Ah, Spring! Grab your garden forks. If you’re Charles House of Blackwell’s Hollow, that means picking up your industrial strength broadfork, the one you designed and sell through your online company, Way Cool Tools.
House and his wife Janet, with their three young kids, are homesteading on their two-acre property just north of Browns Cove, where they settled in 2000. They’re raising pigs—“Roto” and “Tiller”—chickens and ducks, potatoes and other vegetables. They heat with a woodstove and don’t watch TV.
“We’re into gardens,” said House. “Yeah, we’re homesteading and homeschooling. We’re having fun.”
For a serious gardener with big ambitions for planting but unworked soil, conventional garden tools sometimes seem inadequate, even flimsy.
House wanted durable, efficient tools meant for small farms. Things like an all-steel, seven-tine, unbreakable broad fork or an all-steel grub hoe with an ergonomic handle and either a 5-inch or 8-inch head.
“I had a vision for organic farming. I needed better tools and there was not a lot available locally. I had had some experience with WW Manufacturing in New Jersey, [a manufacturer of garden tools for professionals and nurseries]. They worked with us to develop new tools. They make the broadfork for us.”
A certified gardener, he once worked on the Mother Earth News Eco garden outside Asheville, North Carolina. He has been a farm manager for Enniscorthy Farm in Keene and at the former Sugar Hill Farm near White Hall. He got into installing satellite Internet systems and had the idea for an online tool company.
They launched WayCoolTools.com in 2007 and it now offers about 100 items, mail-order, including many items made in England by Clarendon Forge that are sold in Britain under the name Bulldog Tools. House said his broadfork is the company’s most popular seller.
“We were exhibiting at the Virginia Association for Biological Farming conference one year and Eliot Coleman [a guru of four-season vegetable gardening] was a speaker. He said he wanted something that would flame garden beds. He also suggested that broadfork tines should be 10 inches and not 12 inches long.”
Those were suggestions House took to heart.
Some tools are designed by House, such as the broadfork and the garden bed flamer that uses an array of five torches fed propane to clear a 30-inch path for pre-emergent weed control. House is also a mid-Atlantic sales representative for a propane mower, designed for uses such as golf courses, that uses flame at variable heights to “cut” grass in a 40-inch width.
“We want machinery and equipment that you can work on yourself. I want manfacturers to come around to that and not try to harness their customers. WW Manufacturing doesn’t even make replacement handles for their tools because they are unnecessary.
“We get requests for scythes and I would carry one if I could find the right one. I have to have confidence the tool is going to treat the user right. We’re looking for things that are good for the environment.”
The aim is to support and enable small farms. His next vision is for farm implements for low horsepower tractors, equipment that could form raised vegetable beds in one pass and similar equipment designed for orchards. Beyond that he wants to create “incubator farms,” places where people of any age interested in becoming farmers could come and learn the art and lore of growing wholesome food. It’s a vision that builds with solid hand tools, so good you can hand them down.