Know Your Limits

Know Your Limits

Today I have been agonizingly inactive due to overdoing it yesterday. You may be familiar with this syndrome.

Yesterday I made the decision that I


complete a new, second compost bin. [This was after already cutting and splitting more firewood. Notice full rack in image below.] The first, a plastic affair ordered from some catalog or other, takes care of kitchen scraps, loads of coffee grounds and filters and some shreddings from credit card come-ons. It is cooking nicely, but produces much less than we could use.

The new bin is to serve two purposes: creating a "fence" to hide bags of garden amendments typically stored behind the


, and creating more volume for grass clippings, pulled up weeds and other yard debris, properly chopped. If you are a gardener, you know you can never have too much compost. I originally built one from plans in

Fine Gardening

that measured roughly 2 feet square. I was informed that this was grossly undersized. I built a new one.

Fortunately, my neighbor wanted a small one. No waste!

The wood for both bins was reclaimed from scraps and old boards I already had, except for what was reclaimed from the back deck (which is being disassembled). Same for the hardware I used.

Tools: a compound miter saw, hammer, level, impact driver, drill, measuring tape & pencil, safety goggles, two spare pieces of 1"x2" dimensional lumber to measure the gaps. [Some of mentioned tools are visible littering the background of the first picture.]

Now here is what I really want to discuss. I can get a lot done in a day, with the right tools. It only took me about 15 years to find the right ones for me. I'd like to spare you some of the agony, if you haven't already done yourself in.

One of my most embarrassing tool acquisitions was a Ryobi One reciprocating saw. For some people, this is probably a great tool. I bought it because I liked the idea of one battery working for all these different tools. I failed, however, to truly know my limits before purchasing.

When I took the saw home, I put in a blade and cut a couple things (I find a battery-powered reciprocating saw a great tool for aggressive pruning or plant removal). I had a hard time getting a good grip on the saw because of my excessively small hands, but I managed. When I was done, I removed the blade and tried to remove the battery.

I couldn't do it

. With one hand, I could not grip the battery securely to depress the lock release and therefore remove said battery. I had to put the saw between my knees and use both hands to get the battery off.

This would never do. Lesson really, really learned.

Since that time, my first tool rule is Make Sure It Fits. The grip needs to fit easily in my hands, any part that has to be manipulated has to be able to be moved by someone with short fingers and nothing can be awkward. My second rule is: It Can't Weigh a Ton. I am 5' 6", female, and do not lift weights. Usually. If the tool is heavy enough that I notice the weight, I don't need that tool. And finally, Don't Buy Cheap Tools. There's usually a reason they're cheap. You'll find out why sooner than you want to.

Thanks to theft, poor design or engineering and changing needs, I've been through over a dozen drills in my time. I currently own four different drills (the first power tool you should buy, in my opinion) that I put into service for different tasks. Actually, one is a backup. I only use it if all my batteries are dead (it has a cord). Most of my power hand tools use lithium-ion batteries (for lighter weight and longer running time between charges). Of those, the majority are made by


, which makes a tool that performs at a very high level and yet fits those of us with smaller hands well. They weren't cheap, but I haven't been able to kill any of them yet, either. Which is saying something.

But I digress. The message here is that you really do need to know your needs and limits when choosing tools for use in your garden. Some will use power. Some will not. How large are your hands? How strong are you? How high can you reach?

In an earlier post, I mentioned removing a shrub in order to make space for an almond tree. For this task, we used hand pruners, a reciprocating saw, a fiberglass-handled standard shovel, and a second (trenching, with 2' blade) shovel for leverage. Nearly all the severing of old roots was done with the reciprocating saw. A long pruning blade (roughly 10") can be stuck straight into the dirt without that dirt being carried back into the motor area of the saw, as would happen with a chain saw. Pruning and stump removal combined took about an hour. Without the right tools, it would have taken at least twice that long. Or strong men with bigger tools. That's always an option.

We have recently acquired some of the

Radius garden tools

, which meet our physical limitations very well, indeed. These were designed with quite a bit of thought, leveraging strength and reducing stress on wrists, which makes them ideal for aging gardeners. Or younger ones who want to keep feeling that way. We use the

border fork

for turning compost and lifting smaller plants. The circular handle makes it easy to use for aerating compost. Another example is our "first choice" shovel. For a person planting perennials from 1 gallon pots, a smaller shovel does very well, and doesn't require as much muscle to lug around. Think of it as a child-size blade on an adult handle [visible in second picture].

I prefer, when I wish to build a new compost bin, or a garden bench, or whatever, to have the tools necessary to make that happen with relative ease. When I want to plant, I don't want the job to be a chore--I want the tools I use to make the digging or cultivating easier. If you're not happy with your own tools--too stiff? too small? too big? too hard to use?--maybe it's time to search for something that fits, so you can expand your limits.

Happy Gardening!

Language for Design, Part I

Language for Design, Part I

Resource Improvement!