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Hamptons Life

Apr 8, 2019 2:35 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Weights And Balances: Understanding The Wheelbarrow

Wheelbarrow choices can be confusing unless you know what you’ll be using it for and how long you want it to last. Most small properties can get by with barrows under $100 but the large more robust ones can set you back $200. ANDREW MESSINGER
Apr 8, 2019 3:21 PM

When I was training as a pilot I recall that one of the first things I was taught was the importance of weights and balances. Early on we’re trained that prior to taking off we need to determine the proper weights and balances for any given plane we’re flying because if these calculations are not done, and not done correctly, at best the plane doesn’t get off the ground and at worst the plane becomes airborne and swiftly heads back to earth—often nose first. But who would have ever thought that a gardener would have to consider weights and balances? Well, one summer we had an interesting crash in our garden, all due to a lack of training in weights and balances.

When we purchased our 1860 dream house, we did so with the full knowledge that the house and the landscape needed lots of attention and our hope and dream was to restore it to its original splendor. For the gardener in me it’s been a wonderful experience because I rarely have the opportunity to start a personal garden project from scratch and see it through fruition. It meant buying lots of new plants (hide the credit cards dear), planning a variety of new gardens and renovating some old ones. It also meant buying all new gardening tools to make my life easier and the gardening work as gentle on my aging bones as possible. Ah, but I had my secret weapon: my son, who was then 10 and who adored hard manual labor.

About a dozen years ago the work on rebuilding the back porch was completed. The fieldstone that was used to support the porch was pulled out, the rotted timbers replaced and concrete piers installed to replace the stone piers. The stones sat in piles for weeks until one fateful afternoon my son took it upon himself to load what seemed to be about a half a ton of stone into our wheelbarrow and pile it in a less conspicuous spot away from the house. The wheelbarrow he used was a simple one purchased at a local home store and price was the driving motive as opposed to style and function. I had better things to spend my money on and wasn’t planning on hauling much other than leaves and soil.

“Daddy, I have some bad news and I have some good news,” came the report. “Come out back I want to show you something.” And there, at the back of the property was nearly all the stone rubble neatly piled and organized. I was absolutely amazed that this kid had taken it upon himself to accomplish such a task, and I glowed. But then I saw the bad news. He hadn’t quite finished moving all the stone and in his mini-macho gusto he had overloaded the $49.95 wheelbarrow, which was never, ever the same.

The pan, the tray that carries the stuff in the barrow, was creased on two sides and sunken in the middle. It had nearly caved in because my dear son had not considered the consequences of weights and balances. The wheelbarrow was probably overweighted by 150 pounds and since the load was out of balance the wheel axle was making noises that simply indicated the end was at hand. This wheelbarrow suddenly had ornamental value only—as a garden planter.

The Chinese are said to have been the inventors of the wheelbarrow, and it wasn’t until the 13th century that we find evidence of it being used in the West. Oddly enough, the barrows of 1220 A.D. are not in a museum but are depicted in the stained glass of a cathedral. We know that the purpose of this tool was to combine the convenience of the wheel and lever—weights and balances. The load is centered just behind a single wheel and in this way, you have to lift only a small part of the load. The two handles give much more control over the load than in earlier carrying devices, which were four-wheeled carts. In later years we find examples of hand barrows, box barrows, basket barrows and fence barrows, but it seems that this tool had one of its greatest advances in the 17th century when a tire was added. But this tire wasn’t the rubber tire you’re thinking of. This tire consisted of a circular wooden frame around which was fashioned an iron strap that was nailed to the wooden wheel. This gave the barrow a degree of stability and sturdiness that earlier evolutions were lacking. Later on, a similar design was used, but the wheel material was all metal. While this added weight, the spoked metal wheel was much more durable.

The wheelbarrow continued to evolve and has played an important part in our economic development. For centuries it was irreplaceable on the farm and later in construction and mining. Today, it’s used widely in landscaping, small farming, contracting and home gardening. But in many trades, it’s been replaced by mechanical tools such as the front-end and skid loaders that are so popular in moving everything from stone to topsoil and mulch.

Nonetheless, there have still been recent advances in wheelbarrow design that can make our work easier and more productive. Both rigid and flexible plastics have enabled manufacturers to make very large wheelbarrows that are much lighter and easier to handle than the older steel tray types. Two-wheeled carts that have a removable front panel and can be effortlessly dumped by simply lifting the tubular handle have become very popular. These were once marketed as Garden Way carts, but it seems the name has faded into history but not the design as a number of companies are selling knockoffs, even ones that fold.

Now you may not be in the market for a new wheelbarrow this weekend, but some day you will. Considering a few basic things will make your purchase easier and will save lots of strain on your back, and you’ll end up with a wheelbarrow or garden cart that should last five to 10 years or more.

Next week, everything you need to know about buying your new barrow from what type of wheels to look for and whether you need a wooden, metal or plastic resin barrow or an electric Makita barrow that will only set you back a grand or so. Keep growing.

Garden Notes: By now you should have your peas, radish and most salad greens seeded and followed up 10 days later with a second sowing. Cold-tolerant brassicas such as broccoli, broccolini, broccolette, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts cabbages and Kale plants can go in as well as be seeded. If you haven’t done a pH test on your garden soil, it’s not too late. Limestone can be added as you work the soil in the vegetable garden as needed, but you won’t see a pH change for several months. Mulch garden paths now to keep the weeds down but be careful using mulches near the woods edge as this will invite voles. Yellow sticky cards can be set out to monitor for whitefly. As they begin to spot the cards, early spraying of soaps or other organic sprays will result in few whitefly problems later in the season. Not too late to sow some melon, squash and pumpkin seeds indoors for transplanting to the garden in mid to late May. Have you had dormant oil applied to your fruit trees yet?

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