6 May 2022


A Welsh market garden cut weeding time in some of its vegetable beds by nearly half, by switching from hand-hoeing to a wheel hoe with weeding discs.

A Farming Connect study at Glebelands Market Garden showed that a French-made Terrateck wheel hoe with Bio-Discs saved growers Adam York and Lesley Bryson 7.3 hours in weeding time, compared to a Glaser hoe and hand-hoeing when trialled in five vegetable beds across three weeding periods. With labour costed at £10 an hour for the project, this netted a saving of £73.

Mr York says that if the equipment was used on other crops too, the savings made would allow the purchase price to be recouped very quickly - at 2022 prices, the wheel hoe costs around £300 and the Bio-Disc attachment in the region of £160. 

The couple grow a year-round supply of vegetables in their 10-acre garden on the outskirts of Cardigan. They are keen to make their operations (including weeding) as efficient as possible, and wanted to evaluate the benefits of using a wheel hoe, teaming up with Farming Connect to assess this as a focus site project.

A wheel hoe is a traditional tool used in market garden cropping, and the Terrateck version has a recent add-on called Bio-Discs - two discs running either side of a crop row, set at a suitable spacing and angle to throw soil inwards and achieve a hilling, or ridging effect, around the base of the crop.

Mr York says the use of discs on machine-mounted cultivators is well known, but smaller manual versions had previously not been available. 

“The advantages of burying small weeds, as opposed to uprooting, desiccation or severing, have been overlooked, although the wider subject of mechanical and cultural weed control continues to represent active discussion,’’ he says.

“Organically certified systems rely on dry, sunny conditions for effective cultivations to work; burying emergent weeds is a far less weather-sensitive operation. In addition, market pressure to achieve residue-free crops efficiently is unlikely to cease.’’

He carried out the trial on a north-facing site of heavier clay loam soil in a crop of around 10,000 leek transplants. Alternate 61m long triple row beds were labelled.

Five beds were weeded using hand-hoeing intra-row with stirrup hoes, followed by wheel hoeing between rows, using a Glaser hoe (GH) set up with a stirrup hoe blade followed by cultivating tines. In another five, there was a single push pass using the Terrateck hoe. Weeding operations and data collection were carried out on three days in June. 

Mr York says the Bio-Discs were used to move soil into the base of the leeks for the first cultivation. 

"The second cultivation required additional hand-hoeing to remove weeds too large to bury, and the third resumed with Bio-Disc cultivation only,’’ he explains.

There were no obvious differences in weed density or type, or in crop yield and growth rate between the two treatments. However, the labour time consumed was measurably different, says Mr York - 8.2 hours with the Terrateck compared to 15.5 – a 47% reduction. The opportunity to omit a hand-hoeing saves a large amount of time, he points out.

“Any wheeled tool is faster than a manually carried one, as long as it achieves a comparable finish,’’ he says.
The Terrateck hoe was also assessed on beetroot transplants and proved very effective, assisted by a fine tilth and easy soil movement into the crop base. 
Mr York says the subsequent crop proved exceptionally clean, with a good yield. 

“This hoe would be suitable for any small, transplanted crop although proponents, notably JM Fortier, enthuse about usage on drilled crops with an upright manner, such as rocket or carrots,’’ he says.

The project had shown that the Terrateck wheel hoe with Bio-Discs is a valuable tool for cultivation of upright crops, says Mr York. However, a sufficiently fine tilth is critical for efficient operation and getting reliable results.

“The hoe is particularly suited to small- and medium-scale operators with row crops of higher value but insufficient scale to justify the machinery cost, set-up or training time for tractor-mounted versions,’’ says Mr York.

“A typical dilemma on small to medium farms is whether to get a tractor out and set up the relevant cultivator, or pick up a lower-tech manual tool for more immediate use – but lower efficiency – as the area worked on increases.’’

Farming Connect is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales, and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

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