Easiest and Best Way to Break up Garden Soil Using Hand Tools - Homesteading Today
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  #1  
Old 01/17/09, 08:23 PM
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Question Easiest and Best Way to Break up Garden Soil Using Hand Tools

I don't use power tools in my garden--long story about why--but wondered if anyone had good ways and easier ways of breaking up your garden's soil in the spring--I think I would have better results with my gardening if I knew how to break up my soil better!

Thanks!

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Old 01/17/09, 09:02 PM
 
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I found that replacing a stock handle on a shovel with a 6'-7' long dry and debarked hardwood sapling makes tilting the shovel in heavy soil almost effortless.

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  #3  
Old 01/17/09, 09:13 PM
 
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I am going to buy my garden some gypsum when I get to a nursery or wherever they sell it.

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Old 01/17/09, 09:52 PM
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You don't have to till or work the soil. I just pile manure, leaves, and compost in rows in my garden. In the spring I make little pockets which I fill with potting soil and put started plants in that. Beans and peas can be direct seeded. I haven't dug for a couple years.

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Old 01/17/09, 10:07 PM
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Not really any easy ways,but I have used what I call a grub hoe. Its a big heavy hoe that will cut down about 8 to 10 inches deep when you hit the ground,and go over garden plot pulling that dirt toward you with the hoe.Its not easy but it works. If you happen to live out in farm country,talk to a local farmer about chiselling or bottom plowing your plot when hes working the fields close to your home.It want be ready to plant, but it will be much easier for you to work.Most farmers will do it and not charge a dime.Find one like that and return the favor somehow,maybe a few veggies.Come next year He will contact you. Good luck, Eddie Buck

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Old 01/17/09, 10:40 PM
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I use a long handled pitch fork. I had a short handled pitch fork.but it was to hard on my back.
i tilled it once 8 years ago and now when it needs some digging I use the pitch fork. When its not planted I pile card board , manure and rough compost on it.

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  #7  
Old 01/17/09, 10:51 PM
 
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A broadfork works extremly well. Think of it as a wide garden fork that you stand up straight to use. They sell them at Johhnys Selected Seeds. Author and farmer Elliot Coleman came up with it and swears by them.

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  #8  
Old 01/17/09, 11:20 PM
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I've seen a tool that looks like a round pitch fork. you use it like a spade but when you have it in the ground you twist it to break things up. Goes about 8 inches deep. I'll see if I can find a picture of it.

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  #9  
Old 01/17/09, 11:31 PM
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A long-handled #2 shovel works great. Just don't try to do it all at once and you don't have to take big "bites". For a number of years, my home garden was about 750 square feet or so. I'd do maybe 100 square feet at one go and plant it. Then dig more as needed. Each year got easier since organic matter was being worked in. Tried 2 different spade forks but both had short handles which were too hard on the back. Actually have 3 identical shovels now and each one is sharp. Keeping them sharp makes it a lot easier to use in heavy soil.

Martin

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  #10  
Old 01/18/09, 12:28 AM
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I do not use any power tools in my garden with the exception of the gas powered weed whacker I use to knock down weeds in the walkways about once a month during the high growing season. Everything else is low tech and quiet. My primary/necessary tools are a garden fork, a garden spade, broadfork, hoe, 3-pronged cultivator, pitchfork, shovel, and flat rake. Each is used for different tasks - but they all get lots of use throughout the year. The hoe and shovel get the edge filed periodically to ensure they are very sharp - making the work easier with each stroke.

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  #11  
Old 01/18/09, 12:54 AM
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I don't dig up the garden really either- I put a layer of manure with card board over the top and a mulch over that in the fall- by spring the ground for about 6 inches deep is soft and wormy when the mulch is pulled back. I do the same every year and the soft soil gets deeper and deeper. Works for everything except long carrots.

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Old 01/18/09, 07:52 AM
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Too late to do this now but one fall I planted hairy vetch as a green manure. Seemed to work well. But I still had to use a spade to 'turn' the vetch.
Started a new plot this winter. 20 x 10. Spread several thicknesses of newspaper, leaves we stole from suburban neighbors (11 huge bags), hay I raked from mowing our open areas, then composted horse manure. This should be enuf to feed ALL the coons in the county.
Patty

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  #13  
Old 01/18/09, 10:45 AM
 
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Last spring I tried No-till tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. I made a shovel like tool that was a "U" shape head on the end of a pipe. The "U" was slightly bigger than the transplant cube. The ground had been tilled the fall before and planted to rye. I no-tilled into the rye stubble and used the mowed rye as mulch in the row. It worked well.

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Old 01/18/09, 10:57 AM
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Originally Posted by where I want to View Post
I don't dig up the garden really either- I put a layer of manure with card board over the top and a mulch over that in the fall- by spring the ground for about 6 inches deep is soft and wormy when the mulch is pulled back. I do the same every year and the soft soil gets deeper and deeper. Works for everything except long carrots.
You never will get long carrots unless you change the soil structure where the roots grow. Over a long period of time, that would be gradually accomplished by the simple act of digging the carrots. Worms alone won't do it. There are surface feeders and surface and subsurface dwellers. The first two break down organic material on or near the surface. The third feeds on such material in the top 8" or so of soil. If there is nothing for them to feed on, they won't survive. For best carrot results, the soil structure should be altered to a depth of 18".

Martin
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Old 01/18/09, 08:25 PM
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I'm not sure where you live, but if I was starting a new garden, I'd do the the same we do with our garden every fall.

We use a "pig tractor". It's a luggable 4 by 16 pen with 3 (or 2) feeder pigs in it. We move it up and down the rows of the garden. They clean up for us (and will eat and bust the sod of new rows)... fertilize as they go, (and it reduces our feed cost by 10 to 15 % because of what they harvest) they move the big rocks off to the side etc. They root down 8 to 10 inches.

After they have cleaned up the 4 by 16 (and I've moved them), I dig in about a inch (maybe 2) of compost.

Come sprng I turn the garden a 3rd time... and then use our Mathis ("only power tool" we have for the garden) to "fluff" up the row before planting.

Guess I should also add, our vegatable garden has 7 rows all 72 by 4 (or 5).

I've written a article about the pig tractor that I'd be willing to share with anyone who pm's me. (I read the orginal article about Pig Tractors either in Farmstead or Mother Earth News in the late '70's and remembered it when we moved here. We've been using it for 4 winters now.


Pat

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Old 01/18/09, 09:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pat View Post
I'm not sure where you live, but if I was starting a new garden, I'd do the the same we do with our garden every fall.

We use a "pig tractor". It's a luggable 4 by 16 pen with 3 (or 2) feeder pigs in it. We move it up and down the rows of the garden. They clean up for us (and will eat and bust the sod of new rows)... fertilize as they go, (and it reduces our feed cost by 10 to 15 % because of what they harvest) they move the big rocks off to the side etc. They root down 8 to 10 inches.

After they have cleaned up the 4 by 16 (and I've moved them), I dig in about a inch (maybe 2) of compost.

Come sprng I turn the garden a 3rd time... and then use our Mathis ("only power tool" we have for the garden) to "fluff" up the row before planting.

Guess I should also add, our vegatable garden has 7 rows all 72 by 4 (or 5).

I've written a article about the pig tractor that I'd be willing to share with anyone who pm's me. (I read the orginal article about Pig Tractors either in Farmstead or Mother Earth News in the late '70's and remembered it when we moved here. We've been using it for 4 winters now.


Pat
Believe me, if I could do this I would in a heartbeat! I would love to raise chickens and pigs, possibly even a cow, but I currently live in a duplex with only a small patio area to grow things at my home, a vegetable garden at my mom's which is 45 minutes away that I am able to get out to twice a week to tend to and (hopefully) an organic 10 foot by 10 foot plot in a local community garden depending on where I am on the waiting list this year. I can't wait until the day I am able to buy some land and a small house and garden and farm to my heart's content. ****contented sigh just thinking about it!!****
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Old 01/18/09, 09:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vegfarmer View Post
A broadfork works extremly well. Think of it as a wide garden fork that you stand up straight to use. They sell them at Johhnys Selected Seeds. Author and farmer Elliot Coleman came up with it and swears by them.
I want to buy a broadfork in the future but can't afford one this year--the cheapest I have found them is 89.99 and that just isn't in the budget this year--I think I will put an ad in craigslist to see if, per chance, someone would have one setting around they want to sell. Thanks for reminding to do that!!
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Old 01/18/09, 09:39 PM
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Originally Posted by where I want to View Post
I don't dig up the garden really either- I put a layer of manure with card board over the top and a mulch over that in the fall- by spring the ground for about 6 inches deep is soft and wormy when the mulch is pulled back. I do the same every year and the soft soil gets deeper and deeper. Works for everything except long carrots.

I was wondering what kind of mulch? I have access to a lot of leaves in the fall--could that work as the mulch or straw??

Thanks!
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  #19  
Old 01/18/09, 10:11 PM
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If you are not using a green manure crop over the winter I would suggest that you work the garden in the fall after the last harvest. Any clods of dirt will tend to freeze and thaw from the moisture in them and will break apart naturally. Thus being mellow in the spring will allow easier working and probably without any large clods of dirt.

Perhaps some extra work but fall is really the time to add many soil improving amendments such as leaves old mulch, etc. By spring it will probably have broken down into rich soil.

Depending upon the kind of leaves they should be great for the garden. Some pack down more than others, hence why I always sheet compost them by tilling them in in the fall.

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