Education Spot — Using Hand Cultivation Tools Part II

An important consideration for sustainable agriculture is our dependence on energy and fuel. Using man-power negates that dependence and there are some amazing tools — some new, some ancient — that make the manual labour quicker and easier than most people would think possible.

Fraser Bayley gave an eye-opening demonstration of the tools SAGE recently obtained from Gundaroo Tiller to a fascinated group of SAGE members one beautiful June morning.

The first tool to start preparing a bed is the broadfork. It is constructed the same width as the garden bed (5-tined or 7-tined) and is used to penetrate deeply and break up the soil. Used in the correct manner, this work is rapid and with the wonderful soil at the SAGE site, also easy.

A SAGE member demonstrates the correct way to use the broadfork

The broadfork breaks up the soil, making it easy to remove weeds

Here is a low-quality yet illustrative video of Fraser using the broadfork.


The next step is to collect the bulk of the green waste using the rake hoe (4 prongs).

A SAGE member demonstrating the correct way to use a rake hoe to remove bulk green waste

The rake hoe quickly removes the bulky waste

Here, Fraser demonstrates the correct position of the hands for using these sorts of tools. The mantra is “thumbs up” which will allow the user a lighter, more deft touch with the tool, instead of a heavy digging movement.

A shot illustrating the correct grip for using these tools, with thumbs pointing upwards

Thumbs up for using these tools the right way for maximum efficiency and minimum strain

Another quick video demo, this time of the rake hoe.


Once the bed is loosely formed and cleared, it is time to cultivate the bed with the 3-pronged cultivator hoe. This lightly tills the soil and starts the process of evening out the bed in preparation for a crop.

A SAGE member demonstrating how to use the 3-pronged cultivator hoe to loosely form up the beds

The cultivator hoe should trail easily behind you without digging into the bed

A closeup image of the cultivator hoe tilling the soil

The cultivator hoe doing its cultivating thing

Unfortunately, there are no more videos, as there were memory issues with the camera being used (ie. not enough memory!).

Lastly in the process of preparing a bed, Fraser demonstrated using a wide rake to spread and level the soil.

A SAGE member demonstrating the correct use of the wide rake to spread the soil and prepare the bed for sowing

Light, fluid movements are what's needed, without heaving or shoving

The bed now prepared, we moved on to tools for planting and sewing. The wide rake is also useful for making rows with the nifty modification of a few added lengths of plastic tubing (or hose) at appropriate spacing.

By sliding lengths of hose onto prongs of the wide rake at even spaces, the rake becomes a handy row marker

If you simply must have straight rows, this makes it so easy

The homi (here with a long handle), that many of us would already be familiar with, creates a neat furrow for planting seeds and with the rows already marked out, is a quick and easy task.

A SAGE member demonstrates using a long-handled homi to make the furrows for planting seeds

Quick and easy furrows -- remember -- don't dig in too deep

The next aspect of gardening (arguably the most time consuming activity) involving hand tools is weeding. There is a large variety of tools for weeding in all types of situations. The tool pictured here is a French Wire Weeder and has an ideal shape for weeding in and around young plants without disturbing their delicate roots.

A SAGE member demonstrates using a wire weeder to weed in an around young seedlings

Perfect for nipping in and around young seedlings

Note Fraser’s upright body posture. This is a considerable benefit of using these tools, saving back strain and allowing the user to cover a large area in a surprisingly short time.

A closeup shot of the wire weeder

The dog-leg shape of the weeder makes it easier to maneuver around delicate seedlings

The sharp flat edge is skimmed just under the surface of the soil, in effect slashing the weeds at their roots and stopping their growth. Movement should be light and gentle, not gouging into the soil.

Another weeding hoe is the Gung Hoe (not pictured). It’s a flatter, t-shaped blade weeder which acts like a sharp razor and requires only a light drawing movement, again avoiding the harsh chopping or digging action.

Fraser also advised his audience that the time to weed is when you see weeds like this:

A closeup shot of a young weed next to a seedling to illustrate the early stage weeding should be commenced

Get 'em while they're young

Yes, that little shoot to the left. That’s when we should be using these tools, not when they’re several inches high. At this early stage, called the white root stage, the weed is small enough to be easily dislodged with a gentle movement and the crop remains undisturbed. Regular weeding is an easy task that is quickly completed. Leaving it too long creates a long and arduous chore that might put a plant at risk.

When some heavier weeding is required, a tool called an Oscillating Stirrup Hoe is more suited to the job. This tool has a slightly swivelling head, so that it cuts in both a forward and backward motion. The rounded edges allow the user to work around plants while protecting their stems.

A SAGE member demonstrates how to use an oscillating stirrup hoe to cut through more established weeds

For a bigger area of more established weeds, go for the stirrup hoe

A closeup shot of the oscillating stirrup hoe's head

Here you can see the rounded blade and swivel to make it oscillate

The last tool demonstrated (although there are more!) was the Wheel Hoe. This is ideal for weeding and cultivating larger areas and can cover a lot of ground in a short time. For SAGE’s current needs, it serves as an excellent path weeder and helps to keep the edges of the beds clearly defined and the paths safely level.

A SAGE member demonstrating how to use the wheel hoe to clear paths between the beds

The wheel hoe is also height adjustable, as the right fit is necessary for efficient use.

Fraser had much knowledge to share at this demonstration. More than can be covered here. All of us attending learnt more about hand cultivation in this session than we’d thought possible. To then be able to get into the beds and put them to use was an invaluable experience and is a perfect example of what SAGE is all about.

Our sincere thanks to Fraser for his time and effort with this demonstration.

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