My favorite tools are the two I was born with: my hands. One of the great things about hand work is that you don’t have to restrict yourself to a single task, as you are almost forced to with a manufactured tool. Your hand is adaptable. Consider weeding: You can pull your fingers through the top inch or so of soil, breaking up the rain-compacted surface, and then, with the same movement of the wrist, but a slight realignment of the fingers, smooth it out again. If, in your haste, you bump a newly set transplant, your hand, unlike the fast-moving, sharp-edged hoe—which would shear off a tomato or pepper seedling as if it were merely another weed—recognizes it as a plant to be saved and passes it by.
Only your hand, when it meets a rock, can instantly transform itself from a cultivator into a grabber and toss the offender off into the puckerbrush. Only your hand, if it uncovers a grub, can quickly perform the best and only completely effective form of pest control: crushing it. Only your hand if it accidentally disturbs a young seedling, can immediately replace it and firm the soil around its roots. In contrast, the tool-bound gardener must put down his tool to do this.
If you want to really know and enjoy your garden, don’t neglect the intimacy that comes with hand work. Get down on your hands and knees, run your hands through the soil, smell it; there are as many living things in one double handful of soil as there are people on earth! Check the undersides of plant leaves for insect eggs instead of just walking by and dousing them with spray, even an organic-approved spray. You might find that the time you spend taking care of your garden is a whole lot more satisfying, and a lot less like work.