Wheel Hoe or Wheel Cultivator?

What's the difference?

There used to be a difference, but that distinction has faded over time and now they are considered to be the same tool. Historically the difference between the two related to the wheel diameter, with the large wheeled models being called High Wheel Cultivators, and the small wheeled models being called Low Wheel Hoes. (other names you might come across are Push Plow and Garden Cultivator)   And all of this brings us to the really important question of...


✔  High Wheel or Low Wheel: Which is better?

physics of high and low wheel hoes

This was a big debate back in the 1920's when there were many models being manufactured and each company was defending their design. The debate bounced back and forth between ease of pushing, force transmitted to the blades or tines, and even ease of attaching accessories. The diameter range for a High Wheel unit is 24” and larger, while Low Wheel units were in the 9” to 16” range.

Fast forwarding 100 years to today, the debate is over and the Low Wheel Hoe was the winner. The deciding factors were physics (see picture) and the ability to mount a wider range or attachments.   Image credit to this Small Farmer's Journal article.

Besides the physics and force advantage shown here, the ability to securely attach a wider variety of tools was also important. As the use of these tools spread, so did the tasks they could handle. Besides the initial cultivator tines and weeding sweeps that all the models had, a wider variety of plows for furrowing, hilling, and even turning the soil began to appear, and these needed a stronger structure to fasten to. Then in about the 1980's the Oscillating Hoe attachments championed by Elliot Coleman appeared. After that came Seeder attachments which required the sturdy broad mounting surface that Low Wheel units provided.


✔  The last High Wheel Cultivator...

Earthway wheel cultivator

Before we dig into today's low wheel models, we do want to mention that there is still one High Wheel Hoe for sale by Earthway which has a 24” wheel. Some people really like them, and they are a bit less expensive than the low wheel models. Do be sure to balance those factors with an awareness that there are some physics disadvantages, and that the range of attachments is limited.   Image credit to Earthway.

Here are the base prices. Both the steel-handled and the wood-handled versions come standard with 3 attachments: a 5-tine cultivator, a turning plow, and a furrowing plow
● Steel-handled High Wheel 6500 = $105
● Wood-handled Kentucky 6500W = $135
● 8" oscillating hoe attachment = $45


✔  Low Wheel Hoes: Today's choice, with a nod to the past...

Back in the 1920's the king of low wheel models and garden seeders was the Planet Jr, made by the SL Allen Company - and many of today's garden cultivators still use their design. Check out this glimpse into history...

Throughout its history the firm emphasized its push cultivators and automatic seed drills, devices equipped with all manner of gadgets and practically impossible to describe briefly. Wheeled hoes came with one wheel or two: single wheel machines typically ran between rows of plants and sliced off or tore up weeds, while two-wheel machines straddled one row of plants and sliced off weeds on either side.....The firm claimed that with wheel hoes "one can plant four times his usually acreage of hoed crops from drilled seeds, without fear of being caught in their cultivation," Fourfold efficiency increases depended on the seed drill as well, and Allen and Company manufactured combination tools like the "Combined Drill, Wheel Hoe, Cultivator, Rake, and Plow," an 1892 near-top-of-the-line tool. "Every purchaser of this machine will find it an excellent seed sower; a first-class double-wheel hoe while plants are small; an excellent furrower; an admirable push cultivator; a capital garden rake; a rapid and efficient wheel garden plow, and it is without an equal in a variety of tools, easy adjustment, lightness, strength, and beauty, and as a practical everyday time and labor saver." Allen tools had very specific applications, indeed, and in the end, that proved important to the man - or woman - with five acres of celery to plant and cultivate...
● read the rest of this Planet Jr History article

Today, there are wheel hoes for sale in the US from four primary suppliers. They are Glaser, Hoss Tools, Valley Oak, and Terrateck. The Glaser and Hoss cultivator follow the original Planet Jr design, while the Valley Oak and Terrateck models use a very different structure and tool mounting arrangement.


✔  Comparison of Glaser, Hoss, Valley Oak, and Terrateck garden cultivators

In order to compare apples to apples, we researched the 4 modern low-wheel push cultivators and present a comparison of their basic features and the retail price for a single-wheel model outfitted with a set of cultivator teeth and a weeding hoe. We feel that these two attachments are the minimum to make the tool useful in the garden all season.

For each description below, the brand name is linked to the site we got the pricing and data from.


Glaser Professional / single wheel

Glaser Professional wheel hoe

The Glaser is the oldest of the four brands. It is similar to the original Planet Jr design, but not a duplicate. It has a good collection of attachments, and a good reputation. A few of the old Planet Jr and the new Hoss attachments can be used on it, but not all so be sure to check first.

Comparison Points
● model = Single Wheel
● option for double wheel = Yes
● wheel type = 12" pneumatic
● handles type = Steel
● Made in Switzerland
● Base unit + cultivator teeth + 8" hoe = $534

Their optional accessories include other sizes of oscillating hoes, a hilling plow, a furrowing plow, a goose-foot blade weeder, and a small* seeder attachment. (*for seed sizes .08" to .16", spaced 1" apart)


Hoss Standard / single wheel

Hoss Standard wheel hoe

The Hoss model's frame is a duplicate the original Planet Jr design. It has a good collection of attachments, and a good reputation. The old Planet Jr and the Glaser attachments can be used on it, with the exception of wheels and handles.

Comparison Points
● model = Single Wheel
● option for double wheel = Yes
● wheel type = 15" steel
● handles type = Wood
● Made in USA
● Base unit + cultivator teeth + 8" hoe = $218

Their optional accessories include other sizes of oscillating hoes, a combination furrowing & hilling plow set, weeding sweeps (for straddle weeding), a disc harrow, and a full-range* seeder attachment. (*for all seed sizes, spaced 1.2" to 19" apart)


Valley Oak / single wheel

Valley Oak wheel hoe

The Valley Oak design kept the basic low-wheel geometry, but opted for a whole new method of attaching the tools. The tools attach to a square bar that extends back from the wheel. The company has a good reputation, but not having a double-wheel option, and having a smaller collection of attachments, does limit the possibilities.

Comparison Points
● model = Single Wheel
● option for double wheel = No
● wheel type = 12" steel
● handles type = Steel
● Made in USA
● Base unit + cultivator teeth + 8" hoe = $299

Their optional accessories include other sizes of oscillating hoes, a furrowing plow, a hilling plow, and a 24" bed rake.


Terrateck / single wheel

Terrateck wheel hoe

The Terrateck design is similar to the Valley Oak, but their attachments do not interchange. The Terrateck tools have a vertical bar that sticks upward and fits into a socket at the back of the frame. The company is fairly new to the US, but has been building a good reputation. Their collection of attachments is also limited, but they brought some new things to the US, like Finger Weeders.

Comparison Points
● model = Single Wheel
● option for double wheel = Yes
● wheel type = 12" pneumatic
● handles type = Steel
● Made in France
● Base unit + cultivator teeth + 11" blade hoe = $459

Their optional accessories include other sizes of blade hoes, a few oscillating hoes, a hilling plow, a packer roller, spring-tooth harrows, weeding sweeps, discs, and finger weeders.


✔  So which brand is right for you?

Only you can decide that, but we do hope that the information we have collected helps you pick one. There are lots of things that can sway people's decisions. If all you will ever want to do is weed and cultivate, then any of them will work. But if you want the option to do something special in the future, like planting seeds, or straddle weeding, then your options will narrow. I have even talked to people who made their decision based on cosmetics such as the look of the handles or the color of the frame.

Happy Gardening! and feel free to contact us if you want a little more help deciding.


●  Additional insights, reviews, and links...

Below is collection of interesting bits about tese tools that we found while researching this article. Enjoy!


Excerpt from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS - June/July 2010:
Author: Cheryl Long

The Wheel Hoe: A Modern Weed Slayer

"...Just in time for the summer weed season, we've chosen the wheel cultivator as another Tool for Wiser Living. If you have a large garden, this old-time tool can really reduce weeding chores. Thomas Greiner describes it in his book, How to Make the Garden Pay, published in 1890:

But the tool of all tools, the modern weed slayer, the great labor saver, the greatest horticultural blessing of the age - that is the modern wheel hoe. This above all others frees the gardener from undesirable work, cuts down the labor account one-half, and makes tillage light and pleasant. The advantages connected with the possession of one of these tools cannot be overstated, nor emphasized too strongly, nor told too frequently. This tool reduces the unpleasant task of weeding to a minimum. Now the half-grown boy runs the wheeled hoe up and down the rows of vegetables 'for fun' and recreation, and accomplishes in one-half hour what a man with a hand hoe could not perform in a whole day...."
 


Excerpt from the Countryside & Small Stock Journal - January 1999:
Author: Jeff Rast

An Introduction to Garden Cultivators

"...Push cultivators come in several varieties, price ranges and performance levels. The oldest and probably still the most common is the high-wheeled garden cultivator. It simply consists of a large (24 inches), single wheel with two handles for the operator and one or more attachments. Mine comes with cultivating teeth, a duck-foot sweep and a furrowing attachment. The design allows me to cultivate between rows much faster than with a hand hoe and I can finish without a backache. Most high wheel cultivators cost between $75 to $100.

Another version of the wheel hoe for sale now has a much smaller wheel (9 inches) and a different angle of attachment of the handles to the wheel. Eliot Coleman states in his book The New Organic Grower that he prefers the design of the smaller models because they transfer the force exerted by the operator more directly to the working part. Makes sense. Furthermore, Coleman says that it is the "best cultivation tool for inter-row work on this 5-acre scale." On his smaller wheel hoe, Coleman actually has a stirrup hoe rather than the cultivating teeth or sweep.

Low wheel garden cultivators tend to be sturdier than the high wheel types and have more "engineering" in them. Prices reflect this difference and can run up to about $285....."
 


Excerpt from THE WASHINGTON POST - 8/19/2010:
Author: Barbara Damrosch

Home gardeners should take wheel hoes for a spin in their back yards

"...A few generations ago, wheeled cultivators were standard equipment for market gardeners and for home gardeners who grew much of their own food. An octogenarian neighbor who was raised on a large farm recalls how 20 workers would show up each morning and reach for just that implement. In those times, it was the tool by which large acreages were managed. Few would recognize it today.

A wheel hoe is simply a hoe blade mounted on a wheel. The wheel is there to lessen the work of moving the blade along, keep it a consistent distance from the soil and lend force to its cutting action. Wheel cultivators are designed so that you can weed close to crops planted in straight rows. They also do a championship job on dirt paths between beds. Nothing else makes such quick work of weeds in hard, trodden earth that would normally have you on your knees, stabbing peevishly with your trowel.

Modern versions of the wheeled hoe are more efficient than the ones my neighbor remembers because they use an oscillating blade, like that of a hula hoe, which cuts on both the forward and back strokes. Walk at a comfortable pace, pushing back and forth, and weeds are severed just below the surface so that none can regrow. Weeds too small to see are dispatched as well...."
 


Excerpt from Farming for Artists - May 2004:
Author: Jeremiah McNichols

John Henry, put down your hoe

"...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 garden cultivator 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 garden 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 garden 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....."
 


Excerpt from GROWING FOR MARKET - June 2002:
Author: Anonymous

Implements make wheel hoes more versatile

"...All wheel hoes have detachable implements so that you could theoretically use one frame and just attach a different implement each time you needed to use it. However, we've found that we use three implements often enough that it's easier to have a separate frame for each one. Our three favorites are the stirrup shaped blade, the furrower, and an adjustable tine cultivator.

I use the stirrup hoe to cultivate salad greens. Most of our greens are planted in 100 foot rows about two and a half feet apart...I push the garden cultivator along either side of the greens and once down the middle. The stirrup runs about one centimeter under the soil surface. This wipes out the first tiny weed seedlings and also destroys some germinated weed seeds...

Our second favorite attachment is the furrower. It's shaped like a little plow, and though it will cut through shallow sod and flip it over nicely, we mainly use it for making furrows and throwing up a line of dirt. It makes a furrow that is barely deep enough for potatoes, and perfect for peas, beans, and favas. After seeding, we run the plow alongside the newly planted row and it throws soil over the seeds...

We have collected a variety of tine cultivators, but our favorite one has five tines in two rows which can each be moved or removed individually. We use the full complement in sandy soils, but for rougher ground three usually suffice. Molly uses this wheel cultivator to prepare ground for planting or transplanting. The tines are great for working in compost or other soil amendments, and they also disturb tiny weed seedlings...."