It’s a few days late, but Matt gave me a very romantic Valentine’s gift. It’s a stunningly gorgeous, sleek black, broad fork that he made from scraps of metal around our homestead and some old wheelbarrow handles. Gives me chills and happy feelings just to think about it! You know you’re a gardener when a soil aerator is a more romantic gift than a retreat at a day spa.
I first read about broad forks in John Jeavon’s “How to Grow More Vegetables…”. Then again, it came up in Eliot Coleman’s “Four Seasons Harvest”. And again in Jean-Martin Fortier’s “The Market Gardener”. When three highly successful and respected growers swear by a thing, then you know there must be something to it.
The broad fork is used to aerate the soil without ruining the soil structure. You drive the tines into the ground and then lean back on the handles. The tines are 18 inches long, so if your soil doesn’t go that deep yet, you have to jump on the cross bar to drive the tines all the way in. When you lean back, the tines slice through the soil creating space for air without mixing the soil layers too much. This breaks up compaction and allows soil life to work its way deeper in. It also gives new airflow to existing soil life which is like a nice caffeine jolt.
If you’ve ever had a really good back massage that included the masseuse using their finger tips to pry under your shoulder blade and relieve all that compressed tension that builds up in those fine muscles, then I suspect you know what the soil feels like when its been broad forked. It’s disturbance – yes, and probably a little odd feeling when happening. But a few days later, when you realize you can actually extend your arm reach further, using less energy than before your massage, you understand the benefits. I suspect that soil and all its bountiful residents too have this experience. Greater freedom of movement, release of stress, and easier flow of energy are probably only a few of the benefits of both a good massage and soil aeration.
Broad forks are great tools, but they get pretty expensive. Luckily, Matt’s been taking a welding class. And we happened to have an old broken trailer frame and a half-rusted tractor bucket lying our around our property. So, he used our materials and his class to make me my own custom version for the price of a partial can of metal paint and a little linseed oil. We will probably have to replace the handles at some point since the wheelbarrow they came from was well used. But we might as well use them until they break.
The most romantic thing about this gift isn’t that I really love it or that Matt made it for me. Though those are, of course, very romantic things. The real romance comes from knowing that I get to share my life and this incredible homesteading experience with a man who gets why this is important and does everything he can to support it.
Sometimes a broad fork is more than a broad fork.