all about hoes

It rained for forty days and forty nights, more or less, and my weeds are in ecstasy. So today I went out after them with this fabulous bit of ironmongery, the Austrian grape hoe:


In the battle against weeds, I don’t get to go in there and blast them all to death with round-up, as conventional growers do.  This is the one respect in which growing organic actually is, I think, more demanding – and by more demanding, I mean bloody well exhausting.

In the absence of noxious earth-destroying child-sickening dangerous chemicals, my main weapons are: the triangle hoe, the strirrup hoe, and the Austrian grape hoe.

The triangle hoe enables me to get at the weeds while they are still teensy: I scrape the intruders out from all around the plants, and can do this while walking proudly along down the line, instead of squatting and hunching along in the usual servile weeding position.

Weeds that are between the rows are easily scraped out, while small, with the stirrup hoe. It’s a beautiful thing, to just jolly along, scraping this thing along the earth, seeing the weeds practically leap out of the earth, rushing to their own demise.

But invariably some of them escape me, and when I turn around they are ten feet tall.  Then it’s time to bring in the big guns.


The important thing to keep in mind about these hand tools is that, in order for them to work well, they MUST be well made. And this means, sadly, you get what you pay for. The average hoe you can pick up in your local hardware store is good to stir soup with, and that’s about it.  Every angle, every measurement matters. So you may find a number of items that look more or less like hoes, but if you try to use them for anything other than a redneck photoshoot, they will utterly fail you.

Keep in mind that before the industrial revolution, people worked the fields that fed the world, with simple tools like this, plus a few larger horse or ox or mule-drawn items. Unfortunately, now that we have mowers and tractors and such, people no longer realize just how powerful the older, simpler tools can be – and so, when we find ourselves out there trying to work the soil with some piece of crap made in China, and the damn thing won’t even break sod, we figure it’s just the nature of the beast.

Put a little extra effort into finding a good  garden hoe, though, and you will realize that the distance between a reliable tool and a piece of crap is comparable to the difference between an Amarone della Valpolicella, and Boone’s Farm.  You will also begin to develop huge arm muscles.

I was walloping away at the soil, as seen above, for well over an hour today, nonstop, and I am now ready to keel over.  This needs to be patented as a workout, so that rich yuppies will come pay me for the privilege of doing my weeding for me.


About Rebecca Bratten Weiss

When I'm feeling optimistic about my life, I call myself a Renaissance woman; when I'm being realistic, though, I have to confess that I am no Pico della Mirandola girding my robes to debate the luminaries of the day, but rather an easily-distracted post-modern pro-life feminist environmentalist farmer and teacher, with too many theories and not enough discipline. Maybe that's okay, though: I've come to discover that academic rigor sometimes leaves no space for the kind of conversations in which philosophy really "happens." Or maybe this is just my excuse for preferring lively dialogue with friends over the drudgery of scholarship. Since I am busy raising a family and working several odd jobs, I don't have the time I need for genuine scholarship, anyway, but that doesn't mean philosophy takes a back seat or waits for me to get done with this phase of my life. Philosophy is at the heart of life. To be a thinking, questioning, valuing, doubting, believing, bodily creature - that's what it means to be human, after all. I have an eclectic religious background (Jewish, Evangelical Protestant, Catholic) - so, while I am now a practicing Roman Catholic I find myself more interested in building bridges of understanding with people from a variety of faith traditions, than in worrying about apologetics. I am fascinated by the different processes by which people try to figure it all out, this struggle called life. I am also fascinated by the ability of so many to ignore the struggle, to silence the conflicts of the human heart, whether by turning away from the "ultimate questions" - or by forcing overly easy answers to these questions. When it comes to matters of faith, I have moments of Nietzschean agnosticism, and moments of neo-classical Deism, and moments when I believe that beyond all the veils that lie across the faces of reality, there is a being who not only created the world and set things ticking, but also loves us. These moments of religious certainty are born not out of rationalism, nor any gifts of mystical insight, but just out of my stubborn existentialist refusal to think of a universe in which any person can live and die utterly unloved. That's why I have stuck it out with Christianity, fundamentally: the compelling image of a God who loved us so much he'd rather come down and walk among us in the mess and murk of human life and death than coerce us into perfection. If it weren't for this image of Jesus - if it were just the institution and the rituals and the apologetics and the authorities, I'd just say "to hell with it" and be a Zoroastrian.
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