"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 tools, equipment, 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.
We select our equipment freely without any paid sponsorship to make sure we present an unbiased perspective for you. However, some of these links lead to products available on Amazon and if you purchase something through these links, we will receive a small commission.
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.
Seed Storage Bins
Our seed binder storage pockets are my favourite seed storing method, but some larger seed packets just don't fit in the binder. For these larger seeds and larger bulk seed envelopes, we use these clear containers with adjustable section dividers. The exact boxes we have seems to have been discontinued, but the link below leads to a box that is very similar.
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.
A paddle mixer is made for mixing plaster, but I find it makes quick work of my potting mix as well. Other models might work just as well, but this is the exact one we use. I use a 9 amp 1/2 inch corded drill to spin the paddle and a large round tub to contain the mix. The round shape of the mixing tube is a key quality because it leaves no corners untouched during the mixing process.
Seed Starting Trays
We wanted a durable plastic free alternative to the flimsy seed starting trays common in most nurseries so we built our own trays with wood. They never break and the open side wall on one side makes it really easy to slide out the soil blocks we use for seed starting. You can find the plans for these trays including all dimensions in our online Classroom. Just type "seed starting trays" in the search bar and you'll find them.
This rectangular trowel is perfect for working with soil blocks because its flat profile and square corners make it easy to slice through and pick up blocks from a tray of seedlings. The trowel is also conveniently 2 inches wide, making it a great fit with our 1 inch and 2 inch soil blocks. You won't find it at a garden supply store though. Look for it at your local hardware store among the other plastering trowels or order one online.
Adjustable Potting Bench / Work Table
This is my indoor work bench. I love that the work surface adjusts in height between 29 and 42 inches with the simple turn of a hand crank! I use this table as an office desk and also for indoor demos and transplanting, so it's really nice to have the different height options to allow me to work standing or sitting. I also have the table mounted on castor wheels so I can roll it around easily.
Indoor Nursery Shelving
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.
Grow Lights - T5HO Lights
We mostly use full spectrum T5 High Output 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. Click the "ORDER NOW" link to see the exact lights we use. However, lighting technology has changed since we purchased our lighting, and our top recommendation would now be the LED strips lights below.
Grow Lights - LED Strip Lights
After doing a thorough comparison of LED strip lights and T5HO lights, the LED strip lights are now our top recommendation. While the cost per bulb is higher, the light output is greater and the running cost is lower due to the low wattage. Therefore, the LED lights end up costing far less in the long run and use less power too. To see a detailed comparison check out the T5HO vs LED grow light study in our online Classroom.
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.
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: Spray Shut-off Nozzle, Extension Wand, Adjustable Cone Nozzle. 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.
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.
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.
This is one of the most underrated pieces of equipment for our spring planting work. We know how important temperature is for starting seeds indoors and the same rules apply outdoors. Since the air temperature always warms up before the soil, we can't just plant when it feels warm enough. By accurately measuring the soil temperature, we can pant at the right time, get better germination, and avoid causing excessive stress to our transplants.
This is the thermometer we use to track the minimum and maximum temperatures in our tunnel. As the red needle moves to record highs and lows it pushes the minimum and maximum markers further so I always know the outer range of temperatures that our crops were exposed to. This has been helpful in determining the frost protection ability of our high tunnel.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
Sometimes, we just need to move debris, compost, or soil, and the wheel barrow is the best way to do this with human power.
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.
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.
This polypropylene netting is the netting of choice when needed for our snap pea and bean trellises. the large 6 inch squares are big enough to reach through for easy picking and the polypropylene material holds up well to the natural elements with no stretching or degradation.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Floating Row Cover
This is a lightweight translucent polyester fabric that floats over our crops. It shelters the plants from wind, preserves soil moisture, traps heat, and even blocks out some insects. We started using this fabric to extend our growing season and accelerate germination, but our greens loved growing under it so much that we now often use it all summer long.
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.
These pins are ideal for securing insect netting because their widened top distributes the pressure over a larger surface to prevent ripping and the pull ring makes them easy to remove them from the soil. We use these pins to secure small pieces of floating row cover as well, but that type of matted fabric has a higher tendency to rip so more pins are necessary. To prevent ripping, wrap the corners of the fabric around the pin as opposed to piercing the fabric with the pin.
This wire is ideal for supporting row cover or insect netting over garden beds up to 4 feet wide. If you will need 100 or more hoops, order them precut to length from a larger supplier. For the typical home grower, it makes more sense to just pick up a roll or two of this 9 gauge galvanized wire and cut it to length yourself with a pliers. Do not buy thinner gauge wire because it is cheaper and still expect it to be strong enough.
We like birds, but we would prefer if they didn't eat our strawberries! We hang this bird netting over our low tunnel hoops to prevent birds from getting to our berries. It works wonderfully for this purpose, because the holes are still large enough for pollinators to pass through to the strawberry flowers.
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.
Almost all of the food we grow passes through our washing station before it comes into our home so I consider this one of our most valuable workspaces. You can find a full tour of the washing station in our online Classroom.
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.
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.
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.
These tunnels are home made from off the shelf parts. They span six feet which covers two of our beds and they can be as short or long as you want. The poly is held down with with bungee cord that stretches over each rib, and this pressure from the bungee cord also holds the plastic tight when we slide up the sides for ventilation on sunny days. The two main values of the low tunnels for us are getting some crops started earlier in the spring and keeping the snow off of some cold tolerant crops in the fall. You can find a video showing how to build and set up these tunnels in our online Classroom.
UV Treated Plastic
This is the plastic we use for our high tunnel, low tunnel, and any early season soil warming. Its thick 6 mil grade helps it hold up to the stress of being out in the field and the UV treatment helps it resist damage from sun exposure. Both of these factors add up to make it the longest lasting plastic you can find for outdoor use so it is now our only choice.
We have built a much larger walk-in cooler for most of our storage space, but that cooler is always set for 4ºC and some crops keep much better at 10ºC so we bought this smaller commercial cooler to run at that warmer temperature. We use this for our cucumbers, basil, peppers, and summer squash.
This was the first major project we invested in because we knew that the food we grew would have little value if we couldn't store it. We built this cooler ourselves in our basement. The room temperature is maintained at 4ºC by an air conditioner that is controlled by and CoolBot. The room is only about 6 feet by 9 feet, but with the help of some solid shelving this is enough space for our urban farm in the summer and personal food storage for the winter. In our online Classroom, you can find a post explaining more details about how this walk-in cooler was built.
The CoolBot is the wonderful box of circuitry that allows us to cool our walk-in cooler with a common air conditioner. Install the CoolBot beside your air conditioner, fasten the CoolBot temperature sensors appropriately, plug the air conditioner into the CoolBot and watch your room drop down to the desired temperature. We set our cooler at 4ºC.
Order with the link below to get a $20 discount.
Our walk in cooler and grow lights use a lot of electricity. To offset this increased power use, we invested in a 6.5 kW solar photovoltaic system that includes 12 panels on our shed and 12 panels on our home.
We have chosen to do all of our farm work by bike so a bike trailer is a necessary piece of equipment for us. It is amazing what you can pull around town once you get it rolling!
"In order to live off a garden, you practically have to live in it. - Frank McKinney Hubbard
When you get serious about growing a substantial amount of your own food, the infrastructure you have in place becomes really important. Where will you start your seedlings, cure your onions, and wash all those carrots? You may love gardening now, but if you do all of these things in your living room, your passion may fizzle pretty fast. You can ensure that your gardening lifestyle is sustainable by equipping yourself with spaces that allow you to work comfortably and efficiently. Have fun designing and creating a productive space that you can enjoy using for years to come.