I must confess, I am a bit of a garden tool nerd. I love to spend time researching tools I have never seen or heard of before, dreaming of which ones I will pick up next.
A number of years ago, I was introduced to a tool I had never used before called a rice knife. The rice knife, a relative to the Japanese sickle or grass hook, has become a frequently used tool here at Wellfield. We use this little wonder for cutting back thick stemmed perennials in the spring and fall as we clean up beds. Centuries of agricultural refinement has led to a modern tool that cuts/clears plant material with little effort (and I am all about little effort). I frequently use the rice knife to cut back ornamental sedges and rushes as well as other clump forming perennials. I much prefer the knife to hedge clippers or hand pruners. It is far easier on the hand and shoulders. Using a slight rotating motion of my hand and the entire length of the blade, I can cut back thick clumping perennials in seconds with fluidity I can not achieve with clippers.
While researching for this article, I quickly stumbled on the wider world of land clearing hand tools out there. There are quite a number of tools available, gifts of traditional agriculture from around the world, which may be excellent options in the right context. One advantage of hand tools is I can work under any conditions wet or dry etc. I can work on terrain or topography a machine might not reach. A well made, well maintained hand tool can be more ergonomic. Any one who has used a gas (or even a battery powered) string trimmer for hours knows of what I speak. A sharp tool requires little effort to accomplish the job. Utilizing a hand tool can provide light exercise, cut back on carbon emissions and be quieter (unless you are prone to grunting, like yours truly). A major disadvantage, of course, is the amount of time it might take if you are clearing large areas.
Different hand tools emerged from different parts of the world as farmers attacked different problems. There are as many different shapes and sizes of tools as there are crops, farming tasks or different locales. You might use a billhook if you were attempting to pleach hedge row in English sheep country, or a grass sickle to top rice stalks. Of course, there is the icon of traditional western grain agriculture, the scythe. A lightweight, modern European scythe makes quick, easy work of tall grass and small brush. Each tool and method has its drawbacks (no pun intended) and best uses. Use the right tool for the right job and breathe a scythe of satisfaction.
Josh Steffen, Horticulture and Facilities Manager