"The right tools can make a big difference in becoming a successful market gardener. At our farm we've experimented with different tools and techniques over the last decade to find what really works. Here are my personal recommendation for the best market gardening tools."
Maintaining soil structure — and the soil food web it supports — is such an important component of successful vegetable production that at our 2-acre market farm we avoid tools that penetrate more than a few inches into the soil’s surface. The one exception is the broadfork.
In recent years the broadfork has been popularized and you can now find different models that are quality made. Since it’s a tool we use a lot (it takes stamina to work a couple 100’ beds!) we prefer a wooden handle broadfork over heavier all-metal ones. I’d rather replace a broken shaft every couple years than spend a lifetime lifting extra weight... A good broadfork should also have forged steel tines for heavy-duty service.
In my experience:
- The one I prefer was designed and handcrafted to my liking and is sold by Dubois Agrinovation. It has 5, 12-inch tines shaped in 90° parabolic curves that greatly smothers the rowing motion. www.dubois.com
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds also offers several broadfork models that can accommodate different soil types. I’ve tried them all and would recommend any of them.www.johnnyseeds.com
- Finally, for new ground that is not yet loose enough or really rocky, I would use the people's broadfork form Meadow Creature. It's an all metal broadfork made for heavy duty broadforking. www.meadowcreature.com
The most widely distributed two-wheel tractors in North America are made by the Italian company BCS. I recommend Model 853, as most 30-inch tools can be installed on it.The 732 and 739 models have shorter handlebars (less operator leverage on the machine, especially a problem with heavy implements like the Power Harrow). Most importantly, only the 853 will have enough power to handle the 34” flail mower that should be used on 30″ bed systems.
BCS two-wheel tractors are equipped with a rototiller, but there is a wide variety of other attachments available. For bed preparation my equipment of choice is a 30" rotary power harrow (often just called a power harrow) which I would recommend over any other tilling or spading device. We also rely on a 34″ flail mower for dealing with cover crops and a Berta Plow (also referred to as a rotary plow) to create our raised beds. BCS America's web site is filled with all the info about walking tractors and implements. The site will point you to a local dealer near you. www.bcsamerica.com
Another supplier I like is Earth Tools, a family-owned company from Kentucky who has been pushing two-wheel tractors for market gardening for more than 30 years. They know their stuff. Earth Tools Inc. www.earthtoolsbcs.com
In Canada, one dealer I appreciate and recommend is Thivierge from Drummondville, Qc. Besides holding one of the largest in-store inventories, the owner Ben has been tinkering, improving and designing market gardening implements for BCS two-wheel tractors. Équipements Thivierge. www.thivierge.ca
The Quick Cut Greens Harvester
The quick cut harvester (QCH) is a must for any small or urban farmer looking to market a 100 lbs of salad mix per week or more.
It replaces cutting greens with field knives, doing the work 10 folds faster. On our farm, what used to take two people four hours, can now be done in forty-five minutes with one person…Needless to say, it’s a major helper in our (too) busy harvest day. We use the QCH for all of our baby greens such as; red russian kale, arugula, mustards, and baby lettuces. Keeping the blade extra sharp is a key for the effectiveness of the tool. I recommend buying at least one replacement blade with it, so that you can change it over mid season, then get the older one sharpened while it’s not being used. Sold by www.farmersfriendllc.com
A lot of people have been asking where we get our raincoats. I found out about Guy Cotten rain bibs after visiting different growers in France that swore by them, and rightfully so. With integrated knee pads, they're awesome. The jackets are also of superior quality, keeping you dry however bad it gets out there. Dubois now sells them across the US and Canada. Expensive, but worth it. www.dubois.com
My favorite rain boots are made by XtraTuff. 100 % waterproof, heavy-duty, warm and comfortable. Their low heel gives them a ninja like feel . www.xtratufboots.com
Greenhouses, Tunnels and Caterpillars
Over the years, I have dealt with a number of companies that make quality greenhouses and tunnels. In our cold Canadian climate all of our shelters need to withstand snow loads
Multi Shelter Solutions, from Ontario, offers simple and economical Gothic Profile greenhouses and tunnels. They are based in Canada, but also ship in the US. www.multisheltersolutions.com
For bigger houses, I've worked with and totally appreciated Harnois. These guys might be the biggest greenhouse manufacturers in North America. Pricier perhaps, but top quality for sure. www.harnois.com
Four Season Tools, from Kansas is also a group I like. They custom built affordable and versatile season extension technologies. Being growers themselves, they also offer great service. Four Season Tools. www.fourseasontools.com
Finally, I really like the caterpillar tunnel design (and price!) from Farmer Friend LLC in Tennessee. . www.farmersfriendllc.com
This clever tool–conceptualized by Eliot Coleman- is a lightweight battery-powered tiller designed to work the top inch of your bed.
The cultivator makes it possible to mix in compost and refine the soil all while creating a perfect tilth for direct seeding or transplanting. Although it's not powerful enough to be used in our whole market garden, we rely on it in our greenhouses where a walking tractor doesn't maneuver easily. We recommend getting one or two18V batteries when purchasing your drill, as they run out of juice after 2 or 3-100' beds. Also, keep in mind that this tool is not meant for working out rough soil, but rather for nicely finishing off seedbeds. Sold at www.johnnyseeds.com.
Bed Preparation Rake
We rely heavily on this 30'' rake to remove debris, rocks and larger soil clods into the pathways.
You can find the bed preparation rake at: www.johnnyseeds.com.
The plastic tubes we slide over the tines of our rake for row marking can be purcharsed at the johnny's seeds store or cut out of PEX tubing (available at any hardware store)
Over the years I have trialled and tested almost every push seeder that I can get my hands on.
For many seasons we successfully used a combination of the Earthway and the Glazer (described below) for all direct seeded crops. Two years ago we adopted a new one the Jang TP-1, which I now consider the best option for the market garden. Although pricier then the two others combine, it is superior by far. Versatile, rugged and precise, the Jang can seed everything from small seeds like carrots to medium or larger ones like beans, all with great uniformity. Another great feature of this seeder is its ability to properly seed in rough terrain. The seeders opener shoe can cut through crop residues and stones plowing at an accurate width and depth. In other words, your beds don't need to be perfectly clean for this baby to successfully operate. Available from www.johnnyseeds.com
These are the 6 rollers we use it with :
- X-24 (Carrots, Leeks, Mesclun, Onion, Radish, and Scallion at 1/2" - 2 1/2" apart)
- LJ-12 (Large Beets, Okra, Swiss Chard at 2-5" apart)
- Y-24 for dense plantings of small seeded leaf lettuces, chicories, and purslane
- MJ-12 for spinach, smaller seeded beets and chard, bulb fennel, parsnips, and pelleted seeds (lettuce, carrots, etc)
- YYJ-12 (Arugula, Basil, Broccoli, Kale, Parsley, and Turnip at 2"-5" apart)
- R-24 for large seeded beets
- F-24 for radishes and cilantro
The Earthway Seeder allows you to plant a variety of vegetable seeds with one continuous operating motion of opening the soil, planting the seed, covering, and then marking the next row. It easily, quickly and & precisely (somewhat...) plants beans, beets, carrots, peas, radishes, corn and more . If you're starting out on less then a half an acre (and on a shoestring) the Earthway is a good and affordable option. Comes with 6 seed plates which should suffice you. Available from www.johnnyseeds.com
Indoor Seedling Equipment
We buy all of our cell flats, trays and pots from Groupe Horticole Ledoux, Quebec. 1-888-791-2223. www.ghlinc.com
Our Precision Vacuum Seeder was homemade, but Johnny’s Selected Seeds now sells one that I would recommend. It’s quality is worth the price tag. USA. 1-877-564-6697. www.johnnyseeds.com.
The same company also sells nice commercial heat mats that can be chained together to cover whole seedling tables. Johnny’s Selected Seeds of Maine, USA. 1-877-564-6697. www.johnnyseeds.com.
There are many different kinds of hoes and a dizzying array of names for similar tools.
The ones we use most are long-handled stirrup hoes that have a swiveling, double-sided cutting blade––thin and sharp––that travels beneath the soil surface to clip the weeds where they are most vulnerable––below ground. They have a long handle which allows you work with your back straight and come in three sizes: 3¼ inches, 5 inches and 7 inches.
- Our favorite ones are made in Switzerland and sold by www.johnnyseeds.com.
- We also use and really like the ones made by the french company Terrateck. Sold trough www.duboisag.com
We also rely on a 7″ blade Collinear hoe that was designed by Eliot Coleman and which we use for hoeing under salads and leafy vegetables. Also sold by Johnny’s Selected Seeds of Maine. www.johnnyseeds.com
Wheel hoes are a great tool for cultivating crops grown in just one row or to weed pathways.
They can also be used to mix in amendments and prepare seedbeds just like a walk-behind tractor would do (only it takes longer!)
- Our preferred wheel hoe is the sturdy, high-quality wheel hoe made by Glaser in Switzerland. Ours is mounted with a 12’’ knife and can be found at www.johnnyseeds.com
- We also use and recommend the less expensive, yet heavy duty wheel hoes from the American company Hoss. www. hosstools.com. Both the Hoss and Glaser wheel hoes are worth every penny.
- Finally, in the last few years, I've been trialling a new kind of wheel hoe developed by the French company Terrateck. This last offers the possibility of using in row disks for close cultivation. Find the Terrateck wheel hoe at: www.dubois.ag
The UV-treated polyethylene tarp we use for clearing our permanent beds of crop residues while keeping weeds in check are silage tarps. You might find them in any feed store suply. In the US a good place to get them is from rom Farmer Friend LLC in Tennessee. www.farmersfriendllc.com
Harvest & storage
Small tools can make a big difference during harvest - here are some of the tools that make our harvest days more efficient & enjoyable.
Two knives that we really like:
The Opinel knife is a high-quality knife from France. My favorite on is the #10 which is light and very pleasant to handle. I carry it in a really nice leather sheath made by the Robinson company. Available for order online from www.lacompagnierobinson.com
The mini-machete-type field knife is used to harvest broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce. Sold by William Dam Seeds of Ontario, Canada. 905-628-6641. www.damseeds.com
We sharpen our field knives daily. This job is a lot easier with an ultra-fast sharpener called the Speedy Sharp. Although this sharpener wears the knives down more, its speed and ease of use make it an indispensable tool. We also use it to sharpen the blade of our mesclun harvester. Speedy Sharp is sold in all Canadian Tire stores and available online. www.canadiantire.ca
A hand salve? Absolutely essential after long harvests. We’ve tried a lot of them before adopting this one many years ago. Happy to endorse it. Available online at www.3acres.ca
The garden cart we use to transport our harvest bins from the gardens to our storage area is the Model 26 cart from Carts Vermont. The wheels of the cart align perfectly between the rows of our beds (4 feet from center to center). This tool is durable, ergonomic and indispensable. Sold in Ontario in Lee Valley stores or online. www.leevalley.com
The Model 26 is also sold by Johnny’s Selected Seeds of Maine, USA. 1-877-564-6697. www.johnnyseeds.com
Dubois Agrinovation have very competent consultants who are available to help design irrigation plans. We benefited greatly from their expertise when we were designing our system.
This company supplied our Wooblers, Naan low-flow sprinklers and Dan micro-sprinklers, as well as all pipes, cam-lock joints and drip irrigation. Dubois Agrinovation 1-800-667-6279. www.duboisag.com
We purchased our cold room second-hand with a new compressor under warranty. The ideal situation may be to deal with a company that sells and repairs air conditioning systems in your area, as after-sales service is very important if your equipment breaks down or is damaged.
An alternative to cooling with a compressor is the CoolBot, which transforms any air conditioner unit (the kind installed in windows) into a cooler that keeps your cold room at a controlled temperature, just as an air compressor would. The CoolBot unit costs a fraction of the price, is easy to install and consumes less electricity than a conventional compressor. We have not tested it ourselves, but the unit was designed by farmers and comes with a satisfaction guarantee. More details are available on the company’s website. CoolBot, 1-888-871-5723. www.storeitcold.com. Also available for sale at Farmer's Friend.
We order most of our seeds from the following companies:
Johnny’s Selected Seeds of Maine, USA. 1-877-564-6697. www.johnnyseeds.com
William Dam Seeds of Ontario, Canada. 905-628-6641. www.damseeds.com
West Coast Seeds of Vancouver, Canada. 888-804-8820. www.westcoastseeds.com
High Mowing Organic Seeds of Vermont, USA. 802-472-6174. www.highmowingseeds.com
You can purchase the different components to build a vertical electric fence at most farm co-ops or feed stores. On a technical level, this involves linking a few “polytapes” (or a number of metal wires with a diameter of 1/10 inches, 12.5 AWG) on posts spaced every 33 feet. The wire must be attached to the post by a plastic insulator, and the electrical current circulating must have a tension of at least 4000 volts. (More is ideal; 8000 volts will prevent deer from knocking the fence over at night.)
Polypropylene trellises designed expressly for guarding against the entry of deer, raccoons, hares and other wild animals are sold by Dubois Agrinovation of Saint-Rémi, Quebec. 1-800-667-6279. www.duboisag.com