Charles Dowding  @  ChelseaGreen

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Cut Carbon in the Garden: Hand Tools for a Large Garden

Posted on Monday, February 2nd, 2009 at 9:23 am by Charles Dowding

My wheelbarrow
Every day I carry an amazing weight and volume of stuff around, to and from and in the garden, with my trusty old barrow. It is Yugoslavian and dates to 1991, still rolling beautifully even if the hood is beginning to rust around its four bolts attached to the frame. I prefer pushing to pulling, even though a time and motion study revealed little difference in effort required. Building labourers may be seen pulling wheelbarrows because they "can't stand the sight of the bloody things".

Over the course of a year, I use mine to fetch three tons or so of horse manure from the neighbour's yard, spread twenty tons of other compost on beds, carry many tons of vegetables back to the shed, take lawn-mowings and crop remains to my compost heaps, carry hundreds of module trays to beds for planting, fetch lots of firewood and, finally, it transports a large pot of vegetable stew to our village hall for harvest festival supper.

I wonder how many good wheelbarrows are available to buy. In contrast, I was given a smaller B&Q model, much lighter so the children like it, but flimsy and prone to topple over on legs that are too narrow.

A wooden dibber
Between March and October there are few days that do not involve dibbing holes, for planting module raised salad and other vegetable plants. The right side of my body has become a little distorted, muscle wise, because it can be hard work if soil is dry. So the last two wet summers have been fantastic for dibbing!

I find it easiest to make holes for the small, round modules out of plastic trays, compared to the larger, square modules out of my ancient polystyrene trays. However, only recently I was comparing some lettuce that were grown in each kind: the plants from larger modules are now significantly bigger and look rather more vigorous. On the other hand, this may be nitpicking as most of my small-module crops grow well.

Module trays and pots - don't sterilise them!
The polystyrene trays I still use, over twenty years old, are frayed and losing their corners, but still grow fine plants. Each tray is filled three or four times a year, always without any cleaning. Yet almost every gardener is labouring under the misapprehension that all pots and trays must be sterilised before re-use. That nugget of ‘advice is surely sponsored by the plastics industry.

Copper tools a joy to use
A no dig system requires few tools for soil cultivation and those I do use are beautifully crafted ones from Austria, purchased through Jane Cobbald at www.implementations.co.uk. They are called copper but actually consist of an alloy, 95% copper and 5% tin, the same as used by the Roman army for their swords. These tools are softer than iron ones and might struggle in stony conditions, but love working here in clay and humus, their edges keeping beautifully sharp, through not rusting. This makes them a pleasure to use, including the spade I use for chopping crop residues before composting, a trowel which slides easily into the soil, and a swivel hoe whose blade lasts far longer than equivalent iron models I have used in the past, When the blade wore out, after three years use, I bought another for £15 ($20.75 USD) and found I was easily able to undo the copper nuts attaching it to the frame - because they don't rust!

It is also interesting to observe the carefully crafted trowel handle, which has been curved and widened to add strength to a potential weak point. I compare this to a stainless steel trowel of much stronger metal but with a weak point where the simple, thin shaft joins the trowel blade. You may have guessed that this was a B&Q model: I was given four and two have already snapped off at the weak point. I suppose most gardeners just go and buy another one…

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