We've got a semi-durable, stainless, chinese digging fork. I'm on number two now, they last maybe one year. While trying to dig/pull out the cow manure/straw combination (created by my hired help and father-in-law not listening to my instructions to put sawdust down under the cows each night while we were on vacation last month), I heard the first "snap" from the handle. Of course, handles can be replaced, but it reminds me again of the inevitable dissapointment awaiting when one day in the spring some metal bit will break, so I wonder:
1. Does anyone in Europe know a mail order source that ships to Slovakia a really strong, forged garden fork that will survive very clayey, heavy soil while double digging next spring?
2. Short of high explosives, is there any non-tool-destroying way to dig out matted straw/cow-dung? Would quicklime help break it up and still leave it OK to be mixed into the compost pile?
Joel Salatin throws down some whole corn each time straw is added. The cows will continue to stomp it, and pack it down creating an anaerobic environment. That corn will ferment rather than decay. Come spring, he lets the pigs in, puts the cows out on pasture. They tear it up to get to the corn, plus transform the mat into an aerobic environment so the rest of the material will then compost.
I've thought about his solution. And if I had to use straw, I would try it. But, I have an endless source of clean, dry sawdust on the road between my village and the city, so I can pick-up half-a-ton anytime I want. Salatin, in fact, uses wood chips with his cows, also because they are free, and unlike straw, don't get woven into this interesting cow-dung fabric like material. The sawdust has the advantage of remaining easily scoop-able. It might be interesting to mix corn in while putting down the sawdust, but I think my chickens would eat it because they already go in and scratch through the sawdust (which I've been putting down in the cow shed since I got back) and mix it pretty well. I also would worry with corn that I'd just end up feeding the rats more. And speaking of the rats, that reminds me that now would be a pretty good time to go rat hunting...
Well friends, I would recommend visiting some local blacksmith and have yer forks made custom. A goog blacksmith can heat-harden it to be strong and durable,
nad make the handle hole long enough from bottom side to support the handle anout lets say 40 cm from the fork upwards. The only drawback is the weight of course.