WEEDING TOOLS AND HOW THEY CHECK OUT ON A SONOMA HILLSIDE
These days many of us face the landscaping dilemmas arising from the risk of wildfires in our area. We need to keep the areas closest to our houses clear of taller vegetation, and on larger lots, hardscapes may not be an affordable or practical solution. My long-term goal is to replace the weeds on my hillside with desirable, low-growing drought-resistant plants. But in the meantime, I weed.
My tool of choice for many years has been a large flat-blade screw driver, but, this winter, I wondered if there might be better tools out there. So I researched it and bought and tested every promising tool. Result: I have new favorite! (Caveat: winter weeding on a clay hillside is very different from summer weeding... like the difference between cutting room-temperature butter and frozen butter with a small knife. But I also weed in areas covered with by a layer of bark that has created friable soil, so the tools were tested there as well as on the clay-rooted weeds.)
Here's my take on the tools I tried - from left to right in the photo:
1. My tried-and-trusty large flat-blade screwdriver:
This has been my trusty companion for many years. It's pretty good on the dandelions and other tap-roots, winter and summer. It's in my 'grab bag' of most used tools. I rarely head out to work in the garden without it.
2. Garden Rake with Ergonomic Wooden Handle for Firm Grip, Military Grade Steel:
I got this on-line as it had reasonable reviews. Despite being called a 'garden rake" it's a kneel-on the ground hand tool. I found it totally unergonomic, difficult to use, clunky -even in the friable soil. Useless in my yard and for my hands.
3.Japanese Hand Hoe:
There's more than one kind of these. I used a Nejeri Gama Hoe. I was researching weeding tools and this one had been rated as "the best weeding tool" by a reliable source. So, of course I had to order one. Then, when it arrived, the super-sharp blade looked scary enough that I watched a video on how to use it, but I should have just taken it out and tried it. I loved it! (Word of caution: wear your garden gloves when using - the blade is sharp.)
For this time of year, I am completely sold on this tool. It's absolutely my favorite. It is very comfortable in my hand. I use the full blade to 'scrape' just at or below ground level and take out many kinds of grasses and small weeds without disturbing the soil, and, used this way, it's environmentally the best of the tools I tried as it disturbs the soil the least, and most weeds take less time to remove than with the other tools. But you can also dig the pointy part into the ground just beyond a weed and pull the tool towards you - this works great for weeds with tap roots, like dandelions. I also use it sort of like a machete to cut Daikon radish off just below the top of the root - but do be careful to keep your (gloved) fingers out of the way. (See note below/on using daikon radish as a cover crop.)
6. I didn't photograph my circle hoe... which someone once told me was invented in Sebastopol but I could not corroborate that on-line. It's a long-handled hoe with a circular, ring-shaped blade. It's fairly good on an area of small, newly-emerged weeds, but I don't find it useful on anything larger, or mixed-sized weeds. I should probably look at sharpening the cutting edge, but it's never been a tool of choice for me.
The tools in my weeding tote bag vary some by the season but the screwdriver and the Japanese hoe are always there, so, if you are looking for weeding tools I would rate those as my top choices.
Note: I sowed Daikon radish on part of my hillside to break-up the clay, and it works really well for that, but the roots should be left to decay and add nutrients to the soil and provide a way for water to penetrate better. (I feed the tops to my chickens, who love the leaves.) Some people recommend using Daikon radish as a cool-season ground cover and we were actually looking at writing an article on that, but we found that use of it is controversial. It releases chemical compounds that may be toxic to soil-borne pathogens and pests - but the possible down side is that could kill the good micro-organisms also, so we are still researching the issue.
Penny Fink. Master Gardener, UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County, February, 2019