Tale of the Fokin Hoe

by Nathan Rutz

 Sepp Holzer is one of my favorite permaculturists. I’ve read his books in English – The Rebel Farmer, Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture, and Desert or Paradise.

He’s inspiring because he’s a living example of someone who’s practiced permaculture for decades. He was doing permaculture before David Holmgren and Bill Mollison came up with the word in the 1970s. His approach is very holistic, he’s an extremely astute observer, rather ingenious, and doesn’t care what the established wisdom is.

I read about a garden tool called a “Fokin Hoe” in Sepp’s most recent book, Desert or Paradise:

Desert or paradise cover

Sepp’s writing style is somewhat erratic, mixing examples of amazing reverse-desertifying stories with small scale garden advice.  On two pages Sepp recommends the Fokin hoe:Sepp Fokin hoe

Which doesn’t look like much, but the great Sepp Holzer says it saves him loads of time, so what am I waiting for?

Since it’s winter and I don’t have many actual garden duties yet, I thought I’d try to buy one of these things. I searched for “Fokin hoe” on Google and came across no sellers of these things in the U.S. – not even Amazon or anyone through Ebay. I did however find a British website – http://www.ploskorez.co.uk/ – that appears to sell tools related to Fokin hoes.

The British site sells stainless steel hoes and calls them cultivators. “Ploskorez” doesn’t translate well with an automatic translation, but it seems to mean something like “flat-cutter.” I contacted the site above and another British one that sells them in the U.K. to see if they’d ship to the US.

Meanwhile I sent emails to Russian language sites selling

Плоскорез Фокина

(Ploskorez Fokina)

And I heard back from a few. Mostly I heard that I couldn’t get anything in the U.S. The British site quoted me some absurdly high prices for shipping and for the tools themselves, no doubt because they’re coming from Britain. I should note that the items for sale on the British site are the same, but a smaller selection than those at http://www.srtp33.ru/index.php/en

Anyway, a Russian person emailed me and asked if I’d like to sell Ploskorez in the U.S. I’m always interested in expanding my income streams in non-evil ways, so I was a intrigued but also shocked that they’d ask this of someone with no experience who hadn’t even seen one of these tools in person yet.

A week or two later I heard from a fellow in Pennsylvania named Zino telling me he could ship me a stianless steel or regular steel Fokin Hoe for $30 or $20 + $11 shipping. I was confused because everyone I’d talked to so far indicated that no one sold these things in the U.S. but here such a person was. I ordered the stainless steel one and paid through paypal. It arrived shortly and Zino threw in a “stork” stainless steel tool head too.

Meanwhile, I got another email from a Russian person telling me that he’d instructed Zino to send me samples of the Ploskorez and that Zino had considered distributing Ploskorez in the U.S., but had been interested in getting them sold in the “hypermarkets,” but that the hypermarkets weren’t interested because the tools look weird and no one in the U.S. knows how to use them. The Russian person encouraged me that my contacts with permaculturists and gardeners might be more valuable than contacts in the hypermarkets, which is probably true for selling a weird looking Russian hoe.

Anyhow, I finally got around to using the stainless steel ploskorez, which looks quite nice:

stainless swage

I imagined the hoe’s glorious many uses and cut through snow imagining it was soil and how neato it was that I had this rare Russian implement recommended by the great Sepp Holzer. That was before I tried to chop compost with it.

I figured that a hoe designed in Russia for use by Russians would probably be able to stand up to the Cleveland climate. I figure that ambitious Russian gardeners probably collect compost material from their locals stores during the winter and need to chop them up. This what I wanted to do anyway, and I have this fine looking hoe, so  I gave it a go:

bent swage

The blasted thing bent after a just a few whacks. I bent it back, tried again, and it bent again.

I thought that Sepp Holzer must not be wrong about this tool, perhaps it’s just the model I got. So I emailed Zino and asked him if the regular steel ones are stronger and don’t bend. He said yes. I sent him more money and soon received this:

fokin hoe

Indeed the metal seems much stronger and even the bolts holding the tool head to the handle are much beefier than those on the stainless steel ploskorez. I took this picture after heartily whacking some partially frozen coffee grounds. No bending, but good chopping actions and a pleasant experience not bending over due to the long handle.

I sent an email to Zino asking “It seems that the stainless is a useless more expensive version. Have you found any application for it where bending isn’t a problem?”

His reply:

Not really. I do not even know why stainless steel version was produced. I actually advised against it. Other then corrosion resistance and perception of higher end product, I see no benefit to it. I kept just two tools for myself just like in this shipment.
I use bigger one most of the time around vegetables and small one around front yard landscaping, flowers etc. the loop type stainless tool can be used in flower boxes or deck plants.
Best of Luck!
We’ll see how the real deal work this coming spring. Maybe I’ll offer to sell them if Sepp is right about the stronger, non-stainless steel version.