Skip to content

The princely hoe

The new hoe

I confess that I ruined my old hoe. I left it out in the weather too often. That weakened the handle, and the handle separated from the blade. The blade fell off while I was hoeing a row of tomatoes. To wear out a hoe would be an honorable thing. But to neglect and abuse a hoe is a crime and a shame that would have shocked our ancestors.

I know better than to leave garden tools outdoors, but I plead guilty to doing it. Wooden handles deteriorate. Blades rust. As I reflected on my cruelty and guilt, hoping that my contrition will ensure that I never harm another hoe, I realized how ancient the hoe must be. The hoe is a kinder blade than the sword and the ax, but no doubt it changed the world just as much.

The Wikipedia article on the hoe describes some of the history. Hoes are mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi, about 1750 B.C. Even today, Third World subsistence farmers with no ploughs get by only with hoes. When there is no iron or steel, wood will do. The Wikipedia article includes a photo of an Egyptian hoe made of wood. The Roman hoes, of course, were made of iron.

In European culture, there can be no doubt that hoes were introduced across Europe in the migrations that brought agriculture, the wheel, the horse, milk animals, and the Indo-European languages. How could I be so thoughtless as to leave out in the rain an instrument so royal? I vow to never treat a hoe with disrespect again. I should be able to salvage the old hoe and put a new handle on it, though replacing handles on hand tools is becoming a lost art.

My new hoe has a fiberglass handle. That was the only kind of hoe the hardware store had. I’ve made a hook in the shed for it to hang from, away from the rain and sun. Fiberglass won’t decay like wood, but it hates ultraviolet from the sun.

One of my favorite gardening books, Gardening When It Counts, emphasizes the importance of keeping hoes sharp. I find that to be true. I use a hoe in the garden not so much for loosening the soil but for cutting weeds. It’s remarkable, really, how efficient hoes are for that. As long as the weeds don’t get out of hand, I can hoe my garden in not much more than 30 minutes.

The new hoe (and probably all new hoes) came with an angle on the blade, but the blade is not truly sharp. I took a file to it. I’ve also ordered a sharpening tool from Amazon that attaches to a drill. The rotary sharpener is made for lawn mower blades, but I’m pretty sure that it will do a good job of sharpening the hoe.

When I was a young’un growing up in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina, I wasn’t made to work as much as some young’uns were. But I was sometimes made to hoe. I didn’t like it. But I’m glad to have acquired some hoeing skills early in life. And since this post is an obituary for my old hoe, I want to mention that my old hoe never harmed a living thing that wasn’t a weed, not even a snake. Many a hoe, like pitchforks, have been used as weapons.

When I lived in San Francisco, I learned that people who grew up without any farm experience did not even understand the expression “a long row to hoe.” That is sad. I have looked down long, long rows of weedy tobacco on hot summer days.

Rest in peace, old hoe. If I can find a new handle for you, I’ll bring you back and never mistreat you again.


  1. Jo wrote:

    David, I doubt the lowly hoe ever gets so many kind words as these, especially if a person has truly “had a long row to hoe.” Being a native Tarheel too, have heard this phrase all my life. In defense of the hoe, it is a versatile tool and when you need one, hard to find a substitute that is as good. We are enjoying yellow squash, zucchini, and cucumbers from the garden. “Early Girl” tomatoes almost ripe. Life is good. Enjoy your posts so much.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2021 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Jo: It sounds like your garden is a couple of weeks ahead of mine. The garden is the best thing about summer!

    Tuesday, June 8, 2021 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  3. Henry wrote:

    My granddad would have taken a belt if I left the hoe or any tool out. When the wood handle would expire he just replaced it with another wood handle, then sharpen the blade with a simple file.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2021 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *