The Broadfork

Also known in France as the grelinette and first developed there by a man named Andre Grelin in the 1960s, this is an ergonomic tool that is gaining increasing popularity in  small scale sustainable agriculture circles. Made popular by Eliot Coleman and most recently Jean-Martin Fortier, it allows deep aeration of the soil with minimum disruption to the soil life.

We’ve got 2 broadforks at Sheffield Organic Growers and they come in all shapes and sizes. Currently there is only one type available to buy in the UK at http://www.blackberrylane.co.uk/broadfork.html , this is the model Martin and Matt use. I followed the meadow creature broadfork design and had it made for me by a black smith in Wales, (see below).

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 With traditional cultivation techniques using a tractor to plough, the soil biology is inverted (ploghing) and then it’s broken up using either discs, a rotavator or power harrow. Soil scientists now increasingly understand the interactions between all the bacteria, protozoa, fungi, nematodes and micro arthropods (such as spiders and beetles), that make up soil. They use electron microscopes to observe this interplay and have found that they all prefer to live in different layers of the soil strata. Inverting and breaking up this ecosystem to a “fine tilth” as the old text books tell you, is very damaging to this ecosystem .

Using a broadfork you simply lift the soil up a bit without inverting it. The long tines break up any compacted layers below. This allows more air to penetrate and create the right conditions for the bacteria and other soil organisms plants need to take up nutrients. The ecology of the soil is disturbed very little and a final shallow cultivation on the top 3-4 inches is all thats needed to finish the process (we’re also using large sillage black plastic to cover the soil and kill the top layer of grass but that’s another post!).

Here’s Matt modelling the blackberry lane broadfork with a slide show below to show it in action.

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