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Vegetable garden tools

It may seem to the reader that it is all very well to make a garden with a pen or pencil, but that the work of transferring it to the soil must be quite another problem and one entailing so much work that he will leave it to the professional market gardener. He possibly pictures to himself some bent-kneed and stoop-shouldered man with the hoe, and decides that after all there is too much work in the garden game. What a revelation would be in store for him if he could witness one day's operations in a modern market garden! Very likely indeed not a hoe would be seen during the entire visit. Modern implements, within less than a generation, have revolutionized gardening.

This is true of the small garden as certainly as of the large one: in fact, in proportion I am not sure but that it is more so - because of the second wonderful thing about modern garden tools, that is, the low prices at which they can be bought, considering the enormous percentage of labor saved in accomplishing results. There is nothing in the way of expense to prevent even the most modest gardener acquiring, during a few years, by the judicious expenditure of but a few dollars annually, a very complete outfit of tools that will handsomely repay their cost.

While some garden tools have been improved and developed out of all resemblance to their original forms, others have changed little in generations, and in probability will remain ever with us. There is a thing or two to say about even the simplest of them, however, - especially to anyone not familiar with their uses.

There are tools for use in every phase of horticultural operations; for preparing the ground, for planting the seed, for cultivation, for protecting crops from insects and disease, and for harvesting.

First of all comes the ancient and honorable spade, which, for small garden plots, borders, beds, etc., must still be relied upon for the initial operation in gardening--breaking up the soil. There are several types, but any will answer the purpose. In buying a spade look out for two things: see that it is well strapped up the handle in front and back, and that it hangs well. In spading up ground, especially soil that is turfy or hard, the work may be made easier by taking a strip not quite twice as wide as the spade, and making diagonal cuts so that one vertical edge of the spade at each thrust cuts clean out to where the soil has already been dug. The wide-tined spading-fork is frequently used instead of the spade, as it is lighter and can be more advantageously used to break up lumps and level off surfaces. In most soils it will do this work as well, if not better, than the spade and has the further good quality of being serviceable as a fork too, thus combining two tools in one. It should be more generally known and used. With the ordinary fork, used for handling manure and gathering up trash, weeds, etc., every gardener is familiar. The type with oval, slightly up-curved tines, five or six in number, and a D handle, is the most convenient and comfortable for garden use.

For areas large enough for a horse to turn around in, use a plow. There are many good makes. The swivel type has the advantage of turning all the furrows one way, and is the best for small plots and sloping ground. It should turn a clean, deep furrow. In deep soil that has long been cultivated, plowing should, with few exceptions, be down at least to the subsoil; and if the soil is shallow it will be advisable to turn up a little of the subsoil, at each plowing - not more than an inch - in order that the soil may gradually be deepened. In plowing sod it will be well to have the plow fitted with a coulter, which turns a miniature furrow ahead of the plowshare, thus covering under all sods and grass and getting them out of the way of harrows and other tools to be used later. In plowing under tall-growing green manures, like rye, a heavy chain is hung from the evener to the handle, thus pulling the crop down into the furrow so that it will all be covered under. Where drainage is poor it will be well to break up the subsoil with a subsoil plow, which follows in the wake of the regular plow but does not lift the subsoil to the surface.

The spade or spading-fork will be followed by the hoe, or hook, and the iron rake; and the plow by one or more of the various types of harrow. The best type of hoe for use after the spade is the wide, deep-bladed type. In most soils, however, this work may be done more expeditiously with the hook or prong-hoe (see illustration). With this the soil can be thoroughly pulverized to a depth of several inches. In using either, be careful not to pull up manure or trash turned under by the spade, as all such material if left covered will quickly rot away in the soil and furnish the best sort of plant food. I should think that our energetic manufactures would make a prong-hoe with heavy wide blades, like those of the spading-fork, but I have never seen such an implement, either in use or advertised.

What the prong-hoe is to the spade, the harrow is to the plow. For general purposes the Acme is an excellent harrow. It is adjustable, and for ground at all mellow will be the only one necessary; set it, for the first time over, to cut in deep; and then, set for leveling, it will leave the soil in such excellent condition that a light handraking (or, for large areas, the Meeker smoothing-harrow) will prepare it for the finest of seeds, such as onions and carrots. The teeth of the Acme are so designed that they practically constitute a gang of miniature plows. Of disc harrows there are a great many makes. The salient feature of the disc type is that they can tear up no manure, grass or trash, even when these are but partly turned under by the plow. For this reason it is especially useful on sod or other rough ground. The most convenient harrow for putting on the finishing touches, for leveling off and fining the surface of the soil, is the lever spike-tooth. It is adjustable and can be used as a spike-tooth or as a smoothing harrow.

Any of the harrows mentioned above (except the Meeker) and likewise the prong-hoe, will have to be followed by the iron rake when preparing the ground for small-seeded garden vegetables. Get the sort with what is termed the "bow" head (see illustration) instead of one in which the head is fastened directly to the end of the handle. It is less likely to get broken, and easier to use. There is quite a knack in manipulating even a garden rake, which will come only with practice. Do not rake as though you were gathering up leaves or grass. The secret in using the garden rake is not to gather things up. Small stones, lumps of earth and such things, you of course wish to remove. Keep these raked off ahead of where you are leveling the soil, which is accomplished with a backward-and-forward movement of the rake.

The tool-house of every garden of any size should contain a seed-drill. Labor which is otherwise tedious and difficult is by it rendered mere play - as well as being better done. The operations of marking the row, opening the furrow, dropping the seed at the proper depth and distance, covering immediately with fresh earth, and firming the soil, are all done at one fell swoop and as fast as you can walk. It will even drop seeds in hills. But that is not all: it may be had as part of a combination machine, which, after your seeds are planted - with each row neatly rolled on top, and plainly visible--may be at once transformed into a wheel hoe that will save you as much time in caring for your plants as the seed-drill did in planting your seed. Hoeing drudgery becomes a thing of the past. The illustration herewith shows such a machine, and some of the varied attachments which may be had for it. There are so many, and so varied in usefulness, that it would require an entire website to detail their special advantages and methods of use. The catalogues describing them will give you many valuable suggestions; and other ways of utilizing them will discover themselves to you in your work.

There remains one task connected with gardening that is a bug-bear. That is hand-weeding. To get down on one's hands and knees, in the blistering hot dusty soil, with the perspiration trickling down into one's eyes, and pick small weedlets from among tender plantlets, is not a pleasant occupation. There are, however, several sorts of small weeders which lessen the work considerably. One or another of the common types will seem preferable, according to different conditions of soil and methods of work. Personally, I prefer the Lang's for most uses. The angle blade makes it possible to cut very near to small plants and between close-growing plants, while the strap over the back of a finger or thumb leaves the fingers free for weeding without dropping the instrument.

There are two things to be kept in mind about hand-weeding which will reduce this work to the minimum. First, never let the weeds get a start; for even if they do not increase in number, if they once smother the ground or crop, you will wish you had never heard of a garden. Second, do your hand-weeding while the surface soil is soft, when the weeds come out easily. A hard-crusted soil will double and treble the amount of labor required.

It would seem that it should be needless, when garden tools are such savers of labor, to suggest that they should be carefully kept, always bright and clean and sharp, and in repair. But such advice is needed, to judge by most of the tools one sees.

Always have a piece of cloth or old bag on hand where the garden tools are kept, and never put them away soiled and wet. Keep the cutting edges sharp. There is as much pleasure in trying to run a dull lawnmower as in working with a rusty, battered hoe. Have an extra handle in stock in case of accident; they are not expensive. In selecting hand tools, always pick out those with handles in which the grain does not run out at the point where there will be much strain in using the tool. In rakes, hoes, etc., get the types with ferrule and shank one continuous piece, so as not to be annoyed with loose heads.

Spend a few cents to send for some implement catalogues. They will well repay careful perusal, even if you do not order this year. In these days of intensive advertising, the commercial catalogue often contains matter of great worth, in the gathering and presentation of which no expense has been spared.

As a final word to the intending purchaser of garden tools, I would say: first thoroughly investigate the different sorts available, and when buying, do not forget that a good tool or a well-made machine will be giving you satisfactory use long, long after the price is forgotten, while a poor one is a constant source of discomfort. Get good tools, and take good care of them. And let me repeat that a few dollars a year, judiciously spent, for tools afterward well cared for, will soon give you a very complete set, and add to your garden profit and pleasure.