Every gardener needs a shovel or two, depending on what kind of soil you will be working in. If you are working in soil that has been well worked or tilled you can use a “square shovel,” which is very good for working deep, evenly and turning over the soil. It does not penetrate difficult or rocky soil quite as well as another shovel called the spade or tapered shovel.

The spade shovel has more of a point to it and is therefore more useful for digging in soil that is hard and/or is rocky. This will be especially helpful if you are creating a new garden area.

One tip for cleaning your shovels is to keep a bucket of sand handy near where you store your tools. Dirt often gets encrusted on the shovel and rather than put it away in that condition I like to plunge it into the bucket several times to clean it off. It will also help to keep the edges of your shovel sharp.

Heavy Tined Rake

Another essential tool you will want is a rake. Rakes are designed to level the soil and clean off any light debris from the very top of the surface. Rakes are like forks in that they have tines. Tines are the projecting points that you see on both  a fork or a rake.

I like to use a heavy-duty tine rake to smooth and work over the soil.


Every gardener needs a hoe to help keep the weeds down. I prefer and use something called a scuffle (oscillating) hoe. This is ,in my opinion, an indispensible tool. The scuffle hoe allows you to easily penetrate the shallow surface of the soil in order to pull out the weeds without going too deep. It does a superb job of weeding with much less effort than a conventional hoe. You simply push and pull the hoe just under the soil surface and all of your pesky weeds are severed at the base, while your surrounding plants and their roots go undisturbed.

The secret of the scuffle hoe is using it correctly.  This is one of those 'specialty' tools that does one--and only one--very specific job and it does it extremely well. In this case, it eliminates small weeds that have just emerged from soft, workable, non-compacted soil. It will not take  out weeds that are already off to a good start, so if you are not going to weed two or three times a week you may have to use the more conventional hoe.

Seeder Grading Stake

The last essential tool is a seeder grading stake. If you have ever looked at a garden and wondered how the rows and plants were so evenly spaced you are probably looking at a garden that uses one of these. It is a very simple, low-tech,  homemade tool but very effective.

To make one just take a four foot cedar landscaping  stake and mark it at 1 foot intervals with a large notch and 6 inch intervals with a smaller notch. When laying out your rows and planting your various seeds and seedlings you can use the various multiples to spread the plants and rows apart accordingly.


Up until now we have been working on several preliminary steps you can do to get ready for actual gardening. Planning your plot, selecting seeds, planting seeds indoors, transplanting seedlings to larger pots, and making a cold frame are all rituals to the Northern gardener.  After a long winter it helps get the mind ready for the warmer days ahead, not to mention the fresh vegetables that will follow.

Now we are about ready to make the transition to go outside and get “dirty,” what every kid and every gardener really likes to do. (While I am at it I will remind you to set aside some special gardening clothes so you will not ruin them for other purposes.)

Let’s start with what I call my “go to tools,” what I will be using when working my garden plot outside.

If your gardening experience is limited, I suggest that you do not just walk into a garden store or the garden tool section and start looking around. I know from experience that you will come out of there having spent more money than intended, and with tools that are unnecessary or in some cases just gimmicks.

There are also a few other hand tools and accessories that you will want to consider, such as a hand trowel, scissors and even kneepads, and we will get into those in a future episode.
Basic Garden Tools
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