a quick, sustainable way to loosen dirt and grass: why i love the broadfork

Chances are, your yard work stories are a lot like mine:

Part 1: I know! Let’s plant some heather along that awkward retaining wall in our front yard. It will soften the wall and give the dogs a visual clue not to fall three feet into the gully behind it.

Part 2: Hmmm, now that we’ve dug out a planting strip along the wall, I am reminded of how uneven and lumpy we left our yard from the last big project. Maybe we should just level out this part a little bit…

Part 3: We are now digging up and leveling our entire yard. This work will never end. Ever.

The good news is, this story has a very happy ending: the broadfork. After spending hours using shovels and hoes to level out just a tiny section of yard, we decided to a tiller would make the work go faster. The tiller was already checked out of our local tool library (more to come on those), but the volunteer suggested we give this big, heavy, slightly ominous looking steel fork a try.

I’m not kidding when I say, the broadfork completely rocked our yard work world! This one in particular is one piece, forged from steel by Meadow Creature on Vashon Island, a charming island 15 minutes off Seattle’s far southwest shore. You can find them in a combination of steel and wood, but the one-piece construction will no doubt last longer, and the heaviness (although it was NOT too heavy for me to lift, and my upper body strength is pretty pathetic) made the process super easy in breaking up hard-packed dirt and grass:

First, lift the broadfork up about a foot (being careful of your own feet — those tines aren’t exactly friendly) and then drop it down, letting gravity do the work.

Second, step onto it and wiggle it back and forth in the dirt — this is the fun part.

Third, push down on the handles, lift dirt

Then move the whole thing a half-step over and repeat.

Using the broadfork was a revelation: in just three hours, we’d completely leveled three times what we’d struggled with the day before. Once the dirt was loosened, it was easy to rake it into our yard’s lower section.

Best of all, using the broadfork was fun and gave me some exercise, too — kind of like doing light step aerobics, only with some upper-body work involved.

At nearly $200 each, broadforks are not exactly cheap, but if you have a lot of tilling work to do each year, they do come recommended. Or you can look into joining a local tool library like ours! — Mary T.

From our partners

I’m kind of smitten by that thing. I presume you can kind of control how deep it goes, in that we wouldn’t till up our sprinkler pipes, right? Our yard is so lumpy and clumpy right now, and it seems like we need to just start over. Any idea how it works in clay soil?

Mary S

Hi, Anon, and sorry for the delay in responding! I think it would work great in clay. With two big dogs, our yard was pretty packed down. And yes, we were dropping it from a height to get maximum depth; if you just jabbed it into the yard yourself, I’m sure you can control the depth. I am smitten by this thing as well!!!

Hi Mary — thanks for the shout-out for our Meadow Creature broadfork! I’m glad it worked out for you. It looks like you used the older model — the current version is a bit lighter, and available in a smaller size/weight for those who want a lighter tool. I’m glad the tool library fork is getting a workout.