2009-05-21 / News

Hoe, hoe, hoe!

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

No, this is not about the jolly fat man coming down the chimney with a bag full of toys on his back, it's about getting rid of weeds and saving your back from the usual gardening aches and pains.

Weeds are opportunists that will fill your garden if you let them. The easiest way to get rid of them is to use a good long-handled hoe. With a long-handled hoe you don't have to bend over, you simply chop the weeds off under the surface and leave them to rot in the garden. Any good gardener has several hoes and in fact, there are several different types depending on your hoe, hoe, hoeing style. (Sorry couldn't resist that one!)

Hoes were used as long ago as Roman times, which to my mind, shows how effective they are. A good gardener may have a selection of hoes, each used for a slightly different purpose. Many types are known by their country of origin, such as the Dutch hoe, Italian hoe, Japanese hoe, where the hoes were used for specific tasks. For example, the Japanese hoe was used for grubbing through a rice paddy to clear weeds before planting rice.

Other types, such as the mattock and grub hoes, are used for heavier work like digging over rough ground before planting new seeds.

Using a hoe

If you plan on using your hoe to eliminate weeds between rows, select a day when the sun is shining brightly and it's unlikely to rain. Hot dry weather will wither any plants very quickly. If you try to hoe on a rainy day when the soil is moist, you will move weeds around rather than eliminate them.

To use the hoe, simply slide it about half an inch under the soil and chop the weed off below the surface. You can use a push or pull stroke depending on your hoe. That's it, job done.

Simply work along the rows and get rid of all those pesky weeds. If you use a long-handled hoe, you don't even have to bend over. I find that my best hoe is an aluminum one that I brought back from the U.K. (In the days when airplanes would accept long thin objects wrapped in paper.) It weighs about two pounds and can easily be wielded with one hand to reach weeds at the back of the bed.

Caring for your hoe

Your hoe must be sharp. Old time gardeners used to carry a file in their back pockets and give the blade a swipe or two every hour or so. The sharper your hoe is, the easier it will go through the soil and chop weed roots.

To sharpen a hoe simply run a flat bastard file along the leading edge once or twice at about a 30 degree angle.

It doesn't have to be sharp enough to cut your finger, but the sharper the better. Heavier hoes will need to have their edges ground down at a 30 degree angle or so. A word of warning though, don't make the hoe edge too sharp. If you inadvertently hit your leg or foot, you don't want to bleed all over your vegetable plants. It ruins their taste.

When you've finished hoeing, simply wipe the soil off the blade. To preserve your hoe handle, wipe it with linseed oil each winter and give the blade a light coating of oil to stop it from rusting.

Doing heavier work

If you have to break up loose soil, an Italian-style vineyard hoe (used originally in vineyards, of course) can easily do the job, but it requires a little bending over to allow you to chop at the soil. If you have to make a trench or grub out the roots of a small tree a mattock hoe is a better tool for the job. These hoes tend to have heavier blades and shorter handles. However, don't try to use a hoe for too heavy a job. Their handles can break easily and getting a replacement is not always as easy as going to Jamestown Hardware. Some have specific styles of handle that can only be obtained by mail order.

A hoe, then, is a versatile tool to have in the garden shed. One that can be used for many jobs, from grubbing out small two-inchhigh weeds to digging larger and deeper trenches in which to plant your newly purchased flowers and shrubs.

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