This week on the TC3 Farm we were engaged in various activities including harvesting lettuce, seeding, cultivation, broadforking, rock picking, and the final work on the crop rotation plan. These tasks are all from different stages of the planting process, starting with getting the soil ready to plant which includes picking rocks out of the beds and broadforking.
For those not familiar, a broadfork is a wonderful tool for tilling and aerating garden beds by hand. It consists of 5 metal tines, 8-12” inches long, spaced a few inches apart on a horizontal bar, with two handles extending upwards to chest or shoulder level, forming a large U-shape, like a pitchfork on steroids. It is designed to use your body weight to insert and maneuver the tool instead of your back and arms. You stand on the tool, gently rocking and wiggling the tool to work the tines into the ground. Then pull back on the handles using your weight and the tool’s leverage. Your motion is a natural pulling and pushing, instead of bending and lifting. I found that you do need to use a fair amount of upper body strength to maneuver it properly, but my weight was a great benefit and certainly helped where I lacked in strength.
The benefits to broadforking are numerous. For one, as a hand tool, it requires no dependence on fossil fuels nor the noise, pollution and compaction that results from using power equipment. The long tines allow for deep loosening of the soil to improve aeration and drainage, both important for growing healthy plants. The rocking motion of the tool allows you to break up and loosen the subsoil with minimal turning, which leaves the topsoil on top where it belongs, and minimizes destruction of soil structure. This is important as the topsoil is the layer with the most organic matter and the available nutrients plants need to grow. And oddly enough, we found broadforking helpful in removing large rocks found below the surface of the soil, so we were rock picking at the same time!