Gar­den­ers, let’s praise the hoe

The Prince George Citizen - - At Home - Lee RE­ICH

Hope­fully, I’ve caught you in time, be­fore your weeds have grown lusty. I want you to con­sider the much ma­ligned hoe. Wait! Don’t stop read­ing.

I know hoe­ing is the ac­tiv­ity that (per­haps be­cause they had to do it when they were young) makes too many adults give up gar­den­ing al­to­gether. Hoe­ing was un­doubt­edly in Charles Dud­ley Warner’s mind when he wrote, over a hun­dred years ago in “My Sum­mer in the Gar­den,” that what a gar­dener needs is “a cast-iron back with a hinge in it.”

But the bad rap that hoe­ing has among many peo­ple comes from us­ing the wrong hoe in the wrong way at the wrong time. Ga­so­lin­e­and elec­tric-pow­ered tillers have fur­ther eroded the art of the hoe.

In fact, hoe­ing can be a pleas­ant ac­tiv­ity that does a bet­ter job of weed con­trol than a tiller and leaves gar­den plants in bet­ter con­di­tion.

Save this one for con­crete

The gar­den hoe that most peo­ple have hang­ing in their garages, and gen­er­ally do not use, has a heavy rec­tan­gu­lar blade that is roughly 6 inches square and is mounted roughly per­pen­dic­u­larly to the han­dle.

I also own one of these rough hoes, but I do use mine - only for mix­ing con­crete, a job for which this hoe is ide­ally suited. In the gar­den, peo­ple use this con­crete hoe, as I’ll call it, with a chop­ping mo­tion on large weeds. But we all know what hap­pens when you chop the tops off dan­de­lions or this­tles: They grow right back and you get an achy back.

Bet­ter hoes

To keep the gar­den weeded and the soil sur­face loose enough to let rain­wa­ter seep in, you want a more del­i­cate hoe. The hoes I have in mind have small, sharp blades that are par­al­lel to the soil sur­face when you grip the han­dle in a com­fort­able, up­right stance. These hoes are rel­a­tive new­com­ers to the gar­den scene, and in­clude the scuf­fle hoe, co­l­in­ear hoe, di­a­mond hoe and - one of my favourites the winged weeder.

None of these hoes that I am rec­om­mend­ing re­quires a chop­ping mo­tion or a cast-iron, hinged back. With blades that are sharp on both sides, these hoes cut through the soil on both the push and the pull strokes.

Use them just this way, with the blade a hair be­neath the soil sur­face, as you walk back­ward as if you were us­ing a sponge mop.

Newer on the scene is the “wire weeder.” This one works best in loose soil that has been weeded by hand or hoe reg­u­larly. Un­der these con­di­tions, the wire weeder is a joy to use; it’s like a stroll along your gar­den paths. Just walk along com­fort­ably drag­ging the hor­i­zon­tal wire just be­neath the soil sur­face. Sprout­ing weeds that you see and don’t see are up­rooted to dry in the sun.

Use them cor­rectly

Us­ing these hoes is so easy be­cause you’re not mov­ing a lot of soil. You’re cut­ting a slice just be­low the sur­face, and do­ing so with a sharp blade or a wire.

Not dis­rupt­ing the soil also has fu­ture ben­e­fits. It leaves the roots of nearby gar­den plants un­scathed.

And buried within ev­ery soil are myr­iad dor­mant weed seeds just wait­ing to be awak­ened by light and air, which is what hap­pens when ro­totill­ing or vig­or­ous chop­ping with a con­crete hoe brings buried weed seeds to the sur­face. The hoes I’m rec­om­mend­ing hardly dis­turb the soil. Tim­ing is im­por­tant.

Any of these dainty hoes could slice the top off a large dan­de­lion plant, but what you’re re­ally try­ing to do is at­tack young weeds. Small weeds do die when de­cap­i­tated be­cause their roots have not ac­cu­mu­lated food re­serves to re-sprout.

But you must hoe be­fore weeds grow too lusty, and keep at it on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. That said, the ac­tiv­ity is quick and pleas­ant.

AP FILE PHOTO

This un­dated photo shows gar­den hoes in New Paltz, N.Y. The winged weeder, right, and the wire hoe are two of a few styles of hoe that are a plea­sure to use as their sharp edges run along just be­neath the sur­face of the ground.

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