Making Use of Greenhouse Space in Winter
Josh Sattin has another video from my interview in November. Creative Ways to Maximize the Winter Greenhouse is about 11 minutes long and includes our greenhouse planted with leaf lettuce for the winter and Dave Henderson of Red’s Quality Acre in his hoophouse with kale growing in pots on upside down tables.
Get the Right Fork for the Task at Hand
Too often I hear new gardeners mistakenly call a digging fork a pitchfork, for reasons I have not grasped. So I set out to learn more about the names of forks.
Americans are familiar with pitchforks from the famous American Gothic painting. The pitchfork has a long handle (often longer than the 4 ft one in the painting). It has curved slender round-section tines (prongs). Sometimes three, often only two. You couldn’t dig your garden with this tool! It is made for pitching hay up onto wagons, originally for loose hay (or straw), but also for small square bales. I used pitchforks in England when I was in my twenties. The trick is to vigorously stab the fork down into the middle of a bale on the ground. The next step is to lift the bale up vertically on the fork (hence the need for a long handle!) This trick is achieved by holding the pitchfork with one hand near the tines and the other as far back up the handle as you can comfortably reach. Then you quickly pivot the pitchfork so the bale is up in the air, still impaled on the pitchfork. If you have to wait for the wagon, set the other end of the handle on the ground. This is less work than supporting the whole weight of the bale. When the wagon is alongside, (carefully) “offer up” the bale to the person on the wagon stacking the bales. Sometimes you have to walk to the wagon a short distance. Keep the bale up in the air for this!
Manure or compost forks are long-handled forks similar to pitchforks but with more, thicker tines, maybe 5 or 6 tines. They are for lifting manure, woodchips, or compost from a pile and setting it down again not far away. Or for mucking out stables and cow byres. They excel at separating layers of wet sticky materials. Stick the tines into the pile horizontally, not too far down the pile. Lift up a flake of whatever it is. Don’t dig the garden with those either. And don’t use them for pitching hay, as the tines are too close together to do a good job of stabbing hay bales.
The Garden Tool Company distinguishes manure forks from compost forks, which they say are the same as pitchforks usually with four or more long slender, pointed tines that are turned up slightly for scooping or moving loose material without bending. Great for turning your compost pile or moving loose materials. Pitchforks are too lightweight to handle the heavy weight of compost, so many gardeners opt to use the heavier duty garden fork…also, manure forks look very similar, but are not for lifting heavy loads.
Long-handled potato fork
See below for information on short-handled potato forks. Less common is a long-handled type of potato fork with up to 9 slender tines, like a manure fork but with blunt ends so as not to damage the root crops. This type of potato fork is for lifting the crops up off the ground, not digging.
The short-handled forks always have four tines. These forks may have a D or a T handle. These days more people prefer a D handle.
There’s also the newer Radius PRO Stainless Digging Fork with a circular handle. The handle design is ergonomic, and looks odd, but actually works well. We bought these because we wanted to try a stainless steel fork (less mud, rust and additional weight).
also known as garden forks or spading forks, have sharp, pointed, square-section tines, usually 7”-9” (18-23 cm) long. Wikipedia also gives these tools the name “graip.” The best garden forks are forged from a single piece of strong carbon steel and have either a long riveted socket or strapped handle connection. They are used for loosening, lifting and turning over the soil. They are good at penetrating hard soil, digging to incorporate compost or cover crops, and double digging (if you do that). They can also be used to dig up root crops, or shrubs. It is much easier to get a digging fork into the ground at depth than a shovel or a spade (no, they’re not the same thing), and the tines can work their way between rocks and large roots.
Border forks are smaller digging forks, narrower and shorter. (Hard on tall people that want to dig out weeds in their close-packed flower borders!) I think there’s an assumption that it will be the shorter people (women, mostly) working in the flower borders. But any company that makes tools sized for women gets my vote.
Green Heron Tools sells U.S.-made, hergonomic® tools for women to make farming & gardening as enjoyable, painless & productive as possible. Products include Digging Tools, Cutting Tools, Weeders/Cultivators, Ergonomic Grips, Tractor Hitch, Hats & Gloves and more.
Potato forks have flat-fronted triangular-section tines. They are not so good for digging over the soil. They are for gentle diagonal probing and lifting of root crops and tubers from relatively loose soil. They do less damage than the same person with a digging fork. They can be used as digging forks in loose soil if you have nothing better.
In Choosing a Garden Fork, the Garden Tool Company distinguishes between Digging, Spading, Garden (English), Manure, Compost, Potato, Broadfork and Border forks. Their distinctions are not entirely the same as mine. They distinguish garden forks from digging and spading forks (lighter weight flat-bladed types good for loose soil). This leads to confusion when trying to distinguish potato forks from digging forks. I prefer to think of square-tined forks as for digging and flat-tined forks as for lifting potatoes. Good potato forks should also be of strong steel. “Nobendium” as I’ve heard it called!
Although very different in appearance from a traditional garden fork, the two handled broadfork does a lot of the same chores, but on a bigger scale. With two steel or hardwood handles fitted about shoulder width on a steel horizontal bar and 4, 5, 6 or more long tines; the broadfork is a large, heavy tool made to cultivate and aerate soil without fossil fuels. Hold the handles upright, stab the tines into the soil, step up onto the crossbar with both feet, pushing the long tines into the ground. Step off backwards and pull the handles towards you, causing the tines to lift and loosen the soil, opening up air channels. A broadfork can replace tilling in ground that has been worked before. After broadforking, rake the surface to get a fine tilth for sowing. Those with small gardens can do the same thing with a spading fork, which is what I always did before our gardens got to be so big we needed a rototiller. A broadfork might well be the right scale for those gardens too big to dig with a spading fork and small enough to manage without a tiller.
Barbara Damrosch wrote The fork: A gardener’s essential tool
Barbara and I are alike in wanting to reduce fork confusion, and mostly agree on terminology, As with everything agricultural, there are some differences. She uses the name Spading Fork for what I call Digging/Spading/Garden Forks, and the name Digging fork for flat-tined forks that I call Potato Forks. Here’s her helpful distinction between manure forks and pitchforks:
“A manure fork . . . is more rugged than a pitchfork, it is nevertheless a lifting-and-pitching tool. Confusingly, the name is often used interchangeably with bedding fork, ensilage fork, scoop fork, stall materials that have not decomposed much, can be moved with a few tines, widely spaced. More-crumbly compost, and mulches such as shredded bark and wood chips, require the type with many tines, spaced close together, so the material does not fall through. (The manure fork was designed to scoop lumps of solid manure from even finer material such as wood shavings, letting that bedding fall back into the stall.)”
If you are above average height, buy tools with longer handles than standard.
Stainless or carbon steel
Carbon steel is usually stronger than stainless, but stainless is easier to look after, slides through the soil smoothly and won’t weigh you down with accumulations of mud. For digging forks, I have become a fan of stainless.
has a wide selection of good quality wood handles online. They specialize in hickory, white oak and ash. Be careful making your selection, and get the handle that’s just right for the tool you are repairing. You can see a lot of their handles in our photos. During the winter we usually have a “Santa’s workshop” day when we repair tools.
Quality Garden Tools has a smaller selection. I haven’t tried theirs.
There are YouTube videos showing how to make sturdy repairs. Just be sure to shape the handle for a good fit before drilling any holes for rivets. And learn how to make rivets from large nails if none are supplied with your replacement handle. Sharp edges on poking-out badly finished rivets, or nuts and bolts can cause injuries. Sweat we might need. Blood and tears we can do without.