I came across an excellent blog post that summarizes the benefits of using a broadfork in the garden. Gardening season is fast approaching; my wife and I are already giving thought to what we’ll be planting this year, and how we can continue build the soil and infrastructure to make our garden healthier and more productive.
I make two varieties of broadfork. The standard, five-tine variety is the one we’ve been using for two years now and find it makes quick work in our rows. Have a look at it here.
The other type is a professional version meant for farmers of all stripes who make a living from growing green things. That one can be seen here.
A neighbour of mine requested I craft a broadfork for her urban farming operation, Guild’s Cage Permaculture, here in Magrath, Alberta. I’ll get right into her review as it clearly shows how effective the broadfork is.
I’m writing to sing the praises of your custom-made broadfork. I simply can’t believe I have managed my garden all these years without this tool! It has made my rows a consistent width, which I can now maintain by continued use of the broadfork in spring and fall. This will certainly lead me to attain my goal of no- or low-dig gardening in the near future. Furthermore, I have never used a tool that is as efficient as the broadfork in deep aeration and subsequent weed harvesting. As I live and garden in the deep south of Alberta, I am constantly waging battle not only with heavy clay soil, but also with the strenuous and resilient grass varieties that propagate through the use of underground runners. Using the broadfork allows me to break up the soil and get well underneath the network of roaming grass roots so I may pull them out with ease. I like having grass and clover in my pathways, as they contribute to soil structure, solidity and increased nematodes, but having to dig or edge the grass out of my rows was a major undertaking in the fall, especially now, as my field garden is nearly 5000 square feet. I have completed over a third of my garden preparation in the past weeks with the broadfork, and will be far ahead next spring, simply for having purchased this tool! I have included pictures of working one of my sections with the broadfork, from weeding to compost topdressing and mulching. Amazing! Thank you!
Amber included the following pictures along with her testimonial:
The broadfork comes in two sizes: standard and pro. The primary difference is the width of the fork. Amber wanted the standard version as its width was perfect for the size of garden beds she prefers to work with.
Diverting steel from the waste stream by upcycling rather than recycling or dumping it
One of the core aspects of my business is diverting materials from the waste stream, in accordance with the permaculture principle of “produce no waste.” The most common way for me to do this is to visit the local scrapyard, auto mechanic or farmer and collect scrap steel which I use to forge into new gardening, homesteading and permaculture tools. Having built a local network of connections, I sometimes am gifted with some incredible chunks of metal, and that always brings a smile to my face.
On the blacksmithing end of things, it’s critical that I identify what uses the scrap steel I get is appropriate for. Tools need to be tough and durable, especially the stuff I make as I want it to last generations, rather than weeks or months. With this in mind, a very important step in my creation process is to test the steel I divert from the waste stream.
The accompanying video shares my system for testing scrap steel for its suitability as tool steel. Specifically, I test an old harrow tooth that was rusting away on an old Saskatchewan farm until a client of mine wanted them repurposed into kama (also known as rice knives). He wants to gift these tools to his brothers and sisters as an imperishable memento of the family farm they grew up on.
Here’s a short video showing how the broadfork can be used for harvesting as well as tilling. Lorinda wields the broadfork with ease to dig up some monster garlic bulbs from our organic backyard garden.
You can find out more about the broadfork I make here.
I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be blacksmithing at the Fort Whoop-up interpretative center this summer starting this Saturday, May 20. It’s an incredible opportunity to share the blacksmith’s craft with visitors from all over. The fort represents the late 19th century era in southern Alberta; this will provide a wonderful creative challenge for myself to use only era-appropriate techniques and tools to create. Come say hi and check out all the other events the Fort has planned for the summer.
I forged a set of hori hori for the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden in Lethbridge last fall as part of their commemoration of being 50 years old this year. These hori hori have been forged used reclaimed railroad spikes and hockey sticks, making them a truly Canadian product through and through. Spring is definitely in the air and if you want a hori hori right away, they’re available for purchase at the Nikka Yuko gift shop.
This is a guest post written by my partner and wife-to-be, Lorinda Peel. Lorinda is an herbalist-in-training and a fellow graduate of Verge Permaculture‘s design certificate program.
For anyone who is concerned with the degradation of our environment, investing in the ‘buy for life’ motto is another high impact action that you can take. The positive domino effect that comes from buying for life is inspirational. When you refuse to consume pointlessly, recklessly or mindlessly, the kickback to environmental stewardship is huge. The benefit to your own immediate environment is positive as well. Imagine how much less clutter you would have if you buy mindfully, purchase only what you need and buy a higher quality product that is made to last.
You are more likely to buy an ethical product when following the buy for life philosophy. Supporting business that invests in and cares about quality is more appealing than giving your money to businesses that will use the cheapest materials that they can get away with. Businesses that skimp on quality will usually implement cheaper labor costs too (which doesn’t have a good residual effect). Employees of businesses that focus on quantity over quality typically have sub-ideal working conditions just so we can have more stuff at a cheaper cost. And this means more stuff that will eventually end up in a landfill.
These businesses don’t talk about the true costs of things, whether it will detrimentally affect our environment or our health. For example, often the cheapest food and body products use the worst fillers and ingredients (think high fructose corn syrup, synthetic trans fats, MSG, or parabens, propylene glycol, formaldehyde), plus support the most detrimental and unsustainable agricultural practices. Purchasing for quality means that you are more likely to support a smaller, and perhaps local, business. Money will be saved when you consciously purchase quality items since you won’t need to continually replace them. You’ll spend more money buying shoes from Payless every year than if you were to buy a high quality, more expensive brand that will last for years.
If we practice the buy for life philosophy now, it can be something that we pass on to our children and the future generations literally and figuratively. Physically in the way of a better environment and potentially an actual product, and also the mentality to follow the idea themselves. Seeing how our population is booming, this seems timely and necessary. Continuing down the path of wastefulness means that we could be drowning in our landfills in the future, causing more contamination to the air, water and land, while recklessly gobbling up our resources. When you invest more into fewer, higher quality items, you necessarily consume less while enhancing overall quality of life.
It will require a little more time initially as it’s important to do some research before spending larger amounts of money on a product. If you are able to find the product locally made this part can be easier as talking to the person producing the product is the most ideal scenario. It will require a bit more investment up front as you will be spending more money on a “buy it for life” item then you would pay at Walmart or the dollar store (or anywhere that you can buy mass produced crap that isn’t made to last). A general rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for. When you apply this concept to what you are purchasing, it becomes a lot easier to pay more for organic, local and ethical food, invest in your health and wellness and face the upfront higher cost of a well-crafted item.
Garden tools are something that I’ve started to think of as “buy for life” items. My life partner is a blacksmith who creates durable and beautifully crafted tools. I’ve been using one of his trowels for the past year and it hasn’t cracked, chipped or bent yet, all of which are common occurrences for garden tools when working in the clay based soil of southern Alberta. Made from a vehicle’s leaf spring, the heavy-duty blade has heft and strength. The caragana handle fits just right in the hand and is also made to last. And the tool is a work of art! Each item that he makes is unique, and functionally beautiful.
Occasionally you will see the tools from our grandparents’ generation at a farm auction or antique store. These pieces were made to last. Disposability is a modern invention of our culture that we can choose to let go of. Embracing quality, casting our votes with our purchases and reducing our footprint on the environment are the ways to a healthier future.
Let’s bring this idea back and to the forefront. Buy for good; buy for life.
If you’re interested in investing in a durable, high quality garden tool, visit the Tools page for details.
Writing a quick heads up here to let you know that I’ll have a booth at several events this spring.
The first event, February 17th and 18th, is at the annual Organic Alberta conference in Lacombe, AB. Very much looking forward to this event and networking with some very neat people!
The second event, March 18th, is at Calgary Seedy Saturday. If you’re in the Calgary area, and you’d like to order a tool and avoid shipping, this is a great opportunity to do so. I’ll be bringing all the tools ordered to date with me to the Seedy Saturday event. I’m looking forward to meeting some of my customers in person.
Finally, I’ll be at the Edmonton Seedy Sunday on March 19th. Again, anyone in the Edmonton area who’d rather pickup an ordered tool instead of shipping it, should give this some consideration.
As for news from the forge, I’ve added a new tool to my production list: the rice knife! It’s a small, lightweight sickle that makes quick work of cutting. Have a look!
This is the final part of the three part blog series. Enjoy!
I’d like to share with you my three favourite tools to use in the garden. These tools are used the most often, and get the most work done in the shortest time. Generally I prefer hand tools to powered ones because they’re quiet, they don’t emit noxious fumes and I can work up a sweat.
1. The Broadfork
This is the workhorse of our garden. It loosens and aerates the soil without inverting or mixing the soil layers, minimizing disturbance to the soil and the microorganisms within. One pass in spring and another in fall is what we need to maintain our garden’s health. It also makes an excellent tool for digging up potatoes and other root vegetables when the soil is tight.
Clay also has a tendency to form into hardpan, an impermeable layer of subsoil that traps water above it, causing stress to plants. A broadfork can be used (and indeed is designed) to break up this layer of hardpan as the pointed tines are between 8 to 11 inches long. They reach into the subsoil to pierce the hardened layer and break it apart.
The broadforks I forge are about two feet wide, with five tines made from automotive coil spring. I forge the tines to a slightly curved shape to aid in penetrating the soil, and to break it up more readily. I prefer to use wooden ash handles because they’re lighter than metal, they’re easy to replace if they should ever break, and I find the feel of wooden handles is superior to metal in how it fits the hand and how it bends when the broadfork is used.
2. The Hoe
This humble tool is an important addition to weed management in an organic garden. Mulch, chop and drop, intensive planting and the hoe are all used together to control weed growth. There are many hoe designs available, but my favourite is the D-hoe with a goose style neck. It’s quick, accurate and can handle weed sprouts as easily as more mature plants. The sharp corners are great for cultivating, forming furrows for seed and the neck keeps the handle clear, giving it a good working angle.
I forge the hoe’s neck from reclaimed steel found in scrap yards. I like to add a decorative touch to it where the blade meets the neck. The blade itself is also reclaimed sheet steel, cut to shape and sharpened. The handles are Canadian ash: lightweight and durable and are either made with a ferrule to insert the neck into, or a collar in which the handle is riveted secure. Either style makes repairs easy.
3. The Hori hori
The multipurpose sidearm of the gardener: small, lightweight yet robust enough to handle heavy clay soils. It’s designed to dig holes for bulbs, bedding out plants, and removing some of the more stubborn interlopers in the garden (thistle, I’m looking at you). It can cut roots and woody stems up to finger thickness. The original purpose of the hori hori was to manage satoyama, the edge where mountain forest met cultivated field in 13th century Japan. The design hasn’t changed much since, which speaks to its effectiveness and proven design. Applied to our context here in Alberta, it’s an ideal tool for food forests and gardens.
The hori hori I make currently are forged from abandoned railroad spikes and water quenched to achieve about the same hardness as an axe. That means it can hold an edge fairly well, and since it’s also used to dig, it won’t break when leverage is applied to the handle. I forge the blades to achieve a balance between robustness and weight. The handles are made from reclaimed wood, most commonly old hockey sticks which are light and durable. I rivet the handles to the full tang blade with copper rivets, making replacement of the handles easy if it’s ever needed.
With these three tools, I can accomplish the majority of my work in the garden. A shovel and garden fork certainly come in handy, but they didn’t quite make my top three. Every tool I make is informed by traditional design and from the experiences of my clients and myself.
Thanks for reading this three part series on the work I do! If you’d like to commission a tool for me, use the contact page to get in touch with me.
This is part two of a three part series of blogs I’ll be sharing with you over the coming weeks. Part three will be out next week. Enjoy!
The use of hand tools is one of the definitive characteristics of our species. We even go so far as to define our preindustrial past by ages of hand tool technology: stone, bronze and iron. Each age reflects our growth in understanding and the ability to manipulate the environment around us. We’ve reached a point now where a single person operating a machine can do the work of hundreds in a matter of hours. This increased leverage in our ability to alter our physical surroundings forms the foundation of modern civilization. That power comes with a cost, however, most commonly found in the byproducts of the industrial modes of production. In certain contexts, then, perhaps we can explore older methods of production that are no less sophisticated. Intensive organic gardening and food forestry, as examples, can be accomplished quite readily with just hand tools. I’d like to share an excellent video by Geoff Lawton that speaks to this:
Hand tools. Appropriate little hands tools. They’re so accurate and so selective that you don’t make many mistakes. You cut it in your right hand and hold it in your left hand. It’s not like a motorized tool that’s so easy to make mistakes and as soon as you’ve been using a motorized tool for an hour or two your nervous system’s all shaky, your judgment starts getting very inaccurate. You start making mistakes, you start killing trees, you start chopping the wrong things, you start cutting the wrong things.
This is a Japanese rice knife with a serrated edge. There’s also a Japanese knife called a kama which is very traditional. All over the world there are little tiny hooks and little tiny knives that people use to selectively weed diverse systems, to work in amongst intricately placed plants. And a lot of the hand tools are actually dying out and becoming extinct as everyone modernizes.
So, it’s very important for us to realize how energy efficient they are. The energy order on a knife like that, the pollution of manufacture spread over the lifetime of the product is incredibly good. It’s way in front of anything that’s a motorized tool.
And people look at this and “oh you do a lot of work and it’s very physical.” Yeah, but the work we’re doing is aimed towards developing a sustainable and permanent system. It doesn’t matter that you do a little bit of extra work to establish permanence because it goes on forever. That little bit of work extends over the lifetime of the system so it’s a similar order to using a motorized machine or an accurate little hand tool. A little bit of extra work, a little bit of extra design, you end up with permanence that goes on forever.
Hand tools have the advantage of vastly greater accuracy, reflecting the skill of the user, as well as efficiency of manufacture when considering the energy that goes into the tool spread over its lifetime. This is another reason why I source reclaimed materials and create tools that can last generations. Finally, there are the aesthetic qualities hand tools possess that power tools never will: they’re quiet, non-jarring on our nervous systems, they have elegance to their shape and design, and can be made to appeal to our sense of beauty. It’s wonderful to work quietly and efficiently in the garden, hearing the birds, the insects, and all the animals that call that garden home.
If you’re interested in commissioning a tool, use the contact form to get in touch with me.