Today’s Topic: Tools

Welcome to the first post of Sei Shonagon’s Garden Guide! In these Guides I’ll be sharing my hard-won gardening wisdom, all carefully harvested from five years of embarrassing, boneheaded mistakes. If you’re completely new to gardening, if you haven’t got the time or the money, or even if you have gardened previously and you had a really miserable time,  don’t give up hope! Come along on a voyage of discovery, as I show you, step by step, how to win at gardening.

What You DON’T Need

There is a certain gardening catalog which, for legal reasons, I’m going to refer to as “Durpee.” I’m pretty sure you know which one I’m talking about. The photos are lush, the pages are glossy, and everything in it is overpriced. The plants are mostly patented hybrids, which means you can’t save the seeds. The plant descriptions are written in a distinctive car salesman patois, where “dies midway through the summer” becomes “early season crop,” and “grows three miniscule tomatoes” becomes “produces adorable fruits – great for kids!” I feel immense disdain for this catalog, and I end up ordering something from them every year.

In the back of the Durpee catalog is a collection of the most useless, over-hyped garden junk you will ever see. Special weed killing fabric! Three yards of special string for tying tomatoes! Plastic funnels for watering! $90 seedling heat mats! Special compost “activator”! SAVE BIG ON STICKS. ORDER NOW.

On reading this, the novice could be forgiven for thinking that gardening was akin to rocket science. Look at all the specialized equipment! Gardening must be a very tricky, scientific business, if tomatoes have to be supported with their very own sticks.

Balls, I say. BALLS. Gardening is no more difficult than driving a car, far less dangerous, and much cheaper. Our ancient ancestors grew their own food, and they weren’t even advanced enough to have discovered lending libraries or money market accounts. The weeds growing in my lawn do just fine, and I’ve never fertilized them with ANYTHING, let alone organic seaweed granules.

So what you DON’T need is any fancy-ass gizmos, specialized jangles, or anything out of the back of the Durpee catalog. You also don’t need a special hat, or little gloves, or a fancy bag for tools, or even a little mat to kneel on with pictures of butterflies on it. What do you think this is, a fashion show?

What You DO Need

1. A shovel
2. A fork
3. A hand trowel
4. A large watering can or hose, depending on the size of your garden and the state of your back.
5. A wheelbarrow

THAT IS IT. You can maybe get a sturdy rake if you have a use for it. (My rule for tools: if I find myself on five or more occasions, saying, “Man, I wish I had a ___,” then and only then may I buy one.) If you have a woodsy backyard and/or a consistent supply of brush, there’s a few more odds and ends you might need. You can get fancy and buy a used chipper/shredder off Craigslist for $200. Then you can make your own mulch. Get a little twig clipper if you have woody plants, and maybe a saw. (One little saw is enough. You don’t need a specialized set of saws any more than you need a $50 compost bucket with replaceable carbon filters.)

You can get 10-gallon buckets from restaurants for free, and then you can either sit or carry, depending on which way up you’ve got the bucket. You can also get newspapers and cardboard for free, and you can spread them around to keep the weeds down. You can get regular, ordinary string and tie your tomato to a stick you FOUND IN THE WOODS FOR FREE. Remember: Craigslist is your friend. For every one of you, there is someone who did the same thing last season and gave up in disgust. It’s a pity for them I hadn’t yet written my garden guide, but their loss is your gain.

Next time we’ll talk about why gardening gloves are for pussies, and why you can take your pH test kit and shove it.

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