In my previous article, I noted the importance of a good shovel to gardeners. Next, I want to discuss two more tools I consider essential for any grower (and especially permaculture gardeners): the rake and hoe.
To round out your set of three essential garden tools, you absolutely need a good rake and hoe.
Raking the Seedbed
A good garden rake can create a fine seedbed for proper germination of vegetable seeds. A garden rake has a wider rake head and more and longer rake teeth than your typical “yard rake.”
Although you could make a large gravel rake do the job, specialty garden rakes are well worth the investment for their ease of use. Their tines have the right length and angle, and the rake head width is proportional to a typical raised bed top’s width.
Cross-raking the raised bed (that is, perpendicular to bed length) loosens soil clods applied by shoveling, pulls rocks to the perimeter and into the path, and leaves a nice tilth on the bed top.
Proper seed germination requires a firm and lightly loosened bed top provided by this cross-rake action. Seeds have a difficult time germinating in rough soil conditions because they don’t get even moisture disruption and may get lost between the large cracks.
A rake is also useful to pre-weed the garden bed. Raking the surface of your garden bed several times over the course of a few weeks before planting effectively weeds out small germinating weed seeds.
Prepare your garden bed in advance and, after five to seven days, cross-rake the bed again to kill the newly germinating weeds. This “false sowing” technique is a very fast way of cleaning out weed seeds before you plant. And an affordable garden rake is the right tool for the job.
A good garden rake can also serve as a row marker.
Slide cut pieces of garden hose over the rake tines with 12″ space between. You can easily pull the rake down the center of the bed and leave three straight rows marked in the fresh soil of the bed top. Follow these rows for precision seeding at accurate spacing.
Even more essential is the fact that you can easily weed using a proper hoe between these straight rows.
Weeding With a Good Hoe
Effective weeding is one of the easiest ways to make gardening more enjoyable and your crops more productive. And a proper garden hoe will weed your garden bed efficiently.
Garden hoes come in many shapes and sizes, but they all have a good strong handle and a sharp blade for slicing through weeds. Hoeing should be done standing up, and you should choose a hoe with a long enough handle to suit your height in order to be ergonomic.
There are many good garden hoes out there to choose from. If you are buying just one, then understand your soil.
The Stirrup Hoe
For soil that is stony and/or has a lot of debris (such as gardens using cover crop and chunky compost), the best hoe is a stirrup hoe.
Stirrup hoes oscillate as you work down the bed, and their unique horseshoe shape provides an opening between the blade and the handle for debris and rocks to pass over the blade and through.
This means your hoe doesn’t get caught on roots, debris and rocks, and you can move quickly down the garden bed. These hoes are also effective at killing weeds from ½” to 6″.
The Colinear Hoe
On the other hand, if your garden bed is a finer texture (sandy, silt or clay) with few stones and less debris, then I would recommend a collinear hoe. The benefit of the collinear hoe is it can easily pass between plants in the row as well as pass down the middle of the row itself.
The colinear hoe has a long narrow blade between 3″ to 6″ long. By controlling the angle as you pull it through the soil, you can effectively reduce or enlarge the amount of surface the blade is scraping and thus weeding.
When weeding transplanted crops, such as head lettuce, kale or chard, the collinear hoe is awesome. It is the preferred hoe for greenhouse growing, as most greenhouse beds are fine texture and rich in organic matter, making using this hoe very easy.
A good rake and hoe, along with a good shovel, are essential and multi-functional tools for growing. They are my first purchase choices for a new gardener and worth reconsidering the make and function of for experienced growers.