What Do You Do If You Don't Own a Broadfork?

There are two tools on my gardening wishlist. One is a chipper/mulcher. The other is a broadfork.

A few years ago we started Back to Eden style gardening. We live in a fairly rural location so don’t have access to tree service companies for wood chips. Instead we have been using locally sourced straw for mulch. This has been both good and bad.

Straw has given us good weed suppression for a maximum of two years before having to add another layer. It has been most effective around our fruit trees and shrubs.

The downside of straw is that it attracts mice and slugs. This spring we noticed that one of our older apple trees was dying back. After a closer inspection we noticed the bark had been completely ringed just below the mulch level. When we used straw in the vegetable gardens the slug damage was much more prevalent. The straw also caused the soil to be much slower to warm up in the spring. With our short growing season of only ninety frost free days a year one or two weeks can make a huge difference in our production.

A couple of years ago we switched from using straw as a vegetable mulch to using our homemade compost. This has worked very well for us. Because of our long, cold winters we have a special house that our hens stay in for six months. We use a deep litter system of straw bedding to keep the girls happy. Needless to say when spring arrives there is a lot of bedding that is cleaned out and added to the compost pile. After turning the pile to complete the composting processes we use this black gold in our garden. It helps us grow amazing vegetables, while keeping the weeds under control.

You may be asking yourself what is a broadfork and where the broadfork comes in?

A broad fork is a double handled implement with multiple tines that are spaced about six inches apart. They can be fairly light for easy to work soil or quite sturdy for heavier clay soils. They are used for garden bed preparation and aeration of soils.

Two of many broadfork designs.

Two of many broadfork designs.

When we layer the compost on the beds we don’t want to cultivate it in. We want it to stay on top to act as a mulch. The compost doesn’t attract slugs like the straw does. Cultivating disturbs the soil structure and habitat of the soil creatures that make healthy soil for us. So instead of tilling we want to create as little soil disturbance as possible. When we use a broadfork we are not turning the soil over, simply aerating it. This allows air and water to better serve us.

But I don’t have a broadfork. It has been on my wishlist for a while now, but they are very expensive. So while the savings jar slowly fills or my aspiring blacksmith son tries his hand at making me one, I use my garden fork. It does take much longer, but accomplishes the same end.

Most of our garden beds are permanent raised mound beds. We have taken the dirt from the pathways and mounded it up on the growing beds. In our area the top soil tends to be very shallow. It is hard to grow carrots and parsnips. Creating raised mound beds makes it a breeze to grow these now. There are no boards to hold the dirt in place. We then put sawdust from a local sawmill in the pathways. This allows us access even when a lot of rain would make it impossible to get into the garden.

In the fall of 2017 we started a new 1200 square foot garden. We started with an area that was lawn. We started by laying down two layers of corrugated cardboard on top of the grass. Then we spread between twelve and eighteen inches of straw on the cardboard. Then we spent a few days with the big tractor and loader moving in composted cattle manure, hay and straw to a depth of twelve inches. We let these layers settle through the following winter. Come spring we rototilled the surface just to level it up Then we filled the space with four different varieties of potatoes.

What an amazing crop of potatoes we harvested from that garden. The potatoes were huge, not hollow and very numerous. Because of an extremely busy spring we were not able to get them hilled though. This caused a few to be lost to either mice or turning green because they poked out above the ground. When all was said and done after harvest though we figured we had a twelve fold increase from the seed we planted.

IMG_0577.JPG

Because we used a very heavy tractor to move the compost in and level it out we did cause the soil to become compacted. When we planted in the spring we were only able to put the potatoes three or four inches into the soil with our hands. The only way to alleviate the compaction was to use the garden fork to loosen the soil. I didn’t want to use the tractor to do a deep tillage because that would just cause more problems in the future.

My alternative to a broadfork.

My alternative to a broadfork.

The wheelbarrow is sitting where it needs to be forked.

The wheelbarrow is sitting where it needs to be forked.

Once all the garden was harvested I moved back to the potato patch to start loosening up the soil. After about twenty hours of slowly working my way across the area with the fork the job was completed. While doing the job I really noticed that the worms were starting to move closer to the surface.

It is such a satisfying feeling to have completed this job. I know that my labours will pay off in the future with increased veggie yields and quality. They will be able to send their roots down deep to get the nutrients that are waiting for them.

A job well done!

A job well done!

Spring 2019 will find me creating ten new raised mound beds here that will become the growing area for all the root vegetables; carrots, beets, rutabaga, turnips, parsnips, onions, garlic and whatever else there is room for.

Although I am thankful that the gardening season is over for now, I am excited to see what next year brings. In our short season it is an intense push to get all the work done that a rest is always appreciated. I couldn’t imagine gardening all year long.

Come February though, the plant starting shelves will start to fill up as we begin to nurture the tiny seedlings that will fill the beds next spring.

If all goes well this upcoming week we should be starting to make sauerkraut to take to our local market. Watch for more detail as this new farm enterprise unfolds.

In the meantime, don’t forget to sign up below to receive our weekly(ish) blog posts.