Weeding is a part of a gardener’s life. We are all resigned to it. Is there anything that can make it easier? I’ve gone through several tools and have narrowed it down to only a couple. When it comes down to hand tools for weeding between rows in the raised bed, one tool rises to the top.
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The Japanese Weeding Sickle can be used as you would a regular hoe but this is scaled down to a hand tool. The width and shape of the blade makes it good for tight places between rows in raised beds. The triangular shape of the head narrows down to a fine point at the tip which can be used to cut out individual weeds.
The blade itself is just under 5” wide and is approximately perpendicular to the handle with the blade angled toward the handle allowing for better leverage. All in all, this hand hoe is about 14” long from the blade to the end of the handle. The handle takes up most of this length which means that it accommodates both small and large hands with ease. Since I have some arthritis in my hands, I would prefer a little wider or fatter handle but it would be easy enough to wrap it with some cushion such as vet wrap or something similar if you want it larger.
How to Use it
The best time to use this tool is when the soil is dry and a bit on the crusty side. Like any hoe, it is not mean for digging but rather for cutting. The blade is incredibly sharp (wear gloves to help prevent cutting yourself!) and on dry soil it is extremely easy to run the sharp blade across the surface of the soil and slice off the tops of the weeds. If you do this about once or twice a week, your garden will be in excellent shape and could be the talk of the neighborhood.
In raised beds, plant your rows about 6-7” apart. This distance allows for clearance of the 5” blade and keeps your mistakes to a minimum. Believe me when I say that the sharp tip and blade edge is a killer and it shows no mercy on your tiny seedlings. It is best to take it slow for this reason.
What do you do with the sliced off weeds? You can do one of two things. You can leave them in place and let them rot. This is especially possible of you are diligent about weeding when the unwanted little monsters are tiny. This is a common tactic of my grandmother’s generation and they really knew how to keep a neat and tidy garden.
I actually hate to leave the weeds there to rot because I love the look of a weeded flower bed or raised bed. I don’t want any sad little remnants interfering with my enjoyment of the flowers and vegetables that I’ve lovingly nurtured for weeks or months. For this reason, I’ll always have a plastic bucket or tub to toss in the weeds.
Since I’m right-handed, I use the hoe in my right hand and pick up any weed bits with my left. So the bucket is always at my left side within easy reach. I’ve also learned over the years, since I’m sometimes negligent about emptying my weed bucket, that it’s better to use an old flower pot that has drainage holes already in it. That way the water doesn’t sit in it, creating a stinky mess of rotting weeds.
Using the Japanese Weeding Sickle when preparing beds for planting has an additional advantage. It is excellent at leveling the soil once the weeds are gone. This is especially beneficial when you have drip irrigation in your raised beds. Maintaining a relatively level surface helps prevent water from pooling in certain areas.
A Sharp Blade Makes Weeding Easy
When this blade is sharp, don’t expect to be building muscle during your weeding sessions. Especially if the soil is dry, it takes very little effort to slice the weeds off at their annoying little roots. If the soil is wet, expect to be pulling the weeds out with this tool because it gets caked with mud and drags or pulls at the weeds instead of cutting them off at soil level.
The hoe should be sharpened after each time you use it. Do I do that? Not always, but I pay for it in lack of efficiency and needing more muscle to cut through the weeds. If you use this tool a lot, use a grinding wheel to sharpen it about once a week. This will take off any nicks on the blade and it will be razor sharp. Then after each use, you can take a small sharpening stone to maintain the edge in between using the grinding wheel.
I am getting better about sharpening my hand tools because I’m carrying a Speedy Sharp sharpener in my pocket. This makes it easy to quickly run the stone across the edge before putting it away. The hand sharpener is really only meant to maintain it in relatively good shape in between major sharpening sessions. So don’t put your bench grinder away during the height of gardening season. You’ll be using it often.
As you can tell, I use this hand tool a lot, mainly because I have a lot of weeds (what a shocker!). I’ve had this particular one about five years. The metal collar where the handle meets the tang which is attached to the blade, will sometimes come loose and jangle around. I find this a minor inconvenience, though, and have never worried about adding any glue to this metal collar.
Cleaning is also an important part of maintenance for your hand tools. I am once again an example of what not to do since these pictures are taken at the end of the season and I obviously had not been keeping things clean. Want to do a better job?
Keep your hand tools in a dry place, such as a shed or garage where they will be out of the weather. Use a steel brush to clean off any dirt clinging to the blade and then wipe it clean or rinse with a hose. Dry carefully so as not to cut yourself and then use WD-40 on any metal parts to prevent rust. For the handle, use fine sandpaper to smooth out any imperfections (or dog tooth marks as on my handle) and then use linseed oil to help prevent it from splitting and cracking (especially if you accidentally leave it in the sun for a week or more at a time!)
What is perhaps the best way to take care or your gardening tools? Add it to the list of tasks for your spouse. That way you have someone else to blame when your tools look like mine!
Worth a Try
All of us have our favorite hand tools for the garden. Between this Japanese Weeding Sickle and my Hori Hori knife, I can do almost anything I want in the garden. You may want to try this inexpensive and long lasting hand tool. If you do, let me know what you think in the comments below. See you in the dirt!