The Beginner's Guide to Hoeing
So you want to learn how to hoe? It's not for everyone. You think you've got what it takes? Are you willing to get down and dirty? Do you like getting all hot and sweaty? Do you, um.... do you know when to push and when to pull, and how to perfect your stroke? And.... uh.... hmmm....
Ok, I give up. That's all the tacky innuendos I can come up with. It's harder than it looks. (That's what she said.) And a big welcome to all future Google-based degenerates.
Now on to working that tool....
If you want to keep the weeds out of your garden, the earlier the better. I mean, if you get to this point, the best hoe in the world is not going to get you anywhere:
Now, there's a point somewhere before that where the hoe is useful. And there's probably something to be said for getting out your aggression by whacking the ground Psycho-style with a sharp metal implement. But I really couldn't say first hand. Much like the native birds of New Zealand, I have almost no natural enemies. And I certainly don't have any frustrations or challenges in my life to work out.
My favorite pointy-tipped hoe is great for this kind of aggressive weeding. But really, the best time to hoe is before the weeds are even visible. The time to attack is when the tiny little weedings are still below the surface, plotting their invasion.
This is why, as my garden has expanded, I've converted from Square Foot gardening to the more traditional long row gardening (though my rows are both long and wide, for whatever that's worth).
I also converted from small plastic row markers to 3-foot lengths of rebar (or small garden fenceposts) stuck in the ground at either end of the row, with string or twine strung between. I actually put the posts in and run the line before planting the seeds. Then I use an Earthway seeder to plant the seeds, using the string as a guide. That way I know right where the planted seeds will emerge. It also allows me to hoe right along side the rows without fear of digging up my crops.
Hoeing frequency varies depending on the weather, but generally I try to get out there a couple times a week in the spring. I use the grass growth rate as a guide. If the grass is growing quickly, I try to hoe more often. As long as there are still no visible weeds, it's a pretty simple task.
(A third advantage is that the posts are good at keeping hoses from dragging across tender little plants. The downside is that I can't write on the posts, so I have to remember to write down what I planted where after I'm done. At least I have a record of it beyond little plastic markers though.)
Once the crops I planted are established, I don't worry quite so much about the weeds. The garden plants can hold their own much better once they're over six inches tall. I may try Eliot Coleman's trick of planting cover crops like clover underneath my main crops in early July to act as a mulch and a green manure at the same time.
Of course, this whole gardening thing is always a work in progress, but that's the strategy this year. I can definitely tell the difference between where I've been keeping up on hoeing and where I haven't.
Let's take a closer look at what I'm talking about....
Here's a close-up of some dirt that's just been hoed:
Looks like dirt, right?
Now let's look a little closer at the center of this picture, with a little color enhancement:
THAT is what we want to get rid of. That little guy was going to be a weed. Not any more.
Now let's zoom back out to the original photo. I put red arrows next to all the other little wanna-be weeds. That's at least nine visible (former) weeds in just a tiny patch of dirt. And they took a sweep or two of the hoe to eradicate.
Actually I was only trying to take a picture of the one in the center. I didn't even notice all the others. But once I got it on the computer and enlarged it, I could see them all over the shot.
So that's what we're after. Now go out there and get hoein'.