Broadforks are a great tool for sustainable farming, they do the work of a tiller without the fuel usage or damage to the worms and microorganisms in the soil. If you do any research into tilling and soil preparation with broadforks it is likely you will come to the same conclusion.
In this article we will discuss broadforks in general, but the video shows the process I took to make a homemade broadfork.
You can purchase broadforks in a variety of places – they cost from $60 to $300 – I would recommend you getting a heavy duty broadfork with thick tines because the manner of use puts a lot of stress on the tool.
Using them is simple, you simply stand it up in the soil you wish to till, stand on it and rock your weight over it to push the tines into the soil, and then step off and pull back. The pulling action levers the tines up through the soil, lifting and slicing the soil to aerate and break it up.
This action is much more gentle to the things living in the soil, and does not compact the dirt under the area you are working with (unlike a tiller which will create an area of compaction under the surface). To me, the action and and manner of use of a broadfork lends itself to raised bed gardening in rows and I built my homemade broadfork to the dimensions needed to support the width of the rows I wanted.
While a broadfork is a tough and versatile tool that can break up sod, till the soil, or harvest root crops – different sized broadforks tend to do one or the other better depending on tine size, depth, spacing, and construction.
some simple guidance is that the wider the tool, the shorter the tines. The deeper it goes, the fewer the tines it should have.
If you want to loosen to 14-16 inches a four tine broadfork with thick strong tines that will penetrate to 16 inches is best.
If you are only going to loosen to 10-14 inches—you might choose a tool with fine round tines
If you loosen six to 10 inches deep or harvest root crops, you could use a wider tool with more tines—say, a 30-inch wide fork with 8 tines of appropriate length.
In the homemade broadfork on the video I chose a 30 inch fork with 8 – 8 inch round spike tines, as my homemade broadfork was designed to be used after the soil was first broken up by a single use of a tiller (I already own one from my pre-permiculture days, and I wanted to use it once before I repurpose the 10 hop engine for a homemade backhoe I am planning).
A broadfork is not designed to grub out rocks – a spade is much better suited for that so keep that in mind. Also remember that the larger the tines the heavier the tool will be.
While I prefer the quiet and the slower pace of using a broadfork to a noisy gas tiller – a broadfork can weigh upwards of 20 pounds and it is tiring to use – especially for people like me that are unaccustomed to the manual labor of sustainable farming. – so I recommend starting small and working to a larger deeper broadfork as you gain skill and stamina.