Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Best Tools = Faster Weeding and Less Back Strain

With my recent back injury, I find it incredibly uncomfortable to be bending over all the time weeding, planting rows of seeds and weeding in general. This coming from a woman who does natural childbirth and had kidney stones removed without a general anesthetic. I'm not exactly sure what I did to my back but the pain has now changed from all over to a central point, hopefully if I can take it easy for another week it will feel stronger. I'm doing stretches and light work but no heavy lifting except moving the trailer occasionally. But hurting my back during spring planting was possibly the worst time of year for this. I could barely walk for several days and it drove me crazy with frustration. I finally got the garden tilled and now I couldn't do anything about it. Exasperating to say the least!!

Some of the tools that we're going to get for our new homestead are these: a broad fork, a row seeder, and a wheel hoe. So being laid up gave me plenty of time to see what's available and to see what tools work best. And now you can benefit from my research.

The benefits of having a broad fork, which is commonly used in Europe, are the ability to loosen soil to a depth of about 12 inches compared to 6 inches with a tiller. You also don't invert the soil, leaving the top few inches of microbial life happy and healthy and leave your worms in 1 piece instead of several pieces using a tiller. And no, cutting a worm in half doesn't make 2 worms...just a dead bit and a short worm called 'Stumpy' by his friends. Broad forks are easy to use despite their size because you can use your own weight to push them into the soil and having 2 handles makes them easier to lever back as you loosen the soil.

Next, actually second on my list of tool wishes, is a wheel cultivator. There are several available locally but the one I like best so far is this one by Valley Oak Tools in California. I like the adjustable handle height, ability to offset it, curve, and the attachment choices from a furrow plow to a 4 tine cultivator. This gives us the ability to dig, furrow, hill up and weed all our veggie beds while standing upright and walking.

In case you're wondering what tool is first on my list, it's a precision row seeder. But as my budget is limited at present, I will have to keep sitting to plant or using a regular hand hoe. I guess there's always teenage slave labour too. 

We live in an age when we know that fossil fuels are running out and becoming both increasingly environmentally destructive and expensive. Using fertilizers not derived from fossil fuels and looking for hand tools that make efficient use of human labour should be a priority for any small scale grower, especially for those of us trying to be as environmentally responsible as possible. Whether yo believe it or not, oil is running out.

Fuel Reserves Years left
Oil 1,386 billion barrels      46.2
Gas 187.1 trillion cubic metres 58.6
Coal 860,938 million tonnes 118

Source: BP. Reserves calculated at current price using current technologies as reported by BBC, 2012.

Well, I'll write more later but today I'm hoping to get both cucumber, potato and tomato plants in before I get more sunburned. I need to start early so I can come home and clean up before taking a friend to her Dr's appt.

2 Jays are having an argument outside my window, not sure what that's all about. But it's a good alarm that's for sure, they don't sound at all melodic!


  1. I have never seen a broad fork before.
    Have you worked with one before?

    1. Yes, I used one in England when I was much shorter. Can't wait to get my new one! It was great for turning up potatoes as the tines are long so you don't have to get really close and risk skewering the spuds. I like the look of this one with it's reinforced, almost gusseted tines that I imagine will not bend anywhere as easily as a normal fork. I'll keep you all posted.