“My hoe, as it bites the ground, revenges my wrongs and I have less lust to bite my enemies. In smoothing the rough hillocks, I smooth my temper.” – In this quote, Ralph Waldo Emerson illustrates the calming, meditative benefits of hoeing the garden. The garden hoe is one of the oldest, yet underrated tools of gardening. As soon as mankind learned to work the soil to grow food, they also began to construct early, crude forms of garden hoes to make the work easier. Learn more about the history of the garden hoe here.
Garden Hoe Evolution and its History
These days the word “hoe” is used as an insult in many places, carrying all sorts of negative and belittling connotations. However, being called a hoe centuries ago might have been seen as a compliment. The earliest depictions of man using a hoe-like tool to work the earth were found in Egyptian hieroglyphics dating back over 4,000 years. These ancient hoes were constructed out of branches, stone, bones and/or animal horns. It wasn’t until the 14th century that hoe heads began to be forged in metal.
The early hoes were usually homemade and considered to be highly valuable to their owners.
They were well maintained and immediately repaired if they broke. Since a broken or stolen hoe could ultimately cause a family to starve, stealing or breaking another man’s hoe was a serious punishable offense in many places.
By the 18th century, garden hoes began to be manufactured by different companies. Though obtaining new garden hoes became easier, many of these manufactured hoes came with a hefty price tag and were too expensive for many struggling farmers. Owning multiple gardening tools became a sign of stature in some communities. Thomas Jefferson reportedly listed owning and using 18 different hoes in his Monticello gardens.
Garden hoe evolution has not changed the basic design. Today, just as it was thousands of years ago, a garden hoe consists of a handle on one end and a head with a blade to uproot and control weeds and loosen and work the soil on the other end. The two main types of hoes are long handle hoes and short handle hoes. Long handled hoes are used standing up, and depending on what kind of head they have, they are either pushed or pulled through the soil. Short handled hoes are designed to be used in a kneeling or sitting position. Their shorter handle is ideal for weed control in tight spaces, raised beds and even container gardening.
Throughout the history of the garden hoe, new styles of heads have been designed for different purposes. The head design determines whether a hoe is pushed through the soil, pulled through the soil, or can be used both ways. Heads can be found in different shapes and different sizes to perform different tasks in the garden. Here are a few examples:
- A Dutch, or scuffle, hoe has a triangle shaped head with blades on two sides of the triangle. The point of the triangle is pushed through the soil to loosen weeds and clumps.
- A stirrup hoe has a looped stirrup-like head that can be both pushed and pulled to work the soil and remove weeds.
- A swoe hoe has a golf wedge-shaped head and is used in a back and forth motion.
As with any tool, only you can determine which garden hoe design feels the most comfortable in your hands.