Archive for April, 2010

Larry Cooper’s Gulland Broadfork

Monday, April 19th, 2010

In December, George Zens, the publisher of Sustainable Times, a Madison area monthly newspaper dedicated to ecologically intelligent living, asked me if I knew Larry Cooper, and his Gulland Broadfork. George said Larry was making really good forks in Black Earth, a town just west of Madison, and was advertising in Sustainable Times. I did not know Larry, but I sent him an e-mail to introduce myself. Larry responded, and with our mutual interest in tools, gardening, sustainability, and beer, we have become friends. I ordered two forks from Larry, one for me and one for Geoff.

Larry delivered my Gulland Broadfork to me on Saturday, while I was doing a one day tradeshow in downtown Madison called Isthmus Green Day. The show was over at five and we were home before seven. I had the fork in the ground shortly after seven and used it to work up one of my hardest (clayeyest) beds to prep it for a planting of transplanted strawberries.

On Sunday I worked up two more beds. The first bed held potatoes last year and the soil was already quite soft. The other was a four year old deteriorated strawberry bed that was more dandelion and quack grass than berries. In all instances Larry’s fork was the best tool I had ever used for breaking soil. I unequivocally endorse this tool as not good, but great, as close to perfect as a tool can be.

I’ve had some previous experience with broadforks. I bought one in 1992 from Smith and Hawkin when they still seemed to be trying to sell useful items for gardeners. The fork was poorly constructed however, and I broke a tine. Smith and Hawkin sent me a new head, but I bent a tine immediately and gave up on the tool. It was not well made and not very effective. Since then, I’ve been using a smaller broadfork called a Biofork, made by the Swiss tool company Glaser. It does not have the U-bar handles of traditional broadforks but has a single T-handle. It’s light, well made, and reasonably effective, but I don’t see myself using it much anymore. I’m quite sure I now have the best tool for the job.

Larry’s tool is hand crafted. He’s a professional blacksmith and artist, with years of experience making metal art. He did a lot of research in perfecting his design. Broadforks have been around for several centuries, and there are good ones and not so useful ones out there. The Gulland fork uses curved tines that work their own way into the ground. The technique is quite simple. You position the tines where you want them, push the two handles far out in front of you so the ends of the tines are close to vertical, step on the crossbar to give the tool some downward thrust and rock handles back and forth, (kind of like rowing a boat). The curved tines want to dig into the soil and you need to apply very little downward foot pressure to have the fork work.

The tool weighs just over fourteen pounds.  The action used to break soil requires you only to barely lift the tool out of the ground after you’ve pushed it in, drag it back towards you to re-position the tines and repeat the motion. It is not excessively hard work, and much easier than trying to do the same thing with a garden fork that only weighs five pounds.

While Larry specifically states that a broadfork is not intended to clean out virgin soil and that a mattock or power tiller might make more sense for such jobs, it is a tough tool. If you use common sense, you will know if you are working it too hard. The handles have a lot of flex. You can see and feel when you are getting more resistance than might be wise to continue.

I would not be afraid to try it in much tougher conditions than I have so far, but I would certainly take small bites and not over extend the tool, or myself. But since my beds are, for the most part, defined and in constant use, the Gulland fork will mostly be used to aerate the soil of my existing garden. I know I have a tool that I will treasure for years and it should well outlast me.

Thanks, Larry.

First Asparagus

Friday, April 16th, 2010

I picked the first harvest of asparagus, yesterday. Only nine small spears, but there will be lots and lots to follow in the coming weeks. Judy served it up with egg noodles sautéed with some shiitake mushrooms picked from our logs a couple days ago and fresh spring onions from the herb bed. Just delicious!

GBBD April 2010

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Remember back in September, when I requested help identifying all the plants in my new yard? Well, now that the snow is all melted (I hope), and temperatures are warming up, I’m going to need your help again.

I’m not entirely clueless when it comes to ornamental bloom identification, but at this point, more plants than not are beyond my breadth of knowledge. Like this thing, for example:

Here’s a closer view of the flowers on it:

Do please tell me what this stuff is, because I seem to have a lot of it:

Again, here’s a closup:

And please, please, please tell me what this little bloom is. My first thought was “tulip” but it’s certainly not like any tulip I’ve ever seen.
UPDATE — I’ve been informed this is a Fritillaria meleagris.

And a view looking in:

These two are a little closer to how I normally picture a tulip:

I seem to have a number of different hyacinths (at least, I think that’s what they are):

These were more of a peach color, but the color washed out when I took the photo:

I’m told this is a forsythia (I took this picture over a week ago, but I think it’s still OK to post it today):

And then there are the daffodils.

I think the remarkable thing about my daffodils is not how many of them there are (many — just take my word for it), but how many different varieties there are.

So there you have it. More to come next month! Please help me out with identification and post your answers in the comments below. Thanks!

Carri's Gravatar your checkered tulip flower is a Fritillaria- can’t help you with the others!
# Posted By Carri | 4/15/10 3:53 PM
Anneliese's Gravatar Thank you! One mystery solved!
# Posted By Anneliese | 4/15/10 3:59 PM
Annie in Austin's Gravatar Hi Anneliese – looks like spring has sprung for you.

Maybe Bergenia cordifolia for first mystery..the pink bloomer. Second one looks like Japanese spurge/groundcover Pachysandra.

What an absolutely killer daffodil in the last photo! Talk about your large cups…

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

# Posted By Annie in Austin | 4/15/10 4:13 PM
ricki-sprig to twig's Gravatar Yep, it’s Fritillaria meleagris, or ‘checkered lily’, and isn’t it just the cutest? My mom always called the white, pink and blue flowersd with the grassy foliage ‘scilla’, but I have heard them called Spanish bluebells too. What could be more fun than discovering what you have inherited in a new garden?
# Posted By ricki-sprig to twig | 4/15/10 5:03 PM
Snap's Gravatar You are on an adventure in your new yard … lots of new to you plants. What fun! Lots of wonderful bulbs.
# Posted By Snap | 4/15/10 6:12 PM
GardenJunkie's Gravatar Yup, the “hyacinths” are scilla aka Spanish bluebells, or Hyacinthoides hispanica. I think the first picture is bergenia, as someone already mentioned. It’s also called “piqsqueek” because of the name the leaves make when rubbed together. Love all your daffodils – my favorite spring flowers!
# Posted By GardenJunkie | 4/15/10 8:15 PM
Mr. McGregor's Daughter's Gravatar I second Annie’s opinion that the first plant is a Bergenia, also known as pigsqueak. Rub a leaf quickly between your fingers to hear the pig noise. The second is Pachysandra, probably the Japanese one. And I agree with Carrie & Ricki about the Fritillaria meleagris. They are cool little flowers. The Hyacinths are in decline and will probably never look like bottlebrushes again. They just aren’t good perennializers. You do have a wonderful assortment of Daffodils. I love the pink-cupped one. Sorry I can’t ID it, but I bet the last one is the old standby ‘Ice Follies.’ I think there’s a law that everyone has to grow them.
# Posted By Mr. McGregor’s Daughter | 4/15/10 8:30 PM
Anneliese's Gravatar Thanks everyone, I knew I could count on you!

I have a big mass of flowers that I recognized as scillas, because they are exactly like the ones my mom has outside her back door. After a quick Wikipedia search, I’m guessing they’re Siberian squill. They certainly spread further and further into the lawn each year.

# Posted By Anneliese | 4/15/10 11:20 PM
Sylvana's Gravatar You certainly have a wide variety of daffodils!
The hyacinths are just that. They only have the full beehive look the first spring or two, after that, they look more loosely flowered like these in your picture.
# Posted By Sylvana | 4/16/10 3:27 PM