A sickle, by definition, is simply a curved blade. Arced, sharp and small, it is also the most able, brilliant tool you can carry into the garden. Sickles – serrated and smooth – have been used for centuries in nearly every culture to harvest the world’s most important food crops.
The Caves of Mt. Carmel in Israel have revealed the remains of a culture that the archeologists call Natufian. These Natufians were the earliest people known to have used the sickle, a grooved halft of bone in which short flint teeth were mounted. These sickles are not certain proof that the Natufians, whom we can date somewhere about 6000 bc. actually cultivated grain; they may simply have harvested wild grasses. But it is clear that cultivation soon followed the invention of the sickle and that the spread of agriculture can be traced in part by the diffusion of the sickle (European Economic History: The economic development of Western civilization, p. 10)
You do not need to have a field of grain, however, to make use of a sickle. I keep a 6.5 in, wood-handled, serrated version at my side for harvesting head lettuce, cabbages and fennel. Another use: cutting down patches of weeds that have grown too tall and wild to pull. Basically, anytime you need to make a clean cut through green stem, let the sickle be your guide.
Less is so much more in the great outdoors. Less noise. Less distraction. Less light to dim the stars. In many ways, we go out there to discover what we need, and what we can leave behind. The trick is in finding the right things, and keeping them affordable, and caring for them so they last. Ok, that’s actually three tricks. And there are more. Here we’ll focus on what to buy where and things you can make or do on your own. Please share what you think of the choices and how your packing goes.
Swiss Army style gadgets are helpful, but I also love a tool that does one thing and does it well. SteriPEN is a compact, battery powered, completely reliable water purification system that uses UV light. It takes seconds to work and there’s no funny aftertaste. Dunk the bulb in your water, press a button and you’re done. I’ve used mine on some extremely suspect ditch water and felt fine, then drank tap water in the same area and felt, you know, the opposite. They’re $70-130 at REI, Amazon, or FreshWaterSystems.com.
Used: Water Bottles
Is it just me, or did the backlash against disposable water bottles turn into wellspring of unused reusables? I’ve been through an embarrassing amount over the years. I’m making up for it spiritually by reminding myself and anyone who will listen that every thrift store on the planet has water bottles to spare. Antique stores have rugged old-school canteens. For every bottle you buy used, a Scout gets a merit badge. For every bottle you buy new, a bird falls off a tree.
Yours: Sprout Mix
Pure, fresh water. Nice, clean water bottles. That’s pretty much all you need for sprouting seeds in your backpack or car. They’re such a nice surprise after a few days of rehydrated meals or a diet of meat-and-marshmallows. Buying a pre-packaged seed mix costs (much) more than scooping your own from the bulk aisle of your natural food store. So dig in! Go for larger seeds like chickpeas, lentils and beans. They’re easier to work with in makeshift places where the last thing you want to do is spill. And remember, while this is technically science, it is also magic. Learn what works for you by playing with this basic technique:
1. Soak seeds overnight or up to 14 hours.
2. Drain and rinse. Screw lid on as loosely as possible. Store away from light.
3. Rinse and drain thoroughly 3 times per day for 3-4 days. Keep the lid loose and the bottle upright.
4. Taste test. Around day 3 or 4, seeds will be tender, flavorful, and ready for your table.
Ever since reading this article about the transformational power of spices, I’ve been on a hunt for a new mortar and pestle (mine currently holds loose change). My search quickly led me to the ceramic wares of product designer, Chifen Cheng. Cheng’s small design studio, Designlump, offers ergonomic kitchen products such as cups, plates and, of course, the mortar and pestle (which includes a thumb dent on the pestle for ease while grinding). With a background in industrial design, Cheng is an artisan who values both utility and charm when handcrafting her tools. She told Food & Wine: “Once you touch clay, it’s hard to stop.” I’ll take her cue. Off to grind some spices!
The best tools always feel like a natural extension of your own body. A simple hand weeder perfectly demonstrates the beauty of an intuitive, efficient tool.
The best time to weed is as soon as you see a thin carpet of unwanted green surrounding your plants. Obviously, it would be far too tedious to pull each tiny sprout by hand. Luckily, a sharp hand hoe can clear an entire area in a single swipe. Glide the blade along the soil at a shallow depth – just deep enough to kill the blanket of weeds without disturbing the soil too aggressively. Be careful, of course, to avoid cutting the plants you are trying to save. In fact, when you are first getting used to the tool, it is a good idea to hold the stem of the planted crop with your free hand as you weed around it with the other. A new hand hoe will have a sharp tip at the edge of its blade. It is wise to file down this point to further prevent accidental slicing.
By May there will be twice as much happening in your garden. Now is the time to get a good, thorough pass on your rows. The weeds will inevitably persist, but clearing them at this early, mid-spring stage will at least save you more arduous battles later.
Product line Wilderness of Wish specializes in the “making and gathering of tools that connect us to each other and places, ourselves.” Very kindly, Wilder Quarterly readers get 25% of all of the tools in their web store. The code is APPLESTREAMERS.
Two of our favorites:
“We remember our grandmothers peeling an entire apple in a single stroke, so a red and white spiral of peel twisted down to the floor like a streamer. Here is a knife to re-create that magical gesture—and for gentle but efficient fruit handling.”
“Though October marks the end of the grape harvest, we have found garden uses for these iconic grape-harvesting knives through the edge of winter. Though commercial vineyards typically use machines or scissors, hooked knives provide a more ergonomic and tactile harvesting experience. Carve your name into the handle, in the old tradition, and when the snowflakes start to swirl, hang your tools on the barn wall to gain patina over the winter.”
Designer Matt Singer has teamed up with Rivendell Mountain Works to create a limited-edition backpack to benefit the Million Trees NYC initiative. Their goal is to plant and care for one million new trees across the City’s five boroughs over the next decade. Planting trees is one of the most beneficial and cost-effective ways to help clean New York City’s air to reducing the pollutants and cool the city.
The bag is handmade in the Washington Cascades with the impeccable sturdiness and quality that Rivendell made its name on back in the 70s. The backpack is available in limited numbers, so if you want, it best go get it now. If you live in New York City and want to support Million Trees inititviae by volunterring, you can get in touch with them here.
The rapid growth of cities and shift from agrarian to factory based production, left post-industrial England in a sort of frenzy for all things green. For many Brits the relationship to the natural world had changed from the tangible to the imaginary and nostalgic. However, aided with the newly invented Wardian Case (a sort of precursor to the modern terrarium) an entirely new class of botanical exotica, such as the then highly fashionably fern, could be collected and shipped to England, for those who could afford them.
The case is named after British botanist Nathaniel Ward who personally has 25,000 specimens of herbs in his house and on its grounds. He discovered the plants were being killed by London’s air pollution consisting of heavy coal smoke. Pay homage to Ward. Without him, Chinese teas, delicious coffees from Yemen and rubber plants from South America would never have made it around the world.
In our current issue, we feature all sorts of sharp objects to help you get through the winter such as the great Ulu blade and the downright useful Slyod hand knife. I’m sorry that I overlooked the incredibly beautiful Velvicut Premuim Hudson Bay Axe from C.H. Judson’s Council Tools. Sure, often pretty tools are useless, but since it’s come from Judson’s I’m less concerned.
The North Carolina based company has been making tools since 1886. Pretty sure this thing is going to be dyno-mite. I recommend watching the making of video which walks you through how the Council is hell bent on retraining their staff to be able to handle new machinery rather than letting career staffers fade into the night.
Incredible inspiring any which way you look at it.