HOME-MADE TOOLS, GOOD, BAD, AND SOMETIMES IMPOSSIBLE
Needed Now, A Hay Rake, Garden Line, & Bulb Planter
The small meadow that stretches south of my vegetable garden is more than just a meadow. It also provides mulch for my trees and shrubs, and food for my compost “pet.” All this necessitates moving the greenery — or brownery, when it’s old — from the field to the trees, shrubs, and compost bins. I cut the hay with a scythe, gather it together with a rake, scoop it up with a 4-tine pitchfork, then pile it high in the garden cart for transport.
The tools needed seem straightforward enough, except for the rake. An ordinary garden rake would not do. It’s too small for so large an area and its heavy, short, sharp teeth would too readily tangle up in the mown hay without reaching deeply enough too grab a sufficient amount with each pull. A leaf rake likewise would not do; the fine teeth would merely skim the surface layer of hay or break off.
Years ago, rather than purchase a bona fide hay rake, which may or may not have worked as expected, I thought I’d save some money and get just what I wanted by making one. A quickly made homemade rake would tide me over until I felt like purchasing one or made a new one, improved by my experience using the original. That was years and years ago! The old wooden rake, originally with dowel teeth, later upgraded to teeth of metal spikes, and handle made from a long tree branch, served me well. Eventually, sun, rain, and use tore it apart.
Recently, after looking over all the options — including an antique wooden hay rake, a “professional” rake, a “grading rake” — and not knowing which might work best, I decided, once again, to make one.
And proud I am of my new rake, both in function and beauty. Four-inch lengths of aluminum dowels, rounded at their bottoms with a grinder, are evenly spaced and firmly anchored with small screws at their tops and the upper part of their sides to a 40 inch wide piece of aluminum angle stock to make up the head. A short piece of aluminum angle stock in the middle of the head provides an anchor for the handle, which starts out as an 18” length of 1” diameter PVC pipe. To complete the handle, I slid into the PVC pipe a 7 foot long, straight, strong piece of bamboo, home grown. The rake is a meeting of universes, two corners of the high tech, embodied by aluminum and plastic, with the natural, bamboo. They seem happy together.
With all that’s available in stores and online, it may seem archaic to fashion one’s own tools. But doing so — as is the case with my new rake — can get you a custom-made implement, exactly to your particular specifications. I had the luxury and job of choosing the length and spacing of my rake’s teeth as well as the width of its head, even its weight, depending on the materials I chose. The finished product works well and everything, from lining up drilled holes as I seated the teeth into position to choosing a bamboo handle to fit securely into its PVC sleeve was very satisfying work.
Such is not always the case with homemade. Years ago I needed a garden line that could be wound up quickly and easily, and mounted on a spike that could be stuck in the ground. I made one. Not a very good one in form or function. It’s time to finally cannabalize it for its string which I’ll just wind up around a piece of wood — for now.
Good Bought or Borrowed
Okay, some gardening tools cannot be homemade so are better bought. Case in point: I’m hoping for a dramatic planting of ornamental alliums in part of the meadow. Dramatic, as in 125 bulbs, 100 of which (Purple Sensation) will make purple globes 4 inches across, and 25 of which (Ambassador) will have purple heads 7 inches across, all these heads sitting high atop 3 to 4 foot high stalks. The hope is that their leaves will be up, do their photosynthetic job, and be out of the way before the surrounding grasses and herbs pick up enough steam to choke them out. If so, allium flowers will brighten the meadow year after year.
Pushing a shovel through dirt and roots 125 times would be an arduous task indeed. So I borrowed an earth auger from my friend Bill and inserted it into the chuck of my Black & Decker 20 volt cordless drill. If it seems as if, by explicitly naming it, I’m promoting this Black & Decker product, I am. The tool has power, longlasting power, enough to muscle the auger 6 inches deep into the soil. (Full disclosure: No rocks here.) In one hour, all the bulbs were planted.
No, I’m not about to cobble together a cordless drill. Same goes for the earth auger. This particular one, borrowed, was an antique, cast from solid steel.
The humongous Ambassador alliums were too large for the auger holes so I did have to dig those 25 holes by hand.
Farmdening, Not Too Much
Earlier, I mentioned using a scythe to mow the vegetation. The scythe is an archaic yet very useful and enjoyable tool, but, as Charles Dudley Warner wrote in his 1871 classic My Summer in the Garden, “Blessed be agriculture! If one does not have too much of it.”
At one time I did mow the whole, one acre meadow with a scythe — 3 times each season so that the vegetation would not get too long to be mowed. No longer. That much scything got tedious, and I got tennis elbow. So now the scythe takes care of my mowing enough hay for my mulch and compost needs, and a Kubota tractor with a brush hog, once a year, takes care of the rest.