by Matthew E. Navarro
While working the 2020 harvest at a large custom crush facility, I lucked into a harvester's loss. Tumbling out of a macrobin fell a simple tool composed of a hard plastic handle and a short curved blade. “That's mine! Dibs!” I shouted to a fellow crusher, who uncaringly grabbed the item off the conveyor belt and handed it over. Little did I know this small, razor sharp blade would become my new favorite tool.
Now, onto why it's my new favorite. I am currently volunteering on an eight acre homestead and farm in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Daily tasks range from servicing fruit trees, weeding pathways, dragging brush, and so on. I like to keep several hand tools on me to be ready for anything, and have frequently found this grape hook in-hand for a variety of tasks.
Cardoon, a large leaved cousin of the common artichoke, grows wild on site. Our hosts like cardoon for its flower, drought resistance, and easy biomass production for mulch. It's great for chop and drop. I harvest its leaves like one prunes New Zealand flax; I prune out the outermost leaves as close to the base as possible. The razor sharp grape hook cleanly and perfectly slices through the cardoon leaves. I can't wait to try it on phormiums, which I usually cut with a box cutter. The curve of the short blade allows for more accurate cuts, and I can start at the back of the leaf and pull towards me without uncomfortably bending my wrist.
Servicing trees often starts with weeding and removing saplings/suckers. Most of the trees here sport deer resistant metal cages. The fences also make for difficult weeding of tall grasses close to the young trees. The grape hook works as a small grass hook in these situations. Stalks can be sliced and pulled out without damaging the roots of our intentional trees and shrubs. Furthermore, the hook is capable of cleanly pruning out young suckers and water sprouts as I move up a tree. It won't cut through woody stalks, but it saves me some long term strain by taking some work away from the hand pruners.
Frequently, I have the pleasure of installing sheet mulching on the homestead. In preparation for the dry season, the cardboard and bark piles have shrunken. Again, the grape hook has come to replace the box cutter, but this time for slicing cardboard. The short sickle is faster to access than a retractable safety knife, and still relatively safe due to its roundness. Beyond cardboard, it's perfect for cutting lengths of twine and string for other garden tasks.
Using the grape hook more and more, I like to keep it as sharp as possible. A blade honed to a razor finish makes for effortless action when the tool is needed. When working, if I feel any hesitation when making a cut, I take time to hone the blade with a pocket carbide sharpener. I look forward to early fruit and vegetable harvesting on the farm with my new favorite tool, and am eager to find out new ways to use it.
Napa Master Gardeners are available to answer garden questions by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. or phone at 707-253-4143. Volunteers will get back to you after they research answers to your questions.
Visit our website: napamg.ucanr.edu to find answers to all of your horticultural questions.
Photo credits: Matt Navarro
North Carolina extension-Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/cynara-cardunculus/
Montrovia-Phormium, New Zealand Flax https://www.monrovia.com/amazing-red-new-zealand-flax.html
Lambert, Cindy “It's Harvest Time” 9/14/2020 from the Wine History Project (https://winehistoryproject.org/harvest-tools/)
Protecting trees from deer: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74117.htmlSheet mulching: http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/files/221117.pdf