Lean on These 10 Essential Tools to Help You Find Success in Your Garden

When I first started gardening, I bought one of those ubiquitous garden sets with the standard five tools in a pouch; I had no idea of the inadequacy of my purchase. Over the years, I’ve learned which tools are important and which ones are just a big waste of money. The following is a list of my favorite gardening tools that go beyond just hand spades.

Vivosun Grow Bags

Vivosun Grow Bags

I’m a big fan of using grow bags in my garden. Besides being better for a plant’s root system, they allow me to move my crops to different part of the garden with ease. Buy now

Fiskars Garden Snips

Fiskars Multipurpose Garden Snips

This tiny, multipurpose pruner is my all-time favorite garden tool. This tool, which is a pruner on one side and a serrated knife on the other, is small enough to wield confidently in my small hands. I use it for harvesting, pruning, cutting wire and rope, and more. It’s the best tool, ever, and I highly recommend it. I also really like the Fiskars Micro-Tip Pruner. Buy now

Felco Pruner for small hands

Felco Pruner F-6 -Small Hands

Many garden tools are a little too big for my hands. That’s why I like this pruner; it’s designed for small hands. When you need pruners for a bigger job than the Fiskars Snips can handle, try this quality pruner. Buy now

Nitrile gardening gloves

Nitrile Gardening Gloves

I really hate those fancy leather garden gloves—it’s hard to move your fingers around freely and they are difficult to wash. I understand needing heavy-duty work gloves like that if you’re a farmer, but they’re a little much for backyard/balcony gardeners. I really like the lightweight nitrile gloves, which are less constricting and more easily washable. You can usually find them at any big box store or Buy now.

Marathon Yard Rover Wheelbarrow

Marathon Yard Rover

If you’re a backyard gardener with more space than a balcony, a wheelbarrow will be vital. I waited years before getting a one and I wish I hadn’t. Buy now

TomCare Gardening Chair

Gardening Chair

I might have a house with a backyard, but it’s still in the city, which means it’s not that big. I have to maximize my space and don’t have room for big things like potting benches. That’s where my gardening chair comes in. It saves my back from a lot of bending and, often, I sit right in the middle of the backyard to pot my plants. Buy now

Long, wood-handle rake hand Craftsman cultivator

Craftsman Rake Hand Cultivator

This is one of my most-used garden tools; I use it more than a spade! Use the long rake for raised beds and the short handheld tool for your containers. Buy now

Cobrahead Mini Weeder

Cobrahead Mini Weeder

This tool makes short work of weeds—even those prickly thistles with deep taproots. This is the mini version of the tool, which, IMO, is ideal for container gardeners. Buy now

hundreds of wicker baskets

Wicker Baskets

Head down to your local secondhand shop and load up on inexpensive wicker baskets. They come in handy when you are harvesting your crops. If you don’t have a thrift store nearby, try one of these.

Black Zip Ties

Zip Ties

Zip ties may be good for is organizing cords and wires, but they have multiple uses in the garden. From securing your vining plants on a trellis or pole to using them to help construct your own trellis or tomato cage, zip ties are indispensable in the garden. Buy now

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

Urban Foraging: Garlic Scape Pesto Recipe

If you live in the city, eating local may be as simple as taking a walk around your neighborhood. That’s what I was doing when I spied the bountiful stalks of garlic scapes right outside my garage. So, my neighbor and I set to foraging, but left a few to flower so they continue their spread next year.

I made a delightful Garlic Scape Pesto with my foraged find!

How to Prepare Garlic Scapes

Unless you have experience with them, you probably have no idea what to do with scapes. When I first saw them at my farmers market years ago, I definitely had to do some research. After trimming the flower, you want to snap off the end where it begins to get woody—like you would do with asparagus. (See above.)

You should use the tender middle part for your scape pesto. (See above.) If you want to tame the bite of the garlic a bit, you can always blanch them first to mellow out the scapes.

Garlic Scape Pesto

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You can use this yummy pesto as a spread for bread and sandwiches, for pasta and even as a marinade. Tonight, I’m going to use as a sauce for delicious chicken breasts. Bon Appetit!
Prep Time 15 mins

Equipment

  • Food Processor

Ingredients
  

  • 10-12 Garlic Scapes
  • 1/4 cup Pine Nuts
  • 1/2 cup Olive Oil
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan or Asiago Cheese
  • 1/2 cup Basil Leaves
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1/4 tsp Salt to taste

Instructions
 

  • Put chopped up scapes, basil, nuts and cheese in food processor. Pulse for about 30secs in short bursts.
  • While blending, slowly drizzle in first olive oil and then the juice of one lemon. Blend to desired consistency.
  • Add salt to taste.
<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

Celebrate Juneteenth By Planting These Traditional African American Heirloom Seeds

After the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Louisville, Kentucky, respectively, I pressed the pause button on this blog; posting about gardening as people stood up for black lives across the country felt, well, trivial.

But as the civil unrest around me grew, I turned to my garden for succor. Putting my hands in the earth, nurturing new life has comforted me these past few weeks.

Every year in my garden, I try to grow at least one African-American heirloom crop. So, in honor of Juneteenth, which marks the liberation of our ancestors held as slaves, I offer this list of African American heirloom seeds that you can try in your garden today.

Tree Collard

Although the actual origin of tree collards is unknown, it is said to have originated in Africa and have been passed down through generations of black farmers. They are perennial in warm climates and can grow up to 10 ft tall, though they are usually a more manageable 4-5 ft. They are hardy to 20-degrees, but gardeners in chilly climates like me can bring them inside the garage or basement.

I grew tree collards last year and it is going to seed in my garden right now. This is exciting because they rarely go to seed and I can’t wait to collect them. Generally, since they rarely go to seed, they are grown through propagation. They used to be hard to find unless you knew a gardener that shared, but now you can find cuttings or plants from multiple Etsy sellers or from Project Tree Collard.

Fish Pepper

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Arriving in North America via the Caribbean, fish peppers have historically been popular among the African-American community in Philadelphia, Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay region. A beautiful striped pepper that has traditionally been used in seafood dishes, it nearly went extinct but has been rescued by several seed savers. Baker Heirloom Creek gives us a rundown of this unique pepper’s history:

“This one-of-a-kind pepper would be lost to us if not for an unusual exchange. Horace Pippin was a black folk painter who served during World War I in the 369th Infantry called the ‘Harlem Hellfighters.’ He lost the use of his right arm after being shot by a sniper, and this left him with arthritic pain. Searching for some relief, he resorted to an old folk remedy that called for bee stings. Horace began giving seeds to a bee-keeper named H. Ralph Weaver. Horace’s seeds sometimes came from his far-flung old-time gardening friends, who sent wonderful and rare varieties. H. Ralph Weaver saved the seed in his private seed collection, where it remained until 1995 when his grandson William Woys Weaver released it to the public.”

Though you can purchase seeds via Baker Heirloom Creek next year, it’s a little late in the season to be starting pepper seeds. Never fear; this Etsy seller still has some plants for sale.

Jamaican Burr Gherkin

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Originating in West Africa and brought to the Caribbean via the Transatlantic slave trade in the 1500s, this small gherkin tastes like a cucumber. It can be eaten raw, pickled, or cooked like squash.

The burr gherkins are still popular in the Caribbean—in the Bahia region of Brazil, Afro-Brazilians call them maxixe (mah-SHEE-shay) and use them in a traditional dish called maxixada (mah-shee-SHAH-dah). I grow a similar plant called the Sour Mexican Gherkin, and I can’t WAIT to grow this plant! You can find the seeds from Etsy Seller Plants With A Purpose.

Plate de Haiti Tomato

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According to Food Historian William Woys Weaver, African American heirloom tomatoes are difficult to find and document. Dr. Carolyn Male shared this creole variety with him in 1992, and he, in turn, offered them through Seed Savers Exchange.

In his book Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, he writes: “The earliest record of this tomato is a botanical drawing in Konrad Gessner’s Historia Plantarum (1561). Gessner’s specimens were doubtless grown from seed only recently brought from the Caribbean. Whatever its true origin, the tomato has been associated since the 1550s with the island now home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It is known to have entered North America in 1793 with the Creole refugees who fled the slave uprising in Haiti. Beyond this, documentation of the tomato has remained elusive; little effort was made in the nineteenth century to investigate the plant varieties grown in the kitchen gardens of American blacks.” You can find this variety at True Love Seeds.

Roselle

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One of the crops I’m most enthusiastic about growing this year is Roselle, which is native to West Africa. Also known as Sorrel, Florida Cranberry, and Flor de Jamaica, most people in the U.S. know it as Hibiscus tea, popularized as Celestial Seasonings “Red Zinger.” In the Caribbean, it is best known as the main ingredient in the holiday drink Sorrel.

Although a perennial in tropical climates (hardy in zones 8-11), it’s best grown as an annual in colder climates. Roselle produces big, beautiful blooms in the summertime, and, after the flowers fade, you can harvest the calyxes for jellies, teas, and Agua de Jamaica. (Find a recipe for Agua de Jamaica here.) It is definitely too late to grow Roselle from seeds this year because they have to be started indoors a couple of months before your frost date. But purchase them next year from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.