The Pitchfork

The subject of tools and equipment is a tricky one. There is a tendency to want a tool for every purpose, almost to the point where the tools use the gardener instead of the other way around. It helps to remember that with technology of any kind, the best solution is usually the least complicated

My grandfather thought that the most important tool an organic gardener could own was a garden or spading fork (pitchfork), and I agree.

  • Whether preparing a bed for planting, dividing established perennials, mixing compost, or
    aerating a lawn, it is the most versatile tool I have (except the hand that holds it).
  • With just a garden fork and a little legwork, you can maintain almost any sized garden once it is established.
  • The advantage of a fork over a spade is that it breaks up the soil instead of just moving it around.
  • A good garden fork is indeed a heavy-duty implement, usually mounted with a “D” type handle, although occasionally you’ll see one with a long, straight handle. I have both. The “D” handle is best for spring soil preparation, because it gives your hand a lateral grip that helps keep an off-center fork load of soil from tipping. But the long-handled fork provides more leverage for loosening subsoil when double digging, and allows you to work
    standing straighter.
  • If you can only have one, though, choose the ‘D’-handled fork because of
    its versatility.
  • The four tines (prongs) of an American-style fork measure 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide and eight to twelve inches long, are somewhat pointed on the end so they enter the ground easily, but are broad and flattened in cross-section so that they disturb the soil rather than cut it. This is the same kind of tine used on a potato fork, which has to extract potatoes from the ground without harming them. English-style forks have tines that are 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick with a square cross-section.
  • Garden forks are made from a stiff, tempered steel that can stand up to the same kind of digging and prying action as a shovel. The best have solid
    forged heads and a closed socket, or a long strap of steel joining the blade to the handle, to prevent breakage. I have broken a few myself and now wouldn’t have one with a cheap, riveted handle.

Adapted from Straight-Ahead Organic, by Shepherd Ogden. Copyright (c)1992, 1999 by Shepherd Ogden. Reprinted by permission of Chelsea Green Publishing Company.
Adapted from Straight-Ahead Organic, by Shepherd Ogden


Nancy B.
Nancy B5 years ago

This brings back memories of Dad in his beautiful vegetable garden. His pitchfork was one is most used tools for breaking up the soil and his compost pile.

Robert O.
Robert O5 years ago

A very useful tool to have. Thanks Annie.

Terry V.
Terry V5 years ago


John B.
John B5 years ago

I can't imagine a gardener with out one. They are so versatile. Thanks for the article Annie.

Julian Parson
Julian Parson10 years ago

I love my fork, wouldn't garden without it. It is also great for gently lifting plants for transplanting.