Yesterday, I received an email asking what tool I recommend for high raised bed gardens and it just so happens there is a special tool I do use all the time for my raised beds gardens and it's called an entrenching tool (or ET). I tend to always misspeak and call it an ET tool, essentially mentioning the "tool" bit twice, but I think it sounds better even though it's wrong… Haha.
I was introduced to the entrenching tool during my military service. In fact, when I joined the Army back in 1987 it was one of the first items they issued me with and it probably ended up being the most used bit of kit I have ever owned. By the time I left the Army, I had accumulated several ET's but until I started my lifestyle into self-sufficiency I never realised how handy or valuable this tool would end up becoming.
My trusted entrenching tool is about 30 years old! (image above)
In the Army, I was well adapted to using an ET – it's surprising what you can do with such a small tool and several times I used my ET to dig 6 foot deep fighting pits, fill sand bags, or dig out bogged vehicles. Mostly though, my ET was used around the camp fire and to clear areas for sleeping at night when we were out in the field. Ahh… those were the days – not.
I still have my original entrenching tool and I still marvel at it's robustness every time I use it in the garden. Personally, I think it's a better gardening tool then it is a trench digger because it certainly makes gardening easier whereas I often felt it made trench digging harder than it could or should have been…
Years ago you would only see entrenching tools for sale in Army disposal stores; however, these days ETs are found in most camping stores and online. I've noticed there are several different designs and standards of quality when it comes to buying commercial ETs so I recommend getting the type with the single stemmed handle instead of the "fist grip" (like regular shovels have) because the single handle makes it easier to swing when used as a hoe/pick. I also recommend you buy the best quality ET you can afford.
The military grade entrenching tools (particularly the Australian Army ones) are almost unbreakable and should last a lifetime! The other thing about the better quality ETs is the weight and balance of the tool itself, which is an important factor for an implement made to dig. You want an ET to feel "weighty" but obviously light enough to swing multiple times one handed and it must be strong enough to withstand punishing use so welding, rivets, and overall make needs to be top quality otherwise it simply won't last.
ET used as a pick/spade at the same time (image above)
There are several ways I use my ET in our raised garden beds and besides a rake it's generally the only tool I ever need. I tend to use the tool in its pick head formation rather than folded out as a spade because I can practically use it as a spade and a pick anyway. When I'm tilling the raised garden bed I generally use the spade side to hoe the soil whilst occasionally flipping it over to use the pick head for chopping through tough clumps or roots.
Once the garden bed is tilled, the pick or spade heads can be used to create the mini furrows for sowing seeds. Depending on the width you want, the spade edge will produce a wider cut compared to the pick edge obviously. If it's just a small hole that is needed to plant out seedlings in the bed then the ET is perfect for this purpose as well.
Good entrenching tools perfect for the garden can be purchased online here:
- Living in USA – Amazon and also here on eBay USA
- Living in Australia – eBay Australia
- Living in UK – Amazon UK and also here on eBay UK
Here's a short video about how I use my ET in a raised garden bed: