Wednesday 15 June 2016

Weedlings Beware !

In the back of The New Organic Grower, Eliot Coleman recommends many valuable books but, a few months ago, courtesy of Abe Books, I found a copy of one that had particularly taken my attention – Intensive Gardening by Dalziel O'Brien (1956).

Eliot lists it as one of his favourites and I think I can see why.  Unless I am very mistaken, it seems that the germ of his approach to weed control ("Don't weed – cultivate!") is here in this old classic book.

The author writes about using what he calls a 'Scrapper' to clear and cultivate the covered beds in an old 'Dutch Light' system.  This hand tool looks quite like some small onion hoes that I have seen advertised but never bought or used.

It occurred to me that it also has a lot in common with one of the South Korean hand tools that we sell, the 'Ambi' Ho-Mi.  Ironically, this used to be known as the 'Scraper' Ho-Mi, but we re-named it to emphasise its suitability for ambidextrous use and therefore its appeal to left-handed gardeners. The name 'Scraper' did not seem to do it justice, which may help to explain why it has not been so popular as its siblings, the Large and Small Ho-Mis.  Not until now, anyway!

For me at least, it has now moved well up the ratings and is my preferred Ho-Mi.  For quick removal of seedling weeds ('weedlings') between crop plants in the the raised beds of our polytunnel, it seems to be the ideal tool.  I am not left-handed (maybe slightly ambidextrous) but the more balanced shape of this Ho-Mi lends itself to precise moves to either side, minimising the risk of decapitating our crops!

For bed preparation in the tunnel, the Oscillating Hoe is my favourite.  (In the field, it's a wheelhoe with stirrup hoe attachments).   For weedling clearance around well-spaced crops, especially in the open, the Collinear Hoe remains my weapon of choice.  But as soon as I need to work in smaller areas, and especially when the Collinear Hoe's long handle threatens to tangle with strings supporting crops, I now reach for my 'Ambi' Ho-Mi and can work quickly along the rows.

I don't 'scrape' with it, just drawing it along the surface.  No – following the principle of Eliot's Collinear Hoe – I hold the tool almost vertical and slice through the soil just below the surface.  As soon as I had developed this action, the next step was obvious – sharpen the blade!  Those weedlings don't just get disturbed, they get sliced!

So, are my polytunnel beds all completely weed-free?  Not yet!  But at least I have a quick way of getting those seedling weeds before they get big enough to spawn the next generation.

What a harmonious combination of 1950's British gardening innovation, 1990's American inspiration and centuries-old Korean tradition!

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