What Is A Broadfork?
Broadforks are a useful gardening tool. Read on below to learn more about the broadfork.
Introduction to the Broadfork:
Broadforks are also referred to as the u-bar digger, which is a wide digging fork that is designed with two handles as well as long tines.
Using a broadfork requires pushing the tines into the soil using your feet; while some prefer to stand or even jump on the wide bottom of the u-design to more effectively sink the tines deeper into the earth.
The two handles provide leverage, so that you can easily loosen a large area of soil in less time and with less effort.
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History of the Broadfork
The broadfork evolved out of the grelinette, a gardening tool that was invented in France by Andre Grelinin during the 1960’s. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that the broadfork was introduced to the United States by Eliot Coleman, a famous grower.
Coleman also authored the famous book, “The New Organic Grower.”
Purpose of Using A Broadfork
The main purpose of using a broadfork is to loosen the soil effectively without having to turn it upside down. It would be helpful in tasks such as removing weeds much more easily.
Several layers make up soil, each of which has its own important purpose.
Fungi, bacteria, and earthworms are all found beneath the surface of the soil and actively create tunnels that also add structure to it. The structures that they create occur at various depths and depend on aeration conditions and moisture to survive.
Other tools and methods that are used to loosen the soil, such as double-digging or using a rototiller, can disrupt the natural ecology that is created by the structures.
Each time you till the soil, soil habitats are destroyed. These fungi, bacteria, and earthworms that live beneath the soil are a form of free labor for you and also play an important role by improving the biological fertility of the soil naturally.
Benefits of Using A Broadfork
The main benefit of using a broadfork is to help make your soil healthier by providing a natural way to aerate.
Broadforks contribute to soil health because plant roots require air spaces between particles in order to breathe. Soil creatures such as bacteria, fungi, and earthworms already do the aerating by themselves.
However, using other gardening tools such as forks or spades will only result in less air space in the soil as compared to leaving it alone entirely.
The soil layers found in nature have proven to be effective for millions of years. This shows that it’s important to leave the subsoil below while the topsoil remains on top.
These two shouldn’t be mixed although you can manure or compose to the soil surface to improve its health and let the earthworms and other creatures do the rest of the work for you.
Broadforks are beneficial for those who have a vegetable garden or annual bed. Human-made perennial beds, as well as natural perennial beds, don’t need to use a broadfork because, in these situations, the roots of plants and flowers already aerate the soil on their own.
However for those who have a vegetable garden or an annual bed this isn’t the case due to the short-term growth of the plants.
While it takes some hard work to use a broadfork as opposed to a motorized rototiller that can do the work for you, there are many other benefits to using the broadfork:
- Keep weeds at bay: The seeds of weeds can be dormant in your soil for as long as several decades. Whenever you use a rototiller, these old weeds resurface and can germinate once they are exposed to the sun. A broadfork won’t mix the soil, which can help you effective keep the weed seeds in the dark and prevent them from germinating. When you no longer till, you’ll be able to save countless hours which were previously spent eradicating pesky weeds.
- Broadforks work deeper: Rototillers usually work on the upper 6 inches of the soil, although this will depend on the model. On the other hand, a broadfork’s tines can each as much as 16 inches deep while creating tunnels that make it much easier for plants to grow in. When your plants are deeply-rooted, it will be much easier for them to have access to water underground especially during dry months. They will also be able to reach nutrients that are found in the deeper layers.
- Rhizophere preservation: Soil health is no longer just about the nutrients it contains; it’s also just as important to have a variety of microorganisms that grow in it. When you till the soil, this disrupts the rhizophere, or the area in the soil where plant roots and soil microorganisms are located. The rhizophere plays an important role in plant health and distributing nutrients, which means that it’s crucial to preserve it at all costs. More commercial farmers are now converting to a no-till system which enables them to preserve more topsoil and reduce the dependency on fertilizers for nutrients.
- Earlier planting: If you use a rototiller in wet or damp soil, this will ruin the soil structure and even create small bricks that the roots won’t be able to penetrate. It can be frustrating when it rains just when you’re getting ready to till, since this can delay planting by days or even weeks. But if you use a broadfork, the soil doesn’t have to be as dry. While the soil shouldn’t be wet either, a broadfork will work just fine if it’s damp and you don’t need to worry about ruining the structure of the soil.
Using a broadfork is definitely more effective and beneficial than using a rototiller. As an added plus, both you and your neighbors can also benefit from the fact that broadforks aren’t as noisy as their motorized counterpart.