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Broadfork and Wheel Hoe Maintenance

Posted by David Grau on

Originally Posted on July 19, 2013

We hope you've been enjoying fruit and vegetable abundance from your garden, farmer's markets, and friends. We like to share our harvest with friends, passing along our harvest of tomatoes, eggplants, jalapeno peppers, and peaches.

We've been making up batches of fresh salsa, peach chutney (which freezes wonderfully), and tomato salads with fresh basil. Tastes like summer.

Maintenance Tips for the Valley Oak Wheel Hoe

Valley Oak Wheel HoeOver the years, I have seen some wheel hoes unnecessarily fall into a state of disrepair. Here's what you can do to keep your Valley Oak wheel hoe operating like the champ it is, for many years to come:

Store it out of the weather. Wet weather will eventually rust even zinc plated bolts. You shouldn't have to worry about the stainless steel nuts. It is not a common practice to use zinc plated bolts with stainless steel nuts, but it seems to be a great combination. The bolts can corrode if left in the rain for long periods. If you have a rubber tire on your wheel hoe, it can crack, and eventually disintegrate if left in the sun. I recommend hanging the handles over the top plate of a stud wall in your shed.

Keep the blade sharp and clean. A sharp blade cuts the soil and roots with less effort than a dull blade. You and the tool don't have to work so hard when the blade is sharp.

Always rinse off any dirt on the blade at the end of the day. Even after it dries, dirt attracts moisture out of the air, and rusts the blade. Soil sticks to a rusty blade, but will polish a clean blade.

To sharpen the blade, use a mill bastard file with a handle to protect you from getting cut. Put the blade assembly in a woodworking vise if possible, or leave it on the wheel hoe and turn the hoe over.

I don't recommend using a grinder, as it will take off too much steel, and a mill bastard file will do a fine job.

Once a year or so, go over the tool occasionally with a wrench and a Philips screwdriver and tighten any loose nuts.

If you do other maintenance on you wheel hoe, or have comments about how you use it, please let us know. We would be happy to share new ideas with our readers.

Maintenance Tips for the Valley Oak Broadfork

Misty using a wood handle broadforkNote: These tips were written for older model Valley Oak Broadforks that had wooden handles. Our new Broadforks have chromoly steel handles that will not warp or rot.

Keep your broadfork in a dry place when not being used. Wood handles will rot if they spend a lot of time wet and can crack if left in full sun for weeks at a time. The Valley Oak broadfork has ash handles and we select handles with the best grain for strength and longevity. We end up rejecting as much as 15% of our handles before we fit them for our broadforks.

We like wooden handles because they feel cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and they flex, which is also nice. Really yanking on a wood handle can break it though, that's why we have the 6 month free replacement if a handle breaks.

Very few people break more than one handle, and only a few break even one handle. The broadfork is strong, and you can flex the handles as you pull back, but stop when you hit something that feels like concrete. It may be a big rock, or a big root, and if you pull too hard, a handle could break. A broadfork is not a bulldozer.

To keep the handles in great shape, store the tool out of the weather. Hey, that's what I said about wheel hoes too. I wonder if it applies to other garden tools? Yup. They may look nicely weathered, but fungus will have eaten some of the wood, and the result is a weak handle. Kept dry, the handles can last decades. Like the blade of the wheel hoe, rinse any clinging soil off. No need to dry it, it will drip dry.

Orchard Care in the Summer

We talked to Carl Rosato of Woodleaf Farm about what kind of tree maintenance he's doing in his orchard, and what kinds of delicious offerings he'll have at the various Farmers Markets he attends. We appreciate Carl taking time out of his busy farming schedule to talk to us about the goings on in the orchard.

Carl is getting ready to start his summer pruning on the peaches. He'll prune a little off of each tree, not so much as to have the tree push out a flush of new growth, but enough to let light into the tree and reach the fruit. Later, in September or so, he'll do a heavier pruning when the trees are done with their fruit production.

He's also keeping a close watch on his soil moisture level. He works to keep the top foot of soil moist, but not too wet, which helps keep the soil nutrients cycling. If the soil gets too dry, the nutrient cycle will shut down for a time, and Carl aims to avoid that. When the weather heats up he changes his irrigation schedule from once a week, to two or three times a week with shorter watering intervals.

Carl's peaches and cucumbers are at the Saturday Chico Farmers Market, and he's also selling in Berkeley, Calif., and Sebastopol, Calif. He grows Tasty King cucumbers, which he said are the best, tastiest cucumbers he's found. "I don't know why they aren't being grown by everyone," he said.

Woodleaf Farm usually has about five different types of peaches from which to choose, and this weekend Suncrest and Sugar Lady White peaches will be at the Chico Saturday market. In a few weeks his large sweet red peppers will be available. He said they are big, big, thick-walled peppers, and weigh about one pound each. They sound absolutely wonderful, and we'll be looking out for them when we're at the market.

Keep Your Summer Garden Producing Longer

fresh tomatoesTo ensure a continued harvest from healthy plants, make sure the plants have enough water. Ideally this is accomplished by a combination of efficient irrigation and mulching. Now that your plants are established, you can tuck mulch around the plants and cover the soil by the plants. This not only conserves a huge amount of water, it also keeps the soil cooler in hot weather and warmer in cold weather. Plant roots like that.

Check that the soil has enough moisture. This is easy to do with a shovel or a trowel, you'll want to be able to feel some moisture in the soil, but not have it be too wet. There is controversy at the Valley Oak Tool trial garden about how much to water tomatoes. I say water twice a week. Carla advocates much less frequent irrigation, but in our climate she is still giving the plants a good soaking about every 15 to 20 days.

It works for her because her plants are heavily mulched, which keeps the soil from drying out. We are both getting a lot of tomatoes. Carla says hers are more flavorful, but I don't think she has tried mine since the weather turned hot. Mine are so good, it might be just too much if they had more flavor. There is nothing like a great tomato crop to make a gardener happy.

Sawmill Creek Farm provided us with a wide variety of plants, and we are enjoying them all. I particularly like Black Prince. It is a purple flesh tomato like Cherokee Purple, but a more reliable producer of salad size fruit, with few stem cracks. Sungold is a favorite cherry type, and glows orange-yellow when ripe. The chocolate cherries were less flavorful early in the season, but they are quite good now. My old standbys are Celebrity and Early Girl. Both are red, have a good yield, offer good disease resistance, but are hybrids, so you can't rely on saving your own seed to breed true.

The most dedicated among us can be planting lettuce in flats for transplanting later in the summer. But unless you are extremely focused daily on your plants' needs, I might suggest buying your lettuce from GRUB CSA Farm if you are at the Chico Farmers' Market. Their lettuce has been absolutely amazing for months. Their potatoes are pretty darn good too.

Planning the Fall Garden

Now is the time to plan your fall garden, buy the seed, and prepare the beds. In most cases, it is good to add some decent compost before you broadfork the bed. All the better if you have had your soil tested and add some amendments before forking. Irrigate if the soil is dry, and check it daily for the ideal moisture level for easy insertion of the tines, and for breaking the clods. After broadforking, rake the beds with a bow rake to make a nice seedbed. If needed, give it a light irrigation just before planting.

On planting day, scratch a 1/2" to 1" deep furrow with the corner of a hoe. I like to cover the seed with sifted compost. This acts like a mulch and doesn't crust like exposed soil can. Carla pointed out there were a lot of pill bugs in the compost I used to cover the cucumber seeds we planted, and wouldn't you know it, all of the cucumbers and all but three of the beans were eaten down as soon as they came up. It would have been better to just cover them with soil and keep it damp so the cotyledons could break through. So check your compost to make sure it is suitable to use on a seedbed.

You need to plant a fall garden, mainly in late July and early August, because the days will get shorter in the fall and you want your plants sized up while there is plenty of daylight, and so the crops can mature in the cool weather. Keep in mind you are going to have to water frequently to sprout carrots, beets, chard, kale, lettuce, radishes, onions, and more. Here in the Sacramento Valley you can plant onion seed right now for digging in the winter, and to plant for next June's onion harvest. If you don't get them planted, you can buy the plants from Jerry Bonds at the Chico Farmer's Market in November and December.

If you have questions or topics you would like addressed, send me an email and I will answer do my best to answer them.

English Ivy Removal with the Valley Oak Wheel Hoe

Ivy pile next to wheel hoeOne of the projects we are working on in the garden is removal of invasive English ivy. The Valley Oak wheel hoe takes large swaths of the ivy out with much less effort than hand cutting and digging. The first few passes with the wheel hoe tears and cuts away the green tops of the ivy, and once that is mostly cleared another few passes are taken to get the blade down into the soil to cut the roots. We've been using the 8"Tall blade to work on the ivy. A sharp hoe blade makes the work much easier.

We wouldn't imagine using a regular hoe to get rid of ivy, but the weight of the wheel hoe, along with the ergonomic design, makes it a really great tool for the job. It is quite satisfying to see a big pile of ivy, withering away, cut off from its roots. Now we can plant a wide variety of plants that will make food for humans, and friendly habitat for bees, birds, and other friends of the garden.

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