A few weeks ago I went on a Diss Community Farm visit to Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm in Ipswich and there I made the discovery which could change the course of my allotment career!
Joanne at Oak Tree showed us her wheeled push hoe. This is basically a wheel on a stick which pulls a loop of sharpened metal just under the surface of the soil, thereby chopping the green tops off the weeds and aerating the soil in the process. (The photo at the bottom gives a back view of the blade.)
Once the rains started back home and our Diss plot filled up with tiny annual weed seedlings I realised that we had the ideal conditions for this bit of kit. The downside is that they're expensive, the one Joanne had was about £400 so I was delighted to find an Ebay shop selling them for £65 delivered.
It arrived yesterday and today I took it for a test drive. I love the look of it, like it's come virtually unchanged from the 19th Century. I had been a bit concerned that it might be too cheap and a bit flimsy but it's certainly sturdy enough for keeping on top of an allotment sized piece of land. The conditions at Diss are perfect for the wheel hoe, the soil is light and free flowing and there aren't any large perennial weeds with thick stems. It was really easy to use, the blade slipped through the soil like butter, decimating the weed population in it's path.
It comes with blades in 3 widths, I used the narrowest to enable me to get between rows of plants without disturbing them. It also has a pointy attachment which I assume is a tiller for making seed drills or earthing up potatoes etc this should be great for turning the soil over at the end of the season in preparation for over winter manuring.
I think the nature of the soil is probably key to the success of this hoe. I'm not sure how good it would be on heavy, clay soil like Bressingham. Certainly there's no way it could've smashed through during the dry spell but I may take it after some rain when the soil's soft and see how we get on. Likewise, even the light Diss soil may be too much after the rain when it's stickier.
But all in all, this is a fabulous tool for the allotmenteer and I'm mystified as to why they're not on the shelves of every garden centre in the land. Particularly at this price, they bridge the gap between a hand hoe and a rotavator nicely. I think this and the push mower at Bressingham are going to be the items that make my 2 allotments manageable.