When it comes to weeding, nothing beats a wheel-hoe-style garden cultivator for getting the rows cleaned up quickly, efficiently and easily. I recently obtained the Hoss Tools Deluxe Wheel Hoe garden cultivator ($295 and worth every penny as a functional art form) and put it to work last Saturday knocking down the weeds that sprouted up between the rows of my heirloom, open-pollinated corn. The Hoss Tools Deluxe Wheel Hoe is a beautifully crafted (made in U.S.A) garden cultivator that harkens back to the good old days when quality American-Made tools were the norm, not the exception.
According to an article in the June/July 2010 issue of Mother Earth News, in 1890 the wheel hoe was considered an essential tool for making the garden pay because it reduced labor costs and made the arduous task of weeding more enjoyable. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve enjoyed using wheel hoes in my own gardens over the years, and although I misplaced my most cherished antique Planet Jr. several years ago (a casualty of some move), Hoss Tools’ Deluxe Wheel Hoe is every bit as satisfying to use – and frankly the quality is 110 percent that of the old Planet Jr. Most notable with the Hoss Tools model is the quality of the Red Oak handles (bent, not sawn) and the nearly flawless powder-coated castings. My wheel hoe came with three cultivator shovels and two sweeps.
I was first introduced to the wheel hoe as a youngster at my family’s nursery and seed company in Bismarck, North Dakota. However, I was more fascinated with the front-mounted cultivators attached to the B John Deere than I was with any walking implement at the time. Later, while in college at The University of Chicago, I was fortunate to be able to carry out my research project (competition among native prairie grasses) in a corner of Nobel Prize winner George Wells Beadle’s corn field. Dr. Beadle was officially retired from the University at the time, but he maintained emeritus status and was working on proving that the ancient grass, Teosinte, was the wild ancestor of modern maize (corn in North America). Raised on a Nebraska farm, Dr. Beadle possessed what most certainly were natural abilities with both wheel hoe and hand hoe – I studied his technique when taking a break from my own tedious work and it was nothing short of mesmerizing.
Beadle’s cornfield was located on the South Side of Chicago in the vicinity of 55th and Ellis, if memory serves me correctly. The plot seemed like it must be an acre at the time, but I bet it was closer to half an acre. Dr. Beadle was in the field every day hoeing, hand pollinating and bagging. When he’d break for lunch Dr. Beadle often called me over to share his shady bench and offer humor, advice and best of all, chips and/or tortillas he made with flour he ground from Teosinte or Teosinte-corn crosses. At the end of the day, or when the work was finished, he’d head off to the bus stop – imagine a 1930s vintage Nebraska farmer on a busy street corner with hoe in hand. A farmer fresh from the field takes the bustling city bus home – like an incongruous scene from Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.
At the time, I didn’t appreciate the significance of those ad hoc mentoring sessions. Years later, I realized that George Beadle taught me incredible lessons about humility, logic, elegant experimental design, grueling physical work, and how to best handle a wheel hoe. Thanks to the folks at Hoss Tools for paying due homage to so venerable a device as the wheel hoe and thanks too for the reverie, and reminder that the quiet pleasure of hand work, with feet firmly planted in the soil is just good for the soul.
Photos courtesy Karen Keb.