from Jungs ( www.jungseed.com, $15). “It’s really good for grasses and small compacted weeds,” Charlene says.

Haysville master gardener Everett Price has been trying out a new hoe: the Rogue scuffle, which also cuts when either pushed or pulled. It’s made in the USA from an agricultural disc blade.

“The folks at Rogue asked me to be a distributor, and I have had many orders,” Everett says. He plans to have some for sale at Tomato Day on July 26 at the Extension Center. The cost is $39.50.

One of the main things that makes a tool a favorite is its ability to take stress off some part of the body.

After our recent drought years, I wanted to buy a soil probe to check for soil moisture after extension agent Bob Neier mentioned it. But good ones are pretty expensive, $80 or so. I worried that, since not all my joints are working at their former peak, I wouldn’t be able to push the probe in as far as it needed to go or pull it back out once I got it into the ground.

So I went for a combination tool — one that will help me plant bulbs in the fall and that also will get 6 inches down to check for moisture. The U.S.-made ProPlugger is much wider than a soil probe — the plugs it pulls out are 2 3/8 inches across — and it won’t nearly go as deep as a probe, but the shaft has a piece of metal to step on that gives the tool some leverage.

I may yet have to splurge on a probe later.

I think the ProPlugger is the first tool I’ve bought online ($45 at Amazon and on other sites). When I need something, I usually just go to a garden center and buy whatever it carries.

Paul Bradley’s favorite tool, the Garden Grabber, saves his back, he says.

“It’s a rake that has circular tines that open and close with a sliding handle that grabs leaves, grass and the like, similar to grabbing with your hand.” He says that the Grabber ($30 plus $7.50 shipping from Amazon) requires “a lot less bending.

“I’m on my second one now. The first lasted almost 10 years, and the latest version seems to be built better.”

That’s not something you hear often.

Chuck Evanhoe made his favorite gardening tool — a compost screen. Chuck composts a lot and likes his compost to be of a uniform consistency when he’s working it into his soil. Chuck uses mainly leaves in his compost, and rakes the leaves up from beds full of cypress mulch.

“Removing leaves from beds mulched with cypress unfortunately mixes a bit of that cypress into the leaves,” he e-mailed me. “I use cypress because it breaks down more slowly than other types of mulch and doesn’t need to be replaced as frequently, but that also means that it doesn’t break down very quickly in the compost.”

When Chuck makes a new garden bed, the soil that comes along with sod removal goes into the compost as well. Sometimes things like rocks or plastic plant tags make their way into the mix. The screen filters all that out. Chuck made the screen eight years ago with treated lumber and, as the filter, 1/2-inch hail screen reinforced with a heavier mesh fencing material underneath.

The screen points up the beauty of compost. Chuck’s first vegetable garden area started out as “heavy, sticky and compacted red clay.” But he has added a 3-inch layer of compost to it every other year for more than 15 years, and “it now crumbles through my fingers when I grab a handful. .... I don’t need to use fertilizer to have gangbuster growth of plants — they are quite happy with just the compost.”

DeAun Johnson’s favorite tool is the Wilcox pointed hand trowel, made in the USA of stainless steel. She and her husband each have their own.

“It slices right through clay soil,” DeAun says. “We now have a variety of sizes. Johnson’s now carries them.”

And I just happen to be in the market for a good trowel.

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @anniecalovich.

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