Weeding/Cultivating the garden

>> Friday, January 18, 2008

Weeding can be a zen thing. If you have ever gotten lost in thought while weeding or doing other mechanical or menial tasks you know what I mean. It can take you to a peaceful place where only you and your garden exists, far away from the troubled, hectic, stressful world around you.

Focusing your energy on the task at hand can free our complex brain to consider other more pressing worries on a subconscious level where the brain can devote more creative time to them. Some of my best ideas have come about while doing something totally unrelated to what I was worrying about.

Have you ever tried to find something and just cannot remember where you put it no matter how hard you try? Or, you just can’t seem to remember something important no matter what you do to ‘jog’ your memory? Put it out of your mind, go off onto something else and suddenly the memory comes back to you clear as day. Weeding the garden is like that.

Not many people truly enjoy weeding. Some of us have developed routines whereas, if given enough time, we can relax while weeding to the point where your mind is completely relaxed and the built-up stress and tension that knotted up your muscles drains away. Of course, pulling, bending, digging, kneeling, etc, in the garden may still strain those muscles, it is a good kind of weariness. The kind you feel after doing something you know is completely worthwhile.

Any amount of time I spend in the garden is considered a welcome break from the ‘outside’ world and I enjoy doing almost all of my weeding by hand just to prolong my time there.

With the help of raised beds, the weeding chores are very minimal. The open garden, however, is another matter. Weeds will creep under the fence from the neighbors yard or their seeds will be brought in on the wind or by birds so I will never be completely free on them. And I am glad. I suppose I view the never ending struggle between weeds trying to gain a foothold in my garden and my determination to not let them as a sort of job security. For if garden weeds never came back I would surely miss getting my hands dirty and the closeness that mingling with the plants provides.

When spring arrives, and the earliest of weeds begin popping up I can feel their taunting challenge to resume our battle. Before this past year I had grown only vegetables, which being annuals, allowed me to quickly dispatch any new weeds early in the year with a hoe. And then after that initial battle I would have the occasional skirmish with the more persistent weeds trying to grow among my crop. I chose to pull weeds throughout the rest of the year by hand because I was afraid of using the traditional weeding tools. It just seems that with their long sharp points I could easily rip up plant roots that I don’t want to disturb. Now this may sound like an irrational fear to those of you who have used these tools for years, but I have several weeding tools that have never seen soil.

A common misconception of new gardeners is the difference between a weeding tool and a cultivating tool. Weeding is, of course, the act of removing weeds from your garden. Cultivating is roughing up the soil to break up compaction that can occur from walking on it or from simply watering it. After the soil has sat undisturbed over winter it can become compacted as the snow melt seeps through the surface. Cultivating fluffs up the soil to make it easier to use for you and for the plants.

How can I overcome my fear of using the proper weeding tools? What I have read about ‘getting the right weeding tool’ hasn’t convinced me enough to use them yet.

I have seen some pretty interesting shapes for weeding like the Swoe that, so I have heard, has an almost cult-like following. Although, I have read more than one testimonial that said the tool is worthless because it takes about ‘three times the force’ to get a weed up. Maybe the soil is too hard for the tool. It is held like a golf club, right up my alley, and is used to cut just under the soil. This is the best photo I can find, it comes from White Flower Farm. You need to use this one on new weeds and when the soil is loose. Maybe I can work on my chip shots at the same time. Can’t you just see it, weeds flying about twenty yards right into the wheelbarrow.

The scuffle hoe, also called a stirrup hoe or hula hoe, looks like it would be easy to use. This one is advertised in several places as the best hoe on the market. It cuts weeds on the push and pull strokes. It doesn’t chop up the weeds so much as cutting them just under the soil line. If you shop for one, be conscious of the welds and the quality of the blade. Most blades are replaceable which also makes this one a good choice.

Here’s a tool called the Cape Cod weeder that is very popular. The narrow design makes it ideal for getting into tight spots between plants and odd shaped garden spaces. It is listed as a three-way tool, pointed straight down to dig holes for small plants, turned diagonally for cultivating, and sideways to act as a scythe or cycle in cutting a bunch of weeds in one swoop. This one can be found with a long handle so I might look into adding this one to my collection soon.

Now this last weeder, the Warren hoe, looks promising too. This is like the standard hoe but has only one point instead of the traditional two. Its heart-shaped head offers a little more precision so that you can work around plants a little easier. It isn’t used for moving soil so the common hoe, pictured below, is not going to be replaced.

As for cultivating, the standard hoe is what I have always used in early spring. It is great for hacking up the soil to loosening it up, making trenches for seeds, moving soil around and making hills for my squash plants. It’s a bit too imprecise to use among growing plants because of its size, so it is not good as a weeding tool. This is why I have relied on mulch and hand picking of weeds.

The standard tool that many of us mistake for a weeder is actually a cultivator. No, not that kind of cultivator, I am referring to a hand cultivator. It’s true intention is to loosen the soil’s surface to allow water to penetrate under the top layer and for scattering seed.

This tool is one the few combination weeder/cultivators I might use for my hard soil. It is known as a Korean plow but is sometimes sold as an EZ digger. It looks very comfortable to hold and the backward pointed head seems like it would easily cut into the dry hard soil it is meant for. I can see why this tool would not be a practical candidate for a long handle because you would have to get down on the ground anyway for the curved head to be effective. It is best used on larger weeds and, as I mentioned, hard soil. You could turn it sideways too and hack away at a bunch of weeds at once, but you would still need to come back and dig at the roots, probably with the Swoe.

Lately, there has been a lot emphasis on ergonomics. The traditional straight handles are out and the smoothly curved almost sexy looking handles are designed to create less strain on your wrists and hands. I don’t have any of these yet but I also have not had any problem with the hoe and shovels I use. I imagine by the time I get around to replacing my tools ergonomic handles will be all that is available anyway.

After reviewing these tools, I might pick up a Warren hoe and the Cape Cod weeder but that is no guarantee I will actually use them. Right now, I’m still counting on mulching to help me save my plants. Even though I realize this method probably can’t last very long.


TopVeg January 19, 2008 at 12:29 PM  

What an interesting selection of hoes. We tend to rely on the standard version most of the time!

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