Josh S. shared pictures today of his homemade broadfork.
Meet THE BAHFEEMUS SLAYER 2000!
“14” tines, 5′ tall, around 30 lbs, 22″ wide. Total build cost $13. I used all scrap metal except for the handles. Frame is thick wall 4″ square tubing. Handles are 1″ pipe. It’s heavy, but it works my sandy soil like butter. You can call it what you want, but I call it The Bahfeemus Slayer 2000. I started to go with five (tines). Scrap metal only allowed for 4.”
If you don’t have cash for a Meadow Creature and you know how to weld – weld, weld away!
This thing is cool as heck. And I totally love the name.
This is the best video I found on the “Russian Miracle Shovel” broadfork modification:
As you can see, the tines break the ground, then the welder re-bar pieces act as a comb to shatter the clods.
Basically, this is a man-powered tiller.
Here’s what appears to be a commercially made Russian Home Shopping Network version of the tool:
On the downside, this style of broadfork doesn’t look like it could handle the really tough conditions I’ve been able to handle with the Meadow Creature.
That said, in sandy or loose soil it would be a time saver as it makes a nice seedbed as you till your way along.
Here’s a thought: what if you added one of these sifter/comb attachements to the Meadow Creature?
It could work. Maybe on the lighter 12″ tine model?
The open holes are there to add the pivoting grill so you wouldn’t have to do anything to the broadfork itself.
I dunno, I’m not an engineer, but I’m sure one of you could figure out how to reinvent one as a “Russian miracle shovel.” It would probably be too heavy, though. Maybe the grill could be made of titanium!
I love tools which don’t require gasoline or expensive parts. The broadfork is already head and shoulders above digging with a spading fork. The “Russian miracle shovel” style of sifting broadfork would probably work well as a second pass after the Meadow Creature did the really hard work.
When you think of “easy raised beds,” you probably think of using pressure treated wood and a miter saw. That’s the way I used to make my garden beds in spring. A hurried trip to Home Depot or Lowes, then a few hours of measuring and cutting and nailing and placing beds. It’s fun, and it looks cool when you’re done.
But then people tell you, “wait! Pressure treated lumber is bad for you!” So you start looking around and you find a good supply of cinder blocks. Hey, they may not look classy, but why not? They’ll last forever!
Or maybe the cinder block raised beds look too ugly for you. Then you use solid blocks to make it look nice:
So you say, “okay, I’m going with cedar next time!”
And you take a trip to the store and discover that buying cedar for your garden beds is roughly equivalent to burning stacks of $100 bills to keep warm.
It’s expensive! And you also need to deal with building the beds.
So the spring gardens wait for you to get around to making your beds. Or maybe you’re waiting on your husband to make them. Or for your brother to lend you his saw.
Meanwhile, if you go with my favorite easy raised bed style, you could have been all planted long ago.
Easy Raised Beds the Biointensive Way
I have built beds with wood, cinder blocks, stones, bricks, bamboo and even bottles.
Generally, though, I now stick to a modified version of the easy raised bed design recommended by John Jeavons.
No borders, just a nice section of well-dug earth which you DON’T step on after digging. That ground will stay loose for a long time. I’ve planted on year-old double-dug beds and they were still nice and loose.
Jeavons recommends double-digging 5′ wide beds with a fork and a spade, like this:
This system works well, but there are a few things I changed for my own gardening.
First, the spacing!
I prefer wide spacing to tight spacing, especially in situations where I need to haul water.
Give them some room and they’ll compete less. Tighter spacing creates a need for more water and much higher soil fertility. Widely spaced plants are better at taking care of themselves.
Second, the width.
The theory with 5′ wide beds is that they create a microclimate as the plants grow together and the leaves touch. I don’t know about that as I haven’t tested it; however, 4′ beds have worked fine for me. Even 3′ beds are great. 5′ is too much to reach over and just feels clunky.
Here are some small ones:
And some wider ones:
Those might be nearing 5′ wide, actually, but 4′ is easier to handle.
Third, the tools!
Instead of double digging with a spade and fork, I now do most of my digging with my Meadow Creature broadfork:
The broadfork doesn’t break ground as thoroughly as a fork and spade but you can go a lot faster and cover much larger gardens without breaking your back.
It’s a much easier tool to use and is rather like rowing. It feels good to broadfork – much more so than digging with a spade.
Once I have my bed loosened, I shape it up with the triangular hoe. If I want it really neat, I’ll also use a rake to level the seedbed.
In between beds I like 3′ paths. Less than that and you’re always crowded. Our old homestead had beds with less than 2′ between beds.
That saves on space but it’s harder to work and feels claustrophobic. Spread out!
I’ve found that a simple 4′ x 8′ raised bed mound like these can be built in perhaps a half-hour. The ones I’m making now are taking longer as I’m pulling out rocks and roots, but if you were working in a lawn they’d be done in no time flat.
Here’s my new video looking at this method so you can really get a look at what I’m doing:
The plants love these beds just as much as beds with borders. Why make cedar raised beds or square foot garden beds with pressure treated lumber when you can just dig mounded beds like these? It’s so easy – and I find these easy raised beds are better when it comes to weeding as well. There’s no wood for the weeds to work themselves in around.
If you’re looking to try something new in your spring gardening and haven’t built this style of mounded bed before, I encourage you to give it a try. This is about the easiest garden you can make and it’s free. I don’t see the need to spend money on borders anymore. I just make neat mound gardens and plant them up. The vegetables make them beautiful.
I’ll be digging more over the coming weeks as we get ready for spring. Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel so you can follow along as I post new videos.
I think I’ve found the right place to ask a question or two.
I live in South-East Queensland, Australia – very luck, I know – with my husband and 13 year-old son. We have 40 wonderful acres of almost bare, slightly undulating land with heavy clay soil in the middle of an agricultural area.
I have wanted to grow my/our own food for as long as I can remember, but until recently never made it a priority. We have been given the push that we needed to begin due to our poor financial experiences over the last 12 months.
It is summer at the moment. February is usually our hottest month. We currently have a small aquaponics system with a few food plants and a few gold fish. We are having some trouble with rodents eating our food in the aquaponics garden beds.
Finally, I get to the question: which plants should I start with, and how, to get healthy food fast with little to no spending? I know – that’s more than one question, and it’s a lot to ask.
Notes: I am planning to put together a couple of wicking beds (we have 2 spare IBCs) and a reed bed or two (another IBC). The reed bed is because we don’t currently have a grey water system, and I hope to use the water from that for the wicking bed.
I am currently studying permaculture, which I love, but feel totally out of my depth and don’t know where to start.
Any suggestions you can provide will be very much appreciated.
Good work on getting that 40 acres! The fact that the land is inside an agricultural area means the market has already pre-selected your ground as being decent.
Clay isn’t fun to work but it is often fertile.
And feeling out of your depth is perfectly fine. There are about a zillion methods you can work with. Personally, if I were sitting on 40 acres of agricultural land, I wouldn’t bother with wicking beds, aquaponics or any of that stuff. I would go old-fashioned, wide rows.
“If you have a lot of space, tilling up a big patch and planting row crops makes a lot of sense. If you have limited access to water, this also makes sense since wide rows with wider spacing are more tolerant of low water than raised or double-dug beds. If you plant your corn 6” apart in 12” wide rows, they will wilt if they go without water for a couple of days because all the roots in the bed are competing for a limited resource. If they’re spaced wider, the roots have more area in which to hunt for moisture.
I’ve grown corn without irrigation in a sandy field at 3’ spacing between rows of corn planted 12” apart. I was amazed by how well it did. That same corn would have done terribly in a square foot garden without supplemental water.
The other benefit of growing like a farmer with long rows is that you can grow a lot of food without having to put in borders or spend a lot of time digging. Hoeing the rows is easy in a big garden if you have a wheel hoe (more on those soon) and a stirrup hoe (ditto) to get in close around the base of your plants. On the downside, some needier plants definitely do better in a highly improved intensive garden. For straight up production, though – garden like a small farmer with nice long rows.
If you have a smaller space, raised beds and biointensive plots make more sense. They allow you to cram a lot more plants into less ground. Add creative trellises to let some of your gardening go vertical and you’ll really be rocking the yields. Also, if you don’t have a tiller or a tractor (or the gasoline to run them), smaller beds mean less work to maintain. The close spacing of your crops actually helps keep the weeds down by shading the soil and choking out the competition. The downside is the need for more water along with the labor involved in preparing the soil. Even with those considerations, biointensive beds in particular are much easier to feed efficiently than larger row gardens. It takes a lot less compost for the same results. If you were to try and feed a giant row garden with manure, you’d be doing a LOT of shoveling for a LONG period of time. Smaller, tighter, plant-packed beds take some of that time-consuming materials handling out of the picture.
In my gardens I mix multiple methods but generally stick to double-dug or at least broad-forked (we’ll get to broadforks soon!) beds because of our lack of space. When I borrow larger patches of ground to grow corn and beans, I like wide rows.
The key to gardening success is practice, patience and experimentation. Get started now and try a few different methods and you will find success.”
I love open spaces and a wheel hoe for growing calorie crops.
What to Grow for Family Survival Gardening
And calorie crops are what you should grow if you want to save money on food. Roots, in particular, and perhaps grain corn and pumpkins/winter squash. Beans may be good for your area. I’m not sure if you’re inland, where the weather is more temperate, or near the coast where the climate is mild. If the latter, definitely plant true yams as a staple calorie crop.
Along with that, plant some high-nutrition salad/health crops such as kale and herbs.
After those, go for luxury items like lettuce, tomatoes and peppers. I have a ton of crop-growing info in Grow or Die, and I would also add Steve Solomon’s book Gardening when it Counts to your library.
Also, since you have 40 acres, I highly recommend researching fruit and nut trees for your area, provided the climate supports it.
One way to narrow your plant options down is to consider which produce you like and spend the most on, then grow that.
And, as always, ask questions any time – I’m happy to help.
Tomorrow I’ll share a video on planting vanilla orchids – I just popped 6 or more into the front yard.
In a few minutes, though, I’m off to visit my friend with the sawmill.
Yesterday afternoon I took my family to the beach to watch what we could see of the eclipse. We only got a little over a 50% decrease in the solar disc here but it was still fun to see the world go darker than normal, plus it was an excuse to visit the beach.
While there, I noticed the local resort had cut down part of a large tree with red wood. It looked like nice lumber, so I called my friend to see if he’d want to cut it up for me. After some extended research, I finally nailed the tree down as Albizia saman.
He agreed to cut it for me, so we’re off to pick up the log this morning and send it through the saw. Ought to be really cool.
“For years I rented rototillers or—more expensively—owned gas tillers of my own.
There’s nothing like tearing up a big patch of ground until your hands are so numb and tingly you can barely hoist a glass to celebrate your gardening rampage.
Many of us feel like we should cut back on our gas usage. Others don’t like tillers because they really don’t loosen soil that deeply. Still others just don’t want to shell out the big bucks on a machine that’s likely to get a buried brick stuck in the tines just before sunset when you’re half-way through the spring garden you really, really, really want to plant the next morning.
The more paranoid among us (author raises hand) figure we should go low-tech now before civilization is wiped out by an EMP, prime-time TV, an asteroid or all of the above.
Yet it took me a while to really get a solid tool set that allowed me to park the tiller for good. Sure, I borrowed John Jeavon’s “double-digging” method of creating deep, laboriously loosened beds with a spade and fork … but what if you don’t have serious time to put in a garden and you just want to chop some earth and pop in tomatoes?”
Garden Rant is one of the largest gardening sites on the web, as best as I can tell, and it’s great getting a Good Article(TM) in over there now and again.
Staying on top of my posting here and on YouTube makes it tough to write as many magazine articles and guest posts as I’d like. I’m thinking of building a little office for myself so I can have a quieter space to write books and record YouTube videos.
Maybe an 8′ x 8′ done in sections, so I can disassemble it when we have to move. That would probably be a good investment. As it is, I have my computer in our bedroom but the house is wide open, as are the windows, so there’s a lot of noise and distractions.
Part of this is my fault, as it’s more fun to sit on the bed with my three-year-old and pretend we’re catching fish off a boat than it is to write gardening article.
I actually resisted putting this post up because I want to buy every single hoe for myself, but no… I am generous.
Actually, I’m not that generous. If you buy through any ebay link on this site, I’ll make a few cents on each purchase. I make a few bucks a month that way, but not enough to put many links around. Amazon does better for me… but you can’t get vintage tools on Amazon!
The two listings I won are being shipped to me by my parents and I look forward to fitting them with new handles. The “potato hoe” ought to work great in the hard clay here.
The old steel is a lot better than the new junk you get from the hardware store. Seriously – it’s amazing. Put a sharp edge on and old hoe and it cuts through weeds like a knife. A new hoe just doesn’t “have it.”
I posted a video on my favorite vintage hoe just over a year ago:
That’s the tool that changed my whole perspective on hoeing.
I just didn’t know what a real weeding tool was like until I got a good old American steel hoe working for me.
Half the time, the vintage hoe heads end up costing the same as a crummy new one from China… or less! I used a mop handle on one of my hoe heads and it works great. Some of my other ones were re-handled here by a local farmer who cut wild coffee wood to make solid handles. Those look really cool and work quite well.
Knowing how to scythe (and maintain a scythe) is a fantastic skill.
And yet, I posted this on Friday:
The terrain of our homestead doesn’t really lend itself well to scything. There may be a way to do it safely on uneven, sloping and rocky ground but I’m an amateur with a scythe already without adding layers of difficulty.
Maybe one day I’ll go for it. For now, I’m afraid I’ll break it. Plus, I just can’t see how it could beat my Stihl on the 2.5 acres we tend.
“A lot of people buy an Austrian scythe because they want to replace their weedeater and/or lawnmower with a hand tool. Why use gasoline when you don’t have to?
Although I agree with that logic to some extent, Mark has turned me into a realist when it comes to homesteading tools. If a hand tool takes a significant amount more muscle than a power tool, I might choose the power tool.
On the other hand, I also factor in the long term effort involved. If I’m afraid of the power tool, can’t get it started easily, or can’t fix common ailments myself, I might find it simpler in the long run to use a hand tool.”
I’m quite comfortable with a string trimmer since I’ve been using one since I was a teenager and used to cut a half-dozen lawns in the neighborhood.
It would be funny to run a lawn service using a scythe, though. You could probably charge twice as much and claim you were an “eco-friendly environmental aestheticist” or something like that.
Enjoy the Lord’s Day. I’ll see you all tomorrow.
* * *
The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world.
In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, And rejoices like a strong man to run its race. Its rising is from one end of heaven, And its circuit to the other end; And there is nothing hidden from its heat.
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, And I shall be innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.
Digging in sandy soil with a broadfork is easy. In rocky clay, it’s not nearly as easy. It’s basically an extreme sport in clay.
It’s not impossible, though. That bed took me perhaps 45 minutes to prepare, mostly because it takes more stomping on the broadfork than I’m used to, plus I had to bust up the big clods.
Sure, it’s work – but it’s work that needs to be done, especially for root crops.
Why Dig a Garden Bed?
The major reason: loose soil. If the soil structure is open and crumbly, plant roots do a lot better. They can dig deep and get the minerals and water they need without having to force their way through hard earth. You’re doing the hard work first to make their lives easier.
Digging garden beds even works well in sand, as I discovered back in Florida.
When your plants have easier lives, they’ll spend more time making delicious things for you to eat.
The Initial Feeding
When I prepare a garden bed I rake in compost right at the beginning. In the past I’ve also used amendments such as lime, blood meal, bone meal, cottonseed meal and kelp meal – all of which are excellent additions to the soil.
Here, though, I can’t get most of those things, so I stick to compost, biochar and sometimes seaweed.
You can see a recent bit of bed prep in this video:
You don’t need a ton of organic matter in the soil. A few percent is fine. I sprinkle perhaps a half-inch cover of compost on a newly dug garden bed and rake or turn it in before I plant. The plants really appreciate compost and it lasts longer and releases its nutrition over time, unlike chemical fertilizer.
When preparing this garden bed I used my Back to Eden chicken run compost, which is probably hotter than compost from a typical backyard pile. The plants don’t seem to mind, though.
Here’s how I made that compost:
Planting a Bed of Sweet Potatoes
This is easy as shoo-fly pie.
Just cut some vines and stick them in.
You can start your own sweet potato slips with store-bought sweet potatoes if you don’t have any vines currently growing on your homestead.
Use the toothpicks and a jar method – or – even easier – start potatoes growing by burying them shallowly in a pot of soil, then cut vines off of those to plant.
I use a stick to dig holes, then plant the sweet potato cuttings a few inches deep into them.
They’ll look like they’re going to die for a few days, then they’ll recover as the vines root. Sweet potatoes are tough.