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Old-Fashioned Harvest Tools

By Jolene Hansen
Vintage tools inspire many modern replicas, such as these topiary shears based on sheep shears.

When harvest time arrives in your garden, having the right tool makes every task simpler. Old-fashioned harvest tools, often designed for specialized tasks, provide an ideal marriage of function and form. Made by gardeners themselves or the village blacksmith, these made-to-order tools saved time, crops and many a gardener's back. Old-fashioned harvest tools may provide the perfect partner to gather your garden's bounty.

Multi-Purpose Standards

Many harvest tools got their start outside the garden. The ease of harvesting herbs and other soft-stemmed plants with old-fashioned, handheld sheep shears keeps them in demand today. With knife-like blades held horizontal to your crop, the shears snip easily. Corn knives or corn sickles became gardening staples. Blades were straight or curved, on long and short handles, with frequent modifications for special tasks. For harvesting bundles of lavender (Lavandula spp.), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8, a sharp corn knife excels.

Root-Crop Protectors

Digging forks proved better than spades to break up ground and lift root crops from soil, but some old-fashioned implements went further. For harvesting beets (Beta vulgaris) and potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), digging forks were upgraded with blunt tips or balled tips to prevent harvest damage from tines. Safely out of the ground, root crops were lifted with potato shovels. Shaped like standard shovels, potato shovels were made of open tines with a connecting bar along the scooping end. Crops stayed in, but debris fell out. Modern versions follow suit.

Flower and Foliage Gatherers

For harvesting flowers, old-fashioned flower gatherers worked like pruning shears that both cut and held on to stems. Short-handled versions were matched by long-handled designs. Slide-action levers allowed gardeners to stand upright while gathering blooms. The gripping action in the blades also worked well for harvesting clusters of grapes (Vitis spp.), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9. Custom touches such as pollinating brushes might crown the handles. Other designs attached side trays to handheld shearing blades to catch leaves snipped for teas. Similar designs remain in use.

Fruit and Berry Pickers

Old-time fruit pickers answered the need to reach high in trees. To harvest apples (Malus spp.), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8, gardeners topped long handles with wire cages, baskets, nets and crown-like catchers with scalloped edges to grab apple stems. Fancy models used slide action to enclose the entire fruit. Berry scoops and pickers teamed handheld boxes with handled models. Long, fingerlike protrusions on the front of a harvest box scooped into berry branches. The fingers pulled berries free to roll back into the berry catch box. Modern berry pickers rely on the same inspired design.


About the Author


Jolene Hansen is a lifelong gardening enthusiast and former horticulture professional. She is passionate about reshaping the way people experience gardens and gardening. Hansen's work appears regularly in consumer and trade publications, as well as numerous internet gardening and lifestyle channels.