Ever consider what life might look like if fuel became rare… super-expensive… or both? Ever think about what the grocery store shelves would look like if shipping was disrupted? Ever wonder what would happen if an EMP took out the grid? I have (usually while clutching a tumbler of Jim Beam and hiding under a mattress along with my 3,000 cans of baked beans).
With a single jolt to our supply lines, a lot of what we rely on for daily life would no longer be reliable – and food would be at a premium. Gardening, at first glance, seems like it wouldn’t be that hard without technology and fuel. But when you consider that most gardeners are relying on mowers, tillers, tractors, RoundUp ™ and chemical fertilizers, we’ve got a problem.
Could you manage even a quarter-acre garden without gas? You can if you have the right tools – and you’ll become healthier at the same time. How so? Because it’s darned hard work! If everything collapses, the following eight tools are must-haves. Get them now and learn to use them – before it’s too late.
This one is a no-brainer – that’s why it’s at the top of the list. If you don’t have this tool, what’s wrong with you? From burying carcasses and trenching in compost, to double-digging and dispatching zombies – you NEED a shovel. Get one. And get a good one. If you’ve got a bigger budget – get three. Grab a short-handled spade with a square blade, a long-handled digging shovel, and a large square point shovel for mucking out chicken coops and scraping mulch off driveways, etc.
When you mention the spading fork, people often wonder what in the world you’re talking about. They’re likely picturing a pitchfork or “manure fork” rather than this tough garden implement. The spading fork is a simple tool for double digging a new garden bed. By stomping its hard tines into the ground and working it back and forth, you aerate and break up compacted soil, giving plants a major advantage over those growing in unloosened soil. A spade and a spading fork together can prepare ground twice as well as a rotary tiller. It takes a lot longer – but the plants grow a lot better. Trust me – I’ve tried it both ways. There’s no beating the deep reach of a spading fork.
I know – you’re gonna tell me standard hoes are “found hanging around on street corners dressed in fishnet stockings and stinking of cheap perfume and booze.” WRONG! Those hoes aren’t worth a darn in the garden. The standard hoe is the long-handled thing with a curved metal blade on a gooseneck that your dad kept in his shed for some unknown reason, rusting, unused and unappreciated as a garden tool. Plenty of us have this idea that a hoe is a total pain in the neck to use. That’s partly true – and partly fiction. Yes, hoeing is tiring work – but that’s partly because we don’t sharpen the blade and bend the gooseneck so the blade chops through weeds at a comfortable angle. Use a hoe to clean up the weeds around fruit trees, to hill up potatoes, and to weed between garden rows. A standard hoe is a useful implement, particularly in rocky, weedy or clay-rich areas. But – if you’re got somewhat loose soil – and weeding that needs doing – you’ll want to get a hold of the standard hoe’s ugly sister, the “scuffle hoe.”
This tool is a weed-eating machine. The blade rocks back and forth, gliding through the soil and severing weeds just below the surface. If you maintain your gardens and don’t allow the weeds to get too big and thick, regular clean-ups with a scuffle hoe are a piece of cake. My wife and I both use this tool all the time. It’s easy to control and doesn’t require the tiring chopping motion of a standard hoe.
This is my favorite tool ever. It’s perfect for clearing vines and brush. It also makes you look cool.
The key to machete success is keeping that sucker sharp. I run a file down mine almost every time I use it. A good edge makes the blade sing. Machetes are great for cleaning up bamboo or branches for tomato stakes, decapitating chickens for the table and clearing cornstalks. I’ve also used one to chop-and-drop mulch plants in my food forest, as well as for punching holes in the garden for transplanting seedlings. (Granted, a trowel would’ve worked better but I would’ve had to walk all the way to my barn for that.)
My favorite style of machete is the classic “Cane Machete.” My model has a good heft and a hook that’s useful for pulling branches and vines, plus the top is squared off rather than pointed. Unfortunately, my cane machete has gone missing so I couldn’t take its photo for this article. (I’ll bet the kids were playing their darned “Shining Path” game again…)
As a side note: Gerber makes the worst machete I’ve ever owned. It was an insult to their name and dinged up like a piece of crap the first time I used it. A friend had the same model; his broke in half. AVOID.
PRO-TIP FOR MEN: Dangle a cigar from the edge of your mouth while nonchalantly swinging a machete. Women will swoon.
Also known as a “hard-tined” rake, this is tool is perfect for leveling newly dug beds. It’s a weed-sifting machine, a young weed eliminator, a seed-burier and, in the proper hands, a formidable Ninja weapon. Like the shovel, this is a no-brainer tool. Get one.
I use a metal-tined leaf rake for most of my gardening work. When I’ve turned an area over, this is the tool I use for the final polish on a bed. It has a much lighter touch than the bow rake and isn’t any good at pulling dirt around. One great use for a leaf rake is – you guessed it – raking leaves. If things get ugly, you’ll need to rake big piles of leaves and grass clippings for your compost pile and this is the go-to tool.
When you need to get stuff from one place to another, this is the way. I use both a classic one-wheeled wheelbarrow (which excels in gracefully transporting compost into the garden and through tight spaces) and a four-wheeled garden cart. I wouldn’t want to lose either of them. Get a good quality wheelbarrow and it will last a long time. I found mine in the dumpster of a K-Mart some years ago. The tire was flat, hence its untimely demise. I fixed it and basically got an almost free (and much needed) tool for the garden. When I double-dig my garden beds, I use the wheelbarrow as a repository for the dirt I take from the first row, then cart it around to the other end of the bed when I’m done with the last row. It works for hauling chicken feed, carrying leaves to the compost pile, holding piles of weeds as you work your beds, and carting squealing children around the yard.
What to look for when buying tools
Get good stuff. Cheaper is not better. If it feels flimsy, is gadgety or trendy, or made of plastic – avoid it. Antique shops are excellent sources for tough vintage tools. Forged heads on spading forks and shovels are really hard to find but they’re worth getting if you can. My best hoe is an antique one with a forged head. It takes a serious edge, has a perfect heft, and despite its worn state, does a killer job.
Garage sales are another good place for finding garden tools. If it’s in working shape – and at a decent price – buy it, even if you already have one. Backups are a good idea.
Additional Tools for Special Tasks
if you already own the eight basic garden tools above, here are a few more I’d add to your gardening arsenal:
Long-handled loppers: These are great for pruning fruit trees and dealing with downed limbs
Hand sickle: This is very useful for cutting tall weeds, grain stalks and greenery. I use mine regularly. It’s also an antique.
Secateurs: These are the little hand-held pruning shears. Great for thinning gardens, trimming up blueberries and nipping evil bugs in half.
Scythe: If you know how to use this graceful tool, it’s almost as good as a lawnmower.
Pitchfork: For tossing mulch, straw and manure, it’s hard to beat.
Trowel: If you own this you won’t have to dig with your machete when you transplant.
Finally, remember: the supply of tools will also dry up in TEOTWAWKI. Don’t get caught short.