“By the time you have grown two thousand species you could believe that you had exhausted Nature’s imaginative variability; by the time you have grown five thousand you realise you never will.”
Geoffrey Charlesworth, The Opinionated Gardener (1988)
Garden Lore: wheelbarrows
Quite possibly, you may not have pondered the origins of the wheelbarrow but when you think about it, it is a design of some genius – a single wheeled cart with great manoeuvrability which enables the pusher to move pretty heavy loads and to tip them out easily. Its origins go back in the mists of time. Chinese history often attributes its invention to Chuko Liang around AD 200, when records show it being used to transport military equipment and supplies. There is some evidence that it dates back even earlier and there is a school of thought that it may even go back as far as Ancient Greece around BC 400. It did not come into wide use in Europe until the Middle Ages but when it did, it must have made life a lot easier.
The position of the wheel varied from the middle to the front throughout history but has now settled on the latter. The whole principle of the single wheeled barrow is the even distribution of weight. After 2000 years, you would think we could get this right every time but that is far from true. There are too many barrows – particularly at the cheaper end of the market – which will tip over easily unless you load them perfectly, starting from their centre point of balance. If you are buying a new barrow, try placing something a little weighty right at the back and then at the side. A well designed barrow won’t tip.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.
1) Contractor’s barrows tend to be larger, more solidly built, heavier and more expensive than garden barrows. Better quality barrows can cost from $200 but these two barrows have been used on an almost daily basis here over 10 years. Some women may find the handles too thick to use comfortably and the barrow too heavy.
2) Metal or plastic tray? Metal trays can last the distance if you look after them and don’t leave them out in the rain or full of debris. Because I am guilty on all counts, I strongly prefer a plastic tray with galvanised steel frame, neither of which will rust, but this is considerably more expensive. This garden barrow is pretty much top of the range, costing around $180 but I like its wider shape and its stability and I have two of them.
3) Cheap barrows are usually in the $38 to $60 range and commonly have a light metal construction which is prone to rust if you don’t look after them. They also have a tendency to tip back if you don’t load them properly. However, with some care, the much cheaper price may be sufficient to offset those disadvantages.
4) Most wheelbarrows are sold in flat packs. Make sure you try out an assembled one in the store before you buy so that you know that you will find it comfortable to use and that it has acceptable stability. If you assemble the barrow at home and find that the wheel is loose with no means of adjustment, return it to the store. A wobbly wheel is a major weakness from the start. If you ever come across barrows with small or narrow wheels, shun them. You need a robust wheel to support the weight of a load.
5) If you store your barrow leaning against an outside wall, make sure that rain can not get down the handles because it will pond in the pipes and quickly rust from the inside out.
6) I have never tried the new tub style of barrow and can’t see that they have any advantage over the traditional barrow which has been around in more or less the same form for 800 years in Europe and up to 2000 years in China where they were invented to carry military supplies. However, should any readers swear by this new design, I would be happy to hear. Otherwise, I suggest you borrow one to try before you spend between $75 and $150 on buying one.