Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Forking Around

During the recent weeks of uncharacteristic mild weather, I've taken the opportunity to help out my future self and start preparing the garden for planting.

I raked back mulch, and hauled and spread compost. Once the compost was on the ground, I grabbed the broadfork and started forking (which is nothing like twerking, in case you are wondering).

A broadfork is about 24 inches wide with a handle on each side and heavy tines about 9 inches long, or maybe longer. I'm too lazy to measure. Most broadforks have straight tines, but the tines on mine are curved so it can double as a sweet potato digger.

Anyway, I stab the broadfork into the ground, step onto the heavy bar with both feet and wiggle side to side to push the tines in as straight as possible to their full length. To do the wiggle, shift your weight back and forth between your feet rather than pulling on the handles. This saves your arms and shoulders and gives your thighs a nice little workout.

After the wiggling (still not like twerking) I pull the fork out as straight up as possible, step back, stab, step, wiggle, pull and repeat... and repeat and repeat and repeat...

I start out forking horizontally, the length of the bed. I space each stab 9 to 12 inches apart, depending on the size of the bed and how tight the soil is. Stabs are closer together when soil is tight, to help loosen it up. A glass of wine doesn't work to get the soil to loosen up. I've tried.
Once I've gone along the length of the bed, I start at one end and fork perpendicular to the first rows, creating a cross-hatch pattern. The big photo at the top of this page should give you an idea.

When I finish forking I rake, working the compost into the first 2 or so inches of soil. This also knocks some of the compost into the holes made by the broadfork tines, helping work the compost in a little deeper. Once the bed is raked smooth, I add mulch and, voila, the bed is ready to plant when the time is right.

Using the broadfork helps loosen tight soil without destroying the soil structure and all the little beneficial microorganisms that live there, as well as saving earthworms. Compost moves deeper through the tine holes, which also create channels for better water infiltration, as well as air. Roots need air, too.

Tilling also aerates soil and works compost and such in more thoroughly, but destroys the soil structure, ripping up the fungal mycelia that keep it all together, and destroying above mentioned microorganisms and worms. Frequent tilling also creates a hardpan at the maximum tillage depth that can become impervious to air, water and roots. Not good. Tilling can work fine, but is easy to overdo. I prefer the broadfork because, even though it might take longer than the tiller, it is easier on my body and easier to do. And I don't have to worry whether I'll have enough gas or whether it will start when I pull the cord.

Other forks I love...

This little garden fork is my beloved. I use it almost every time I want to dig up something. From transplanting perennials to harvesting garlic, it is my first choice. While my broadfork also serves to dig root vegetables, it is too large for small spaces, so this little garden fork comes first. It's still dirty from the last time I dug horseradish.

And the pitch fork. I don't use it for pitching hay, since our hay and straw comes neatly baled. However, I use this fork a lot. It is essential for moving the roughly chipped wood mulch and large, undecomposed bits in my compost heap. It gets a great workout when I turn the entire compost pile each spring and fall. And it will be a critical prop if my friend ever gets around to photographing my husband and I as the iconic American Gothic. We love pitchforking so much that we had to get a second one so we can do it together.

And finally... I use these forks to eat the yummy vegetables I grow in the garden. These really are my favorite kind of fork because I really love eating my yummy veggies and fruit. After forking in the garden all day, I need lots of nourishment, too. So, where's dinner?

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