Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Some time back, our own Cheryl gave a glowing review of the “Vashon” broadfork, now known as the Meadow Creature broadfork.
I was intrigued. Would this wild-looking medieval torture device be useful on my sandy homestead down in Florida? I’m already a big fan of John Jeavons and double-digging, so getting a broadfork was high on my list of Things To Do Before I Die.
The idea kicked around in my head for a while until I finally gave in and talked to the company directly. Since I write for multiple outlets – and was in a region that knows nothing of broadforks – they sent me one of their forks to test out.
Note: Sending a writer your product isn’t the safest thing to do. If you don’t believe in what you’re making, you’d better not do that sort of thing. Writers are mean-spirited little creatures who enjoy crushing dreams. (Not that I have anything against them personally! Some of my best friends are writers!)
When the broadfork arrived in the mail and I took it from its packaging, I was immediately impressed with how tough a tool it was. We’re talking indestructible tough. Now the company doesn’t claim they’re indestructible, but trust me: to break this thing, you’d have to be Sampson himself.
I took it out front for a test. Since I never do anything the easy way, I tried it on the most compacted and root-filled area of my front yard. It sliced into the ground with a minimum of effort and I was able to break ground that would have bounced my tiller all over the place.
Now I have to tell you – I wasn’t all that interested in doing the normal thing you do with a broadfork, which is loosen already-worked soil. I was actually looking for a human-powered alternative to a tiller. Removing weeds and breaking new ground was my goal. This works for that. It also loosens soil easily.
You know, a few years ago I was a hard-core “deep mulch” kind of guy. I scrounged up countless bags of leaves, swept straw from the local feed store, and gathered yard waste from all my neighbors. Now, however, I have a lot more gardening space in production. The effort of gathering countless mounds of organic matter is ridiculous, so I’ve moved more towards a Steve Solomon approach, mixed with a good dose of Biointensive gardening. Having a broadfork is really useful in this case.
A couple years ago I did a test. I double-dug a few beds, and I tilled others, then planted normally. The production of the tilled beds was so-so… and the production of the double-dug beds was excellent. That sold me on deep soil loosening. Unlike the full double-digging process, broadforking is a lot easier on the soil structure and its associated ecosystems. After loosening the earth with a broadfork, weeds can be easily removed.
I wish I’d had this tool years ago. Preparing a new bed with the Meadow Creature takes about 1/5 the time of double-digging – and it loosens the ground to a depth of 14”, unlike a tiller which barely fluffs the top 6”. Realistically, most double-digging hits about 20”.
If I could have tried this tool out somewhere, I would have bought it.
I suppose I should talk a little about the downside of broadforking. It’s hard work – but you know, that doesn’t bother me. Unlike most Americans, I don’t weight 300lbs and start puffing when I have to walk from my easy chair to the microwave to retrieve a plate of frozen burritos. I also don’t eat frozen burritos. The work is hard, but it’s not that hard. It takes some effort. Actually getting the tines to sink into the ground is easy, at least in my soil. I’m not sure how it would do in the clay I used to deal with in Tennessee, but I imagine it could handle it with some finessing. Pulling back the handles isn’t too hard either, except on the very first pull in new ground. As you continue backwards from your first breaking of the soil, the task is much easier. If you’re not used to it, you’ll give yourself blisters – but that’s true with a lot of gardening tools. Buying the Meadow Creature will set you back $200.00. For our homestead, sinking $200 into something isn’t a decision we make lightly. That’s the equivalent of buying 8-10 fruit trees. (Of course, it’s also the equivalent of buying this, so there is that…) If you get your hands on this thing, you’ll know why it’s getting rave reviews.
My final take? I love this tool. If I didn’t own it, I’d buy it. (Incidentally, it’s actually priced lower than it was initially. For an American made tool of this quality, it’s amazing they actually take cash. I think if I were them I’d want silver dollars or gold-pressed platinum instead of Federal Reserve notes these days.) And I’m not gushy about most things. I just really dig a labor-saving tool that’s as tough as I am – and probably tougher. My wife and I have done about 3000 ft2 of garden space with it thus far, and it doesn’t stop being fun.
Plus, as mentioned previously, it looks like a medieval torture device. What’s not to love?
For a massive serving of madcap gardening inspiration for the sub-tropics and beyond, visit David’s daily gardening site at www.FloridaSurvivalGardening.com.