THE tools really necessary for the home producer of vegetables are not numerous. But for the sake of one’s pocket and results it is necessary to know how to select those that are essential, how to use them to the best effect and with the least expenditure of labour, and how to prolong their useful existence. ‘Must’ Number One.
A spade is absolutely indispensable. And a spade is a shovel. The latter has no tread to the top of the blade; it is meant to be used flat, scoop fashion, and it is impossible to dig with it. A spade has a flat tread and is normally used upright.
It has a sharp cutting edge for easy penetration of the soil, and a bright blade.
Size and weight are of great importance. The large heavy spade wielded with such apparent ease by the expert tiller of the soil is a painful hindrance in the hands of the inexpert. The quality of the tool is governed by the price. The digger’s comfort and progress are governed by die spade’s size and weight.
The manner of using it is explained in the previous section. Like every other tool used on the land it should be put away under cover in a clean condition, blade and handle being scrubbed if necessary. Soil caked on the handle is a fertile source of blisters; on the blade, it hinders every thrust.
The Digging Fork.
Size and weight also count for much in the digging fork. The four tines, or prongs, may be flat or rounded, for digging clay or other heavy ground difficult to move with a spade.
It is also used for breaking down surface clods after digging; removing raked-up stones and rubbish; collecting and spreading manure and vegetable refuse; lifting potatoes and root crops generally. A heavy type of fork with broad flat tines is used by professional potato diggers, but in ordinary circumstances the common garden fork will serve all purposes including the forking-in of manures, fertilizers, or soil fumigants needing to be worked into the top 2 in. or 3 in. only.
A fork may fail at the hardest jobs, such as breaking up exceptionally obstinate subsoil. A pick will then be needed; but unless this tool is required extensively its purchase is scarcely worthwhile, if one can be borrowed for occasional use.
Handle and tines of the fork, and handle and head of the pick, should be cleaned with a scrubbing brush before the tool is put away.
This diminutive edition of a digging fork, small but sturdy, is useful for weeding close around plants where the hoe cannot easily or safely reach; loosening surface soil in the seed bed; and for lifting young plants from soil too clayey for easy work with the trowel. Keep it clean from end to end by scraping or scrubbing.
For annihilating weeds, which rob soil of food and compete with crops for air, light, space; for keeping surface soil loose, thus checking evaporation of moisture and letting in air, warmth, rain; breaking down clods; making drills for seed sowing and planting; earthing up potatoes, and so on – a hoe is invaluable. It should be one of the hardest-worked tools.
The Dutch hoe has a flat blade for working just below the soil surface; it is used with a jabbing, sliding motion, the operator walking backwards over the ground. It uproots weeds, or severs them at a vital part, a job most effectively performed when sun is shining strongly so that the disturbed weeds are quickly withered; after which they should be raked off and added to the soft refuse heap for later digging in. The flat blade leaves a more or less dusty top to the soil, this serving to bottle up moisture below. Its use is always advisable after the surface has been consolidated by trampling or heavy rain.
The draw hoe has an upright blade at right angles to the long handle. It is used with a chopping motion so that slices of the surface are detached. The operator walks forward over the hoed ground – not backwards as when the Dutch hoe is being used. This is the tool to use when the Dutch hoe is ineffective, as on clayey soil or where weeds are thicker and of coarse growth; and for drawing soil up to potato tops (earthing up).
The draw hoe is also used in conjunction with the garden line, for making drills for seed sowing and planting out.
The blade of the Dutch hoe and the draw hoe should have the sharpness of the cutting edge maintained by filing, and the handle should be kept smooth and clean to reduce skin friction.
There is a hoc with a triangular blade, especially for drill making, but it is not an essential, the purpose being served as well by the draw hoe used cornerwise. The Canterbury hoe has three short, broad prongs at right angles to the long handle, and is useful for working ground which turns up hard and lumpy.
The Rake. A metal-headed garden rake finds ample employment on stony ground; is useful for drawing hoed-up weeds into heaps; and for general levelling. If turned teeth upwards and at an angle, a corner of the rake can be used for making seed-sowing and planting drills; used fiat and teeth upwards, for filling in drills after the seed is sown. Rakes are made with from six to sixteen teeth; the ten-toothed variety is most generally useful. A handle that is always clean – and splinter-less – makes for comfortable use. This tool should never be left flat on die ground with teeth uppermost; an incautious foot may be set upon the head and the handle rise unexpectedly, with painful results.
The old-fashioned dibber – resembling the top 12 in. of a spade handle (including the D grip) – is still extensively used for planting cabbage, potato, etc. But there are drawbacks to it. The pointed end makes a hole that terminates in a point, the result being that the potato tuber dropped into the hole does not fall to the bottom; the roots it sends out will have to grope that position until the roots have been inserted. Then the trowel is removed and die hole filled in firmly.
This works admirably in light soil which would immediately trickle back into a scooped-out small hole before the roots could be inserted; but it might be found necessary to adopt the scooping method in ground that was clayey.
The hole should always be deep enough to take long roots – such as those of onion seedlings – without these being bunched up or folded.
A straight-edge fine – a length for a time to find anchorage. Similarly, the small roots of a cabbage seedling dropped in may hang fire for a period for lack of an immediate grip.
The dibber is perhaps quicker in operation in fairly loose ground than a trowel, but the latter should be used in preference. In stubborn clay the dibber, though tipped with a steel point, is not easily forced in; and it leave’s a solid-sided hole through which roots penetrate with difficulty.
The garden trowel is not die flat-bladed kind as used by plasterers, but is scoop-shaped. The method of using it depends on the object in view. If plants, such as tomatoes, are to be set out from pots, a circular hole should be scooped out with the trowel, larger and somewhat deeper than the mass of soil and roots in the pot. The plant is then placed into position in the hole, and some of die excavated soil is scraped back around it and firmed down with the other end of the trowel or with the fingers.
Small onion seedlings and cabbage plants without a mass of roots are quickly planted if the trowel is held with the concave surface towards the operator, pushed deeply and vertically into ground and then pulled backward – that is toward die user. The trowel is held in of stout cord – should always be for use in securing straight seed drills and planting rows, the cord to be stretched tightly between two sticks, one thrust into the ground at each end of the drill or row, and almost touching the soil. Out of use, keep the cord wound around its two sticks; and put it away clean and dry.
Barrow, Sieve, Watering Can.
A wheelbarrow is nearly, if not quite, indispensable; a stout box on two pram wheels and provided with two handles will serve in absence of the real thing.
Soil and leaf-mould, for preparing seed beds and making composts (mixtures of soil and leaf-mould or rotted manure) for filling seed boxes and for potting, should be passed through a sieve (or riddle) with a 1-in. mesh. This item cannot very well be dispensed with.
A stoutly made watering can of handy ample capacity is necessary not only for giving plants plain water during dry spells but for administering foods and tonics in the form of liquid animal manure or liquid artificial fertilizer. When water is to be given to seedlings in the form of a gentle shower the watering can should be fitted with a removable rose – a perforated cap that fits the end of the spout. If a hose is used for watering it should be of the non-kinkablc type.
A distributor in the form of bellows or blower for scattering insect-killing and disease-controlling powders over stems and foliage is a worth-while investment. A home-made substitute consists of a small muslin bag attached by a piece of string about 6 in. long to the end of a stick; the bag is filled with the powder, the neck tied, then jerked over the plants, the dry powder being ejected in small clouds.
Syringe. Sprayers for applying clear water or liquid insecticides take several forms, their simplicity or complexity depending on price.
They are all efficient, and no home food producer is likely to be so fortunate as to escape the need of one. The application of insecticides, etc.., is dealt with in the section which deals with PESTS AND DISEASES.