As we all know, there is a lot of unnecessary – or necessary but poorly made – lawn and garden equipment on the market. To help you sift through the hype and identify products that meet high standards of functionality and durability, here are two more additions to our series of quality garden tools for a wiser life.
U-bars build a better floor
Most gardeners will choose to use a tiller to prepare new soil or mix amendments into the soil, but to follow the usual advice of “loosen soil to 12 inches before planting” your best bet is a wide pitchfork ( aka “U-bar digger”). “A what?” you might be asking. Well, U-bars are just wide garden forks, with two handles instead of one.
Rather than loosening your soil with a tiller which can kill beneficial fungi and worms, upset soil layers, and cause armor layers in some soils, U-bars allow you to prepare beds of planting without turning the soil. It’s best not to mix layers of soil because some beneficial creatures prefer to live near the surface, while others thrive deeper. Additionally, rototilization can introduce excess oxygen into the soil, causing your valuable compost to oxidize at faster than optimal rates.
Once you’ve established your flower beds and started adding compost and organic matter every year, it takes very little effort to work them with U-bars. It only takes a few minutes to loosen a 3 foot by 10 foot bed. Another advantage of U-bars is that you can use them in early spring, even when the soil is too wet for a tiller. I find that once I put a pitchfork on my beds they dry out and warm up faster, so often I can plant a little earlier.
In my experience, U-bars are definitely an essential tool for a wiser life. Here are four companies that offer them: Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Lee Valley Tools, Red Pig Tools, and Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. Prices start at around $120. Or, you can create your own: see Creating Your Own Broadfork Gardening Tool.
A powerful pruner
Every gardener needs a pruner from time to time. There are, of course, both inexpensive pruning tools and better and better models. But there are also different cutting mechanisms to choose from – one of which, the American-made ratchet pruner from Florian Tools, is much more powerful than widely sold conventional pruners. Florian pruners’ patented ratcheting cutting mechanism works like a car jack, using the power of levers to multiply your hand strength by up to 700%! This means you can work through the toughest branches quickly. Even dead wood is no problem for these amazing tools. I once demonstrated for co-workers, and we actually broke the handle of conventional loppers trying to cut a dead branch. The Florian Maxi Lopper cuts the same branch with ease.
These ratchet tools are especially well suited for anyone with arthritis or reduced strength. Florian Tools offers several sizes, starting with the hand pruner that cuts branches up to three-quarters of an inch in diameter. 19-inch mini loppers cut up to 13⁄8 inches in diameter and 28-inch maxi loppers handle anything up to 2 inches in diameter.
I’ve used both the pruner and the maxi-lopper for about 20 years now, and these tools are so powerful and durable that I would never choose another brand. I have yet to find these outstanding tools offered at a garden center or store, however. The hand pruner pictured above costs $36.95 and includes a lifetime replacement warranty from this third-generation, family-owned company. It is available from Florian Tools.
Cheryl Long is the editor of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine and a leading advocate for more sustainable lifestyles. She leads a team of writers who produce high-quality content that has helped MOTHER EARTH NEWS rank among North America’s favorite magazines. Live long on an 8-acre farm near Topeka, Kansas, powered in part by solar panels, where she maintains a large organic garden and a small flock of heritage chickens. Before taking over as head of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, she was editor-in-chief of Organic Gardening magazine for 10 years.Connect with her onGoogle+.