Stirrup hoe.Lookin’ sharp!Can you keep a secret? I think I’m in love.

The object of my affection is about 5’4″, slender, and she’s the sharpest tool in the shed. Did I mention she’s a redhead? I’ve taken her out twice now, and we danced around the garden like we were made for each other.

I’m talking, of course, about my new stirrup hoe.

Equally enamoring is our new low tunnel — a temporary structure made of curved metal and special fabric that lets light and water in. My partner, Brian, keeps exclaiming, “How did we ever grow anything without a low tunnel?!”

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The answer is not as well as we do now.

Our garden last year was a weedy, disorganized mess. As usual, I was trying to do too much at once and not planning beyond what I could plant in the next bed.

And we paid dearly for it. If the stem borers or the flea beetles didn’t eat the plants, the violets and bromegrass choked them out.

When a friend who had spent the summer interning on a farm came to visit my weedy garden last September, she said the two tools that would save me this year were lots of good mulch and a sharp hoe.

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She wasn’t kidding — we don’t have nearly the weeds we did at this time last year, and the ones we have are quickly dispatched. It sure beats spending hours pulling up bromegrass on my hands and knees. Our kind neighbors offered us the 30-year-old straw in their hayloft if we’d come fork it out of the barn, and a better mulch you won’t find anywhere.

If we end up with a good tomato harvest this year, I’ll credit it all to the low tunnel. No sooner did we put it up and transplant a few seedlings inside than the wind started to howl something fierce. The tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants that would have been ripped to shreds couldn’t be happier in their warm, cozy home surrounded by weed barrier and mulch.

We use some unconventional tools on our farm too — one of my favorites is old coffee cans. It’s a trick Brian learned somewhere, and they protect new transplants from wind and strong sunlight. We leave them on for as long as we can, and later in the season they can shield the stem from crawling insects and hungry bunnies.

Another trick we’ve learned is that weeds can grow through even thick straw, the persistent buggers. Laying down a few sheets of damp newspaper first and putting mulch on top makes a biodegradable weed barrier that weeds have a much harder time poking through.

The tips I’ve been picking up from others are part of the fun of growing things. It’s also a challenge to think creatively about what I need and how to accomplish things efficiently.

What’s your favorite garden tip or trick?