Complete guide to your garden tools and equipment

Gardening in Limousin-Tools of the TradeAt number 2 in our most popular topics is garden machinery and tools. This is a complex question to answer as there is a magnitude of considerations, but here goes.

First and foremost look around, tractors, trailers, vegetable plots, log wagons and machinery dealers on nearly every corner, virtually every where (Bienvenue dans Limousin, Land of Agriculture).

And that is what the Limousin is, part of Frances heartland of agriculture. You very quickly find out here, that the flex for your flymo is really not long enough to reach the end of your garden, you resign yourself to the fact that you need a new mower, but which one, a lawnmower is a lawnmower, right ?

Wrong, you will read this word in our articles until you are sick of seeing it ‘HOMEWORK’. The manufactures of lawnmowers do theirs, which is why you will see that the majority of mowers for sale here in the Limousin are rotary and why? It’s because they are the best for cutting the type of grass that you will probably have in your garden.

The majority of grass seed that is used in the Limousin is English rye grass. The reason being is that it is hardy, grows quick, gives a good crop return and the Limousin cows love to eat it. The downside to English rye, is that it hates to be cut shorter than 2 inches, anything less is detrimental to it.
Hence, those of you who arrive here at Easter and cut your grass for the first yearly cut down to around an inch, are left wondering why your lawn looks bad when you leave, yet when you return 6 weeks later it’s like a jungle.

Gardening in Limousin-Tools of the TradeThere are many varied rotary mowers of all makes, shapes and sizes, but, which one is right for you?
Well, how big is your garden? Mowers capabilities are broken down into sizes, small, medium and large. Now this is not the actual size of the mower, it is the size of garden area that they are designed to cut. If you look on the net or in the small print on the mowers label it will normally read something like, ‘large, for gardens in up to 2,000 square meters’.

If you think your garden is borderline i.e. small/medium, then for an extra €60 get the larger mower if you can, as it will be performing at a lower work rate than its designed for and therefore should last longer.

A very important consideration is ’who will be operating the mower’? Are you, they, young, mature, of good health or a sufferer of aliments? Do they enjoy mowing the lawn? Basically, get a mower that you can both learn to use.

If you have a sizable garden I would recommend a self propelled mower, as its hard work trying to push a small mower through 5 inches of grass at 25 degrees. Preferably a front wheel drive version, because if you need to manoeuvre the mower, you can push down on the handle and lift the drive wheels off the ground for a short period.

Gardening in Limousin-Tools of the TradeIf you decide ‘yes’ it’s a self propelled model for me and it is a one speed version, then find out at what speed it travels at, as it may be too fast for one of the users. If it is a bit ’racy’ then consider paying a little bit more and get a 2 or 3 speed version, one with reverse can be handy, though they do come at a price, so consider how many times you would use it. Though, if you or your partner is infirm and enjoys mowing and if reverse would help you/them mow the lawn easier, then get your hand in your purse and spend the extra, ask yourself, what’s a £100 quid in a lifetime if it makes life easier and brings some enjoyment to someone?

Next point to consider, do you have easy access to the various locations that need to be cut in your garden? The reason being is that some of the large mowers weigh around 35 kg (5.5 stone) and a person of any age should not be lifting one of those on their own.

Bushes and trees, if you have a well matured garden that has those features, consider how easily the mower will manoeuvre around them. A couple of years ago mower manufactures started putting large wheels on the back of the mower. Now when I first saw them I thought they looked horrible and wondered if it was a gimmick. After talking to owners of the new ’dragster style’ mower, we finally and with hesitation took the plunge and bought one last year, now I would not buy anything else, they still look horrible, but I am warming to it due to the ease of movement.

What engine? Sooner or later, depending on how your mower is used and cared for, it will need work that many of us cannot perform ourselves. So we want a reliable engine that will last quite a while?. I have discussed buying the larger engine earlier, as to manufacturer and make, well who knows?

Though, consider the following. When we arrived here a few years ago, I was concerned as the mower I’d brought over from the Brit isles had a Briggs and Stratton engine. Briggs and Stratton engines, you cannot move in the Brit isles for them, but in past days in France they where a very rare commodity in this area.
The good news is that now, in the Limousin they are common place and that means the supply and turnaround of spare parts should be easier.

Honda engines, need I say more. Apart from finding out recently that Honda does buy some of its small engine components from China, they are still considered the number one choice of engine for professional grass cutters. Though, as to getting parts easily, now that’s another question, and remember, quality normally comes with a price, or is that the cost of advertising?.

Gardening in Limousin-Tools of the TradeSit on Mowers, how many of us when we lived in the British isles, wished we had a garden big enough to justify buying a ‘sit-on’.
The dream begins to turns to reality when you firstly, stump up a bucket load of cash to buy it, then read the instruction manual and find it cannot be used to ‘cross cut’ (go side to side across your lawn) on slopes of a 5 degree angle or more, you then find out you cannot cut under bushes or cut right up to the edges of your lawn, they have a tendency to slide into ditches, the drive belt comes off half way through the job (normally happens when the lazy operator is cutting grass that is too long, or the mower is at the wrong setting), it the goes on.

The good news is they do save effort, especially in the hot summer months. Therefore, if you want a new toy, or it makes life easier, or you have a very large flat garden with not too many bushes or trees and you have the cash, get one. As to quality of cut and timed saved?. We cut around 1500 meters of grass on our garden, the ’dragster’ gives a better cut and takes about 15 minutes longer to do compared to the ’sit-on’.

Engine size, the most important factor with a sit-on is the size of the engine, just because it’s less than a thousand euros and you can sit on it, don’t think that it will cut anything, it won’t.

The machines I am talking about are the McCuloch ones that you see in Mr Bricolarge. Lift the bonnet; they will normally have an engine size of around 9.5 to 10 hp. Now the McCuloch sit on that we bought years ago, has a 12.5hp engine. This week in Super U at Lubersac, that machine will cost you over €1,700 and personally, when the engine goes on this one I will be looking at a new engine around 14.5 to 16 hp, think before you buy.

As always operator proficiency is at the fore with machinery, you hear stories of idiots trying to cut jungle terrain sat on a top of the range 22 hp John Deere. These machines are designed to do limited tasks, even the €4,000 John Deere’s will reach a point where they, won’t cut it.

Mini / Compact-Tractors

Gardening in Limousin-Tools of the TradeYou see lots of mini tractors about for sale, the 2 top sellers that you see around the Limousin are Kubota (normally orange in colour) and Iseki (normally blue in colour).

Now, hands up, how many of you who actually know why mini tractors where designed and why? Well you should and here’s the reason why. The mini tractor was originally designed to work in FLAT paddy fields in Asia. It has a narrow wheel base (space between the wheels) and it has a high seat so the driver can see where he is going.
Now according to physics, narrow bases on tall objects, travelling at or on a sideways angle have a tendency to topple over.

Now for some crazy unexplainable reason, the EU have not got around to making it compulsory to have a role bar fitted as standard to these machines, they can be bought as an optional extra, DO NOT even ask yourself the question, if you buy a mini tractor BUY THE ROLE BAR.

Many dealers will tell you, yes you can cut with them (and you can), they are safe, all you need is to buy the optional grass tyres and spare set of wheels, come this way.

Now before you part with the best part of €5,500 and you are in the St Y la Perche area. Visit a company called Bellingard’s, they sell all sorts of machinery including new and second hand Kubota’s. Now when you are there, tell the salesman that you only want to look at the Kubota BX 2350 commercial grass cutting tractor.
When you have done that task, you will have a clearer picture of what I am talking about. By the way, it will cost you around €13,000.

The Kubota/Iseki ’Paddy field’ tractor’s are a fantastic piece of kit for the price, their versatile, it does everything Mum and Dad can do, ploughs, rotovates and cuts grass, it is quite simply a tractor . Just don’t buy one and think it’s easy to use, it is a tractor. Ask yourself these questions; were you a farmer before you came here? Have you been on a tractor driving course?
Just be very careful if you have sloping land and how you cut it. And buy the role bar, I heard of 2 incidents when operators came off these tractors last year, one a professional gardener and the machine had grass tyres on it, a very lucky man to escape with a scraped leg.

Hedge trimmers and Strimmers

Gardening in Limousin-Tools of the TradeAgain it does not take us long to find out that the Black and Decker electric strimmer is……………..? Now this bit is going to hurt, ITS NOT THE MACHINES FAULT, IT’S THE OWNERS, I am afraid to say.
Now before anyone laughs too loud, I confess, I have a cordless Black & Decker we use it all the time and it is absolutely invaluable. The reason it is still working 10 years on, is because it has only been used for the strimming and trimming of light grass areas and garden edges. It has not been required to ’hack away’ at 1,000 square meters of untended garden that includes nettles, thistles, snakes and all sorts of weird and wonderful things.

There is a huge range of strimmers and hedge trimmers out there and at pretty good prices for France, sometimes even cheaper than B/I’s.

Again when choosing what to buy, consider your criteria. What has the machine to do?, will it realistically perform the task I want it to do?

Now here comes the contradiction in terms. As professional gardeners, clients sometimes expect us to arrive at their site and produce this years brand new ’Sthil strimmer’ followed by this years brand new ’Viking lawnmower’ (Viking lawnmowers are part of the Sthil group, great machines, but, horrendously over priced in my opinion).

Sorry, it does not work like that and here’s the reason why.
The Sthil FS 550 professional strimmer (similar to the type the commune gardens use, but don‘t like too), looks like something out of Terminator and weighs about 22lbs (1.5 stone). Now how many of you can carry your 1.5 stone child or grandchild hanging around your neck for 7.5 hours a day, day in day out ?

What we choose to do, like a lot of others (including the commune gardeners) is go for lighter equipment. The type you can use all day, granted they will not last as long as the FS 550, but, normally that machine is used only when the lighter machines won’t cut it. You even have to ask, is the FS 550 the right machine or should I be using something else?

The lighter Sthil strimmers generally start around €200 and expect to pay about €350 for a decent one.

Again engine size is important, the bigger the engine more power. The smaller strimmers are usually around 25cc, for a bit more punch, look at the ones around 32 or so cc, anything around 40cc and above, is really only to be used by the Governor of California.

Manufactures and makes? You pay your money and take your chances.

One theory is the Timex versus Rolex. Rolex, expensive to buy, if looked after, serviced regular and not stolen from you, will last a life time. Timex, cheap to buy, no need to service it, no one wants to steal it, when it breaks, throw it away and get another.

Strimmers to buy in France, Sthil, McCuloch and a new line that was introduced last year at Castorama was Homelite. Now these Homelite products interested me quite a lot, as they fitted a lot of requirements that we need. After looking at the products the build quality was good. The parts looked better than what you see on ’cheaper models’, the price for France for the type of machine was ridiculously low and after some inter-net homework, I discovered that they are manufactured for the market by Techtronic Industries. By the way, McCuloch is part of the Husqvana group.

Hedge Trimmers

Gardening in Limousin-Tools of the TradeRemember hedge trimmers are exactly that, hedge trimmers. They are not really expected to hack through 1 inch branches (except the Sthil super – dooper T1000 terminator model).
Advice on this one, get the lightest machine you can due to the reason of how you have to trim hedges. It’s up, down, sideways and across. If you have tall hedges above 2 meters or wide hedges, ones that are wider than the width of your hedge trimmer blade length (normally 18 or 24 inch). Consider a Multi-tool. A multi tool is basically a strimmer that allows you to convert the end with inter changeable attachments. The attachments range from hedge trimmer to lawn edger to mini rotovators, though I don’t think the rotovators head would be much good out here, though if anyone reading this article has the rotovator head and likes it, then please mail me as I’d like to know what you think of them.

The most common one sold in France is the Ryobi multi tool.Flymo make one as well, but I have not seen it for sale in the Limousin. Flymo by the way is also part of Husqvana.

Hand Tools

Gardening in Limousin-Tools of the TradeVery little to say about hand tools, you pick them up in the shop and if they feel comfortable and are easy to move around we generally buy them.

Now a tip, this month and the coming months will see you using your hand tools quite a lot and if you are using your hand tools for a long period or if your hands start to ache or if you have trouble gripping or holding your tools, get down to your DIY or plumbing shop and buy some pipe insulation. The grey light foam tubing that the kids like to bash you around the head with. Measure the handle of your tools and then get the tubing that is closest to the handles diameter. If the tubing does not fit easily or snugly around the tool handle, it can be cut into sections and taped into place. It makes it easier to hold and far more comfortable.

Well that’s it for now happy gardening and as always if you want any more information do not hesitate to get in touch.

Mark

Article kindly provided by Mark from Oak Garden Services

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