‘The Great Horticultural Blessing of this Age’

Hello! Michelle L. here! Ready for a new blog post?! This week I’m chatting about the blessed wheel hoe.

This week at the farm we have prepared and planted many, many tomato plants. I’m guessing we have planted around 150 tomato plants (Italian Marmandes, San Marzano, Black Cherry and Snow White Cherry) at the east end of the farm. Planting seeds and seedlings into the ground is a romantic notion for people who dream of working on a farm or growing their own food at home. I know it was for me.  Image

But how do you go from a field of last year’s crop residues and emerging weeds, compacted from the winter and in no shape to plant anything in, to a soft, lovely, inviting bed ready for plants to dive into and make their home?

Although the best method is still up for debate (no-till? reduced tillage? intensive tillage?  zone tillage?), here at the GCUOF our main source of aeration, loosening, weeding, and  mixing is done through a wheel hoe. As T. Greiner describes it in his book, How to Make the Garden Pay, published in 1890:

But the tool of all tools, the modern weed slayer, the great labor saver, the greatest horticultural blessing of the age–that is the modern wheel hoe. This above all others frees the gardener from undesirable work, cuts down the labor account one-half, and makes tillage light and pleasant. The advantages connected with the possession of one of these tools cannot be overstated, nor emphasized too strongly, nor told too frequently. This tool reduces the unpleasant task of weeding to a minimum. Now the half-grown boy runs the wheel hoe up and down the rows of vegetables for fun’ and recreation, and accomplishes in one-half hour what a man with a hand hoe could not perform in a whole day.

Since 1890, the wheel hoe has come a long way. Wheel hoes made of lighter metal and many different attachments are available, but the wheel hoes we use are made of wood, very simply designed, yet very effective. T. Greiner stated that using this tool turns tillage into “light and pleasant” work. Let me be the first to tell you that although at first it is fun, after about 2-3 hours muscles start to ache, and alas, farming becomes hard work. I have a new found respect for Martin, who can work his wheel hoe (which has a higher intensity than ours because his is wider and cuts deeper) hours on end, and still have a smile on his face by the end of the day.

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The wheel hoe is designed to be able to break apart weeds, aerate the soil, yet reduce the amount of weed seeds that go to the surface to germinate. It is currently our best friend on the farm. Thanks to the wheel hoe, and many willing hands, including numerous volunteers (thanks Andy, Alexis, Suzanne and Catherine!), we were able to plant around 150 tomato plants and prepare beds for carrots, beets, onions and leeks to be intercropped (companion planted) between them. Later on in the season, we will use the wheel hoe to weed between rows.

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Modern agriculture has become very mechanized, with our reliance on engine-powered machines now the norm. Through the use of the wheel hoe, I have grown to appreciate the simplicity and efficiency farmers before us were. It has also helped me connect even more to the food we grow and the food we eat. Maybe one day others will as well.

Until next time,

Michelle L.

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