Sunday 4 September 2016

Use of a Dutch hoe

Hoe hoe hoe
You might not expect a no dig gardener who sprays his weeds to have much use for a hoe. You would be right but there are occasions when I find a hoe an invaluable tool.  For many vegetable growers and Dutch gardeners on their sandy soils - the Dutch are proper gardeners - it is the weed control tool of choice. I remember a cycling holiday in the northern Netherlands. Early in a Summer evening everyone was out in their gardens relaxing hoeing with shiny hoes.

I used my ancient hoe blade on a broken shaft for several years in preference to a useless modern one! Handyman Chris has now shafted me. (Just joking Chris)
It is rather a challenge to write about hoeing. There is so much to say but most people are not very interested. It’s not very sexy. You do not read about it in gardening magazines. Not many will bother to read this either!
Hoeing does not have much going for it! It is only suitable for small and medium weeds and is best against those from seed. It is of little use in Winter because the soil is too wet. In Summer it is restricted to hot sunny weather and dry windy days. Preferably both. Not much good then for Harry and Rowena who live in Preston - you always need an umbrella when going to visit them. Worse most dutch hoes generally on offer are not fit for purpose - they are the wrong shape. OK for a mindless series of uppercuts and next to useless for shallowly and horizontally slicing through the soil or tightly undercutting a weed where the stem meets the root.

If I hold the shaft high enough on a modern hoe to meet the soil at the right shallow angle I nearly break my back when I push! This green one points up in the air!
Because I never use my modern hoe it is rather rusty. A good hoe regularly used is shiny and self sharpened
I will try and make reading my post today less painful by presenting bullet points that can easily be skipped over.

  • Hoeing should detach weeds from their roots and leave them on the surface to desiccate and die and subsequently enrich the soil.
  • Where possible only the weeds should be hoed - and very shallowly. Not an overall cover disturbing all of the soil.
  • This will sometimes not be possible for those whose allotment soils contain multiple thousands of weed seeds with their emergence aggravated by bringing new ones to the surface by previous digging. With dense weed germination hoeing every inch between the plants will be necessary.
  • The smaller the weeds - as a result of frequent hoeing - the better. Larger weeds such as groundsel must not have chance to ripen seed as they die!
  • It used to be believed hoeing was a water conserving operation. It is not. You can read my old post about this.
  • Hoeing is perhaps of limited value against established perennial weeds. They don’t die and many re-root! Even here very regular hoeing - weekly in Summer - can be used as a long term strategy.  It takes several years to eliminate marestail  - as long as it does not keep creeping back from your neighbours! I once banished couch grass in a single season. In this case my hoeing was every five days and deeper than normal bringing rhizomes to the surface. In neither of these two examples should you denude the soil by removing the hoed weed.
  • Now my wrists are a little arthritic and for weeds such as liverwort and moss I sometimes use a small border spade as a hoe. (My back is still very supple and I go to pilates!) A spade is a little heavier than a hoe and its use has more momentum and jars my wrists less. I recently tried with a shovel! It actually presents its face to the soil surface at a much better angle than a pesky modern hoe. I have recently been using the very sharp corner of a shovel to ‘nick out’ course grass weeds from my lawn. (Some of us are a little strange with regard to our lawns). 
  • Don’t have any inhibitions about the angle you present the hoe blade to the soil. I sometimes hold the blade vertical and scrape - especially if a weed is very close to a plant. You are generally advised to use a dutch hoe working backwards. This is perhaps true but I tend to wander in any direction!
  • Hoes are great to get to weed under a plant cover. Do not desist however from bending your back to hand pull a weed in the middle of a clump. Throw that weed back on the ground too.
  • A regularly used hoe keeps itself sharp and shiny
  • Remember hoeing is to control weeds. If you choose to use it to fluff up the soil for cosmetic purposes like my friend Elaine that’s your own funeral.
Just a shallow undercut is all that is needed. Hoe too deep and the weed won’t die! You might be surprised at my shallow shaft angle
My hoe is well worn and I treasure it like an old teddy bear
Recently on a dry summers day I had a very light cover of weeds in my acre garden. (You all know that normally I am a glyphosate sprayer). I wanted to ensure the few weeds did not seed and to reach those sneakily hiding under ground covering plant canopies. It would also impress some visitors to find no weeds two days later! I worked my way round with the hoe in about two hours. I only hoed the weeds and did not otherwise disturb the soil. It is a great way to get a close look at your plants.

I hoe my vegetable garden when it is inappropriate to glyphosate spray. My policy has always been ‘don’t let weeds seed’ and I have been at Seaton Ross fifteen years now. I don’t dig seeds to the surface and I frequently hand pull weeds when I walk round. I refuse to add weed seed in mulched manure and such things. My weeds are sparse and as a result my hoe only comes out a few times a year. I zip round the veg garden in about ten minutes. For vegetable gardeners who rely just on the hoe I recommend whipping round weekly in Summer.

Relevant links
I write about the defunct dust mulch theory

I write about how a good weed control policy should ring the changes between several methods

Onion hoe anyone?
I managed to find twenty five uses for a spade


  1. I think this is a very interesting post. Funny is that I do not recognize your Dutch hoes. They look slightly different, I suppose the ones you show are English versions. I always use what you call an ´onion how´, but with a long handle. Yes, I know the Dutch are neat gardeners but times are changing. Nowadays you see sporadically gardeners hoeing there gardens in the evening, o yes our old neighbour of 84 does, but it almost belongs to the past glory.
    You also brought me on an idea with this post, not yet but shortly I will show and tell on my blog about my gardening tools because I have hoes with a story.
    Wish you a nice new gardening week!

    1. I expect in Holland you call my hoe an English hoe then Janneke!
      Your comments make me feel quite nostalgic about the old days when life was slower.When you do your post please come back with a link or a reminder. I like stories.
      I tried to make my post shorter today my restricting myself to so called dutch ones! I think the draw hoes you describe are very good as I will mention in my answer to Mark below.

  2. Au contraire I would expect a no dig gardeners to make very good use of a hoe.
    I use one a lot around the fruit bushes that have no weed control fabric under them.
    I read that the backwards movement cuts weeds down as the inside part of the blade should be sharp too.
    Now you have me looking at our hoe to see how it addresses the soil. (I feel a quip coming on here). I must admit I do have to bend a fair bit when using it. Can you still buy the old fashioned type?

    1. I don't know where to get the old fashioned type. I think the modern ones are designed to hang up in a tool shed.
      As for the back cutting type which hoes on both edges as you push forward and back I used to have a client who had one and I loved it. If anyone knows where to get one please share

    2. Burgon and Ball make one called the winged weeded. I have one of thier earlier versions,very useful little hoe.

  3. When I was a teenager I did some casual work on a farm, and we spent many "happy" hours thinning lettuces with hoes - but they were Draw Hoes, not Dutch Hoes. Does anyone really hoe onions with an Onion Hoe?

    1. I worked on a project where sods were were chopped out with a mattock when I was a lad Mark. They are rather rougher than gentle hoeing!
      I have used draw hoes and swan neck hoes quite often in the past although I do not have them myself. I thought they were terrific
      I don't think anyone uses onion hoes for onions any more but my picture which is from Marshalls who sell them - or used to - are very useful for close delicate work more generally.
      A friend of my fathers had a 'dutch' hoe that was very small - the blade was about a third size and it was very useful on its long handle to get between narrow rows.
      I wonder if any of our readers use a wheeled hoe to get between rows on a commercial scale. I used to push one between thousand of wallflowers on Hartlepool's parks nursery!

  4. I do like your selection of garden tools. I have to admit not really using a hoe, but if I had one like you are showing, would make good use of it.

    1. A hoe would be very compatable with your naturalistic ways Donna


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...