Women make do. That's what they do. When something doesn't work, they make it work; because at the end of the day, things need to get done. And the garden is no exception. As ladies have twisted, pulled, pushed, and toiled in the soil over the centuries, they've done so largely with the aid of tools designed for men.
Working these made-with-man-in-mind tools with 40 to 75 percent less upper-body strength, narrower shoulders, wider hips, and smaller grips certainly takes a toll on a women's body, and can sometimes make the satisfying struggle of gardening more painful than it really needs to be.
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Gardeners-turned-market-growers Ann Adams and Liz Brensinger spent decades wrestling with man-sized rototillers, performing balancing acts with awkward spades, and wrangling weeds with uncomfortable hand tools while growing crops for Ann's son's farm-to-table gourmet restaurant, The Farmhouse, as well as for local farmer's markets. "It's hard enough work," says Adams. "Shouldn't things be made as safe and comfortable as possible?"
So the pair took matters into their own hands and set out to find the best gardening equipment designed for women. When they didn't turn anything up, they landed a United States Department of Agriculture Small Business Innovation Research grant, and launched focus groups, tool-testing groups, and surveys targeting the opinions of women farmers and gardeners all over the country. Their new business, Green Heron Tools, used the data to pick out the best garden tools already on the market that worked for women. "These were tested by women and found to work for them, although they're still not specifically made for them," explains Brensinger.
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She and Adams, along with an engineering team from Pennsylvania State University, are currently in the process of designing their very own line of tools designed specifically for women (look for a spade within the next year). But until then, here are five women-tested-and-approved tools available now. They could make gardening more comfortable for you or someone you know.
• ARS Signature Heavy Duty Pruner, $51
Unless you live in a complete concrete jungle, you should keep a pruning cutter handy. "Everybody who has any type of garden or yard needs a pruner," says Adams. It's a must-have tool for spring clean-up projects like cutting flowers or even trimming lower branches of vegetables like tomatoes. Green Heron chose this model for its size; the product is made in Japan, where people are generally smaller in stature when compared to Americans. "These are really effective for women gardeners and growers because of the smaller handle," Adam says. "The other nice thing is you don't have to do anything except squeeze to open it, and you can close it with one hand," Adams adds. The high-quality steel blade lasts a very long time, but in the event that you'd need to replace it decades down the line, you can purchase replacement parts instead of tossing out the entire tool and buying a new one.
• CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator, $22 (short handle), $57 (long handle)
This precision weeding tool comes in either a short handle or long handle form, and has been a likened by its creator to a "really big fingernail." It's sharp, light, and allows gardeners to weed up close to plants without ripping them out. "The long-handled one allows you to weed while standing up, which is the best for your health," explains Adams. You can use the tool to lift weeds so you can more easily pull them out, or you can turn it on its side to cultivate a larger patch of soil. The handle is sustainable, made from recycled plastic and flax, and the steel is made in the U.S.A.
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• GT Hori-Hori Stainless Steel Soil Knife, $25
If you need a tool that does it all, look no further than the hori-hori knife. This sharp-edged tool is easy for women to handle, and is indispensable in dividing perennials. You can also use it for weeding by digging deep and lifting up a problematic plant. The measurements engraved in the high-quality steel guide your hole depth for accurate bulb planting, too.
• ARS Curved Blade Folding Saw, $34
For such a strong saw, it's amazingly light, and not at all bulky or hard to handle. The design only allows for cuts as you pull, which makes it easier to control. "It's much safer, and you don't need to use much force," explains Bensinger. "That's the beauty of using very sharp steel."
• Valley Oak Wheel Hoe, $315-$320
For intensive home-garden or market-growing operations, you might want to set aside some cash for this woman-approved wheel hoe, which allows you to slice weeds off just under the surface without toiling on your hands and knees for hours on end. The handles are easy to adjust to the user's height, no tools required. "Using this wheel hoe is as easy as walking," says Bensinger. Simply push it forward, and the attachment slips under the soil to slice up weeds.
All the tools in this article, along with women-grower-approved safety gear, apparel, and other gardening and farming tools, are available at GreenHeronTools.com.
Published on: April 1, 2010
Updated on: June 6, 2012