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Is this new tool worth it?  RSS feed

 
                                  
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Hello,

I just moved to France, and there's a new gardening tool that seems to be all the rage around here (at least, I'd never heard of it before, and I can't seem to find reference to it in English on the internet). It's referred to as a fourche à bêcher écologique (ecological pitch fork) and the "Biogriff" is one brand name attached to it. It's basically a two-handled pitch fork with very thin spikes that is purported to aerate and loosen the soil without actually turning it, and thus saving the microbial life living there. Here's a link to a picture and more information (in French):
http://www.leborgne.fr/outillage-main-tools_fr/33-produit-biogrif-5-dents.html?_lngweb=fr&_id=33

I'm wondering if anyone out there has experience with this tool. We're considering it mainly because we're starting a new garden on a piece of land that has been heavily trampled by horses, and so the soil will definitely need some loosening and aeration. The main drawback is this tool costs around 100 Euros. So we're not sure if it's worth it.

Any thoughts?

Thanks,
Rosemary
 
Chelle Lewis
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English Translation: http://www.leborgne.fr/outillage-main-tools_en/33-produit-5pronged-biogrif.html

I would find someone who has one if it is all the rage... and ask if I could test it out with them in their garden .... before investing so much. Does look fun....

Chelle
 
Travis Philp
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I have used a tool of a similar design and would recommend it as an alternative to a rototiller for loosening soil and 'working in' compost. The type I used required standing on the bar and then rocking the handles back and forth so the type you've found seems easier and quicker.
 
                              
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Location: Inland Central Florida, USA
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I think I've heard of it being called a broad fork in English.

In my super sandy soil, I'd say not worth it though I've never tried it.

Perhaps in clay or more compacted soil, it would be a good thing to have.
 
Travis Philp
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A pitch fork does essentially the same job but would obviously take longer than the 'broad fork'. So if you've got a small plot or a lot of time, I'd say just use a pitch fork. If you've got a larger spread then maybe a broad fork is worth it.
 
                                  
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Thanks everyone who has responded so far!

TCLynx- that's useful information, because our soil here is indeed very sandy. However, it is also pretty compacted from horses walking over it regularly for a long time.

Travis- that was my thought originally too, that a pitch fork could do the job, just taking longer and more effort. But it seems like one of the pros of this tool is that the prongs are much thinner than a pitch fork's are usually, so that it really doesn't dig at all and turn the soil. It just opens up the earth, lets the air in and then slices back up through the layers without disturbing the order of things. There's also a certain comfort advantage here too, but that doesn't necessarily make it worth it to me...
 
Matthew Fallon
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yes that's a broadfork, not new at all, i've seen these on a small farm before and they were definitely a few decades old i'd say.

100 euros! yikes, thats like $150ish?
a handy person could make one of these for roughly $20 with off the shelf stuff at a home-depot.

i guess they're on par cost-wise though,seems some others are up to $200.
this design looks way more beefy and functional though.
http://vashoncbc.com/broadforks.html
i like the blades much more than the round tines...they'd take care of roots far better..
if crocodile dundee were a permie he'd use this one...
"That's not a broadfork, THIS is a BROADFORK"

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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That is some serious construction. Less of a broadfork, more of a valkyriefork...
 
Travis Philp
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rosemary wrote:
But it seems like one of the pros of this tool is that the prongs are much thinner than a pitch fork's are usually


The type of fork I'm talking about is different than the thick four pronged one I think you're referring to. It has 6 or more tines which are longer, thinner, and sharper.

http://karlkuemmerling.com/store/product842.html

I've used them before and it's not much effort to clear a 50' X 4' area with one of these. All I did was stab the fork in the ground, rock it back and forth, then move it forward about 2 inches, going back and forth like a typewriter.

 
Paul Cereghino
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Id recommend a 'turning fork' over a 'pitch fork' for most garden applications.  And 'manure forks' beat pitchforks for most loading.

The broad fork makes sense to me if you have LOTS of 3-4 wide beds (>2000sf?).  If you are doing some other field crop culture I would turn to mustard cover crops for decompaction.  In a field setting... chisel plow.  If you are working on less space, then a turning fork works well enough (if you don't mind loosing 2-4 inches of depth.

For PNW, I prefer alder trees

PRC
 
rose macaskie
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ould not want to spend money on it it looks so delicate. I like things to look as if they wilo last . If i had a lot of experience with one and it was great, then i woudl change my mind.     
      Those are well dug roes in the photo not permacultuer mass of plants anyway, how woudl it do in a  food forest. it looks very prissy  these french! If you touch it you would know if its strong or not. Is it for housewives who want a bit of light gardening but have a gardener for the heavy digging? Rose.
 
Travis Philp
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I don't know about that particular model but the broadfork I used was very sturdy and seemed well built.
 
tel jetson
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I've used a broadfork from Johnny's.  cost something like $200 (I didn't buy it).  very useful.  reached quite a bit deeper than our walk-behind tiller (about as deep as our big PTO tiller) and worked in badly compacted dirt the tiller bounced off of.  I also used it to quickly harvest carrots, which was what eventually did it in.  from the beginning we thought the handles weren't nearly stout enough, and one broke after less than a year.  $200 is a lot of money, but this is definitely something a savvy person could make on their own for quite a bit less.  access to some welding equipment would help.

if I were in the market to buy one and had the means, I would probably go for this broadfork.  in all honesty, I look at the Smith and Speed website the way preverts look at pron.  actual visits to the store have been a bit overwhelming.

Id recommend a 'turning fork' over a 'pitch fork' for most garden applications.


a spading or digging fork would do the trick, too.  I don't think the tines on a pitchfork are adequate for loosening soil.  seems to me they would immediately bend in any soil that needed loosening.
 
rose macaskie
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    Its so difficult to put shovels or pitch forks in to the ground, they are made to slip round and up again, not to go in. Instruments work because of leverage and this instrument looks, apart from being light, as if you would have to dragg it through the ground. It looks hard work.
    One thing i wonder is why womens power instruments are lighter and less powerfull than mens, as they are weaker they need stronger power tools than a man needs, they need the best.  If you are a woman, don't buy womens tools, buy the best usually a bit heavier and stronger but better balanced, they work better which means are less hard to manage.
      For two hundred dollars could not you get a machine that dragged somthing that made holes or lines.
    A permaculturist is meant to use plants to make holes and mice that make holes and insects that make holes make a healthy system where other thigns are lightening the soil and making holes that hold water and so help pentration of water into the soil for them. agri rose macaskie.
 
jeremiah bailey
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Why not just let the worms aerate the soil?
 
                      
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I just typed out a long reply comlete with photos and got an error message. What's up with that? Any ideas Paul?
 
Matthew Fallon
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permie mama wrote:
I just typed out a long reply comlete with photos and got an error message. What's up with that? Any ideas Paul?

because of that (not just here but any forum) i've gotten in the habit of doing a quick ctrl+A/ctrl+C copy before submitting anything,in case it errors.
never a problem anymore.
 
tel jetson
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[quote author=jeremiah bailey] Why not just let the worms aerate the soil?

impatience.  also, this tool would make it easier for worms to get around in compacted dirt.  wouldn't ideally be a regular job if you're not compacting soil after it's loosened, but useful for rectifying a specific problem.
 
                      
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Location: Snohomish, WA
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To answer your question, I would first ask if you can share one with someone near you? Broadforks are not needed every day and can easily be shared. Also, if you had one, would you use it? What gain would you have? In other words, Will lit save you work, save your back form injury, complete a task you could not otherwise achieve... For me, tools that help protect me from injury are worth it. (I was soooo much more invincible in my 30's!)

The broadfork in your photo looks really delicate. I would not go for that style.

I have two styles of broadforks. I bought small one that was affordable and helped me break up some ground but it was not all that effective for the bigger jobs. I use it for small jobs and for helping at others places. It has 12" long tines and is rather light. It has a place to step on that is traction friendly. Stepping on it helps it to sink in to the soil. It has a single handle that comes off of the shovel head and comes together in a kind of flattened semi-circle at the top. This allows me to use both hands to pull it back. The leverage is pretty good but it is not for serious work.

My larger one is really not mine. My friend Steve made it and has given to me on long-term loan. It is well appreciated This one was welded from heavy steel and the weight makes it easier to get down deep in the soil. The tines are about 18" and are tapered so they slide right in. It has a super long single handle which makes it easy for me to pull back after stepping on it to sink it in. The long handle makes for more leverage. It is a bit hard because the handle is square so it is uncomfortable to grip. I keep meaning to wrap it in pipe insulation or something.

I like that both of these tools have a single center handle. The others that I have tried had handles on the outsides. If you are not a big person, this can be really hard on the upper body. Furthermore, if it is heavy and you have to lug it across your land, one handle up the center is better than two spread out.

Both tools are handy and help improve porosity which is an issue in amending my clay soil. This is not to say that I do not encourage worms and microbial activity. It simply means that I am accelerating the process.

I am not sure how much it cost Steve to make the one that he did but if one could weld, I could see this as a good project. Last I heard, he was still making them in our area.

Okay, I hope this helps.





 
paul wheaton
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permie mama wrote:
I just typed out a long reply comlete with photos and got an error message. What's up with that? Any ideas Paul?


This sort of thing is best for the "tinkering" forum.  If you get something like that again, please give me every bit of info you can think of in the tinkering forum and I'll try to make the problem happen again.
 
paul wheaton
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Such excellent info here.

I think if the soil is good enough that you can get it in and crank it back a bit, then I kinda wonder if it improves things only five percent or so. 

But I have a concern (anybody surprised?):  if you stick it in the soil and pull back a little, then you just made some channels that go straight down, right?  But how were you able to do that?  Did other little air gaps in the soil have to get smashed?  As I think through the smashing and the new vertical channels, I do think the upsides probably outweigh the downsides, assuming that the tool was free and that I don't count the work. 

I guess if you have a medium sized garden, it seems it could be okay.  But for anything with any size it seems like you would spend months doing that.

And it seems like hugelkultur or the good root crop stuff mentioned earlier here would be better.  I guess I just like the idea of having a food forest and maybe some open-ish spaces where I do nothing but harvest and my crops end up being far better than if I did anything.  But maybe this line of thought is silly.



 
gary gregory
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jeremiah bailey wrote:
Why not just let the worms aerate the soil?


I agree with Jeremiah.  Mulch a foot deep will change the soil texture in just a few weeks.
 
rose macaskie
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its silly to do a lot if you don't have to . I get scared thigns are silly if it seems i like the esthetic side toom much, though maybe that is puritan nes that gets me discounting how much I also like the organic side the clean and natural living side. rose
 
Paul Cereghino
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then I kinda wonder if it improves things only five percent or so. 


Really good question.  I am a habitual intensive raised bed soil loosener contemplating other paths.  If you are already doing the work with a turning fork, a broad fork saves labor.  If you are no-till, its a silly thing.

My current mentality has to do maximizing yield from a small area.  Mechanical loosening combined with organic matter and cover cropping creates deeper zone of high bacterial activity and more rapid nutrient cycling then found in my native system.  Since I depend on natural rates of cycling for nitrogen availability, it also serves as a season extender, increasing N availability early in the season when I can grow lots of greens without irrigation.  I eat lots of spinich and mustard family crops which are not particuarly hooked up with mycorrhizae.  I want an 18 inches of bacterial rich Mollisols, and our native ecology produces around 6 inches and a lot of wood and mushrooms.
 
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