TOOL SHED

"We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us."

- Marshall McLuhan

 

There's no question that having the right tool for each job can make all the difference, but the tools you choose will also dictate what growing methods you can and can't use.  Your tools could impact your bed spacing, your crop selection, your irrigation methods, and more.  When selecting a tool, of course consider the value it may bring by solving a problem, but also consider its true cost beyond the purchase price.  How much time and money will it take to repair and store over its lifetime?  What are the benefits of not acquiring this tool?  Tool selection will always require a balancing of costs and benefits, but ultimately, the question should be:  will this tool serve me or will I waste my time and energy serving this tool?

Here is a list of the toolsequipment, and infrastructure that we have found to be compatible and most valuable with our growing methods.  Some of these items are critical, while others are just nice to have around to make some jobs go a little faster.  You do not need everything here to start growing so you'll have to judge what will be the most helpful in your context.  I hope this list will give you a better idea of the gear you want to have in your own collection. 

Tool Belt

This is probably not the first item that comes to mind when you think about farming gear, at least it wasn't for me.  I used to carry small tools, markers, gloves, etc. in my pockets.  I was always running back to the shed to grab something else and it was easy to lose track of where all of my things were.  Now I wear a tool belt whenever I am working in the field and it saves me so much time and mental energy.  My belt ALWAYS contains a soil thermometer, gloves, labels, waterproof marker, pruners, hand weeder, utility knife, measuring tape, and a few extra landscape fabric staples.  

Seed Envelope Storage Pockets

It's a pleasure to look through our seed collection now that it's organized.  We discovered that the majority of our seed packs fit perfectly into these 4 pocket binder pages so now we store our seeds in one big binder and flip through them with ease.  A few seed packages are too big for the binder, like those of larger seeds like peas and beans, and these are stored separately in a plastic tote.  

Soil Blockers

We use these soil blockers to compress soil blocks of potting mix for starting transplants.  It takes a bit more time upfront to prepare the blocks, but time is made up in the field because there are no plastic trays to deal with.  We added a new 35 block stand up press to this collection this year to help speed up the block making process.

Broadfork

The broadfork is an important part of our minimal till operation.  It helps us loosen and aerate our beds before planting without the use of the tiller and without drawing new weed seeds up to the surface.  When we need a fine seed bed, we use the tilther to churn up the top couple inches of soil.

Garden Spade

This is one of my favourite tools on the farm because I just love to dig for some reason.  I think it is related to the satisfaction in seeing a lot of change happen right before my eyes.  With a couple of hours, a shovel, and a wheel barrow, you can move a lot of soil, compost, or garden debris.  It is also handy to have a spade around to break up new plots that are covered in grass.  

Rake

We use rakes for prepping beds early in the season and mid season when we clean up one crop and plant another.  Some prefer the wider landscaping rakes but the standard garden rake has served us well and is a little easier to transport via bike.

Digging Fork

We use digging forks mostly for harvesting carrots and potatoes, but they can also work in place of the broadfork for loosening beds.  We like forks with a D handle because it makes it easier to lift the fork out of the ground and I often rest a hand on the top when I bend over to pull out a handful of carrots. 

Stirrup Hoe

This is the tool I reach for most often to zip through my plots for a quick weeding.  What I love about this tool is that it works well in both a push and pull motion.  I find that the vertical sides also reduce the risk of accidentally clipping off the wrong plant at the base, something that is more likely to happen with a collinear hoe.  (Image courtesy of Johnny's Seeds)

Treeplanting Shovel

I don't use this shovel that often, but there are a few tasks that it's perfect for and it's worth having around just for these.  It can be a good tool for planting potatoes quickly and I especially like it for harvesting our hardneck garlic which we plant about 4 inches deep. 

Post Hole Digger

I love using this tool for transplanting anything in 4 inch soil blocks.  It cuts into the soil to excavate a vertical column with minimal disturbance so the walls don't cave in around the outside.  The task that might take three to six motions with a small shovel can be reduced to one swift motion with this tool.

Flame Weeder

This is the hand held torch that we use for all of our flame weeding.  We have a small 6 litre propane tank that can be held in one hand while this torch is operated with the other hand.  The intensity can be adjusted and controlled with the hand operating the torch and it's got more than enough fire power.  Our primary use for this torch is to flame weed some of our direct seeded beds.  With carrots for example, many weed seeds germinate and pop up above the soil before the carrots so we can take them all out very quickly with this torch leaving a much cleaner bed for the carrots to follow.  

Tilther

The tilther is one tool that helps us operate without a rototiller.  It churns up the top couple inches of soil to make a loose seed bed for direct seeded crops.  This lightweight tool is easy to transport from plot to plot and is powered by a cordless drill so we never need to fuel up.  

Wheel Barrow

Sometimes, we just need to move debris, compost, or soil, and the wheel barrow is the best way to do this with human power.

Seeder

We use this Earthway seeder to make quick work of our direct seeding.   There are more expensive high end seeders on the market but we find this model to meet our needs just fine.  

Rototiller

Yes, we've still got one of these bad boys.  Embarrassingly, it was one of the first tools we bought for the farm, but that was before we knew as much as we do now about good soil management.  Occasionally, we still blow the dust off and use it for working up a new plot on a short time frame.

Seed Starting Trays

We have many of these home made wooden trays for seed starting.  They work well for soil blocks because one wall is left open to make it easy to slide a trowel under the blocks when transplanting.  We have a few plastic trays too, but they always break and that's annoying.  

Indoor Nursery

The growing season in our climate is short so we need to start many crops in an indoor nursery during the winter months with heat mats and grow lights to create optimum conditions.  When we start our first seedlings at the end of February it can still be -20 degrees Celsius outside so it makes sense for us to devote some space in our home to this nursery.  In a slightly warmer climate, an outdoor greenhouse with a minor amount of supplemental heat could be sufficient for seed starting early in the year.

Seedling Heat Mat

These waterproof electric heat mats are used in combination with the thermostatic controller to make sure we have optimal temperatures for seed germination in our indoor nursery.  Optimum germination temperatures mean we can count on the same germination time and germination rates for our seeds every time we plant and we really like that dependability.  Trays of seedling can be set directly on top of these mats and the heat is distributed very evenly.

Controller Thermostat

We use this controller in a few different areas.  On its heating setting, it can control heat mats, although we use this simpler version for our heat mats.  On its cooling setting, it also works wonderfully as an external thermostat for a 10ºC refrigerator we run in the summer for our cucumbers, peppers, and squash.  We have one more of these thermostats in our walk in cooler where it regulates the temperature by controlling automated vents which let in cool outdoor air.

Sprayer

This sprayer is a great tool for watering seedlings in our indoor nursery and it is particularly well suited for soil blocks.  It creates a fine mist so the newly planted seeds are not washed away and the spray is easy to control so we don't end up with water running everywhere inside.  It's large capacity also makes it a lot quicker to use than a smaller hand held spray bottle or watering can.  Once we transfer seedlings to our outdoor nursery, we switch to a regular hose and watering wand.

Sprayer Wand

If you just want to purchase a high quality brass sprayer wand without the tank, it is possible to get these items separately.  By the time you add the cost of each item though, it is almost as much as just buying the whole sprayer.  Nevertheless, if you want to go that route, here are the wand components you will need. I would also recommend using this wand with a 15 PSI pressure regulator to reduce the pressure of your household supply which is likely around 80 PSI.

Spray Shut-off Nozzle

Extension Wand

Adjustable Cone Nozzle

Grow Lights

We use full spectrum T5 grow lights for our seedlings.  These bulbs create enough light intensity to keep the seedlings short and stalky so that they are strong enough to endure mild winds when we start to harden them off outdoors.  The link to the exact lights we use is below.  We also use the Sunblaster Universal Light Strip Hanger to hang our grow lights in banks of 4.   This covers a 4 foot by 2 foot growing area really well. 

Trellising

To pack a lot of production into little space we grow vertically whenever we can.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, and snap peas all work really well with trellising.  Our trellises are made with 1/2 inch metal conduit that won't rot over time and is easy to disassemble to move from plot to plot as needed.  You can find more information about the specific components we use and a video showing how to set up these trellises in our online Classroom.

Water Timer

Regular irrigation is critical for the best crop performance and since most of our growing space is on borrowed land far from home, we use water timers to schedule our irrigation when we are not around.  These save a lot of time and stress when they are working properly.  This Gilmour brand has worked well for us.  I especially like this model that can control two zones independently.

Drip Irrigation

We use drip irrigation for most of our growing space because it distributes water only where it is needed.  This reduces the amount of water we use, prevents the spread of disease for some crops by keeping the foliage dry, and also helps reduce weed pressure.  Drip irrigation is not ideal for germinating directly seeded crops though so we also use some overhead irrigation.

Overhead Irrigation

Overhead irrigation distributes water less efficiently than drip irrigation but it is much better for the germination phase of direct seeded crops so we use this style of irrigation in plots where we do a lot of direct seeding for crops like carrots, beets, radishes, baby kale, arugula, and lettuce mix.

Water Meters

We hook up water metres at some plots when we need to measure our water use precisely.  This is helpful for calculating the rate of flow of your irrigation system so you know how much water you are actually applying to your beds.  

Tarps

We use tarps to kill weeds and to help maintain perfect germination conditions for carrots and parsnips.  I owe our tarp collection countless hours of weeding that I never had to do.  In order to be effective for killing weeds, the tarp must stop all light and water from passing through.  Silage tarps fit the bill perfectly.  They are also black on one side and white on the other allowing you to influence the temperature under the tarp as well.  

Shade Cloth

This is helpful for germination of direct seeded crops in the late summer when the days are still hot and sunny but we are planting crops that prefer cooler temperatures and moist soil.

Landscape Fabric

We use landscape fabric to conserve moisture, control weeds, and keep our crops clean.  For some crops, holes are burned in the fabric at precise spacing and seedlings are transplanted into each hole.  The fabric does allow water to pass through so it is compatible with overhead and drip irrigation.

Insect Netting and Floating Row Cover

The best way of preventing pest problems organically is to exclude insects that cause the damage.  Several of the pests in our area can be blocked from crops with floating row cover and/or fine insect netting.  In almost all cases, this covering will simply rest over the crop and will be staked tightly to the ground on all sides.  We get this in bulk rolls from Dubois Agrinovation.  The link below is for a smaller amount of netting from the same supplier.

Washing Station

This was an nice upgrade to the farm in year two that really made the washing and bunching process faster, cleaner, and more comfortable.  I will add a picture of this here in the future.

Mechanical Scale

This 20 kg scale is the main scale for measuring crops as they come off the field and into the cooler in totes.

Digital Scale

This is the scale we use for bagging up all of our items for sale.  It is more precise than the mechanical scale and has a maximum capacity of 20 lbs which is plenty for the bag sizes we use.

Compost Bins

All of our vegetable waste and plant debris is composted on the farm to return nutrients and microbes to the soil.  It's nice to have organized sturdy bins like this but it is not necessary.  At many of our plots, we just use open piles in a designated composting area without any kind of structure.

Greenhouse

This small pit greenhouse is used primarily as a nursery for raising our transplants.  It built on the back of our home and is dug into the ground to help regulate the temperature.  It is packed full throughout the spring but when it is needed less in late summer, we cover the roof with a tarp and it doubles as a shelter for curing garlic. It is built to last with a solid wood frame and twin walled polycarbonate glazing.