John Henry, put down your hoe
5/31/04 | Video
(8 MB) | Buy
Review by JEREMIAH McNICHOLS
Beaver High-Wheel Garden Plow comes with three
tool attachments a double-pointed plow blade,
a "left-turn shovel" and a five-tine cultivator.
The steel wheel is 24 inches in diameter, and the apparatus
is pushed around by a pair of 4 1/2-foot oak handles.
I purchased one online in the hopes that it would help
me deal with a large garden that had been disced a month
prior, was partially planted and then grew a lot of
weeds everywhere else. I like tools that are quiet,
safe, and easy to use, repair, and adapt to changing
The most striking thing about this plow is its relative
simplicity of design. Tools attach to the plow stem
with a single bolt and are easily interchanged without
a hassle, and can easily be done in the garden without
losing much steam just bring a wrench out with
your other tools and flip the plow over, bicycle-like,
to switch the implement out when needed. This particular
model comes with a single washer that is too small and
too thin, so if you buy one through the mail, get yourself
a half-dozen 1 1/2" x 5/8" washers, so you can
get to work right away without delay when the tool arrives.
My wife and I were able to put the plow together in
around 45 minutes (it will take less time if you remember
to attach the metal pieces to the handles from the wheel
up, rather than from the top brace down) in spite of
spare instructions and the inclusion of an old-fashioned
steel-band wheel instead of the pneumatic tire shown
in the assembly diagram. (I think ours was packaged
with instructions for the Beaver M2, which appears to
be different in only that respect.)
This tool may or may not meet your needs, depending
on what you expect from the get-go. In heavy clay soils,
you had better cultivate when weeds are small and soil
moisture is plentiful, and even then you might find
yourself pushing this tool beyond its capacity to serve.
In our garden, the cultivating tool worked only after
the ground had been tilled with a front-tine gas tiller
I rented for a four-hour lurch through the hard-packed
haven of weeds and field grasses. On its own, the cultivator
struggled to get hold of the soil at all, let alone
pull up weeds along the way. The plow blade did better,
but cut such a narrow swath it was impractical for tilling
our one-acre garden. Of course, if you're gardening
in rich, loamy soil you have lucked into or built up
yourself, the cultivator might work for you just fine.
In our soil it was about as elegant as a mattock.
It was in the planting phase that the tool proved its
real worth. The plow attachment could make a sloppy
furrow in one quick pass, or a neat, deep furrow in
two. The implement is double-bladed, with a longer,
narrower blade at one end and a shorter, wider blade
at the other. I found the deeper one was perfect for
small transplants, and the wider one worked better for
planting seeds. After seeding rows, the turn shovel
implement will push dirt back into the furrow, leaving
a slightly raised row and a shallow irrigation trench
in its wake. All of this easily takes less than a quarter
of the time needed to make the same progress with my
other favorite option, a Warren hoe with a steel pipe
for a handle, which adds weight and draws out rows with
a simple pulling motion, rather than pulling it out
from the side bit by bit with a standard field hoe.
But I have not given up on my high-wheel plow for cultivating
between our garden rows, where the weeds are coming
in so thickly they have elected representatives to the
state government, and are calling for redistricting.
The simple method of attaching implements has me hopeful
of finding one, by the same or another manufacturer,
that will fit and do that job right. (Earthway, another
manufacturer of a high-wheel plow, sells a slicing hoe
attachment that looks good.) And while putting up rows
is clearly this plow's highest calling, it proved useful
in other, unexpected ways.
Namely: In spite of countless cult-like assertions
in the how-to gardening literature, uprooting weeds
and turning them to the soil surface with tiller or
hoe and leaving them to die is, at least in our garden,
an Edenic fantasy that is trounced by the many rhizomous
grasses that reroot and flourish as though reinvigorated
by a deep-soil massage. To avoid such wasted effort,
the conscientious gardener is faced with the confounding
labor of going over the plot again before planting,
raking or hoeing weeds up into little piles, sifting
through the loosened soil and tossing the offenders
out of the garden plot by the handful.
A high-wheel garden plow does a better job of this.
Unless heavy rains are expected, wait a day or two and
then head into the garden with your plow. The cultivator
combs easily through the soil to a depth of three or
four inches (adjustable, to a degree, by how high you
hold the plow handles) and it is a simple and much less
time-consuming task to walk your way through the garden
plot, collecting the partially dried-out weeds that
ball up under the palm of the five-fingered cultivator.
If your passes are not too long, you can collect a whole
row's worth of weeds in two smooth passes, dumping your
weed load at each end of the run, then move on to a
new channel and repeat. This takes time, too, to be
sure, but not nearly as much. I estimate that it took
me half an hour to comb through a 400-square-foot plot
that had been pre-tilled with a gas tiller. With my
previous rake-and-hoe method, it took two men an hour
working together to do a similarly-sized plot, and cost
us much more in human energy.
For hoeing, I have read that a low-wheel cultivator
might work better, and for planting, a direct seeder
could open up the ground, plant my seeds and close it
back up. With the low-wheel cultivator's small wheel,
the force exerted by the gardener is headed more directly
towards the ground, where the implement is; the higher
the axle, the higher the force is aimed, the more energy
is lost, and the more the tool strains the back. Some
low-wheel cultivators come with a plow, too. As for
direct seeders, I'm not sure their "ground-opener" blade
would cut into our soil as well as the high-wheel plow.
Dropping seeds into the trench doesn't take long anyway.
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