A few weeks ago, I discovered a “new” favorite tool.
I put “new” in quotation marks because the tool I discovered (rediscovered?) is in fact quite old. It pre-dates tillers, gasoline and the Industrial Revolution.
It’s simple, tough and – in my newly enlightened eyes – indispensable for grid-down gardening and tilling by hand. If you’re gardening without electricity, you’re going to need tools that will keep food growing from become near impossible. I’ve written on some of these tools before, and I’ve mentioned how much I like my broadfork as a tilling machine.
For years I eyed grub hoes, having seen them used in videos of subsistence farmers… but I wondered what they could offer that wasn’t offered by a standard hoe.
Then I was sent one in the mail to review. And now I’m a convert.
Unlike a shovel, a grub hoe allows you to dig with a minimum of effort. You use the swing of the handle and the weight of the blade to throw dirt around at a rapid pace. One of the first projects I completed with my new grub hoe was sinking this kiddie pool/water chestnut pond into the ground:
The digging proceeded much more quickly than I could have hoped – plus the grub hoe allowed for easy and precise shaping of the hole. I dug another shallow pond in the front yard that same week and again, the grub hoe came through for me.
The heavy head of a grub hoe works with you, meaning that you don’t have to put a lot of effort into your “swing” as you chop down into the earth. This particular model’s blade is made of good thick steel, meaning it also makes short work of tree roots and tough sod.
If you had to till a large area without access to gasoline or draft animals, a grub hoe would be invaluable. Now that I have one, I’m using it regularly and wondering how I got along without one.
Cost-wise, the grub hoe isn’t too bad. EasyDigging.com sells them for $29.95. They’re the folks that sent me this particular model to try out. I asked Greg, the owner, for more info on his specific model and this is what he wrote back:
“The weight/width ratio is for designing a grub hoe head for effective digging and chopping into the soil. The ratio should be 1 pound per 2 inches of blade width. So a good 6″ head should weigh 3 lbs and a good 4″ head should weigh 2 lbs. You don’t often see 8” grub hoe heads because they would have to weigh 4 lbs which gets uncomfortable on a long handle.
For tilling off-grid, the grub hoe works excellently, though its reach doesn’t go as far as that of a broadfork. It busts through tough weeds and sod that would choke a consumer-grade rototiller. I can get down to 12″ pretty easily in my sandy loam, but your local conditions will vary. I can say that I wish I had this tool back when I was dealing with thick Tennessee red clay. All I had then was a mattock from Lowe’s. Interestingly, the grub hoe’s cousin, the “grape hoe,” works even better for digging in my sandy soil thanks to its wider blade, though that’s not its intended use.
Is it hard to use a grub hoe? Not really, but it does take some work. You will get winded if you attack the ground too vigorously; however, pace yourself and tilling by hand is a good and productive exercise, unlike riding a stationary bike.
Remember that Eight Essential Human-Powered Garden Tools for TEOTWAWKI post I did last year?
From now on, I’m upping my “essential” tool list to nine. Try a grub hoe and you’ll never look back.