Napa County Master Gardeners are required to spend 12 hours on continuing education each year. One of my favorite continuing-education classes is “Tool Time,” taught by fellow Napa County Master Gardener Matt Jones. The best part of the class is the show and tell, when we introduce others to our favorite tools.
One Master Gardener bought a prune-and-hold pruner that does not have a rope. It is virtually one handed. He picked it up at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show a few years back. It extends to four feet. A boon for the not-so-agile gardener, it eliminates the bending over to pick up pruned limbs. The head also rotates for more precise cuts.
A smaller prune-and-hold pruner, purchased at the Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa last year, is another gardener's tool of choice. A true one-handed pruner, it holds on to the branch until you drop it in the garbage receptacle.
One small handy tool is a pen-size blade sharpener. It fits in a pocket with a clip, just like a regular pen. It has three sides: flat, round and grooved. You can even sharpen your fish hooks. This tool was purchased at Lee Valley Tools online.
One fellow Master Gardener uses her grandfather's sharpening stone. It is still in great shape, and using it reminds her of her grandfather, who taught her the love of gardening.
Another gardener's sentimental tool is an uncle's grafting kit. The knives are very sharp and the tools fit into a handmade case.
One diminutive fellow gardener loves her watering can, perfectly sized for her small stature. She carries it with her as she works.
A Homer's All-Purpose Bucket from Home Depot, fitted with a canvas gardening catch-all from Mid-City Nursery, is lightweight and portable. Mine holds all the necessary equipment for almost every gardening task.
My all-time personal favorite tool is an all-terrain garden cart. It resembles a four-wheel wheelbarrow with high side. Its tires have valve stems and a 90-degree turning radius. It climbs over rough ground and stepping pavers. It even has a dump function.
I can push bags of compost out of my trunk into this cart and pull it wherever I need to dump the compost. Or I can use the cart to haul around an open bag when I'm spreading mulch. The cart is difficult to find. Most garden carts are made of steel mesh, and dirt drops through the holes. I found my cart at Home Depot and have seen them at other big-box stores.
Shovel versus spading fork? The tines of a spading fork sink into the soil instead of slicing through, without much effort. The tines are more soil friendly, ventilating the soil instead of compacting it. To dig deeper or to add amendments, I can stand on the harp and wiggle back and forth without the load of a shovel.
I can't say enough about the new ergonomic tools. The shovels, hoes and spades with circular handles are easy to grip. Some come with an assist bar on the handle to redistribute the load. Many small tools, from pruners to PVC cutters, are being designed with a ratcheting motion instead of requiring brute grip force to power the cuts.
Even drip irrigation is accommodating aging gardeners. The “blue line” half-inch irrigation tubing does not require compression fittings. The easy fittings go over the tubing for about a half inch and then screw on. This is not only easier on the hands, but you can also reposition the fittings.
Raised beds are not a tool, but they are one answer to keeping gophers, moles and voles out of the garden. They are also easier on the gardener's back. Line the bed bottom and a few inches of the sides with hardware cloth, stapling it to the sides of the bed. The lining will foil even small critters. Some garden writers suggest chicken wire but this material breaks down. What's more, small pests can get through the holes, and a strong gopher can bite through the mesh. I enjoy seeing the mounds around my raised beds where gophers have tried to get in. Consult the Napa County Master Gardeners' web site (address below) for more information on constructing raised beds.
Keep your tools clean, sharp and oiled if you want them at their best. I'll be gathering up my tools to attend Matt's “Tool Time” workshop next weekend. Hope to see you there.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners (http://napamg.ucanr.edu) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions?