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Spade Garden

Gardening tools can be divided into two basic categories, hand tools and mechanical ones. The owner of a small garden can manage quite well with a minimum of mechanization if funds are limited. Even a larger plot, say up to an acre, can be maintained adequately with no other mechanized tools than a power-driven mower and hedge trimmer, if appropriate.

These are the hand tools you will need to get started:

Spade: A spade is used for turning over soil, lifting plants, and digging holes. It can also be used to trim the edges of the lawn where it adjoins a bed or border. It is not designed for lifting manhole covers, hammering in stakes, and mixing concrete!

A spade is essentially a rectangular, slightly curved steel blade on the end of a wooden handle, usually ash. The blade is attached to the handle (shaft) by means of a metal socket — the longer the socket, the stronger the handle. The handle should be riveted to the socket with steel rivets. The spade is provided with a hand-grip at the end of the handle. This is either made in the shape of a Τ formed out of the wood, or a D, nowadays mainly of plastic. It is a matter of preference which hand-grip to buy. (At one time, the D-grip used to be preferred by people living in the south of Britain and the T-grip by those living in the north – but this has largely gone by the board).

To use a spade, you insert the blade into the ground by pressing down on the top of it where the socket starts, either on the left-hand side if you are left-footed, or the right-hand side if you tend to use the right leg more for such operations. It should enter the ground as nearly vertical as possible and soil is brought up on the blade by levering the handle. The secret of easy digging is not to take too much soil up on the blade at once, then you don’t tire so quickly. Sometimes earth will stick to the back of the spade; this should be scraped off regularly. If you want to treat yourself, a stainless steel spade is wonderful as no matter how sticky the soil, it comes off easily. It will be expensive but the backache it saves could be worth it.

Spades come in several sizes, both in relation to the blade and the handle. Blades usually range in size from about 12 by 8 in. (300 by 200 mm) for a ‘digging spade’, to 10 by 6½ in. (250 by 165 mm) for a ‘medium’, down to 9 by 5½ in. (225 by 140 mm) for a ‘border spade’, often referred to as a ‘ladies’ spade’. Naturally, the bigger the blade, the heavier it is, both empty and with a load of soil on it, when it can become quite unmanageable for many people. It is not always the best policy to buy the largest blade available as it can become exhausting to use after a short time, especially for the unaccustomed or weekend gardener. It is not ‘cissy’ to plump for the smaller blade — I know many men who are happier and work faster using a border spade.

Handles also vary in length, and a tall person would be wise to choose a spade with a longer one to avoid unnecessary strain on the back.

We will continue with this tomorrow.


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