Time for some humdrum gardening: how to hoePosted By: rocket veg Category: Seasonal Tips
Successful vegetable growing relies on the rhythm and cycle of gardening and much of what goes on in the veg patch is about repetitive actions which get things done at the right time in order to produce great crops. Now is the time of year, especially after some heavy and much-needed rain (hooray!), when weeds seem to pop from the ground and all manner of pests are lying in wait to nibble tasty leaves and make off with your precious berries. Weeding and pest control are two essential but unexciting aspects of gardening which never go away, a bit the doing the housework.
Weeding and hoeing
Today will be a ‘ho-hum’ day on my allotment, dealing with ‘weedlings’ before they get too big for their boots. If need be, I’ll get down on all fours to remove weeds from my salad bed and find that an old table fork with short tines is perfect for easing out weeds growing close to the base of a plant. Vegetable plants growing in nice straight rows, as seen in walled kitchen gardens such as the one at Tyntesfield, can be kept clear of weeds by regular use of a hoe – a must-have tool for anyone serious about running an allotment or back garden veg patch. Like all good tools, the hoe has been developed for a specific purpose and the basic design has remained unchanged for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Types of hoe and how they work
Hoes intended for weeding fall into two main groups –‘Dutch’ and ‘draw’. Dutch hoes generally have a flat metal blade attached to a long pole handle and work by pushing and pulling action to cut through weeds just below the surface. To work effectively, the blade of a Dutch hoe should be kept reasonably sharp. As their name suggests, draw hoes work by dragging the weeds from the ground, at the same time pulling soil into a neat ridge – perfect when earthing up potatoes and removing weeds at the same time.
Over the years, I have acquired several hoes, each one the perfect implement to tackle a different job. I use my draw hoe quite a bit, but my favourites are an elegant Dutch hoe which belonged to my grandfather and a short-handled draw hoe - a nifty little implement with a crooked neck and short blade on a short handle, specially designed to weed around onions and the like. I picked it up for a pound from a street market stall and it’s more than earned its keep over the years. I also have a modern variation of a Dutch hoe which looks like a long-handled golfer’s putting iron. It was given to me by a friend is ideal for hoeing behind plants which are out of easy reach. There are lots of different designs for every conceivable purpose, including heavier types of hoe used for digging.
How to use a hoe for weeding
Hoeing can be good fun, relaxing and rewarding – best done on a warm day when the soil is dry so that the weeds shrivel quickly when cut and the exposed root dies off in the sun. If using a Dutch hoe, work the blade gently backwards and forwards, shuffling it just under the surface of the soil and through the weeds, taking care not to nick the stem of a nearby vegetable plant – easily done and very disheartening! Unless you are fastidiously tidy gardener, there is no need to remove the cut weeds as these will act as mulch, holding moisture in the soil and deterring new weeds from growing.
Dealing with pesky pests
I’ve written before with advice about covering certain crops with net or mesh to deter birds and various insects such as cabbage whitefly and carrot root fly. If you are considering building a simple structure to support netting or mesh, take a look at other plots near yours for ideas. Allotment gardeners can be endlessly resourceful when the need arises and great at putting all manner of discarded items to good use. Green mesh, once used on the side of scaffolding to protect passers-by from falling debris, makes great protective covering as well as an excellent wind break.
Top tip for deterring birds
Old CDs, tied to lengths of string and hung from canes pushed into the ground, create a pattern of light on the surrounding area as the sun catches and reflects off them. Birds – pigeons in particular – are confused by this, preferring easier pickings such as your neighbour’s young and tender cabbages!