My new weeding friend

The weed growth in this new area under development was scary after a few weeks of spring

I have a new weeding implement and a very good one it is too. Meet my little Wolf-Garten Multi-Star Cultivator Weeder LBM (I wrote the full name down from an internet search). It is my new best friend.

Having been away to Australia, then coming home somewhat unwell followed by other demands on my time, the weeds in my newly planted borders were threatening to get away on me. With my trusty weeding armoury, I made short work of quite large areas. It was the little cultivator on the long handle that covered the area quickly and efficiently. Unlike a hoe, it does not cut the plant off and being very narrow, it can get in close to plants without damage. It is only 7cm at its widest point.

My new Wolf-Garten cultivator, the modest Wonder Weeder and my short handled hoeing implement deal to most weeding situations

One weeding tool does not suit all situations. This cultivator makes short work of scuffing up the surface and dislodging the weeds where soil is friable or there is mulch. It is no good on compacted soil. It also needs to be used before the weeds have set seed and is best on a sunny day so the dislodged weeds shrivel and dry in the sun. As long as they haven’t reached the seeding stage, the weeds do not need to be removed. It is so easy to use, saving bending and stretching, that weeding is not something to dread. A quick follow-up the next day despatched the few weeds that had escaped the first round. If you have similar conditions, buy one is my advice.

Where the plants are closer together (these were newly planted areas that I was speeding around with my cultivator), I resort to the hooked wires known in this country as Wonder Weeders (cheap as chips at under $5 when I bought another three at the garden centre last week). In the case of compacted ground with club moss, liverwort or clover, I use the short-handled implement that looks like a small Dutch hoe. You can get long handled versions of the Dutch hoe to avoid having to bend or kneel, but I am fine with the precision of my short version.


The new baby cultivator and its full-sized companion on the left and the trusty old Planet Junior to the right

Mark is a push hoe man (the Dutch hoe is pulled towards the user whereas the push hoe is pushed away from the user) but it takes some skill to be a reliable operator and it is all too easy to accidentally sever desirable plants from their roots.  Where there is more space to move, such as in his vegetable patches (known here as Mark’s allotment), he will reach for his trusty old Planet Junior that makes quick work of surface cultivation or the big granddaddy cultivator relative of my new, small version.

What about weed sprays? Mark follows the international debate and research on glyphosate (the active ingredient of Round Up) with reasonably keen interest. When Round Up hit the outdoor maintenance world in 1974, it was seen as saving the equivalent of a labour unit and it changed attitudes to weeds in the garden. Being seen to be weed-free became mandatory for “good” gardening. Mark has used a fair amount of it over the years to maintain our gardens and wider property. With the huge volume of glyphosate that has been used throughout the world over 43 years, if it was the worst thing since Paraquat, DDT and the likes, we would expect there to be more compelling evidence but it is not an open and shut case. That said, caution is always advisable and I worry about its use as a desiccant on commercial food crops.  Certainly, Mark has hugely reduced how much he uses it, which has seen us returning to some older, tried and true methods of cultivation.

I would comment that with the amount of conflicting evidence on the safety of glyphosate, we are a little concerned about what is mixed with it to give the near instant knockdown capabilities of the over the counter, ready to use spray dispensers that are widely sold. Glyphosate used to take up to three weeks in cooler weather to kill weeds and there are various plants that are resistant to it. Those ready-mixed spray cans can kill within hours. When I used to write for the newspapers, I was sent samples of two different such sprays called “Weed Weapon” with ‘breakthrough technology’. I rarely use them but they are both scarily easy to use and efficient at killing plants, even ones that I would not expect them to knock out. The combined effects of glyphosate and saflufenacil are much greater than glyphosate alone.

Compacted soil, the result of years of no surface cultivation and likely use of weed spraying for maintenance – not our garden.

In terms of garden maintenance, repeated use of weed sprays as routine control leads to soil compaction and the growth of liverwort which we find unsightly. We are guilty of judging open gardens on their visible use of weed sprays for maintenance. But then we are subscribers to the school of soil cultivation and mulching when it comes to gardening.

With the growing antipathy to chemical controls for weeds, we may need to revise the aesthetic value placed on weed-free gardens. Even my new-found cultivator friend has its limitations. But weeding a little often is probably the best way to go for most keen gardeners.




12 thoughts on “My new weeding friend

  1. Carol Hickey

    Glyphosates have been a handy part of the home gardener’s kit, but like you, I try not to use it often.Definitely scary when used around food crops, on silage to promote quick wilting, etc. However, we would have to return to large-scale cultivation, using more fossil fuels. An interesting dilemma. Where do you stand on insecticides such as those used on roses?

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Glyphosate is also used, I think, on crops like wheat to promote even ripening of the grains. And yes, you are right about the use of more fossil fuels in commercial production if some current practices are changed. Things are never straightforward, are they? Insecticides? The ones based on fatty acids don’t seem to be a big issue – Mark has used these on swan plants against the nasty big aphid and the monarch caterpillars were fine. Also the specifically targeted insecticides where absolutely necessary. It is the broad spectrum insecticides that are a worry when they can wipe out all insect life for a while. And we question the practice of spraying ornamental crops – like roses. Or indeed many rhododendrons. Better to grow what will thrive without needing that sort of intervention to stay looking good.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I recall a comment from some garden wit years ago about implements that look as if they were designed for bear-baiting. I feel the writer may have been thinking of these cultivators that still work as well today as when first devised!

  2. Philippa Foes-Lamb

    We are completely sprayfree on our 5 acres (much to my husbands slight disgust!) and I have to say it is no mean feat with invasions of couch grass, buttercup and convolvulus (the latter in some places luckily NOT my main perennial bed). I am in the middle of battle buttercup and have just purchased a two pronged weapon from Gubba, hand-forged in the Netherlands and brilliant! Glyphosate scares the living bejeebers out of me, mainly because for so many years it has been horribly over-used. Like you, I am concerned about what it is mixed with for instant knockdown! Eeeeeek! Even though I’m spray free I am aware some people love using glyphosate and swear by it so on my radio show when I talk about using it I suggest they err on the side of caution and REALLY think about where they’re using it (i.e. around food crops!). Crikey, life in our world truly is a mine field of sorts. It’s also hard to get pea, bean and corn seed that is untreated these days too! Very scary stuff! Back to my buttercup!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      We would lean towards being completely spray-free but our 25 acres are too much for us to manage without a couple more labour units. So we (I say we, but I mean Mark because I never spray) are now extremely conservative and cautious about their use. We have given up trying to control buttercup in the meadow – where it is looking very pretty at this time of the year – though we keep it out of cultivated garden areas and the house lawns. Mark now saves all his own bean seed. Not sure about peas but he does still buy corn seed – I assume because he is buying F1 hybrids but he is not around for me to check that. At least with more information and more thought, we can make better informed choices.

  3. John Kingdon

    That mini cultivator’s a real boon. I’ve had one for years. Talking to other owners, I’ve been surprised at how many think that bit of metal on the back of the tines is merely to strengthen them but, turn the tool over and you have a mini hoe. I have one of the extending Wolf handles, intended to use with a saw head, and, with minimal practice, it’s easy to use the mini tool with that to get to the back of deep borders.

    I have always used Glyphosate very sparingly BUT NEVER in its Roundup guise. All the added bits in Roundup are more harmful than the Glyphosate itself, IMO. Plus, so many people will see the quick death of the above-soil bit of the plant and pull it off before the Glyphosate gets to the roots. So they end up using more Roundup ….. Stick to the pure Glyphosate solution.

  4. Ray

    I like the Dutch hoe as one of my first paid jobs was thinning and weeding beet crops for a $1 an hour, very good wages at the time.
    My latest thing is a piece of wire bent like the Wonder Weeded but mounted on a longer handle, an old broom stick.
    As it happens the wire used is high tensile steel that is copper coated which as it gets polished in the soil makes a very smart bit of kit.

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