Lessons of a First Year Farmer: Tools

 Noah with hula hoe

Noah uses our favorite hand tool, the hula hoe, to weed a raised bed before planting.

If I was a large-scale farmer, I’d probably say my favorite tool was a tractor, and then talk about all the cool implements I had for it (or lusted after).  We did get some custom tractor work done on our field by Matt, the farm site manager for New Entry, but mostly it was just to prep the field at the beginning of the season, first harrowing it, going over it with a chisel plow, and then with a perfecta.  We also had him lay down five raised beds with biotelo biodegradable black plastic, with drip tape underneath.

pat and the tiller

The BCS walk behind tractor with a tiller attachment was helpful and saved time, but was still a lot of work.

We also used a BCS walk-behind tractor for rototilling a few rows, but we put most of our raised beds together by hand with hoes, rakes, and a bed rake.

making raised bed

We made raised beds by hand, which took a lot of time and tough on our backs. Next year, we’ll try to use a tractor or BCS walk behind.

Making raised beds by hand is satisfying but exhausting work.  Next year our energy would be better spent elsewhere.  I’ll definitely try to get them set up by tractor or using the BCS.  Still, it was a useful skill to acquire.

All our weeding and planting was done either by hand or with hand tools.  Probably my favorite tool this year was our hula hoe, from Johnnie’s.  We used it enough to break the handle twice (we have a lot of rocks in the soil).  I used it for weeding and for churning up the beds after a crop had come out, and especially for weeding the paths.  I think we used the hula hoe more than any other hand tool this season (we have two now).

tools of the day

Our hula hoe and colinear hoe, essential tools for keeping our paths and beds weeded.

For finer cultivation (aka weeding), I loved the colinear hoe, basically a straight sharp blade that you pull towards you.  This is the perfect tool for very small weeds, and going over a bed before they’ve even sprouted can help keep the weeds from ever growing so large that you need to pull them by hand.  It took a while to build up my skill level with the colinear hoe, but I did get so that I could do a 180 foot row in 20 minutes (or so), if the weeds were tiny.

We also acquired a scuffle hoe, which is sort of a triangle shaped piece of sharp steel, but I didn’t find it easy to work with.  Maybe next year, I’ll find the right use for it.

flame weeder

The flame weeder was helpful for making sterile beds (killing weeds right as they’re sprouting).

The flame weeder was a specialized tool that came in handy for creating sterile beds, trying to kill off any weed seedlings about to sprout right before planting seeds, so that our seeds could get a little head start on the weeds.  We also could use it on beet beds a few days after planting, but before germination, again, to help reduce weed pressure on the tender seedlings.

For transplanting, I have a tiny mini-trowel that was just perfect for taking plugs out of a 72-cell flat, which we used for all our transplants (kale, chard, lettuce, etc.).  When I first got it, I never expected it’d be just the perfect tool for the task.  I need to get another one for next year, so Tracy and I can more easily both plant seedlings at once.

wheel hoe

Can’t wait to put our wheel hoe to full use next season.

My new favorite hand tool is our wheel hoe, which should make weeding the paths much faster, and will also help in bed prep and cultivation.  I need to get a few more attachments (budget permitting-they’re not cheap).  I’m not a huge fan of wrestling the BCS, which is loud and heavy and just a pain in the ass.  I’m a big fan of the right hand tool for the job, at least at our scale.  If we were farming an acre or more, I’d probably need to get a lot more interested in small tractors.  But for now, I expect the wheel hoe to see a lot of use next year.

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