I have wanted a Broadfork since I read Eliot Coleman’s book ‘The New Organic Grower‘. References to the use of a broadfork in ‘How to Grow More Vegetables‘, by John Jeavons, and
other books, only reinforced that desire. As usual I did a bit of research into broadforks beforehand. I discovered that the broadfork used to be called a Grelinette, named after the inventor. If you do a search for Grelinette you can see a whole series of French images for a broadfork. The broadfork is also known as a U bar in the USA. I came across this broadfork as part of my research. It looked ideal, but when I chatted to them about shipping to the UK an already expensive tool became unaffordable. My next attempt was to chat to an agricultural engineer who lives in my village. If you’ve looked at the last link the tool looks like the tines may be from an agricultural machine. That would have made construction pretty easy, but we couldn’t identify anything that might work. My final attempt was to ask amongst a group of permaculturalists if they knew of anybody who might be able to make one for me, and Matt offerred to try. The picture above shows the first of two models that he made. What is brilliant about both of the tools is that they are both made from recycled materials. When I went to collect it his workshop was amazing. I’m not much of a ‘metal’ person, but even I was excited by the place. Sometimes you can see somebody’s passion in a place, and this was a good example.
Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design
As Matt might be using this design as part of his Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, I am going to provide some feedback for him, so that he can refine the design. So this post is performing more than one function. Telling you about my broadfork, providing feedback for Matt, and able to act as a link for him so that he can refer to it in his own design. Every Element should perform more than One Function, a Permaculture Principle. By making this tool for me, Matt gets another design to use for his diploma portfolio. He is able to demonstrate symetry, both giving and receiving support from the wider permaculture network. If he publishes his designs online that will be further enhanced. If he incorporates my feedback into his design he is also demonstrating the use of the permaculture principle Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback.
Broadfork One Review
My first impression of the broadfork was that it was huge. The picture above and below show it next to a full sized door. That’s a full sized shovel on the right.
With the tines at the bottom, the height of the broadfork is about seven feet tall. It is wide enough for me to stand inside it, which makes it easier to use. The dimensions and construction material make it a little awkward to lug about. That may be important for somebody working away from home, like an alllotment, but for me the distances are quite small.
The side view of the broadfork shows how the tines point forward. This is so that when the tines are inserted into the ground, the handles are leaning forward. This allows more leverage when using the tool. If you’re still confused about how it;s used this broadfork video link will help. Matt has made the broadfork tines from bars. These are flat, not shaped, and are cut at an angle at the bottom to help the tines penetrate the soil. The curved metal is to reinforce the joint, but I will refer to that later.
The Broadfork in Use
To test the broadfork I chose the worst patch of soil that I have. It’s the future site of my polytunnel, and has been covered in carpet for a year, weeded twice (not since August last year), no organic matter added, and walked over. The clay soil has compacted and is pretty solid. The only way I could have made it any harder would have been to try the broadfork in grass.
Broadfork Weight and Dimensions
The weight proved no problem. In fact it helped to get the tool into the ground. I found the curved reinforcing ‘bits’ useful as handles, to drive the tool into the ground before standing on it. Useful for people like me whose hip joints reduce flexibility. (I can’t step up too high).
The handles were perhaps eight inches (20cm) too long. This gives extra leverage but shortening them would help to drop the weight a little. The picture showing the tool from the side shows that matt has angled some hand grips backwards, at the top of the handles. That seemed like a good idea, but in use it became apparent that they would have been better angled forward, or left straight. As they are, when the broadfork is pulled back, they force the wrists into an uncomfortable position. The width was fine.
The broadfork was quite difficult to get into the ground, although that was not the case throughout the test strip that I aerated. The penetration was much easier where I had burnt wood a few weeks earlier. I posted about this in an earlier post, Observe and Interact part two. As the heat would not have changed the soil to such a depth, I can only guess that the alkilinity of the wood ash was responsible. This is an observation that needs a bit more attention, and reflects what I’ve read recently in The Intelligent Gardener, by Steve Solomon. (I hadn’t read it at the time).
The picture to the left shows the results, and the state of the surrounding soil. The soil tended to be lifted in a block rather than just aerated vertically. This may be a result of the stickiness of the soil, but may be due to the shape and spacing of the tines.
Suggestions for Improvement
I think that the materials of the handle and frame are fine. Not too heavy for me, and anything less sturdy might have struggled to cope. For me the handles were a bit too long, as mentioned earlier, and the hand grips would be better upright or bent forward. At the business end the tines need to penetrate better. Less of a problem in an improved soil, but for this job very important. Two suggestions. Grind the front edges to create a knife shape. This my be enough on it’s own. If not, reduce the tines/widen the spacing between them. This will reduce the likelihood of the soil lifting up in a block. Finally, having something lower down to to force the broafork into the ground was a real bonus. Anatomically it shifted the work further away from the biceps to the ‘lats’ and ‘delts’, and put the arms into a more comfortable position. If the tool doesn’t need the lower joint reinforced, a pair of handles positioned so that when the broadfork is fully into the ground, they are level with the hands with the arms hanging straight down would be really useful. If they were removeable that might be an idea to persue.
I’m really pleased with the broadfork. It’s designed for use on ‘the flat’, rather than for raised beds, but that suits my future plans.
Thanks very much Matt, I’ll review the other soon.