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

how do you get your garden ready for spring?

In a blink of an eye, spring is suddenly in full bloom! Blossoms are on the trees, the bulbs have all sprouted — even the mosquitoes have come out. Hopefully it’s not too late to get my act together and prepare for the growing season ahead. Last weekend I gave the grasses in our front yard a haircut, and this Saturday it’s time to prune the crepe myrtles. I also want to get some herbs and veggies growing inside the house. I love this idea from Cottage Hill blog: recycled newspaper seed pots. They’re made using a tin can as a mold. Once the pot shape is formed by the folded paper, fill it with soil and compost. When the seedlings are ready to be planted, you can put the whole thing — newspaper pot and all — in the ground. Genius!

What are you doing to get your garden ready? I need tips!

From our partners

steal this idea: gutter gardens

Can you tell that we have spring on the brain? There’s still frost on the ground in the morning, but we are already plotting our gardens for springtime, and herbs are on our the top of our must plant list. We spotted this idea the other day on gutter gardens! We’re not sure how we’d attach this to the house, but the elevated position would be great to prevent ground critters from nibbling, and new puppies from digging. What do you think? Could you rock these sprouts?

From our partners

zero-waste kitchen: could you live like this?

A friend of ours posted a link to this Sunset magazine video on her Facebook page this week and we’ve been thinking about it non stop. It’s a tour of a zero-impact kitchen by Béa Johnson’s (her whole house is like this but it’s the kitchen that is most inspiring). Not only is it clean, modern and and bright but every drawer and cabinet is filled with smartly-used glass jars filled with locally-grown food. I love the idea of no-impact living, but I think it’d be really hard to pull off unless you lived in the right place. My dear friend Henny tries to maintain an uber green lifestyle and is constantly pulling out re-used produce bags from her backpack when we’re in stores. I oblige when she’s with me, but on my own I only remember our grocery totes about half the time. We bring them in and then forget to put them back in the car! What about you? Could you imagine living a no-impact life? Or perhaps just having a zero-waste kitchen? Here are some tips from Béa’s Sunset feature, below:

1. Get rid of your trash can. Everything goes either into the recycling bin, or it gets turned into compost. If you can’t do one of those things with it — eat it!

2. Pillow cases work in the freezer. This Californian buys a week’s worth of baguettes, cuts them in half and freezes them in pillow cases for the week.

3. Make your own orange juice. We can do this. We have a juicer we never use!

4. No more plastic containers from the store. Bring glass jars, hit the salad bar and bulk aisles, and stock up. Granted, cashiers at Whole Foods might do this, but I can’t imagine our local grocery store pulling it off.

P.S. Béa has a blog!
P.S.S. If you feel a little insecure after watching this video, and after recently learning that French women are better moms than us, you’re not alone. Sigh.

From our partners

kinda genuis: to-go lids to help you reuse glass jars


Just today I was feeling glass jar guilt. I saw a page in the new MSL that suggested we use them to store things like pre-chopped garlic and unused onion halves, and I thought, oh, I’ll never be that organized. I save a lot of glass jars, but except for firefly catching in the summer, they don’t get much use. This supremely clever item at Uncrate, called the Cuppow, could help me be a much more practical recycler. It’s a reusable top that acts like a coffee cup lid. Of course, pouring hot liquid into a glass jar is not the smartest way to consume your joe (ouch!) but it could be great for lemonade and iced tea in the summertime. Stick a straw in it (and repeat stern “two hands!” instructions over and over) and I’ve got a spill-proof starter glass for Isadora. Available at Uncrate, $8. — Angela M.

What do you do with your old glass jars? Send suggestions and ideas, please!

From our partners