Garden Hoe Still a Basic Yet Useful Tool

The garden hoe, an ancient tool, is still the go-to item for any gardener.

| March/April 2010

Six thousand years ago, a woman heavy with child straightened up from yanking out weeds in an onion patch. She massaged her back and gazed speculatively at a nearby tree branch, then back at the weeds sprouting beneath her feet in the rich soil of the Fertile Crescent. A moment later, she broke off the branch, stripped away twigs and leaves, and with the forked end began to scrape out the weeds one by one.

Thus, or maybe somewhat thus, was born the hoe, the world’s earliest agricultural tool.

Various reference works say the hoe is a hand tool used in gardening or a weeding tool consisting of a long pole with a small flat metal blade set into one end at a right angle to the pole. Though accurate, these definitions are woefully incomplete. Throughout history, the hoe has been much more.

The hoe had a positive impact on quality of life. Anthropologists say because hoes were custom-made and hard to come by in early agrarian societies where food supplies were inconsistent, a broken, lost or stolen hoe could result in enough missed time planting, cultivating or harvesting to endanger a family’s food supply, making the difference between starvation, mere survival or plenty.

The hoe was a valuable tool. The hoe was highly prized by owners as well as thieves. In 1763, Adam Reed of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, accompanied his local constable to Reed's stolen property "hid in the ground," according to the Pennsylvania Gazette of the time. Among the articles unearthed were four grubbing hoes.

During the Revolutionary War, “at the time of the approach of the enemy” to Philadelphia, another article in the Pennsylvania Gazette said John Jones of Southwark left his personal tools in the care of Capt. Christian Grover. In 1778, Jones advertised that whoever returned his belongings would be "rewarded in proportion to their trouble or expense." His missing tools included two spades, five garden hoes, one grubbing hoe and two dung forks.

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