When I started using raised beds for my garden, a lot of my garden tools got retired to the shed. No need for the spades and hoes anymore. The little Mantis tiller sits in the corner of the shed because now I garden with just a trowel and a hand cultivator. But this year, because there were unused plots available in the garden, I took on an additional half plot to grow a few additional tomatoes and peppers, so some of the tools were brought out of retirement.
With conventional in-ground gardening, weeds are one of the major problems. I use plastic row cover, but the paths between the rows are prone to being quickly overgrown with weeds. Other than using cardboard or landscape fabric on the paths (a bit unsightly), weeding the paths can become a chore. But I have a tool I use for that, the scuffle hoe, which I have brought out of retirement. Since I have been using it, some of my garden neighbors are amazed at how easy it is to keep paths mostly weed free. It seems they have no idea what a scuffle hoe is or how it is used, so here is a description.
While there are many designs, the basic idea is to have a cutting blade that lies parallel to the soil, attached to a shaft long enough that you can use it standing up. By pushing it forward and pulling it back (scuffling), the blade cuts a shallow swath through the soil, severing the roots of the weeds and creating a thin layer of crumbled soil that dries into dust. By keeping it shallow, you avoid turning up deeply buried weed seeds, you sever the roots of existing weeds and even germinating but un-emerged ones, and the top layer of soil can dry, forming a dust mulch that inhibits germination of more weed seeds. My technique is to do this when the surface soil is dry, then I work from one end of the row to the other so I don’t walk on and compact the weeded soil, to ensure it dries into dust. I do this about once a week and that is adequate to keep the paths mostly weed free, and is quick and almost effortless.
There are essentially two variations on the design of the scuffle hoe: bladed and stirrup. The bladed hoe has a flat blade of various shapes with beveled edges that is mounted at an angle to a shaft so you can use it standing up. Below is a photo of the blade of my hoe. It was made by Ames True Temper but I don’t believe they make it anymore. Too bad, because I really like it. It’s not real wide which means reduced effort to scuffle it and it can be used in and around plants. In addition, the point on the side can be used to dig out established weeds like dandelions.
True Temper does make other blade scuffle hoe designs sold at big box and hardware stores. But there are also a number of “boutique” manufacturers, such as Rogue, who make unique designs, triangular or diamond in shape, with hardened steel blades and quality ash handles. Rogue hoes are made in Kansas from recycled agricultural disc steel and are so cool I almost want to go back to in-ground gardening (just kidding, I will stick with my raised beds, thank you). They do have a nifty hand held one which would be ideal for use within the beds, so I may own a Rogue yet. Since scuffle hoes have been used in Europe for centuries, some of the better ones come from Europe, such as the hoes made by the Dutch company DeWit. The photo below is the Rogue 60S, which is 6 inches wide. The pointed nose of the triangle should make it easier to push the hoe forward., and the very sharp edges on the hardened steel blade should slice through weeds easily.
The other scuffle hoe design is generally called a stirrup hoe because it uses a curved blade that looks somewhat like the stirrup of a saddle, although you will see other names such as action hoe or oscillating or hula hoe. Sometimes the blade is fixed to the shaft and sometimes it pivots so it can adjust to forward and backward motions (the so-called “action” hoe). Since only the flat bottom piece of the stirrup is sharpened, the hoe can be used close to plants because the sides of the stirrup will not damage the plant.
The best of this type hoe comes from Europe, such as the Ammann hoe from Switzerland, but it will cost as much as double the big box store product. The swivel mechanism is better and sturdier than the design above. In addition, the cutting blade is a heavier gauge, has a flat cross section, is replaceable, and is slightly bowed rather than flat. A good comparison of these two types of stirrup hoes can be viewed in this video:
Any of these hoes will serve you well and greatly improve your gardening life if you are still in to conventional gardening and have not discovered the pleasures of Square Foot Gardening. I admit, I are an ingeneer and tend to be a snob about really well designed tools. Regardless, a scuffle hoe of any design or manufacture (or several if you choose) will make weeding easier and almost enjoyable. If you do not possess one, you need to get one. Just read the reviews on them anywhere to see what you are missing.