Thursday, 20 September 2012

Reinventing the Wheel (Hoe)

I believe in short cuts. Some say that ‘you get what you pay for’. I prefer to find a good deal. For free if possible. I like to break laws such as the law of gravity. Bend the law of karma, produce vegetables and flowers with little effort, instead of by the sweat of thy brow.

Among gardening short cuts, there's none better than the wheel hoe. I first saw it in the book on Permaculture gardening by  Nikolay Kurdyumov, Growing Vegetables with a Smile and knew I had to have one. Next year we’re planting a 200 square meter patch of wildflowers, a cereal field and so on. My current approach to gardening of spading over the bed, weeding out buttercups one by one, rotavating, replacing lost soil with barrows of compost --- It's too much for one man. There has to be a better way.

Yesterday I cleared out the buttercup-infested wildflower bed. First I scythed down the weeds to two inches. Then the wheel hoe loosened the weeds and soil down to 4 inches. I raked the weeds up. A job that normally takes half a day was finished in an hour. Plus the well-worked top layer that is most fertile was preserved. Unlike the rotavator, the wheel hoe doesn't bury the weeds to where you can't find them.

Permaculture emphasizes working with the top 4 inches of soil. You mulch it with weeds, hay, straw, cardboard, leaves --- whatever decomposes. The soil’s fertility lies not in fertilizer but in the interconnecting pathways created by roots, earthworms and other bugs --- the soil’s structure. Destroy that by spading over the soil and no amount of fertilizer will help you.  I was sceptical whether Permaculture, shown to work in Australia and Russia, can work in Scotland with our heavy, slug-infested clay soils. But why not try it anyway and save a heap of work as a bonus. And so, this summer I mulched the veg beds with hay. I put away the spade and brought out the wheel hoe.

The beauty of the wheel hoe is  its efficiency in delivering your effort where it is needed. This is a result of the handle design and the wheel --- once again re-invented. In working a straight dutch hoe, you can’t deliver the necessary force because of your unwieldy grip on a straight handle. Also, the bit is driven into the ground rather than parallell to the ground. Trust me, it takes remarkably little effort to plough up your land with a wheel hoe.

Where do you find one? Such a simple tool, once a common feature in gardens, is unfortunately not readily available. In the US you can find one at Lehman’s, that sell Amish tools or at Valley Oak Tool Company,  all for about  $275. In the UK, your only option, other than the antique tool store or ebay is the Swiss made Glaser for about £330. All that money for a hoe?

Along with my philosophy of getting a good product, cheap, I opted for the Planet Whizbang hoe, and ordered it online. They sell you the metal hardware that makes up the hoe. You assemble it, find a suitable wheel and you make the handles yourself. The kit costs about $100, plus $45 if you want it shipped internationally. The design is excellent and durable. The hoe works like a miracle. Particularly important are the right-angle handle grips that deliver your effort efficiently, to push the hoe along. Amber has attacked the weeds in our gravel path with it. I've prepared and planted new beds, hoed out weeds in no time. Meanwhile my petrol rotavator is gathering dust in the garage. 

Give it a spin. See if the wheel hoe won’t transform your gardening too.