I have a tool collection in my tool shed, with a variety of hoes that arc extraordinarily efficient for doing one particular task. But only one of my hoes is jood for everything — naturally, this one is the most common design. Most people call it a garden hoe." The rectangular blade is attached to a swansneck. so called because when held in a vise, and with the application of a fair amount of force, this rod of mild steel can be bent to adjust the angle of the blade so ir matches the height of the user. The swansneck should be bent so the blade is parallel to the soil when the handle is held in a comfortable position with the user standing upright. At this angle a sharp blade can rapidly and easily cut off weeds just below the soils surface, while at the same time loosening up the surface and breaking any crust that may have formed. This loosening action is called "cultivation." If the angle is wrong, so that the hoe wants to die itself into the earth when pulled toward you, then you can't efficiently work the tool because you will have to hold the handle too far trom your body in order to correct the angle of the blade, which makes you tired. 11 the blade wants to lift itself out of the earth when pulled toward you, then you will have to bend over to adjust the angle of attack, which also makes you tired. Once the swansneck has been bent to suit the user, it never has to be adjusted again.
Sharpening the hoe. File the outside of the blade so it makes a sharp, uniform, chisel-like bevel of about 20 degrees. To sharpen it the first rime, pur rhe hoe on the ground or on a porch so the blade is at the edge of the porch. \\ irh one foot placed close to the socket, press down with enough weight to hold the blade still while you file the outside of the blade, holding the file with both hands and bending your body over it. If this is too difficult, have someone else stand on the handle or else put the blade into a bench vise.
After a proper bevel has been created the first time, you may he able to ^sharpen the hoe by filing one-handed. With the bottom of the handle u'e%cd into the ground and restrained by the edge of your shoe, lean the blade againsr a stout post at least four feet (120 centimeters) tall and with one hand r^ss the back corner of the blade firmly againsr the support. File. Ir shouldnt C a sllarP file more than ten or so strokes to restore rhe edge.
Wade down whik A ' ^e handle and use this hand to press rhe scrapes across the ^M ^ PUl,S Ac ^P bWc tOWard ^ ^ ^
CruI Y sharp, youll b ^ '' " ,S AarP' ir cucs off sma11 weeds. If your h <**
hoe faster than anv ' T ^ ^ can go. This action tends to dull i cbe garden. ' ^ ^ ' have a lot of paths to scrape, I cake my
F|9u'e 3.8. Hoei g te(hn'Que for weeding compacted ground or scraping paths.
. CI,op out resistant clumps of grass and large weeds Wk .
use the corner of the blade. Swing the hoe like , m. g rh,s'
net penetrates the hard earth, chopping off rought7 ^^ ^
well when the corner is also more or less a ' Y WOrb working edge is kept sharp. Even then, this JkT' U^ and thc if the garden is weeded once a week during the ero g ^ WOrL
never be large, resistant weeds to chop out All of rh ^ ^ ^
idly and with little effort when thev are small / ^ be ^ raP' f /inn n tnej are small and tender. I can weed ? nm square leer (200 square meters) of growing beds and the plhs ^ them in about one concentrated hour. I do this about once a welkTn"
the height of the growing season, and less often as summer wanes becailSc everything, includmg the weeds, grows more slowly then. Spring is ^ most critical time to hoe weeds because that ,s when they are growing rap. idly and because unsettled weather often keeps the gardener out of action while weeds grow to the size that demands exhausting chopping rather than easy scraping.
. Perform other tasks. The ordinary garden hoe can do a few other things. A corner of the blade can be used to make furrows by pulling it through soft soil. With a bit of practice, the depth of that furrow — a factor critical to successful germination — can be held quite uniform. Then, with seeds in the furrow, you can use the flat of the blade, front or back, to shove some soil back into the furrow, either on the push or on the pull stroke. (In Chapter 5 I will suggest a better way to use the hoe for making shallow furrows.) This ordinary hoe can also pull earth toward the gardener, which is useful for hilling up potatoes. However, if a large plot of spuds is to be grown, using a larger, heavier version of this hoe will save a lot of time.
I once foolishly purchased a cheap hoe. I still owned that disgusting thing when I went into the seed business, and because I had no extra money during my first few years in business, I used it to weed the trials ground. The steel was so poor that by the time I reached the end of each 100-foot (30-meter) row it was dull. It takes at least three times the effort to weed with a slightly dull hoe; the effort it takes to weed with a really dull one can't be described in polite English. So I took to carrying a file in my back pocket, and when I completed each row I would lean the hoe against a fence post and resharpen it. After two years there wasn't much blade left to sharpen.
Jhen I got a much better-quality implement. Same general appearance: otally Afferent tool. The quality hoe gets sharpened each spring and stays Tj °UC Half the Sum™ unless^ I am scraping a lot of paths with it-
chase U , fairl>'rdlable ^Ualic>' indicator you can see before you excrts a JA 'imtCnded W occasi°nally chop resistant weeds. This action There arc tw ** P°mt where che swansneck attaches to the hand the rod mto ,TC°,attach 3 swansneck. The cheap way is to simply P"s 3 h°le m the h^le and then remforce that basically weak*»*
Nvirh a sleeve or collar of thin metal (a ferrule) that firs tightly around che wood so that (the manufacturer hopes) the handle won't split when some real stress is applied. But even if che first powerful shocks dont split the end, they do gradually enlarge die hole so the swansneck loosens up in its socket and the hoe head starts wobbling or rotating. The owner then inserts all sorts of wedges or carries out make-do improvisations to tighten up the tool. Eventually he or she has to get a new handle.
There is a better way. The end of the swansneck can be forged (or welded) into a strong, slightly tapered socket that is slid over the end of the handle and affixed with one or two screws or by a bolt that goes through the whole thing. Any manufacturer with the integrity to make a forged metal socket to attach its hoe to the handle is almost cer-tainly going to use quality metal for ^e blade.
push-puII hoes b °re ,s one special hoe design well worth having. The push-pull hoe works J jrdjng back and forth through soft soil, cutting weeds off just below the ace 0n b°th the push and the pull stroke. There are two common designs: StlrruP hoe (or "hula hoe") and the propeller hoe (or glide and groom" ', orde^ h°CS arC aVailab,e chrough mail-order seed companies or other mail-c u garden gear suppliers. I've owned both sorts with equal satisfaction.
If run over the beds once a week, this kind of hoc will keep even a ]ar garden beautifully manicured in little time and with little effort. The design protects your plants from being accidentally cut oft while allowing the cuttin! edge to pass close to the vegetables. This is especially true of the stirrup design. However, the stirrup design attaches to the handle about four inches (10 centimeters) above the top of the cutting edge, making it harder to pass this hoc under overhanging leaves. The propeller type will slide better between rows whose leaves are getting close to forming a canopy. Every design of every tool involves compromise.
Eliminating weeds with a sharp hoe is much quicker and easier than yanking them with dull fingers. You're standing up instead ot bending over. You're eliminating little ones by the dozen per motion instead of- one by one. When you routinely cultivate the entire bed, you're killing many of them before they've even grown large enough to see. The catch is that to do it this way, the rows must be far enough apart for the hoe to pass graciously between them. That means a minimum 12 inches (30 centimeters) between-row spacing.
When 1 am growing small plants like radishes, finger-sized carrots, or salad turnips intended to be pulled hardly larger than radishes, then the rows are 12 inches apart with the plants thinned to one to three inches (2.5 to 8 centimeters) apart in the row. The rows are made across a wide raised bed, so each row is 3V4 to 4V4 feet (100 to 140 centimeters) long. For a single sowing I might start one or more such rows. Larger plants like beets, storage carrots, and parsnips grow better in rows separated by 18 inches (45 centimeters)-With this spacing I can keep the weeds conveniently hoed until the leaves ot one row begin to touch and interpenetrate the leaves of the next row. Then tf is no longer possible to slide any sort of hoe between the rows. Once a canopy forms, it strongly shades the soil below. Even if a weed should sprouJj the canopy prevents it from growing much. Only the odd weed will show it* above a crop canopy, and this one you can yank out by hand.
If I were without irrigation, dependent on rainfall, and needing to be * ^ to get the garden through rainless periods lasting several weeks, I'd foe*» the bctwccn-row spacing and thin the plants a little farther apart in the r^ t-nt can continue hoeing through the entire growing season- •
with .1 push-pull hoe, especially of rhe propeller design, I can usually get right up to the vegetables' stems. Thus there need be next to no hand-weeding in a garden.
Chapter 6. on watering, will give you plant-spacing charts for all these circumstances.
Miscellaneous tools t J ^
There are myriad garden tools and gizmos offered for sale, but the other items you really can't do without are a wheelbarrow, a sprayer, knives, and buckets.
Garden magazine advertisements tell you how labor-saving it is to have an expensive two-wheeled garden cart instead of- an "old-fashioned" wheelbarrow. Unless you are practicing no-dig gardening, there is no need to be hauling dozens of pickup-truck loads of organic matter around the veggie garden. A large wheelbarrow holds enough compost or aged manure to adequately restore a bed of 100 square feet (10 square meters) — plenty of hauling capacity. The wheelbarrow also maneuvers neatly down narrow paths between beds that a two-wheeler couldn't manage. And a wheelbarrow costs a lot less money.
But do get a good one, with strong wooden handles and a broad pneumatic tire (with inner tube) on a steel rim, turning on ball bearings. No plasric! Get the largest barrow of the best quality you can barely afford. To find it you'll probably have to visit a farm supplier or commercial hardware, not the local branch of a national discount chain. Make sure that the handles are high enough for your body. When you lift the handles and hold the "barrel" so it barely tips forward, your arms should be only slightly bent at the elbows and )'our back nearly straight. There should be room for you to stand between the bandies and walk forward without risking your knees. A proper tfr to your I ^ is essential! Otherwise you can't control the barrow when it is heavily °adcd' n»d if you have to bend over to push the barrow, you'll make your back !°rtj'Thcr* can be a lot of difference from one make to another; rry several and "nd one that fits your body.
D°nt scrimp on this purchase. Once you have a wheelbarrow, youre °ly for the next 20 years if you keep it painted so it won't rust away.
One other thing; Builders' supply companies sell specialist wheelbarr designed to carry concrete. These have a rather deep, rounded chamber^ thick-walled tubular metal handles instead of wood, are super-strong, ^ too heavy for gardening. This design will make you unnecessarily tired if ** use ir much. The scyle you want will be capacious but lightweight. Mos! of what you're going to carry is nor dense like concrete or gravel, and you'll \Vam to be able to carry as much volume as possible.
There will be times char you'll want to spray — liquid fertilizer on leaves; compost tea to fight disease; Bacillus thuringiemis (Bt, an organically approved pesticide) against corn earworms or cabbageworms; assorted home remedies like soapy water, rhubarb leaf juice; etc.
The sprayer you buy should not be a cheap one, should hold up to five or six quarts (five or six liters), and should be the sort you pump up and then carry around by che pump handle. As an indication of quality, take a look at the nozzle. The best sprayers use interchangeable, inexpensive nozzle inserts, small in size and usually made of brass, so that different volumes and patterns of spray can be selected. The sprayer that has a built-in, adjustable cone nozzle made of plastic is usually a cheapie — but not always. Ask if che seller stocks any spare parts, like pump pads and o-rings. Also look at the pump rod. If its made of plastic, it may become brittle after a few years and snap. Ics bet-ter if its made of metal.
But most sprayers these days, even the better ones, are made ot pla«,u Protected from the sun, a plastic sprayer might last a decade, but one leftin the sun will survive two or three years, tops. Its sad. We could be building to last. Maybe when we seriously run short of oil, plastics will start com more than metal. And we'll again have equipment that'll last a lifetime. ^ ^
One last tip about sprayers: Make sure the stuff you put in them is ^ particles and that no grit is lurking around the pumps seal before you ^ the tank. Rinse it off/wipe it off before unscrewing the pump to fill J tank. If particles get into the tank, the dratted thing will likely get ^
And finally, whatever you spray won't do much good if it che leaves. Many plants have waxy leaves that make water bead up and run c keep your spray on the leaf until it dries or penetrates, always use a sur •
which is a fancy name for a water softener. The cheapest effective one is a quarter teaspoonful (1.5 milliliter) of ordinary mild liquid dishwashing soap per quart (liter) of spray. I've never had this quantity burn or otherwise damage leaves. Don't mix a strongly antiseptic detergent with
I keep two identical thin-bladed, sharp, pointed, kitchen paring knives stuck into the top of a short wooden stake in the garden. Next to the stake is an inexpensive large, double-sided (medium/ coarse) sharpening stone. The knives have bright red plastic (highly visible) handles because I'm always trying to remember where I last put one down. The stone stays in the garden because knife steel isn't made tor running through the earth while thinning tiny seedlings or weeding close to nearly emerged rows. 1 resbarpen a knife after every five or CCn minut^ of use. The stone will, in an emergency, also hone a dull hoe.
A thin pointy knife will slip etwecn crowded seedlings, allowing me to cur some off. permitting others to g.r0VV' If 1 ^ied to do this sort of close work with my fingers, it would rake lrcc times as long. The knife will snick off the odd weed just below the sur ,1Ce sh°uld I notice it while doing other things. I also use the knife tor harvesting.
Figure 3.10: Using a paring knife for thinning weeding.
T Id make i garden without a hoe. I wouldn't want to make one without a rakeT couldn't make a good one without a shovel and definitely not without a small sharp knife.
Bucket do more than carry things; I use them for fertigation. I'll have much [0 say »bout fertigation in Chapter 6 on watering. A few cheap plastic ten-quart (ten-liter) laundry buckets or, better, some recycled five-gallon (20-liter) ones that once contained institutional kitchen bulk goods are essential around the garden. It seems one can never have too many.
Oncc tools were expensive, valued, and cared for. Then we created a consumer society in which nearly everything is designed to decompose so another will be purchased. Maybe once resources become more scarce we'll go back to the old ways. But in the meantime, people have forgotten how to care for valuable tools.
Two things go wrong with every shovel, rake, and hoe. The metal bits rust; the wooden bits dry out, crack, and split.
Rust. In the old days, there was usually a wooden box on the floor of the garden shed filled with coarse sand. The sand was saturated with used crankcase oil. When the garden tools were pur away for the day, their working ends were first wirebrushed clean and then stuck into that sand so they came out lightly coated with oil. These days people sometimes have a convenient spray can of lightweight oil that serves nearly as well for this purpose.
I've seen some ,Jn 38 COCOnut ^ which I buy at a health food st« ;
they're a mor. ,, i preparations made for protecting tool handles, but basi^i ' ^ equal mixture of coconut or linseed oil and beeswax-
Handles, composite. One of my sfloveJs , —
is lighter in weight and stronger than wood How' ' ^^ handJe wu . like being exposed to ultraviolet light Ke, " Col»Posites do ^
On spring; weekends, garden centers are so busy chat people stand in long checkout lines holding armloads of expensive seedlings and a few seed packets. Usually these buyers arc making several major mistakes at once. What I'm about to tell you about those errors won't endear me to garden center owners and makes it highly unlikely that my book will ever appear lor sale in those places. Oh well... personal honor is infinitely more valuable than bigger royalties.
Let's take a stroll through an imaginary garden center at the peak of spring planting season and discuss what we find.
Thc mind is strange. I direct my magic keyboard to an imaginary North Art*rican garden center in spring, and instead I am taken to scenes horn > 1 lood in Michigan. Winter is ending. The snow melts. The cart • • "7 later, on a sunny afternoon, I am walking along a street w^ ^
7et UnziPPed, and for the first time there appears an soii
> soil has warmed up enough that I can smell the bloom r of —-- ^ tzZ^
the stre instinctual PY would grab me and I would g
Cd bl0d aftei" bl°ck' faSt aS 1 C°Uld' sedate older peopk
Woui¿T CXPect on such an especially wondrous day that st b chc
' b£ digging their gardens. But no, they may adm.rc the front door, but their backyard veggie gardens are still growing weeds instead of spinach, radishes, and peas. Weeks pass. Finally the much-spoken-of dayof the last usual frost arrives. Now people mob the garden center, buy an instant garden, rush home, start up the rototiller or start digging up the backyard,and "put in the garden.
Putting-in is usually done over one weekend, sometimes in one afternoon Typically tomato, cabbage, broccoli, onion, lettuce, zucchini, cucumber,pumpkin, and winter squash seedlings are taken home and set out, all in a few hours. Some people even buy sweet corn as seedlings for transplanting. A few seeds are sown: carrots, beets. Oh, what joy and hope my imaginary people are feeling! But I don't know whether to smile, laugh, or cry. I like it. I hate it. What a waste. What fun.
My emotions conflict because I know what happens next. Some of the seedlings fail to survive, so more are purchased and replanted the next weekend. Sometimes this repurchase/replanting is repeated yet again. A great deal of money is invested in this hobby garden. The folly is made worse when people buy seedlings for types of vegetables that should be started directly from seeds, but many gardeners believe it is impossible to make seeds comc up.
And then what happens? All six cabbage seedlings from one little tray survive. Two months later, six heads harden on the same day, and one week aft« heading up, five of them, not yet cut, begin to split open. But it is too hot * high summer to make good sauerkraut, which isn't wanted anyway. Col« » » what is wanted during the months of August and September. So, to
' ' Wt 0t a" the neighbors or relatives get a splitting cabbage.
Broceoli? Same thing happens. Six bi? flowers form in the saw* * Ihu bounty gets fr02en. but no onc in th;famil likcs eating fro**1
EVC" if ^d. the variety m the tray doesn't freeze well, so J a IT; Aftcr thc ** central flowers are cut, only a ft* small J
t0rm the variety selected was bred to be
A diffj " trade't01nk[dY Produce one central flower and be < 01 ^ «d W madc l-ge succulent secondary ^^
bred to itinj r larvest of thc main head. And there are var
Luckilv ? many Wecks aftcr heading up before they sp«" ^ « «* that \ t W'" ^ &0mC successes; there are so ^ ^ P» packed solid with sauce and gr<*"
Come the end of the season, the pantry work shelf is covered with ripening tomatoes chat last into autumn. No wonder everyone loves to grow tomatoes And next? Next comes frost. The first light frost wipes out almost every-rhing except the Swiss chard. And the gardeners add up what was spent and the worth of what was actually eaten or put by and wonder why they bothered. But next spring the same compulsion that makes a young man run for joy has that same person back in the garden center, doing it all over again.
The next few chapters of this book are mainly about avoiding mistakes in judgment and expanding your imagination, because the garden can be more than fun and a joy and a promoter of health and a producer of food more nutritious than could be purchased for any price — the vegetable garden can also be an astonishingly sensible economic venture. Even where the winter is hard, the garden can supply the kitchen for several more months than mosr people expect. But for all those good things to happen, the garden has to be given the same degree of attention that other enthusiasts give to selecting the right fishing lure, modifying their automobile, or refining their golf swing.
Can you do that? Can you give food gardening its due attention in this era °f the end of oil, this time of a globalized labor pool, this season of resource hostilities? Can you afford not to? If you agree to continue along with me in tllls boolc* che first thing I'm going to do is wean you off the garden center.
nari!y Tk " be CransP^nted in the first place? Some species are extraorJi-* transplant, such as beets, carrots, and chard (silverbeet). But grow , t 7 50J<% in the seedling tray! Transplanted carrots may survive to S;j'bUt USUa% M to make useful roots. Cucurbits (melons pump-the a 1 CUcur*iber, squash) don't Transplant well, and if they 1
V-W ^ thcir growth is usually set hack so severely that seej. ore K S°Wn 0" the same day as transplants are put out will H^
soon or sooner. So why waste so much money? Lettuce, too, generally does better started from seed; the transplanting process hugely shocks its root system. This is also true of transplanting corn.
Is the seedling mislabeled? Unless it is a red cabbage seedling labeled as a green cabbage, you can rarely tell if the label is incorrect. But please consider this: the wise buyer always imagines the ethical temptations the seller might have and then is not surprised if a seller falls prey to moral weakness. For example, those pretty plastic labels on seedlings cost as much as or more than the seed did, especially if they carry a picture of the fruit or plant on them. The greenhouse operator may have invested in a big box of labels for some variety whose seed is not available that year. What might be done in thac case? Wouldn't it be tempting for the seed vendor to get a similar variety and substitute it? Who could tell? Or suppose the seed merchant supplying that bedding-plant raiser was out of stock on some popular variety. Wouldn't it be tempting to make a substitution,"accidentally" mislabeling a bag? Who could tell?
If such a substitution were truly a nearly identical variety, then almost no one would notice. But what if a cabbage variety were popular because it could stand without splitting for weeks after heading up and also tasted nice? What ! "■wcrc rePlaced with a cannery sauerkraut variety that split within days and had a texture and flavor like cardboard? That wouldn't be so nice.
One species that isn't likely to be mislabeled is tomatoes. That's because People look forward to eating a familiar fruit every year. It would be hard to ool a lot of customers wirh tomatoes. Green bell peppers and eggplants, m ever, could be another matter alrogether.
crunrV T SCedlmg " ^omc'garden variety in the first place? What if in us^rgfe gardCn Centei' -- enou gh seedlings from J
*** growin 7 i * tUmS desPcraci™ to a seedling raiser supping
What if SuPermarket produce department or the cannery? ,f tell anything at t ° ^ U*ser %ures that corn is corn is com andr;.;bc suitable' Wl W so anX chcaP seed tossed into the trays " ^
Quality Uoccoli SCCf n|raiSCr' flincllinS at several cents to--
cost only a L °ffers * much cheaper variety for which rf* *
m ^ich about ha7r hTdred' What » The result will be a brocco^ flowers are ,0ai , V Plants ^ to make a large central head and Y' 'OGSely budded and likely of poor flavor.
What if any or all of the above happens? Well you, the soon-to-be-disap-ointed customer, have invested a lot of work, fertilizer, effort, and hopes.
Is the seedling pot-bound? Ah, at last, something about transplant quality the buyer can see before purchasing. Raising transplants for profit is not easy. The seedlings rapidly grow from being too young to ethically sell to being almost too old to ethically sell in under ten days.
When they are too young, their root system has not yet filled the pot; the soil ball around the roots will not hold together when it is transplanted. Should the soil crumble away during transplanting, so much damage may be done to the delicate root hairs that even if the seedling survives, it will not grow well for a week to ten days. That's one reason (of several) that directly seeded plants will often outgrow transplants.
When the seedling has been in its pot too long, the roots will overfill the pot. The pot-bound plant may, if fed liquid fertilizer and watered several times a day, continue growing and look okay above ground, but its roots wrap themselves around and around the inside of the pot. When the seedling is transplanted, that constrained root system can't support the top in hot weather unless its watered twice a day. This seedling wilts easily until it starts putting roots into ne*soi'« The leaves of pot-bound seedlings will hardly grow for a week to ten
^ays after transplanting.
would you spend a lot of money buying seedlings to jump-start the SCaSOn if thcX going to grow for a week to ten days after you set
A see<*Hng perfectly ready for transplanting will have extended the tips of out to the extremities of its container, so its soil ball will hold J transplanting. This seedling can grow from the hrst day it is togeth
Put out. So
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