Today we continue to look at the essential tools for the garden
Fork: A garden fork is not quite as essential as a spade, but nevertheless a very useful acquisition. Forks usually have four narrow, square or round tines and come in sizes of head and handle similar to the spade. Forks are mainly used for lifting plants and root vegetables by inserting under and around them in the same way as a spade. Because four tines are easier to push into the ground than one long blade, a fork is often also used for digging, especially on heavy or stony ground. In this case a digging fork, otherwise known as a ‘spading’ or ‘potato’ fork, which has flat tines, is often the best one to acquire. It is lighter to use than a spade, and if the ground is sticky it does not require the compacted earth to be scraped off all the time in the same way that a spade does.
A border fork is used for finer work in between plants and in restricted spaces. Again, stainless steel is a good investment.
Wherever possible, forks should always be given equal stress on all tines and should not be used for levering or prising with one prong. Even though reputable manufacturers submit their tools to stress tests far in advance of the type of abuse they are likely to encounter in normal usage, there is no point in bending or breaking them through faulty handling.
A useful addition to a collection of garden tools, though not imperative, is the long-handled weed fork. This is like a small hand fork, sometimes with only three tines, on a long handle. It is an ideal implement for tickling-up soil and removing odd weeds between plants. The long handle obviates bending and cuts down walking on the soil to a minimum.
Hoe: The primary functions of this implement are to cut off weeds at soil level, and to draw soil into drills and ridges. The hoe has appeared in several different forms over the centuries but is now found mainly as two types, the Dutch hoe and the draw hoe. The Dutch hoe is a sharp blade on the end of a long ash, hardwood or aluminium handle which sometimes has a plastic grip on the end of it, although I find that this is not really necessary. It is used by pushing it backwards and forwards over the surface of the soil to sever the weeds from their roots. This is best done during hot, dry weather so that any weeds which have come out of the soil with some roots still attached, as often happens in light soils, will wither and die before they can re-root themselves. Hoeing is mainly used as an annual weed control as perennial weeds will usually shoot again from where they have been cut off, although in time they will become progressively weakened by this treatment.
The draw hoe is also a blade on a long handle, but here the blade is attached at right angles to the shaft by a metal swan-neck. Weeds are cut off with a chopping action or by scraping them off when the tool is pulled towards its user. The draw hoe can also be used to pull earth over plants to blanch them, and by pulling one corner along a finely tilled soil a shallow drill can be formed into which seeds and similar can be placed, the soil being drawn back into the drill using the same tool.
I find the Dutch hoe an important inclusion in a set of basic gardening tools, but because the draw hoe takes a little skill to operate satisfactorily, and because its functions can usually be performed by other more essential tools, it is not essential. Some manufacturers offer a ‘hybrid’ of the two, which works equally well either when pushed or pulled.