In the United States, Tull’s hoes were quickly adopted, and in the late 19th century, a firm named Allen and Co. supplied both farms and households with horse-drawn models. As horses gave way to tractors, the company pioneered motorized versions, always favoring home gardeners and small farmers, despite the pressure on farmers to go large scale.
A wheel hoe has a stirrup hoe mounted behind a wheel. The gardener grasps the tool’s two handles and rolls it forward with little effort. I can push mine down a weedy, well-trodden garden path at a walking pace, dislodging stubborn weeds, to be then raked up or allowed to shrivel in the sun. I also use it in garden beds and, in some cases, for creating a new growing area without tilling.
Picture a stirrup hoe, which is shaped like a horseman’s stirrup with a sharp horizontal blade at the bottom. Instead of chopping weeds, you draw the blade through the soil, cutting off weeds below the surface. In some versions the blade is stationary, but in the case of the oscillating hoe (or “hula hoe”) the blade is hinged to produce a waggling, back and forth motion, so you can both push and pull the hoe, and with force.
An era of increased suburbanization led to a growing interest in home food gardening, as did the pressure to grow food during both world wars and the Depression. Then, as in the times to follow, both home gardening and small-scale farming persisted as a counter-trend to the mainstream push toward urbanization and the consolidation of the agricultural industry, even though it was almost invisible to mainstream farm education and research.
Its inventor was Jethro Tull — no, not the English rock group but the English agricultural engineer who developed the first mechanical, horse-drawn seed drill in 1701, of which the oscillating wheel hoe was a spinoff.
Until fairly recently, wheel hoes were not easily found because few companies made or sold them. Yard sales and eBay were the primary sources. But now, catalogs such as Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Hoss Tools, Valley Oak Tool Co. and Peaceful Valley Farm Supply carry them, with most prices ranging from $200 to $400 — more if you add attachments such as plows and seeders, or want Johnny’s jumbo model with two wheels that straddle a row of plants. (Mine has repaid its price many times over in work saved.
As a great time-saver, it addresses the often-voiced dismissal of small-scale growing as too labor intensive to be profitable.
This tool was designed by Eliot Coleman to have a push-pull action for incorporating compost and fertilizer, and loosening soil. What’s that got to do with weeding? Well, it can also be used for cultivating between rows in footpaths and is especially effective on emerging weed seedlings in those areas as the cultivating action of its teeth act to bury those young plants, smothering them.
Flame weeding is also a very effective method of organic weed control. There are two main methods.
This tool was recommended to us by Paul and Alison Wiediger of Au Naturel Farm in Kentucky. The Wiedigers prefer this European-made tool for detailed weeding in their hoophouses. The round wire design creates a business end of the tool that won’t cut drip tape but will easily upend young weed seedlings. It has a narrow end for weeding between closely spaced crops like dense plantings of baby leaf lettuce and a wider end to cover more ground in open areas.
Also known as the Nejiri Gama Hand Hoe, this low-cost lightweight tool becomes an extremely sharp and precise extension of the user’s arm when in use. It is by far, our best-selling small hand tool. It sports a D-shaped high-carbon steel blade, welded to a steel shank, set in a wooden handle. These are great low-cost tools for growers to equip their entire farm crew with for detailed in-row weeding in the field.
The short handled version of the Cobrahead described above. The tough, sharp steel blade and comfortable handle make fast work of tedious garden chores. Used to weed, cultivate, make small furrows, and even as a mini trowel for small transplants.