So, the larger your garden, the more weeds, right? I have a large garden, but I don’t own a tractor, so I still tend to plant more along the lines of the square foot gardening method rather than the traditional “x spacing between each plant, x spacing between each row”. Those back of the seed package guidelines, by the way, are based on spacing if you DO have a tractor. I can get a lot more plants into a lot smaller space this way, which makes my life easier and gives us more pasture for sheep forage as well.
The trick to staying up with weeds is to get them when they are very young, called the “thread stage”. This is when the roots are about the diameter of a thread, and are easy to sever just under the soil, effectively killing them before they become Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors and start to take over the garden (not to mention keeping it from going to seed and throwing thousands of seeds around). You don’t need to remove each tiny seedling. Sever the thread root, and it will shrivel up and die on the spot without removal. Needless to say, keeping up with this is critical, because in just a few days, weeds can go from “that doesn’t look bad, I’ll get back to that on Thursday” to “Oh my God, how did this happen, I can’t even see the carrots in there”.
I love my stirrup hoe, also called a Scuffle hoe or a Hula hoe. Its great for keeping the sides of the rows weeded, without having to resort to pulling out the tiller again. It’s perfect for weeding at the thread stage, and makes quick work of small weeds. But because of my plant spacing, and rows that aren’t always as straight as they could be, and lack of accuracy with the hoe, I sometimes do damage to the plants I want to keep, trying to use a stirrup hoe between garden seedlings. So I still end up doing a lot of hand pulling (and have the cracked skin dirt line along my right index finger all summer long to show for my efforts).
Recently, I was telling my husband that we needed to make our own hand tool that was like a stirrup hoe, but slightly smaller across, for work in small tight spaces. We looked online, and didn’t find anything similar. We have a friend who does metal work, and I was going to ask him to attempt something for me. But as is our custom, we also spent a lot of time thinking about what we already had laying around that could be modified to work. Metal strapping? A pastry cutter from the thrift store? And then my husband, brilliant man that he is, thought about using an old shedding blade we had around from when we used to have horses. These tools are meant to take off the undercoat when a horse is shedding their winter coat, and come apart at the handle so you can cover more area. They have shallow teeth.
He bent it into more of a box shape in short order, and I tried it out. And I’ve got to tell you, this is just about the best small space weeding tool EVER. It makes quick work of small seedlings, the teeth of the tool literally hooking them and ripping them out of the ground (very gratifying, I’ve got to tell you). It works well unless the soil is soaking wet. I’ve since covered a lot of ground with this beauty in the last week or so, and I don’t know how I ever lived without it.
I have a garlic/onion bed in my side yard this year. It’s about 25 ft by 4 ft of garlic and onions, in four rows. I weeded the entire thing with this tool, also taking time to hand pull some larger weeds and feed weed treats to Kenny the ram and Fawn the goat through the fence (they were very interested in my work). It took me all of 20 minutes. And I was kind of taking my time. And I was working around some pretty small onion seedlings.
These blades can be found at most feed stores for less than 10 dollars. Some have teeth on both sides. They all come apart at the handle, but I’ve never once used them that way, on a horse or otherwise. You can bend them to be as wide or narrow as you need. Give it a try. If you are like me, you’ll love it!
Oh, and if some entrepreneurial person out there decides to go after this and market the bent ones as the latest greatest garden tool, know that we thought of it first, and I want a 10% cut, gross, not net. :-).
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2015, where we still have a lot of weeding to do, but it is SO much easier than it used to be.