Broadfork : ‘La grelinette’, a French invention from 1952

Broadfork : La grelinette, the inventor, garden uses, buying advice.

But first, should we return the soil from his garden?

Digging the garden, a pain for the earth, a pain for the back!

Sometimes it is not the head, but back pain that prompts the gardener to stop digging. Either way, it’s exhausting and counterproductive for the soil fertility of a vegetable garden.

Grelinette 4 dents
Broadfork 4 tines. Photo credit : Abéguilé (PLaisible)
You can buy this broadfork on the website PLaisible.com

Lifting a shovelful of soil and turning it head to tail in furrows requires significant physical effort. This is either time and energy wasted, or energy and wasted investment if you use a tiller. Returning the horizons, (horizons are the different layers of soil types), will bury the rich surface matter and its microorganisms which are living beings, will end up in an area that does not contain enough oxygen. This will result in the death of fauna and bacteria accustomed to the surface of the soil. It is therefore towards the putrefaction of organic matter that your cultivation horizon is oriented. You may have already smelled dirt that smells bad. It is gray in color.

This inert substrate will require fertilizer inputs to obtain production. Plants that grow there in this substrate may be diseased. This will force the grower to use pesticides products which are not without risk for the organisms of the consumers.

Turn the earth over with a tiller, what effects?

This earth crusher commonly known as the tiller will crush anything in its path, earthworms included! The lifespan of anecic and endogenous earthworms is 3 to 8 years. But they are not adults and only reproduce in the case of anecis from 9 months. I cannot find the source, but I seem to have heard the great specialist in earthworms, Marcel Bouché, say that some only reproduced at two years old. Imagine the disaster passing the tiller every year!

Mr André Grelin, inventor of La Grelinette

Patent broadfork

Mr. André Grelin was born on the 14th of April 1906 and died on the 26th of April 1982 at the age of 76. It was in 1952 at the age of 46 that he made the first 500 broadforks which had 8 tines. In 1956 his invention won first prise in the french competion « Concours Lépine ». In 1957 Olivier Grelin, his son started manufacturing the tool in their house in Arbin where they lived. He travelled around France selling their tool in garden shows.

On the 9th of September 1963, Mr Andre Grelin, (Seed merchant since 1928 in the town of Chambery), filed a request for a patent for his revolutionary tool the broadfork under the french name « Grelinette ». The invention of this good man was to equip a fork with 2 handles to gain in work force and ergonomics, because it allows the handles to be placed behind the body. This important force is put to good use with a number of tines, (sometimes referred to as teeth). The width of soil that can be loosened varies depending on the number of tines. This genius garden designer also equipped his tool from the outset with curved tines to maximize tool efficiency with leverage.

Once patented, the term ‘grelinette’ became generic

The patent was registered in 1964 (1) under the number FR1378114 in the international classification in the category of human needs, agriculture, tillage, hand tools with teeth.

A trademark filing was attempted by the Grelin family late on the name “La grelinette” (2). But it could not be retained (3) because the name of this tool had already spread. It was commonly used in many gardening books. This is almost a textbook case in the field of trademark registration.

A lawsuit for deceptive commercial practices was attempted by the company Graines Grelin Grelinette against the company Fideclic Sarl, which used the term grelinette on its advertisements. The Paris tribunal de grande instance dismissed the attacking company (4).

Uses of the grelinette fork to move towards permaculture

To work the land and weed

The role of plowing and digging is to weed and loosen the ground in order to be able to then sow or plant crops. This result is achieved with ease by the passage of the grelinette and a rake. It is useless, and even counterproductive to work the land by overturning the horizons of the soil. The gardener therefore respects his land, and whether it is clayey or silty, or even sandy.

Use of a broadfork to prepare the soil without turning over the garden soil

With this respectful practice, the development of the humus will lead to healthy plants. Hence the absence of disease, which makes phytosanitary, and or pesticide treatments unnecessary. As I told you in the introduction, the benefits of the broadfork are also for the consumers of the vegetables which will grow there in this respected ground.

Permaculture in a Nutshell, a Patrick Whitefield book

This is one of the fundamental principles of Permaculture. If you are not familiar with this term, I strongly advise you to discover the book « Permaculture in a Nutshell » by Patrick Whitefield. You will discover the best of ecology. I gave a copy to my local library. Reading it has been a real revelation for some people.

With this respectful practice, the development of humus will result in healthy plants. Hence the absence of disease, which makes pesticides unnecessary. As I said in the introduction, the benefits of the broadfork are also for the consumers of the vegetables that will grow in naturally carred for soil.

One of the principles of Permaculture is that an element must have multiple uses. To illustrate this principle, here are other possible uses of the broadfork.

To make a tree planting hole

It is difficult to dig deep in the earth to plant a tree. With an handcrafted broadfork of quality, we decompact the black earth in small square. We put it aside with a shovel. The yellow earth is then decompressed over a second deeper tine depth to make another seperate pile. The tool can further used to break up the compact bottom of the hole so that the roots can anchor themselves securely.

To move a shrub

The tool has a high leverage effect thanks to its two handles. Therefore, it will be easy to dislodge a shrub that you want to move to a new location. I advise you to cut a circle with a spade to sever the roots and then lift everything with the broadfork.

– other possible uses

  • Make transplanting holes for leeks for example.
  • Disassemble a pallet by putting the teeth under the board with possibly a wood block to increase the leverage.

Interest in soil

The broad fork with its wooden handles is an ideal gardening and market gardening tool. Because it makes it possible to prepare the land by aerating the soil without turning it over, unlike plowing. The air entering the earth allows the life and development of all small organisms and fungi which creates soil fertility and humus development. Adding a little compost or potting soil to the soil surface at this time allows it to be integrated into the first few centimetres of compacted clay soil. This amendent will result in the soil becoming more fertile.

Preserving the gardener’s back

Unlike the classic digging which breaks the backs of gardeners eveywhere, the broadfork is symmetrically thanks to the two handles while allowing the user to keep a straight back. Unlike digging where the user bends down to grab the handle and lift the shovel. The back is curved and its tilt is in the danger zone.

On the contrary, the broadfork allows you to keep your back flat without going out of the comfort zone. These are the words of a physiotherapist friend who explained it during a demonstration of the use of broadforks.

When to use this garden tool

In the book Jardiner sur sol vivant, Gilles Domenech shows us that working the land will release nitrogen. The decompaction action must therefore take place just before sowing or planting in the spring.

In some cases, a light pass in the fall will be beneficial just to poke holes so that excess water can get in. But this should not be overstated, as it should not be liberated from the nitrogen which is already in excess in the soil at this season. Because there is a risk of losing it when it will miss in the spring.

The market gardener book
200 000+ copies sold

This name « grelinette » has become so emblematic of natural gardening that several associations or farms refer to it in their name. I would of course quote Jean-Martin Fortier whose book « The market gardener » is a reference for small-area market gardening. The name of his farm is : Les jardins de la Grelinette. It is located in Saint Armand, Quebec.

Buying a broadfork, where to buy and at what price

There are a large number of models on the market. To answer your question, where to buy a broadfork, here are some of the key points to consider to avoid purchasing the wrong model. Indeed, there is a big difference between a basic tool that can be found in gardening centers and a forged broadfork bought from a blacksmith skilled in the fabrication of for. Forged steel is a guarantee of the quality and durability of your pruning knife.

The quality of the wood used for the handles is also important. Traditionally, ash wood is the best. The care taken in fitting it into the sleeve of the broadfork is also important. The direction of the wood grain gives the wooden handle more strength if it is carefully fitted in the right direction. This is very important for preparing the ground if the soil is clayey or stony.

– 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, ou 9 teeth?

I think you have to keep in mind that this is a long-term investment. Several people may need to use it. The 6, 7, 8 and 9 tines are to be reserved for professional use with a regular technique of cultivation in permanent beds.

La grelinette, de 3 à 7 dents
The broadfork, from 3 to 9 teeth to be chosen according to the skills of the gardener but especially the desired use. Photo credit: Abéguilé (CRSI)

Let’s share…

A number of gardeners have never heared of this tool. So let’s share the tool and this information on Facebook, by email for the health of the soil and the gardeners themselves. Let’s boutiful growth in our gardens and share the address of this site dedicated to the broadfork with our neighbours, friends, family, etc.

Notes in french :

1- https://worldwide.espacenet.com/patent/search/family/001573828/publication/FR1378114A?q=pn%3DFR1378114A

2- http://www.lyon-entreprises.com/News/lyon-juridique/actus/marque,i64244.html

3- https://www.doctrine.fr/TGI/Paris/2014/INPIM20140459

4- https://www.doctrine.fr/d/TGI/Paris/2014/FR4189B3E9ED582BDEBD6D