The Dirt on Broadforks

broadfork

What’s the dirt on broadforks anyway? Have you heard of these tools? Have you used one yourself? What if I told you that there’s a tool out there which reduces the need for tilling? What if I said that─when used in tandem with other practices aimed at promoting agrodiversity─this tool promotes soil health, encourages wildlife and ecological diversity, as well as increases or improves production of your farm or homestead operation? What if I told you this miracle tool doesn’t even require gasoline or electricity?

the dirt on broadforks

As a conservationist I naturally align with the concept of soil preservation as the key to a sustainable farm or homestead: afterall, it is our soil’s ability to function as a vital, living ecosytem that sustains the plants, animals and humans upon it. There’s already a fabulous amount of wildlife and biodiversity here at our new location, but the soil is a little on the poor side. The grasses grow sparsely, and the back pasture has only been minimally managed to provide an annual hay crop, so improving the health of the soil is one of the first things I want to focus on. I’ve known about broadforks for years, but it’s only now that Runamuk has a permanent location that I can really begin to dig deep and build upon the soil for the long-term viability of my farm. The time has finally come: I bought a broadfork─and I am so stoked.

Why use a broadfork?

broadforkIf you’re at all concerned about preserving or promoting soil health, the broadfork is a great tool to have in your gardening arsenal. Using a broadfork the grower can preserve soil life by reducing tillage or avoiding it all together.

This is a simple, yet powerful tool which efficiently loosens the soil without flipping it upside down. The vertical tines penetrate the soil, leaving it’s profile still upright, allowing water and air to penetrate. This creates an ideal environment for root-growth and makes it possible to build soil levels and a rich humus.

Healthy soil is comprised of varying layers, each serving a different purpose. Bacteria, fungi, earthworms and other invertebrates take up residence in the different stories, each layer offering conditions that are just the right level of moisture and aeration for it’s particular inhabitants. When you til or double dig you disrupt this ecology, destroying your soil’s population and causing them to divert their attention from doing their work to rebuilding their homes.

Reducing tillage to encourage soil health can allow you to grow more intensively, and produce better-looking crops in your loose and well-aerated soil. Many market-growers are siting this as the key to their success─check out Eliot Coleman, Curtis Stone, Jean-Martin Fortier, and Richard Perkins! And even if you’re not trying to go to market with your crops, you can still maximize yields by promoting healthier soil in your garden.

History

The broadfork was introduced and popularized in the United States in the early 1990’s by Eliot Coleman, author of the New Organic Grower, which has become something of a bible for many market growers today. Coleman discovered a tool called the “grelinette” in use in France, where it had been invented by Andre Grelinin in the 1960s.

How to use

Firstly, it’s important to realize that a broadfork does not completely eliminate the need for tilling. If you’re attempting to cultivate an entirely new patch of ground, I’d encourage you to look at it as a long-term project: do an initial tilling in order to break up the sod and loosen the soil. Also, if the soil becomes too compacted over the years, you might consider bringing the tiller out again. However, if you are able to maintain rich, healthy soils in your gardens and avoid compaction, the broadfork may very well be the only tool you’ll ever need for bed preparation.

It’s really simple to use, with the added benefit of providing a great work-out. The grower simply sinks the tips of the tines into the garden bed, then steps onto the crossbar with his/her full body weight to sink them in deeper. Using the leverage of the handlebars, the soil is loosened by working the handles back and forth with a rowing motion.

Check out this video featuring my colleague, Adam Lemieux (the JSS “Tool-Dude”), to see this tool in action:

There are many different makes and models of the same tool out there, produced by a myriad of different companies. By all means, I encourage you to do your homework and find the one that meets your particular needs. I went with Johnny’s 727 broadfork: 27-inches wide, with 7 tines because I intend to adopt the industry standard of 30-inch beds in the gardens here at Runamuk’s #foreverfarm. Also, I get a pretty sweet discount as an employee.

Starting With the Soil

I’ve waited years for the chance to steward my own piece of Earth─for the chance to try the practices and methods for agroecology that I’ve so long studied. Now that Runamuk finally has a permanent location, I can focus more on the long-term health of the land I’m working─starting with the soil. You can expect to see more articles forthcoming about soil health, agroecology and conservation-agriculture.

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest directly to your in-box; OR follow us on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the day-to-day activities of this bee-friendly farm & apiary!

Sowing Seeds Mid-August For A Winter Harvest

de cicco broccoli

It’s mid-August already, but there’s still time to sow a number of different vegetables for a winter harvest. If you’re growing your own food for your family or for market, you’ll want to take advantage of the remaining season and get these crops in the ground right away. If you haven’t tried it yet, seize the opportunity and overwinter a bed of vegetables for fresh harvesting all winter. If I can do it, you certainly can!

sowing mid-august for a winter harvestKnow your Persephone Period

Aside from temperature, the most important thing to consider when planning your winter garden is day-length. Most plants need at least 10 hours of daylight for active growth to occur. Eliot Coleman dubbed this the “Persephone Days” after the Greek vegetation goddess.

mid-august sowing for winter harvest

The key is to schedule your plantings so that your crops will be 75% mature by the time the Persephone Period begins. Your day-length will vary depending on where you are, so the point at which your Persephone Period begins will likely be different from mine.

Note: To determine your own Persephone Period check out Johnny’s Winter Growing Guide, where they walk you through how to figure it all out.

Plan Ahead

First you have to decide where you’re going to put these crops. Are they for harvesting throughout the winter? Or are you trying to overwinter them for an early spring harvest? Do you now have empty beds where your spring crops formerly sat? Which beds could be freed up? and which ones will be available once the summer crops have been harvested?

Think about how you’ll protect them from the cold. Do you have a high-tunnel or hoop-house, or are you using low-tunnels? Do you have all the supplies you’ll need? You don’t want to be scrambling for row-cover in the event of an unexpected frost-warning; take advantage of the fall season-extension sale going on right now at Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

If you don’t have a high-tunnel or hoop-house, the low-tunnels are a super easy and affordable option for gardeners and commercial growers. Learn more about using Agribon in the Garden in this article I wrote!

9 crops you can sow mid-August

Now you’re gung-ho to grow! Boo-yeah! But what can you plant this late in the season?

Quite a lot as it turns out.

From Seed:

  1. Beets
  2. Turnips
  3. Carrots
  4. Leeks
  5. Broccoli raab (this is a little different from your typical heading broccoli)
  6. Radishes
  7. Parsley
  8. GREENS: spinach, pac choi, mache, lettuces, mustards, etc.

From Transplants:

de cicco broccoli
This is De Cicco broccoli I direct-sowed in July, followed by another sowing mid-August.

I can’t get fall transplants in my area because most folks still garden primarily through the summer around here. If I had started these myself back in July I could have put them in, but by mid-August it’s just too late to try growing these crops from seed. However if you can get them where you are, or if you know a local farmer who grows fall transplants you should totally jump on that and get these crops in the ground. Often people have less trouble with them in the fall because the pest pressure is all but gone and these plants really do like the cool temperatures.

  1. BRASSICAS: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage (brussel sprouts have a 110 day maturity, so even from a transplant there’s just not time to produce a crop).

Just sow it!

At this point in the season we’re beginning to get worn out, tired from long days toiling in the sun and late evenings in the kitchen preserving the harvest. Yet I know that if you make the effort to get these crops in─come January when you’re harvesting fresh greens for salad or a side of fresh steamed greens─you’ll be glad you did.

Whatever the reason for growing your own food─whether it’s to save money, eat better (as in fewer preservatives, less sugar, less salt, and to avoid cancer-causing pesticides), or to promote a more sustainable food system─you can extend your growing season to extend into the fall and even through the winter with a little strategic planning, and some initiative. So get out there and get those seeds in the ground!

Have you tried growing for winter harvest? Share your insights with us! Leave a comment below; together we can grow better!