The Free Press, Mankato, MN


January 12, 2013

Krohn: Things keep improving (not that they need to)

— It's tough to improve on many things, but that doesn't keep people from trying.

The new gardening magazines started arriving just after Christmas, and none too soon. Burpee and Farmer Seed and Nursery know the need for their catalogs is greatest this time of year -- just after the gluttony of the holidays and the excess of food, drink and relatives has ended.

The colorful photos of snap peas and sunflowers are a winter refuge, but it's the "new and improved" plants and tools that entice.

There's a Multi-use Hori Hori Knife on page 7. It is, they tell me, a sharp, serrated, versatile tool for weeding, transplanting, dividing and more. It looks a lot like the little kitchen knife I have in the drawer that I bought at the thrift store, but this one is stainless steel and has a leather-like sheath and is $38, so it has to be a lot better.

There's an "aluminum planting stick" on page 32. It's like an aluminum yard stick with holes in it: "Simply place the planting stick on the surface of the garden plot and insert the seeds through the appropriate holes for perfect plant spacing."

And all this time I just plopped seeds in randomly and thought I was a gardener.

Build a better mousetrap, it is said, and the world will beat a path to your door.

But the quest to build a better mousetrap is futile if the original is a good one.

I once asked Dave Mutch, who recently retired and closed his hardware store, what he sold the most of. He thought it might be mousetraps, but not usually the array of high-tech inventions on the shelves. "These," he said, holding a packet of the spring-loaded wood traps invented in the 1890s. "They're still the best ones."

When it comes to garden tools, it's often the same. A decent sharpened hoe like your great-grandpa used still works as well as anything for having at weeds. There's something new out called a "Swoe," a double-edge hoe with an offset tilted blade, "That can be comfortably pushed or pulled around plants while scuffling the surface of the soil," according to the description "The best for stand-up hoeing" the ad promised.

It looked tempting, but at $70, not that tempting. I checked some online gardening forums where an entire string of outrage had been dedicated to the Swoe. "The most worthless garden tool I own," said one. "This piece of crap takes three times the force of a hoe to get a weed up," another said. "The only thing this might work for is self defense."

As a writer, I appreciate good ad copy writing. Many are good, some excel. I always admired the writers at Lee Valley Tools, which carries a line of shop, gardening and kitchen tools. Their copy writers make the most mundane thing exotic:

"This is an excellent garlic press. Its double-pivot gear mechanism and strong nylon handles apply tremendous leverage on the pressing plate, so it requires little hand strength to operate. Pressed through the fine holes in the screen, a whole garlic clove is quickly crushed to an even consistency. The press opens wide and the stainless-steel screen swings out from the side walls of the hopper, allowing easy cleaning. A well-designed tool."

I tell my wife I'm ordering two of them. "We already have one, it works fine," she said.

"But this has a double-pivot gear mechanism and the handle's nylon, not just regular plastic and it has a stainless steal hopper thingy," I argue.

"Remember the Homer Simpson Chia Pet you ordered for my mother?"

"OK, never mind."


  Tim Krohn is a Free Press staff writer. He can be contacted at 344-6383 or

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