I try to do as much as I can by hand in the garden.
This is partially because I try to live as frugally as possible. But it’s also because I’m unwaveringly stubborn. Just ask my wife!
When we first started our market garden, I had grand delusions of farming 3 acres with only a tiller, a hoe and blind determination. Thinking about it now it just seems silly. But back then it felt almost revolutionary. As a contrary farmer, I wanted to buck the modern day reliance on heavy machinery and destructive farming practices. At the time, one man farming vegetables by hand sounded romantic.
It only took a few months for me to realize I needed more in my arsenal than just elbow grease and zealous idealism. Romanticism goes out the door real quick when the weeds are 8 feet high and your hoe not longer chops through the root.
Fast forward to today. I’m still frugal. I’m still determined to farm responsibly. I still seek garden minimalism (partly because I’m still poor). But I’m also realistic.
I don’t have the luxury of wasted time. I need to be efficient and productive in the garden, and so I seek tools that will help reduce redundant and unnecessary tasks and allow me to spend more time building soil and growing quality food.
These are the 6 tools I can’t live without. Each has their purpose, great or small, and each was well worth the investment made to add them to the farm.
Hoss Double Wheel Hoe
If you’ve never been introduced to Hoss Tools, allow me to do that now. I would highly recommend checking them out (go there now https://hosstools.com) Their tools are all made in the USA and are high quality.
The Hoss Double Wheel Hoe is a a weeder, a cultivator and can also be used to hill up potato rows or to make furrows. It’s a universal tool that saves time, energy and space because it can perform so many functions with just a few adjustments. And it’s a workhorse that can cut through some of the toughest weeds (think Canadian Thistle) in a diversity of soils.
I’ll be honest. I struggle with this one. Tilling has it’s place in the garden, but over-tilling will pulverize your soil structure and kill beneficial biology like worms. It will also bring dormant weed seeds to the surface. Every year we are working toward being completely no-till in our market garden, but we are not there yet.
We use our tiller to prep beds, tilling only the top 2-3 inches, incorporating compost and creating a suitable seedbed. We also use the tiller as a cultivator between beds to chop up weeds (again, only disturbing the top 2 inches of soil) and to incorporate cover crops (green manure) into the soil.
The model we use is the Husquavarna 17in Dual Rotating Rear Tined tiller: https://www.theisens.com/products/17-inch-208-cc-dual-rotating-rear-tine-tiller/
DR Field & Brush Mower
In our ongoing effort to be more efficient with our time, we made the decision last year to invest in our DR brush mower. And I have to say, it has been well worth the investment. I can cut down saplings up to 3 inches in diameter, brambles, sunflower stalks, cornstalks, tall grass and so on. This machine has saved me countless hours cleaning up the property. It’s easy to start, easy to operate and easy to maneuver, even in tight spaces.
There are several options to choose from, but we went with the Pro XL 30 with electric start: https://www.drpower.com/power-equipment/field-brush-mowers/
I went back and forth over whether to purchase a 4 wheel traditional tractor or the 2 wheel option from BCS that a lot of market gardeners use. The 2 wheel BCS option has a lot going for it, especially when it comes to the amount of different attachments it can take. But in the end, I decided my money would go a lot further with a 4 wheel tractor that I could use on the entire homestead.
I went with a JD 4052M with a loader (bucket and forks get used all the time), 6ft tiller and brush mower. This was by far the biggest investment made on the farm so far, but it was one made without regrets. Having a reliable tractor with the right tools has allowed me to be much more productive in managing our acreage.
For being such a simple tool, this one certainly goes the distance in our constant war against weeds. We own several and they are always in the market garden during season. Nothing that we have found so far can cut weeds below the soil surface (at the root) in and around plants like a stirrup hoe. You can spend a lot of money on some models, but ours aren’t fancy. Just sharp and practical.
Last on the list is our mechanical walk behind seeder. We use our Earthway seeders to plant everything from corn to radish. It’s not the most accurate seeder on the market, but it is economical and it does a good enough job for us. The trick is to use the right seed plate.
The Earthway Seeder can be found in several places, but we got our from Johnny’s Seeds https://www.johnnyseeds.com/tools-supplies/