The Wheel Hoe: A Tool For Shallow Tillage
Below is a short excerpt from The Wheel Hoe: A Tool For Shallow Tillage, an article written by Arthur Bolduc for the SFJ which made its first appearance in the Spring 1998 issue.
“Right up until WWII the Planet Jr. line was the indispensable garden tillage tool for professional and backyard gardeners alike. After the war, with the flood of rototillers on the market and the decline of small farms, sales of the wheel hoes dwindled and S.L. Allen Co. sold the Planet Jr. line. The name was changed and it was resold a couple of times up until the mid-80’s when it was discontinued.
Several companies still sell cheap, high wheel, wheel hoes made of conduit pipe that I hope the designer will be assigned to work for eternity when he goest to his final reward, but I want no part of them.
Here in Amish country the wheel hoe never went out of style. And when the Amish could no longer buy them, they built their own. But in spite of its simplicity, the wheel hoe is not a bunch of cheaply stamped parts. With a quality casting and heat treated steel tools, it was more expensive to manufacture than it looked, and the Amish, to the best of my knowledge, have discontinued it.
When we bought this little farm I soon realized I needed a wheel hoe. The size of the horse and tractor dictated space wasting wide rows in crop production and, to some degree, so does my two wheeled tractor. But I just can’t see those wide spaces between rows that have to be cultivated, allow soil moisture to evaporate and precious organic matter to oxidize in the sun.
On our small acreage I plant beets, carrots, onions, and a few other crops in rows 12 to 16 inches apart. And when it comes time to cultivate, irrigate, or just run around, I only have half the area to care for. Too much for a hand hoe, but the sort of layout wheel hoes were designed for.
I thought it would be a simple task to attend a couple of the many farm auctions or garage sales advertised in the paper every week and pick up all the wheel hoes I wanted for little or nothing. That turned out to be a big mistake. I couldn’t even find a Planet Jr. #17 wheel hoe in local agricultural museums.
When I inquired of an auctioneer, he told me that the Amish and older farmers bought the small-wheeled wheel hoes up before they ever went on sale at auction. Many were simply handed on in the family to those who appreciated the tool.”