Get the Right Tools
Waiting lists for allotment plots in the UK are getting longer and we have seen reports of several years becoming the norm. Once you do get your allotment rushing down and ‘getting stuck in‘ may not be the best thing to do. A little research beforehand will yield many benefits when you start on your plot. Choosing the right tools and doing the right soil preparation are vital to getting the most from the plot over the growing season.
You will find many types of digging and soil preparation tools available but you really only need a few to get started. You will need tools for the following jobs:-
a) Digging the plot; removing weeds, grass and stones to leave just soil.
b) Soil preparation; removing the lumps and flattening it out ready for seedlings
c) Planting out; getting the seedlings into the ground with the least disturbance to roots
d) Weeding; removing weeds from the spaces between the rows of crops.
Digging the plot
A spade or a fork are great tools for average soil types, they come in two sizes, called digging and border. To summarise the difference:-
Border – Smaller in height and width, a tool favoured by ladies
Digging – Taller in height and wider, a tool favoured by men
Spades and forks of both types are commonly made from two materials, forged steel and stainless steel.
Soil type can influence your choice, well prepared and light soil favours a stainless steel tool, whereas heavy soil is best worked with forged tools.
If your plot has very heavy soil with lots of grass a digging hoe or Azada is a great alternative. These tools are used extensively all over the world and with long handles you use the power of levers to get through tough soil.
For taller people, consider the Azada or a digging shovel with a long handle, these reduce bending and are easier on the back.
After opening up the soil and removing weeds and stones, use your spade or fork to get the lumps as small as you can. The rake is the best tool for working the soil to a finer consistency ready for planting seedlings. Choose a rake with the right length handle so you are not bending when raking. Rakes can have various numbers of tines, the prongs on the end, the wider the rake the quicker you will finish. Wooden tines on a rake are meant for hay, not soil, choose metal headed rakes.
Once your seedlings have passed the two leaf stage and are big enough to handle you must ‘harden them off’. This means acclimatising them to outside conditions. You can do
this in a cold frame or grow house. Once they have been hardened off you are ready to plant them out into the beds. A trowel or transplanting trowel is the ideal tool. A transplanting trowel is slightly narrower and generally comes with some depth markings to make life easier.
Once your crops are in and growing, weeding is the next stage to ensure they thrive. You can get down on your hands and knees and remove weeds by hand but this is a very slow method. A weed hoe is the best tool for this.
A weed hoe works by just cutting the top off the weed at ground level, in this way the top and roots will die saving you from having to pull them out of the ground. Weed hoes come in several varieties; all are used by sliding the blade along the soil cutting the top of the weeds off from the roots.
Dutch Hoe – a flat blade in line with the handle.
Draw Hoe- a flat blade at right angles to the handle
Angled Hoe / Swoe – flat blade held at an angle to the handle
The ideal first set of tools to start your allotment should be:-
A spade and / or fork, either digging or border type made from stainless or forged steel.
A good quality rake
A trowel or transplanting trowel
A hoe either Dutch, Draw or angled type
All of these tools from several trusted brands can be found in our Preparing the Ground section