Weeding: Finding Divine Satisfaction In It

I know, that sounds crazy. When I first started gardening I looked at weeding as the WORST possible job related to gardening, and I wasn’t thrilled with all that watering either. I usually kept up with the weeds at the beginning, and then my interest drifted elsewhere as summer went along. Once the plants were really growing I never got to the dreadful task as much as I needed to, if at all the first few years. Inevitably, my garden became overrun with weeds. This led to Level 5 procrastination, and I had the added job of needing to work myself into ‘face the weeds’ day. Face the weeds day was a long day if I got to it, because my garden isn’t super small and because things had usually gotten so totally weedy. Those well established, widespread weeds not only needed to be pulled out, but also carried out of the garden en masse and brought somewhere for disposal. This was a whole other job in itself! I have no doubt that my infrequent weeding style led to my veggie yields being lowered, because aside from the competition factor I was disturbing the vegetables roots when I pulled out their more aggressive neighbours.

Once my children were a little older, (and I couldn’t rely on them being toddlers as an excuse so much for my weedy gardens lol) I could spare a bit more time in the garden, so I switched tactics – instead of all day weed-a-thons, I’d try installing some landscape fabric as far and wide as I could. I’d been a straw mulcher, but only on the actual veggie growing beds, not in the many footpaths as the expense would have been too much (and not once I learned how hospitable straw mulch is to burrowing rodents). My number of gardens was increasing as well, so it seemed like landscape fabric that could be pinned down with earth staples would save me from having to weed all the different areas. It turned out that, for me, this was not a great solution. I didn’t feel like the plants performed as well with this fabric covering all the soil, plus the weeds could grow through all the joints and the weaknesses in the fabric with ease. In a nutshell, not only did it not work well, it looked awful, dirty and…. still weedy. Just slightly less so.

It was for quite a few years that I did this dance with the loathsome job of weeding, putting dents in the weed growth in fits and starts – and me returning to feeling like I’m digging a hole in water. It was seldom I ever had the ‘idyllic and pastoral’ look I was going for, it was just way too much work to achieve it on the scale I was gardening for any length of time, and I settled by rationalizing to myself that the garden was about the food, and the seeds, the rest was cosmetic. But the weeds still really bugged me. Things would soon change as I sat one evening listening to English gardener Bob Flowerdew talk about hoes.

I’ve never met anyone who uses a hoe regularly, and I have definitely never met anyone who utterly depends on one. For whatever reason, it seems like hand held hoes went out of fashion with the horse and buggy. I’ve seen people have specific weeding tools they like, but they’re always hand tools and you need to squat to use them. In other words, your body is going to hurt if you spend any length of time using them. Bob Flowerdew, garden writer extraordinaire, is a hoe man, and in one of his books talked about the convenience and ease of using them to easily win in the battle with weeds. Having wrestled them unsuccessfully for years, I decided it was worth a try. So I went out and got a 59″ ‘Bow Holder Dutch Hoe’, a type that has pulling action, not pushing action. I had my husband sharpen the blade they key to using a hoe. There are many, many kinds of hoes out there (for real) and they all have different uses; many people think of a flat blade ‘Draw Hoe’ when they think of a generic hoe. That hoe is not applicable to what I’m talking about here, that hoe’s for pulling things toward you and chopping. The Dutch hoe is actually a loop, similar to a ‘Stirrup Hoe’, (some people call my hoe a ‘Sweeping Hoe’) only the blade is fixed and doesn’t move when used in a pulling action. It has a bit of a swan neck and nice sharp edges on the corners of the blade – it can work miracles. As Bob describes it, “it’s a knife on a stick”.

This changed the whole weed game for me. It was both an amazing revelation, and a silly disappointment – not having this single, inexpensive tool had kept me from having my ‘dream’, weed free garden all these years!!!??? Yes, the Dutch hoe has become my most used garden tool, and if I had to choose between my hoe & my second most used tool, the shovel, I’d choose my hoe. It’s THAT good. I used to spend hours on my knees pulling weeds and carting them off in wagons and buckets. Now I slice them off with TRULY glorious ease from a standing position, and because I get them when they are small I never carry any weeds out of the garden anymore. I either tuck the little weeds just underneath the soil surface or leave them there to dehydrate and return to the soil as is. This of course is a fertility bonus as well. The live action of the process is more like sweeping than weeding; I don’t actually “weed” anymore, because I feel like when I got the Dutch hoe I stopped weeding altogether. Hoeing is so unlike the chore I used to do called ‘weeding’. And it is so darn satisfying!!! It’s the same satisfaction of sweeping your kitchen floor clean, only better. The precision with which you can wield the hoe blade is shocking; I regularly use it to knock out the tiniest weeds around the stems of small bean plants. The only slight inconvenience is that it’s essential you keep the blade sharp, so you need a little sharpening stone handy when you use it. Depending on what your soil is like, the blade will dull more or less quickly, but either way it will always need a sharpness put back on it. It keeps the hoeing nearly effortless.

Using a hoe to eliminate weeds has taught me quite a bit about weed behaviour too, odd as it sounds. All my prior ‘hands on’ weeding techniques relied on brutally rooting things out as deeply as possibly (sometimes with kitchen knives, sometimes with trowels, etc.) and creating maximum soil disturbance in the process. Using the hoe made me realize that a little scrape here and little scrape there, and soon there are no weeds seeds on the surface of your soil – and there are no more weeds waiting to sprout. The hoe keeps soil disturbance to a minimum becaue you only work the surface of the soil ideally and eventually there is not much left to sprout. There is no need to drive the hoe into the soil, this is all surface action. It’s a lie that all weeds need their roots plucked out – I’ve killed dandelions permanently with my hoe. It is true weed control, and it really lasts. Instead of hours weeding, now I take a regular evening stroll through the garden paths with my sharp friend and gently slice away any little green things that don’t belong. It’s a matter of minutes, and it’s a pleasure to do. By July, I sometimes return from my evening patrol crestfallen because so little has come up to be hoed and there was nothing to scrape. My family laughs seeing me out weed hunting! I never though I’d be able to enjoy my vegetable garden the way I do the perennial gardens, but I do now. People often comment about the lack of weeds in the garden, espcially the people who know me & my history with weeds! They find it hard to believe a hoe could have that much influence, but it does. Keeping the garden free of weeds is now my most FAVORITE job of all the gardening tasks!

So give up on weeding and start sweeping your weeds!

All the little bean necks (above) can be weeded around with ease using the hoe. Even though I keep my hoe blade as sharp as possible, I’m yet to take out a single bean plant by accident.

Freshly hoed pole beans (above) – the soil was quite dry when I did these, but the hoeing works just as effectively in wet soil. For the first time in my life – no weeds!

Even in the times when I weeded some vegetable beds decently, I always had weedy walking rows. Plantain and dandelion rosettes in particular were a real nuisance in the hard packed areas of the footpaths. That problem is no more!

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