Since I spend so much time growing food now, I decided last year to invest in a good hoe. Hoes are easy to find but most you see in hardware stores are toys. For years I got by with a big mason’s hoe, designed for mixing concrete by hand. It was heavy enough that I got lots of use from it both in the mortar bin and in the garden. I won’t say it was a perfect garden hoe but for chopping up blocks of Indiana clay it worked pretty well.
When the handle finally rotted out I set the blade on the porch to fix later and started shopping online for a hoe like paddy farmers in Asia use. Wing Lam Kung Fu used to sell them but no longer. I’ve seen them in use only a few times. They are massive tools, for carving away blocks of new soil to spread on paddy fields in the winter. One of my favorite farm tool kung fu routines is a Hung Gar routine called Thunder Hoe. Try it with an American hoe and it’s just awkward. You need something with the heft and balance of a paddy hoe for that routine. Some of the movements are too brutal in intent to contemplate without horror, if you’ve worked with farm tools a lot and know what happens when you get in the way.
Today I found that in America, the paddy hoe is called an “eye hoe” and several types are available on Amazon. I can’t swear they are good steel but good steel is pretty cheap. I’d switch any fiberglass handle for an ash wood handle right away, unless you do want to spend the fifteen minutes it takes to break a fiberglass handle just so you get some use from it. When I did my earlier hoe shopping I did find an American product that’s the near equivalent of the paddy hoe and built lots tougher. I’m speaking of the Rogue Hoe from ProHoe. I bought the Rogue Hoe field or cotton model, but the company sells other kinds designed for cultivating other crops as well as for breaking up hard unforgiving Indiana clay. I’ve used it for a full season already and it’s barely been dinged by the many layers of roots, occasional stones and even chunks of brick I’ve discovered with it. This hoe has the weight and feel of a good axe and will do anything I ask of it, from breaking new ground to cultivating established garden sites. With this hoe I can tackle ground a rototiller can’t handle, and the hoe works. I have not yet had to stop even once to unwrap sod or roots or string from it, and whenever I’ve used a rototiller it seems like that was all I ever did.
In reviews of this hoe on Amazon I read advice from some who said it isn’t heavy and even a small person will not find it tiring. I’ve never known any manual labor not to be tiring so I would think those experts were speaking from a distance and didn’t wear any blisters. This is a medium heavy tool. People of small stature might find it difficult, but ProHoe makes lighter models than my Rogue Field Hoe that are better suited for the work most people do in the garden. For me, it could be a little heavier, not quite so good as a Thunder Hoe but good enough to till soil to a working depth of six inches. The seven inch wide blade is the largest Prohoe makes and isn’t so heavy that you find the pickup swing painful. The carbon steel blade and welded socket can hardly be damaged unless you smash it against concrete repeatedly. The edge of the blade is tempered well enough to hold an edge and easily sharpened with a flat file. This hoe is heavy enough to chop oak roots an inch thick in one blow. It cuts as well as it tills. I like it because it’s heavy enough that It chops with very little effort. Try chopping a root with a regular garden hoe and you’ll find yourself trying to drive the blade through with your arm and you’ll probably just break the handle, plus wrecking your wrist.
Most garden tools very quickly need to be fixed, because the handles usually work loose in a few swings. The people at ProHoe make tools that last. All I’ve needed to do is wirebrush it clean and touch up the edge with a flat file a couple of times. I expect it to last longer than I do.
I’ve tested it on parts of the Thunder Hoe routine and I recommend being careful. It has three sharp edges, and the back of the socket hits like a hammer. I think that a seven inch wide blade isn’t quite perfect for some of those moves. If someone came at me whirling one of these around, I’d just keep my distance and wait for them to hurt themselves. Definitely not a training tool for a beginner.