Monday, November 1, 2010

Sustainable Tool: The Broadfork

"Oh, I knew I never should have let you read those Little House on the Prairie books," my mom laughed when I posted this picture to Facebook.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the FC&G's household's new broadfork.

A broadfork is kind of a pitchfork on steroids.  What is difficult to see in this photo is that those tines -- which appear sturdy enough to last a lifetime, requiring only occasional changes of handle (although those feel pretty sturdy too) -- are curved, just like a pitchfork.  They are also much longer than those on a pitchfork. 

The beauty of this is that one can jam those tines in the ground, then pull back on the handles and not so much flip the soil as loosen it.  This is instrumental since we have started "lasagna gardening," a strategy in which you do not plow/rototill your soil so that you keep the various strata intact instead of destroying the work your beneficial flora and fauna have done to your soil over the year.  This should keep down the presence of annoying insects and diseases. 

You do this by continually mulching the soil, allowing the mulch to compost in situ.  I like to think of lasagna gardening as the "I hate to rototill" method.  If you keep mulching through summer, it theoretically keeps the weeds under control too, although I didn't succeed in doing that effectively this year.  However, the weeds I did get were much easier to pull, so this might be the "I hate to weed" method too.

In any event, if you practice lasagna gardening, you need to loosen that soil periodically, and this is what the broadfork is for.  It is fun to use, although my husband is more effective at it than me.  It is a great workout, as you might imagine, and it is certainly going to outlast a gas-powered rototiller, not to mention have a much smaller impact on the environment.  I love my broadfork, and I think Pa Ingalls might have been proud.

The Analysis

Fast:  In early experiments with the broadfork this fall, I suspect that it will do a quicker job of "tilling" the garden than would a rototiller, once you factor in the inevitable spring ritual of calling every hardware store in the area, going to rent one, trying to make sure you have the proper fuel, letting it jerk you around the garden for a couple of hours, and then cleaning it for the return.

Cheap:  This was $99 plus shipping from Lehman's, my favorite store for sustainable stuff.  The shipping was pretty expensive (about $25) as you might expect.  However, we have a theory around here that sometimes it is better to invest in a really good tool rather than simply having the money in the bank.  Preparedness and the ability to do a good job are a kind of savings, too.

Good:  Early indications are that this will be better for the health of my soil and for the size of my waistline.  Sustainable tool win!
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