Never heard of a broadfork? You aren’t alone. Broadforks are an alternative to tillers which create better soil structure and plant growth. Broadforks are often a better choice of gardening tool especially if you have a garden on the smaller side- which is probably what you will end up with in an off-grid or survival situation. It also doesn’t rely on any power sources other than your body.
In this post, we’ll go over some information about broadforks including their advantages and disadvantages, along with how to build one on your own.
What is a Broadfork?
The broadfork, also referred to as a “U-bar digger” or a “U-fork”, is a simple yet indispensable agricultural tool, generally used by small-scale farmers, to aerate soil. Soil aeration creates ventilation to let the soil breathe without disturbing the soil too much, which can result in disrupting the soil’s natural form.
A broadfork typically looks a little similar to a garden hoe, but it is made up of two wooden poles, each attached to a horizontal metal bar where a set of prongs, are, also called “tines.” The broadfork is constructed and patterned after a French gardening tool called the grelinette which was made by Andre Grelin, later on the broadfork was introduced to the United States by Eliot Coleman.
How to Use Broadfork
When using a broadfork, you stand on it to apply your weight and press the tines into the soil. Then gently lean the broadfork backwards, forming about a 45 to 60 degree angle. This will result in soil getting lifted from underneath. But you should not lift the blades up to the surface completely as this will mess up the soil’s natural form and can possibly cause weeds to arise. Finally, in an upright position, pull back on the handles, sliding the tines out of the soil. The motion is similar to rowing a boat.
You should do this motion repeatedly until the tines effectively work through the soil. It’s like giving a good scalp massage to the soil- just like combing your hair.
Advantages of Using a Broadfork
Creates Good Drainage
Good drainage does not mean draining the water out of your soil quickly, but rather enough drainage that your soil can hold enough water to supply your plants’ needs. No matter what kind of soil you are going to be using, a broadfork can create an effective drainage system for you.
Promotes Healthy Soil
A broadfork enables the water and air to pass through soil, which is a crucial factor when promoting healthy soil. Basically, it will create a healthy environment for root growth, since the plant roots require room for air. Furthermore, it does not harm or destroy the soil habitats wherein fungi, bacteria and earthworms are living. These soil-dwelling organisms contribute to the biological health, and therefore the fertility, of the soil.
Since using a broadfork does not turn your soil over, they keep weeds out of the picture. In nearly all soil, weed seeds have already made their way into the lower soil levels. So if you happen to bring them to the surface by turning the soil over, they will begin to germinate and grow. You may have to wait until they grow to fully remove them by means of pulling them out. Using a broadfork helps prevent running into that issue. And it’ll help save your knees from pulling weeds!
Disadvantages of Using a Broadfork
Requires In-depth Experience
In order to use a broadfork effectively, you need some spare time to practice with it. Some people fail to achieve the results they want, due to lack of prior experience in using broadforks. It often leads to disappointment and frustration when this happens. It would be wise to obtain proper knowledge and some hands-on experience before using it with the soil where your crops are going to be planted.
Another factor that often leads to failure is the heaviness of a broadfork. The weight does not depend on the broadfork alone but it’s also pretty difficult to work the tines in the soil. Thus, it may require some serious energy to be able to operate a broadfork successfully.
How to Build Your Own Broadfork
If you’re hesitant to go out and spend money on a broadfork, with a little know-how it’s possible to build it on your own. Building a broadfork does not require lots of materials, and you can save a few bucks.
Here are the materials and the tools you will need:
- 2 Wooden poles (about 4 1/2 feet long)
- Hollow steel bar (about 20 inches long)
- 5 Steel bars (about 8 inches long)
- 2 Steel tubes (about 4 inches long)
- Hand-held drill
- Hand saw or electric circular saw
- Metal grinder / Angle Grinder
- Welding machine
- Strong Epoxy-style Glue
- 4 Wood Screws
- Place your 20-inch hollow steel bar in a vise, so that it will be held in a fixed position.
- Mark 5 holes equally distant from each other. These holes will hold the tines.
- Start drilling your hollow steel bar creating 5 holes that perfectly fits your 8-inch steel bars.
- Before attaching the 8-inch 5 steel bars into the holes, sharpen one end of each first using an angle grinder.
- Take your 4-inch 2 steel tubes, which will serve as supports for your handles, and drill a hole in the center in which fixing screws will be inserted to hold your handles tightly.
- Assemble and connect the sharpened 5 steel bars into the 5 holes of the hollow steel bar, and weld them at their joints.
- Place the 2 steel tubes on each side of the 20-inch hollow steel bar, and weld them on both sides perpendicularly.
- Apply some of the glue into each hole of the 2 steel tubes and then connect the 2 wooden poles, inserting them into the tubes.
- After connecting, secure the 2 wooden poles in place by using wood screws as fixing screws on each hole on both sides of the 10cm 2 steel tubes.
- After the glue dries, your DIY broadfork is ready to start aerating your soil!
The Bottom Line on Broadforks
Broadforks are effective human-powered tools that can improve your garden and don’t require too much effort from its user for the work it can get done. Still, it will take a little practice and muscles to achieve the best results from them.
Here at Prepper Base we are all about self-sufficiency, so in our opinion the best part is that with a little know-how and materials, you can make your own.