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Garden Cultivator: Hoss Tools Wheel Hoe Is Boss

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: gardens, tools, hoes,

GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.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.

Hoss Tools Deluxe Wheel Hoe at work

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.

Hoss Tools Deluxe Wheel Hoe

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

Hoss Tools Wheel Hoe

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.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

rick rodzewicz
7/7/2010 8:33:50 AM

Great piece and pictures. I'd like to hear more or find a site that would discuss specific techniques. When to use blades vs. tines. Drier soil conditions seem to work best. Cutting techniques with the blades? Are the Hoss blades shaped right out of the box? Mine form a 'V' instead of running flat behind the wheel. I have mine spread full width, almost, but not overlapping in the middle. Is this optimal? I just broke new ground with a chisel plow early this year while it was still wet. I ran a tiller before planting but between the 2 it is still in pretty rough shape. I put in 20 100' rows of heirloom corn but grasses and weeds followed soon after so I use the wheel hoe 2 passes per row, once on either side of the corn. I can only get to my plot about every 2 weeks ( I am developing my retirement home here while still working full time and living in town). I wouldn't even attempt to hand weed this large plot if I lived there full time so I'm happy that the wheel hoe allows coarse weeding in about an hour and a half (with breaks). I'm not sure I'm using it in the best way but expect it to get easier in subsequent years when the ground is better broken. Right now I'm concentrating on getting the blades sharper and haven't even used the cultivating tines yet. Any advice?

cindy murphy
6/3/2010 7:33:26 PM

Hi again, Hank. I checked out the Sears and Roebuck link. It could be a Planet Jr., I suppose; it looks closest to the Planet Jr. Double Wheel Hoe - the wheels are exactly the same, anyway. There were no other attachments on the side of the road, aside from what was already attached, which was the prongy-thing. It's got six prongs (teeth?), that look as if they could be removed separately - like the individual ones shown in the picture. I couldn't find any markings on it, but I could be missing something (at present, it's got foxglove growing around and through it, so it's kind of hard to get a clear view). I was mistaken about the looks as if there was only ever one; there doesn't seem to be a place for the second handle to have been set. Whatever it once was, it's now a cool hunk o' metal.

hank will_2
6/2/2010 1:44:47 PM

Cindy -- I love that story. Did your double-wheeler come with any attachments? I wonder if it is an old Planet Jr. model.

cindy murphy
6/2/2010 12:06:14 PM

Oh-my-gosh, I have one of those!!! Or what's left of one. It's something I picked up years ago on the side of the road that someone put out for the trash. My version has two smaller wheels instead one big wheel. It was rusty, and missing one of the handles, (and the other was rotted through), but it looked interesting, so I dragged it home and stuck it in one of the gardens as an ornament. The remaining handle broke off this winter after being buried under a snow drift. My neighbor, who turned 97 this year, said he wasn't quite sure what it was when I brought it home, but thought it might have been used to plant potatoes. Neat that I just learned what it actually was used for way back when.

hank will_2
6/2/2010 9:30:59 AM

Shannon -- Thanks for your kind words. When I was young I hadn't a clue about innate goodness or greatness. By chance, I got a lot accomplished in the measurable world by the time I was 26. It took another couple of decades for me to realize that none of it would have been possible had I not inadvertently crossed paths with some really good people. Some beacon like Beadle always appeared and kept me from drifting whenever my rode was stretched to snapping. I am a lucky one.

hank will_2
6/2/2010 9:12:09 AM

Hey Dave -- I agree with you about wisdom. We are all able to become wiser over time if we remember to look, listen and most of all respect those who walked before us -- education can be helpful just so long as it doesn't close up your mind or convince you that your own perspective represents reality and truth. Your dump raking experience is priceless. Believe it or not, several of my friends used dump rakes out in the Sandhills along with giant sweeps and stackers until about 8 years ago. Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful and kind words.

hank will_2
6/2/2010 9:06:37 AM

Hey Paul -- I really enjoy well made and purposeful hand tools. Back in the olden days I built several wooden boats, a few of which employed traditional lapstrake construction methods. I can't really explain how compelling the hand planing and chisel work was. You need to take one of those wheel hoes and rebuild it ... you are on to something here.

s.m.r. saia
6/2/2010 5:42:22 AM

Wow, I was interested to read about the tool, which is both beautiful and looks useful; but that story about Dr. Beadle was fascinating. Thanks for sharing it.

nebraska dave
6/1/2010 7:38:22 PM

Hank, I like your stroll down memory lane. If only we could realize that lessons were being taught and pay more attention to the wise old generation. Neither of my Grand father’s graduated High School and I on the other hand I had the college education. I soon realized that they had the wisdom of life. There’s a big difference between education and wisdom. I could spout facts, figures, and scientific improvements. They could tell me what worked because they learned it from years of trial and error. I don’t know if Dad really knew what he was doing when he showed me the old farm methods of growing but I find myself going back to memories of those times and using what was taught in my raised bed bio intensive back yard gardening. Imagine that. I am probably one of last of the generation that actually got to use some of the old tools when they were still used. I have ridden the horse rake converted to be pulled by the tractor. It was nothing more than big curved teeth that raked along the ground gathering cut hay. At the proper time the teeth were lifted to dump the gathered hay in a wad. Dumping in the same spots across the field would form lines of raked hay to be stacked. I have always liked the feel of hand tools. I have pushed the wheel hoe and wielded the straight up hoe for many hours. I’m kind of with Paul now with raised beds the most used tool is the spade. Keep up the informative posts from the latest in high tech tractors to hand tools.

paul gardener
6/1/2010 1:20:00 PM

I love old style tools like that. One of these days I may even have a garden that would allow me to use soemthing like that. Currently my (almost exclusively) raised beds don't lend them selves easily to it. My back can attest as I just weeded and mounded my potatoes for the first time this season. (Ouch!) I'd love it if they made one like that, that worked backwards, so that I could pull it rather than push. That would be perfect for me. Come to think of it, it would not leave the ground packed from walking on it either.. Hmmm... why has't that been developed yet? The garden looks good Hank. Hope all's well P~