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What hand tools do I need to get started with a garden?

Answer: There are two key components to consider when selecting a hand tool for crop production: ergonomics and durability. Ergonomics refers to how a tool is best designed for comfort, efficiency, safety, and productivity. The more ergonomically designed a tool is, the easier it will be on the human body. The length of a handle, the type of handle grip, the weight of the tool, and the angle of the tool head to the handle affect the ergonomics of a tool.

The more durable a tool is, the longer it will last without sustaining significant damage or wear. Durability can be measured in the strength of the handle and tool head. The harder the steel used for the tool head, the better it will hold an edge—which in turn improves efficiency and reduces wear. How the tool head and handle are joined together also affects the durability of the tool and determines whether parts can be replaced.

Hand tools can thoroughly prepare a small amount of land for planting. Spades and digging forks are designed to thrust vertically into the soil rather than at an angle. They are preferable to a shovel because the blade of a shovel is often shorter than the blade of a spade; in addition, the curve of a shovel blade makes it difficult to deeply penetrate the soil. Short-handled spades and forks with a D- or T-shaped handle allow for more efficient use of energy when digging deeply and when moving soil.

After the soil has been forked or spaded, a garden rake can be used to break up larger clods and remove residues and stones that, left alone, could interfere with planting, cultivation, and overall plant health. Rakes can also be used to level a bed and open furrows for seeding. They can be used with the head facing either up or down and by using a push-pull motion. The handle of a rake can also be held parallel to the body so that the head can be used to lightly tamp down the soil after seeding. The seedbed rake is designed with longer tines that can be covered with tubing to break the soil and lift it without the broadfork itself being lifted. Once the soil is loosened, the broadfork is moved back about six inches, and the procedure is repeated down the bed. Many farmers find the broadfork useful for harvesting crops such as scallions and potatoes as well. mark out specific rows for planting.

The broadfork, or U-bar, is a 2-foot-wide spading fork used for deep tillage. It consists of two handles, one on each side of the fork, and teeth that are spaced about four inches apart. The teeth are designed and spaced so that as the handles of the broadfork are pulled down, the tines break the soil and lift it without the broadfork itself being lifted. Once the soil is loosened, the broadfork is moved back about six inches, and the procedure is repeated down the bed. Many farmers find the broadfork useful for harvesting crops such as scallions and potatoes as well.

Take a look at the ATTRA publication Equipment & Tools for Small-Scale Intenstive Crop Production to learn more. It covers equipment and tools for intensive crop production on a small-scale farm. It details equipment and hand tools for soil preparation, planting, and weed management.