I'll admit I've dug with my hands or grabbed a stick to dig a planting hole when I couldn't find a handy trowel, so, sure, you can certainly make do in a pinch when you don't have the right gardening tools. However, I'd be one unhappy gardener if you asked me to go without my good-quality trowel, stirrup hoe, or digging fork for long as they make garden work far easier and more effective (especially if you garden a lot). Hang around seasoned gardeners enough and you will discover that they, like me, have their favorite tools that they have cherished--and cared for--for years. Most gardeners eventually discover that cheap tools aren't worth it since they bend and break and then have to be replaced at an additional cost. Plus, taking a little time to care properly for their tools makes sense so that they don't rust or splinter and so that they stay sharp and useful.
As fall settles in and working outside becomes enjoyable again for many of us here in metro-Atlanta, you may want to dedicate an hour or two to setting up a tool-care system that helps keep things in ready-to-dig-in shape, plus become more mindful of your tool care on an ongoing basis. Trust me--you will pat yourself on the back in the spring if you do this now.
Here are some tips for caring for your tools:
1. Have a place for everything and everything in its place. This seems obvious, of course, but how many of us have tools here, there, and everywhere? Take a little time to clean out a spot and create order for your tools. Hang them on a wall in your garage or in a shed. Stack them on a large shelf. Put tall tools in a big bucket, handle side down, and small tools in a smaller bucket.
2. Dry and oil. After you are done using a tool for the day, wipe it off with a rag dabbed with a little cooking oil. Some people store hand tools in a five-gallon bucket of coarse sand with a little oil in it. This will help keep metal parts from rusting.
3. Lubricate and sharpen. At least once a year, rub all wooden handles with linseed oil (it'll soak right in), lubricate moving parts of pruners and wheelbarrows, and sharpen blades with something called a mill file. You can get one of these for about $10-$15 online. Wearing goggles is a good idea anytime you sharpen metal, by the way. And securing tools in a vise on your workbench, if you have one, is probably a good safety idea as well.
4. Keep tines down. Be sure that any time you put tools with tines on the ground that they are facing down. The only time it is funny when people step on pitchforks and they swing up in their faces is in cartoons from the 1970s. In general, try not to get in the habit (or break it if you already have the habit) of leaving tools laying around, even when you are using them. Stand them up against a tree or wall a little bit out of the way. Be especially vigilant about safety when children are helping or nearby.
It is very common for dedicated gardeners to "collect" quality tools over many years. Tools make excellent gifts that give back in garden bounty season after season. If you have your eye on a diamond hoe, a dibber, or the ever-popular ratchet pruner, let those who may be buying holiday gifts know it's "on your list." Be sure to check out our tool selection for gardeners on your list. We have a small selection online and more from which to choose at our store. Come by (Briarcliff Road near LaVista Road) and get a feel (literally) for what's available.