Use This Garden Tool Properly — Your Back Will Thank You
The Dutch hoe hoe is probably the most popular of all gardening hoes and here are a few tips on how to buy one and how to use one without hurting yourself.
What To Look For When Shopping
- The head and neck of this tool are usually made from either forged steel, carbon steel or stainless steel and should be forged in one piece.
- I’d suggest you avoid the cheap mild steel. You can identify these (usually) by brightly painted hoes where the head is riveted to the neck. These soon rust and the rivets will work loose (cheap tools are worth what you pay for them in the garden business imho)
- The width of the blade will vary between about 10cm (4inches) to about 15cm (6inches) wide.
- You can get them wider but these are not practical for the average gardener. (too tough to keep working) 15cm (6inches) is the best blade width for the average gardener.
- The handles are mainly wood, fiberglass, plastic coated tubular steel or aluminium. The wood handle versions tend to be heavier and need to be stored indoors or the wood will soon roughen with added moisture (sand it if this happens with a light-grit (about 160) sandpaper.
But I prefer wood handled tools to anything else. They simply feel better in my hands when I’m working than the metal or fibreglass ones. (yeah, call me a luddite). My favorite Dutch hoe model is this one called a Winged Weeder. Note: do not buy the telescoping model! Get the solid shaft. And if you have issues with it — do let me know.
Some folks like the idea of a smaller, hand-held model and this particular tool is one of my three essential garden weeding tools because it fills the same function (and more) when working with a smaller hand tool
Some plastic coated tubular steel handles have ergonomic moulded handgrips which are intended to make the hoes more comfortable to use and prevent your hands from slipping. I’ve used them and they now sit in my tool shed or given away to friends (see above re wood)
You Can Use This Hoe For Other Things Beside Weeding
The Dutch hoe is used mainly for general weeding in a push pull motion while walking backwards with the blade just below the surface of the soil.
This will cut weeds off at the roots and create a fine soil tilth at the same time.
You need to be careful when using this hoe making sure you don’t cut the stems of your vegetables or plants in the process! And yup, been there, done that more than once so this is word to the wise.
The Dutch hoe can also be used for cutting seed rows. Use the corner of the hoe blade, with the face edge towards the line (assuming you use a string-line to keep your rows straight) but not touching it and you can make a shallow row trench from about 1.3cm (1/2inch) to about 10cm (4inches) deep quite easily.
This tool is excellent for making deeper seeding areas. With the blade facing down you can draw out a seed trench as wide as the hoe blade itself. You can go as deep as needed by going over the area a few times. This will give you ideal row for sweet pea, garden peas, and runner or broad bean seeds.
You will find it much easier if you pull the hoe towards you for creating seed rows rather than trying to push it away from you.
The Best Way To Use It And Avoid Injury
For ease of use and comfort the length of the handle is critical. The handle needs to be long enough to prevent you from having to bend your back too much.
The easiest way to find the right length for you is to select a handle which measures from the ground to your ear.
Stand upright and place the hoe head down on the ground by your side. If the end of the handle at least reaches your ear then it should be the right length for you. If it is a bit longer it will not matter.
The best position for using a Dutch hoe when weeding or breaking the surface soil is to stand upright, holding the hoe as you would a broom.
- Stand with your feet apart about 45cm (18inches) and one foot slightly in front of the other. This of course depends on your height, it could be more or less.
- Unlock your knees. If you keep your knees locked, the stress goes directly to your back. If you unlock and slightly — ever so slightly — bend them, the strain is on your legs and shoulders and they can take a lot more than your back.
- Choose a position where you are comfortable without feeling any strain especially in your back. In this position and holding the hoe downwards on the soil you should be able to hoe about 30cm (12inches) in front of you without bending your back and without feeling any strain or discomfort in anyway.
If you do feel any strain or discomfort move to a position where you fell totally comfortable. You may need to readjust your position a couple of times to get it right.
This is why the length of the handle is critical. Get the right length and you are more than halfway to finding your most comfortable position.
Now, always working no more than 30cm (12inches) in front of you sweep your hoe as if you’re sweeping a broom and slowly walk backwards maintaining that 30cm (12inches) in front of you working zone.
Doug’s Dutch Hoe Summary
- Get a handle that’s long enough.
- Use the Dutch hoe like a broom rather than an axe.
- Unlock your knees to protect your back.
Doug’s last thought. Only do a bit at a time.
It’s far better to do three bouts of 15 minutes long than one 45 minute bruiser of a weeding job. Your back will thank you (unless you’re a lot younger than I am) 🙂