I've always been a bit dissatisfied with my garden hand tools. It always annoyed me that I needed three: a trowel, a weeding fork and a little hand fork. And none is particularly good at its job, despite getting a 'pass' mark. So I was a little one-person market ripe for exploiting by someone offering a better gardening hand tool. Somehow I can feel a collection coming on if I let this get out of hand, but I might as well introduce my latest acquisitions from Japanese and Korean gardening know-how, and toss in some first impressions on how they work, for what they're worth.
Pictured left is the Japanese-made Niwashi, and on the right is the Korean Ho Mi. It's amazing how culture penetrates deep into the pores of its designers. The Japanese tool looks very Japanese in its crisp tidiness, and the Korean tool is a more earthy, organic shape that's in tune with their wonderfully fiery, robust, earthy cuisine (food being the aspect of both cultures with which I am probably most familiar).
This is the right-handed model of Niwashi. Left-handled models (with the blade facing the other way) are available, as is an ambidextrous one, and another with a much longer handle. At the end of this blog I'll add in some links if you want to get more about the various models from the manufacturers. I use the Niwashi mostly for weeding and preparing soil prior to planting. I find it does both jobs marvellously well. I love it. Initially, it takes a while to get used to how it works, given so many years of using our more conventional tools. I no longer need a weeding fork or hand fork, as the Niwashi replaces both tools, but in particular I find it's great at breaking up clods and clumps of soil and turning it into a beautifully fine tilth for planting seeds or seedlings.
The Niwashi is also nicely made and feels sturdy. It comes beautifully packaged, with its own little clip-on plastic sheath for the blade. The blade will need occasional sharpening, as it is pretty handy at slicing through groundcovering weeds.
What a wonderful shape the Ho Mi is. One of the people here in Australia selling it online claims it's a Bronze-Age design which hasn't changed for 5000 years. No sure about that claim, but I'll accept "a very old design" without quibble.
The label on the Ho Mi says 'made in Korea' but when I saw the blacksmith-beaten crudity of the blade I immediately thought they must mean 'North Korea'. You can see the hammer marks in the blade (click on the photo to get a bigger image) very clearly. This hand cultivator is heavier and more robust than the Niwashi. Last weekend, when I was clearing out the zucchini patch, the soil had formed some hefty clods that needed breaking up, and I found the Ho Mi ripped through that task better than the lighter, more finely built Niwashi. However, the larger, heavier, curved blade of the Ho Mi takes more getting used to, and so far I have found it a bit awkward to use. Maybe experience will change that impression.
I suspect the build quality on the Niwashi is superior to the Ho Mi. Check the split in the handle on the Ho Mi, above (it's on both sides of the handle). I've used the Niwashi more than the Ho Mi, and it's still as new.
Of the two tools, I prefer using the Niwashi so far, even if it doesn't do every job better than the Ho Mi. As it's lighter and smaller, it is less tiring to use and is more precise and easy to use in jobs such as creating furrows for sowing seed, back-filling soil after sowing, getting soil to a fine tilth prior to planting, and evicting weeds. Compared to the conventional garden hand tools I've been using for years, its longer handle offer a huge improvement in leverage, making it much easier to use for longer periods.
As to the "where to you get them" I guess this bit might be only of use to Australians and New Zealanders most likely, but perhaps the people I bought them from are happy to send them further afield if needed. I don't know the answer to that one, as this isn't a paid promo or anything like that!
I found out about the Niwashi via an Australian gardening magazine. They're priced at $33NZ, plus postage. There doesn't yet seem to be an Australian source, but when I placed my order by fax, having emailed an enquiry beforehand, it arrived in the mail about four days later. They're imported into New Zealand by Eureka Enterprises http://www.niwashi.co.nz
I found out about the Ho Mi, by accident, while browsing through a popular Australian seed-selling website, diggers.com.au. I bought one from them as part of a seed order, and subsequent research shows that they are one of the more expensive Ho Mi suppliers. Oh, well, impulsive online shoppers deserve their lumps! They charged $45 for non-members, $38.95 for members, plus postage.
The Ho Mi is also sold by the other popular online site, www.greenharvest.com.au for $42 plus postage, but the cheapest Ho Mi I could find online comes from the Allsun site ($28 postage paid), which also has the most useful information on them, plus a larger range of designs. So I thought I'd link to them, even though I don't know anything about them as far as reliability or quality goes. Here they are: http://www.allsun.com.au/HoMi.htmlh
It turns out that there's quite a range of different gardening hand tools available to Asian gardeners, so I suspect I'll fall victim to temptation several times over the next few years. I'm sure the Chinese will have something well worth investigating, being such a fine and ancient gardening culture, and all the Vietnamese gardeners in my local area really know what they're doing too, so I wonder what they've been using for the last few thousand years?