Daphne Gooding-Grow Appalachia. Big Ugly
I think all gardeners have some special pieces of equipment that they just love and consider “theirs.” And no one better borrow it without returning it. And goodness knows, that special something better be there when the person is heading to the garden. This season became my personal quest for the perfect weeding tool. Whenever possible I use the “Lasagna” technique which requires minimal weeding because a deep mulch bed becomes the garden bed. This year, however, I was trying to bring an area back into production. I didn’t have enough material to make the new spot into lasagna beds. I knew weeds would be a problem, but I had no idea of the extent of the problem. My horses ran on that field last year and it didn’t seem too bad. I had to give up my horses when I had the back surgery last fall and the weedy brush ran rampant. The back surgery is the reason that I have a difficult time using anything that is one-handed or one-sided, e.g. a hoe or rake. I actually lost my onion bed and potato patch to the weeds as I was experimenting with weed control methods. First I tried planting the rows far enough apart to use the Grillo tiller between them. The Grillo was just too large and bulky to use effectively by this little old lady.
Next, I tried a small tiller attachment that was used with the weed eater. I purchased a Ryobi trimmer with the “Expand-it” capability. Then I purchased the attachment designed for tilling. The tiller attachment was only about eight inches wide, so I thought it would be really good for getting up around the plants. The weed eater solution might be good for someone stronger than I, but not for me. It was a bit too heavy and, of course, the weed eater is a one-sided implement. So my back suffered and the weeds keep right on growing.
Our Grow Appalachia community had purchased a wheel hoe from Valley Oaks. I had used it to make furrows and plant, but not for much else. My father had an ancient wheel hoe when I was a girl. He used it simply to furrow and then cover the rows. I noticed those blades with our wheel hoe and decided that I would look for the Valley Oak website and see if I could learn more. There was a great video clip which demonstrated how to use the wheel hoe to weed. The wheel hoe became my constant companion. It worked so well for weeding that I can’t imagine gardening without it. Because the wheel hoe is a two-handed tool, it causes minimal discomfort to my back. In fact, I have a really good wheel hoe story:
I had been using a Maddox to dig out the roots of the wild Helianthus that makes a big root like a Jerusalem artichoke. This root is so woody, however, that it is not useful. The Maddox is, of course a one-sided implement. I tried to use it equally on the left and right sides to keep from messing with my back. Unfortunately, the Maddox caused a terrible set of spasms in my back. I had not experienced muscle spasms that intense before. Nothing seemed to help, even the anti-spasmodic medication the doctor has given me. I wanted to put in some late corn and beans. The plot I wanted to use for the late corn and beans had become really overgrown with weeds since the last time I had the Grillo to use. So one afternoon I took the wheel hoe out to work on that section. I didn’t have the file that Valley Oak recommended, so I took the knife sharpener from my kitchen and used it to sharpen the weeding blades. I decided that there was no way that the wheel hoe could cause the back spasms to be worse; the spasms were so bad. I pushed that wheel hoe until it was so dark that I could no longer see. Then I dragged myself home, put ice on my back for half an hour, and took a good warm shower. I slept like a baby with a full tummy. When I woke up the next morning, the spasms were gone. I told the Physical Therapist what had happened and he laughed. Said he had never heard of “wheel hoe therapy.” I hadn’t either, but it sold me on the wheel hoe. Thank you Valley Oak! The wheel hoe definitely gets the most valuable player award for 2014.