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Best tools for working in rocky sandy desert?

 
gardener
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Location: In view of the Chiricahua Mountains, AZ
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My husband and I have moved to the SW from western Oregon.  The ground here is TOTALLY different.  Our new land is rocky sand.  I'm finding that what we felt were optimal tools to work in the yard in Oregon, don't make quite the same sense in the desert SW.  Some work.  For example, my husband's favorite gardening tool is a big metal pole stake.  I don't know what the name for them is, but you use them to pry up rocks or other hard to remove tough bits.  He loves that thing.  It has a name.  It is very useful.

Other than that, we have eye hoes, our personal preference of shovels (we have different shovel tastes), and some hand picks.  We are missing a pick-axe, which my husband has pointed out several times.  We have a small assortment of hand tool, but I mainly use those for potting things and don't need more of those.

Our main first tasks are building swales and bunds, and digging holes to bury compostables in.  We don't have chickens and have learned that compost needs to be buried here, or it either dries out or collects cockroaches (which would be great if we had chicks or ducks.. but not there yet).  

So what do you all think are the best tools for working in the desert?
 
steward
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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A technique that I have found very useful, is to leave the existing ground as is, and build swales, etc with materials that are dragged in from elsewhere. When I'm digging swales, elsewhere might only be 3 to 5 feet. I find it much easier to move small/loose material that to try to remove the big stuff.

 
pollinator
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Your first tool mentioned sounds like a digging bar - a priceless tool in your area for sure!

Now it's my turn to not know the name of a tool (but it could be revolutionary for you) - it's a length of steel pipe with a partially pinched end, that you attach to a garden hose - turn on the water, and stick this into the ground to use the water pressure to blast the dirt out from around small rock and such, much like a pick would - but the water does the work for you. then shovel out the loose debris occasionally.


 
pollinator
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Remember the names

polaski



and

mattock



these are some  of the most important tools for the area to know besides the digging bar.
 
Kim Goodwin
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Those are great!  I will show him.  I've been corrected, by the way.  My husband says the iron spike/digging bar is his second favorite tool.  And it turns out we have a pickaxe sort of like a basic mattock.  It turns out his favorite tool is called a claw mattock.

I found a site with pictures and explanations of the uses of different types of mattocks which is pretty cool, where this picture came from: What are different mattock heads for



He called that claw mattock "The Devastator" and says it was his favorite in Oregon for getting blackberry or salmonberry out by the roots, as well as rocks.  
 
Kim Goodwin
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
A technique that I have found very useful, is to leave the existing ground as is, and build swales, etc with materials that are dragged in from elsewhere. When I'm digging swales, elsewhere might only be 3 to 5 feet. I find it much easier to move small/loose material that to try to remove the big stuff.



I do agree, we just don't have any materials to bring in at this point.  This is in a very rural area, with little vegetation to spare and no utility companies to get more from.  The original owner of this property, when he built the home had "those pesky mesquites yanked out".  So he told us, proudly!  I guess we can be happy there isn't anything that brings a fire danger up to the house.  The next owner was a permaculturist and did some improvements that restored some of the remaining mesquites.  But we're not working with any extra vegetative matter, so I think earthworks will be the way to go initially...
IMG_4318.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_4318.jpg]
 
Joseph Lofthouse
steward
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Kim Goodwin wrote:I do agree, we just don't have any materials to bring in at this point.



At my place, if I make a scratch on the surface of the soil, then dirt/clay/sand will collect in it during every rainstorm. Building swales then, is a matter of scooping that fresh/loose/fine dirt up onto the swale. Slow and steady wins the race.

All those loose rocks laying on the surface would make wonderful swells. The rains will fill in the cracks between them with debris.
 
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We do a lot of water harvesting work in West TX/southern NM.  The tool that we all love for shaping swales is a really sturdy McLeod.  We use a pick mattock and pointed breaker bar (that big heavy metal toothpick thing) to loosen things up a bit.  Then shape it with the McLeod.  It has a sturdy hoe end for moving sand, the tine side works great with bigger rocks ~4-6" and it is just wide enough that it moves a good amount of material without being overly heavy.  

Pro tip - procure good quality, sturdy hand tools.  Personally, I prefer middle- priced, wooden handle tools.  The new expensive tools are nice, and hold up well, but in my case (I own a landscape/land restoration business and run a botanical garden and nature preserve) even the best tools are still no match for a tractor or truck wheel when errantly left on the ground, or a forgetful employee, or an ambitious yet inexperienced volunteer, or, worse a thief.  I've seen a lot of folks weld metal pipe handles on to thier tools...okay, but heavy.  Middle-of the-road tools are great.  I love to find used tools, but when I need 20 shovels for a volunteer work day, a trip to the hardware store is usually necessary.

Anyway, I went off on a tool tangent here.  To work Rocky soils, a McLeod is great.   In this case, get a really good one.  And have patience...everything good in the desert seems to go a bit slower.  
 
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