It all started with a pickle bucket. As a new homeowner (and yard owner), I got the bucket as a freebie from a local deli. This simple 5-gallon bucket became an essential gardening tool for collecting weeds, hauling a bit of mulch, mixing potting soil, harvesting tomatoes, and carrying a few tools.
Later, I got a wheelbarrow, which was grand, but wasn’t right for smaller tasks in tight spots and on problematic terrain such as slopes or terraces. Small garden haulers, I found, fill a niche that wheelbarrows and garden carts cannot. A number of these haulers do a much better job than a pickle bucket, though a couple of 5-gallon buckets will always be part of my basic gardening arsenal.
Kick the bucket
I’m not weak, but lugging a bucket on one side of the body is awkward. And yes, I can carry two buckets, but then it starts feeling like more of a workout, and I always manage to bang my legs a couple of times.
My ideal hauler is easy to hold with both hands or one, easy to move even when loaded down, and easy on my body—both my arms and my shins.
I like the bin types with two handles because they’re easy to carry. These are just modern adaptations of bushel baskets, which are charming to look at, but tend to rot or break after a year or two. I even invested in a galvanized metal bushel basket, similar to the one my aunt used back on our Kansas farm to haul chicken feed, but it banged and bruised my legs and hips. (It now holds boots on our back porch.)
When choosing a bin, look for a smooth, slightly curved, durable bottom and tough handles that allow you to drag it when it’s loaded with mulch or other heavy materials. Also consider capacity. The 5-gallon buckets are nice for small jobs, but larger is often better. A 30-gallon Kangaroo bin holds six times more branches or leaves than does that bucket. It also has the huge benefit of being collapsible for easy storage.
Such a drag
Tarps are another classic garden hauler. They’re great for leaves—just rake the leaves on top of the tarp, drag it to another spot on your property, such as a wooded area, and dump off the leaves. If you buy an extremely sturdy tarp, you can also use it to drag boulders, logs, firewood, and other heavy loads, especially if you team up with a second person.
Look for tarps that have snaps or cords attached so you can close them up to haul lighter materials. Also, look for innovative carts that are essentially small tarps attached to a metal frame with a wheel. Put the tarp on the ground, load up the material, and wheel it away. Bonus: It folds up for storage. And many are amazingly strong, holding hundreds of pounds.
Weigh the options
This leads to another consideration: How much weight do you want to haul? If you’re like my 75-year-old mom, you want something light as a feather that can carry a few weeds. For my garden, on the other hand, I need something of medium weight that can handle heavier loads. I don’t mind hauling stones in my plastic bin, or lugging a tarp loaded with firewood.
Consider drainage, too, especially if you share my bad habit of leaving things outside where they collect rainwater. However, if you’ll also be using your hauler to wash produce, look for something watertight.
Few gardeners can do without a basic garden hauler or two—or three. It can speed you along in your garden chores and turn a troublesome task into a job that’s anything but a drag.
Type of hauler: 5-gallon plastic bucket
Advantages: Simple, cheap, and versatile. You can afford, both in space (they stack) and money, to have several. Carry two and you’ll balance your load nicely.
Price: Free to $10
Type of hauler: Classic bushel basket
Advantages: Simple, cheap, attractive, and lightweight.
Disadvantages: Not very durable. Bottom tends to break if you carry more than several pounds. Wire handles also tend to come out over time.
Price: $5 to $15
Type of hauler: Plastic bin with handles
Advantages: These come in several different designs, but all are generously sized. Flexible ones are tough but soft, so they don’t bang shins.
Disadvantages: They take up space when stored.
Price: $10 to $25
Type of hauler: Kangaroo bin
Advantages: Available both in small and larger (30-gallon) sizes. Wonderfully large and lightweight. They store flat and are very durable. Perforated bottom prevents rain from collecting.
Disadvantages: When really loaded down, they’re too heavy to move easily.
Price: $15 to $40
Type of hauler: Tarp
Advantages: Easy to rake or toss materials on top of the tarp and drag it around. Some have straps or fasteners so you can fold them up like a hankie and haul. Can hold very large amounts.
Disadvantages: May wear out quickly, especially when exposed to sunlight. When heavily loaded, can be difficult to move.
Price: $10 to $40
Type of hauler: Tarp with wheels
Advantages: Some hold up to 350 pounds, yet still lay flat so you can rake or scoop in materials.
Disadvantages: They won’t hold quite as much volume as a tarp.
Price: $40 to $150