Sunday, June 19, 2011

Helpful Homemade Hoes

No sooner have you planted a garden than it is time to weed it. Weeds grow in Alaska -- and I suspect everywhere -- with vigor, gusto, and enthusiasm. I am plagued by dock, dandelions, and plantains, plus a mysterious weed I call the pine tree because it sort of looks like one. No doubt the Big Ag people resort to herbicides. Not this kid. Anything ending in -cide has no place in my garden. So we must cultivate our garden. This means dispatching the weeds with a hoe. Eliot Coleman's New Organic Gardener has a lot to say on hoes. Of these, one of the most useful appeared to be the collineal hoe. This is a wide hoe with a narrow, sharp blade. You use it like a broom. The sharp edge cuts the weeds off just below the surface. Looked wonderful. A tad expensive for this retired scientist. But we remember George Dyson's immortal words: "never buy anything you can make, and never make anything you can find." So...
... here is my dynamic duo. At the bottom is my take on the collineal hoe. It began life as a singularly useless Wal-Mart garden hoe ($4.00). But I cut it off so that the blade was about 10cm wide. Then I sharpened all edges with a file. Then I bent it some in a vise. According to Mr Coleman the ideal angle is 70 degrees. This thing works like a charm, as long as you remember to file it every time you use it. It is obviously useless to temper and hone the thing, because you drag it through the ground. Dull it in no time at all. I carry a file with me when I use it, for just such a contingency.

The trouble with this hoe is that while good on big areas, there are times when you need a real precision instrument, such as when you are weeding really close to a young plantlet. The hoe will zap your beets just as well as it does weeds. So, inspired by a picture in some catalog or the other, I made the chisel hoe above from scrap metal. It is about 15mm across and looks like a chisel, except that the shank is bent to the proverbial 70 degrees. Again you use it like a broom. Again you have to file it frequently. But it works! It gets into very tight places, as I hoped it would. And it has a very long handle. This saves you from bending over, which is exhausting after a while. And cramping. (The handle, by the way, came from a Village discard, which I pounced on.)

With both of these hoes you have to remember to keep the blade parallel to the ground. Thumbs up on the handle, just like a broom. If it isn't cutting the weeds it isn't sharp enough. File it some more. I use a smooth file for this purpose; as I said more (honing) is supererogatory; it is not a woodworking tool.

With the current modern fixation on quick fixes, we have lost sight of the humble hoe. There are many types of hoe. I own, in addition to the ones above, Grappa the grape hoe and something called a Polish Hoe, from Lee Valley. I think the Polish is as in Poland, not as in furniture polish. Each has its purpose. There is, for instance, something called a stirrup hoe. One of these days I might do a post on hoes in the garden. As Voltaire said, il faut cultiver nos jardin.

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