Get Your Garden Growing with Low-Tech Tools
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Terrific low-tech tools
The scythe. Let’s assume, for our supposition, you can leave some of your ground as pasture and use it for growing mulches. (You also could include cover crops that can be cut for mulches in your garden-bed rotation, or grow mulches in the space between garden beds.) With a well-whetted scythe, you can cut these plants and use them to lay down a “kill mulch” heavy enough to smother the established sod in your new garden plot. To make the mulch even more effective, you can first put down a layer of newspaper or cardboard, recycling these carbon-rich organic materials right on the homestead.
The garden cart. Carrying large quantities of mulching materials by hand from one spot on your property to another would be exhausting. A low-tech alternative is a well-designed garden cart. It’s lightweight and easily moved, but has the capacity to carry big loads of mulch for your project. With large diameter wheels, pneumatic tires and a big U-shaped handle, the cart is easy to maneuver. With proper care, it will last forever. A machine-powered alternative – a dump trailer attached to a lawn tractor, for example – is more than most home garden jobs require.
Once you’ve applied the kill mulch, the soil organisms beneath it will proliferate and thrive in the enhanced moisture and moderate temperature while feasting on the organic material in the mulch.
The broadfork. You can speed the desired changes in your soil by using a tool to loosen it – just so long as you do not mix or invert the natural layers of the soil’s profile, pulverize the structure created by beneficial soil organisms, or disrupt their busy lives.
The broadfork is a simple but effective tillage tool with 12- to 14-inch-long pointed tines welded to a stout bar and a pair of wooden or steel handles for leverage. The gardener stands on the bar to push it into the garden bed, pulls back on the handles to rock the tines and loosen the soil to their full length, then moves the broadfork over and repeats the process.
The broadfork is not appropriate for initially breaking up compacted ground. The kill mulch needs to do its work first. Then, once the hard-working organisms under the mulch have made some headway with “mellowing” the soil, you can start to use the broadfork to break it up further, allowing easier penetration by earthworms and roots.
It’s better to be satisfied initially with only being able to work the tines a few inches into the soil, rather than exhausting yourself by heroically forcing them into the still-compacted depths of the soil. As the soil in your garden beds becomes more friable each year, it becomes easier to use the broadfork to do whatever tillage is needed.