Tools for the Farm

by Daniel Parson, Parson Produce

It may not have all the bells and whistles of the newer tractors, but the 1949 Farmall can take a lickin' and keep on ticken'! Photo by cityfarmer.info.

Ever since I started growing produce in 1998, I have collected equipment; from my first hoe purchased that year to the Sprinter van I bought this year to get my crops to market. I still use lots of equipment that I used on that first farm, and every year I discover something new and indispensable. I’ve worked at several different places, each with their own set of equipment, and this is my third year at Parson Produce in Clinton.

My rule of thumb on equipment is that it should have more than one specialized use, must be well designed and built, and has to fit into the farm budget. Someone once told me to get the best equipment you can afford, which I think is good advice. Here I’ll go through some of our key farm equipment from planting to sale: seeders and flats, ground preparation, cultivation and trellis, harvest, post-harvest, and marketing.

Greenhouse and Seeding

Most vegetables start from seed, either in the greenhouse or by direct seeding. We do most of ours from transplants, so having the right flats is a necessity. We use Winstrip trays for a few reasons: reusable (some of mine are 15 years old), superior design, and convenient filling. The square plugs coupled with a slit down the side prevent root encircling by directing roots downward to the open bottom, which allows for air pruning of the roots.

We save time by using an inexpensive vibrating hand seeder for greenhouse plantings. This simple seeder is just right for us because we can seed a wide variety of crops without changing anything, and there is no need to buy a different plate for each seed and flat size. Direct seeding from arugula to beans is all done with an Earthway precision seeder. For transplanting, we use a dibble for smaller plants and a right-hand trowel for larger plants.

Ground Preparation

At the moment, I’m farming about 3 acres using two BCS walking tractors, an antique Farmall, and a small borrowed John Deere. My typical approach is to flail mow a cover crop with the 14HP diesel BCS, till the residue in with the 5’ John Deere tiller, and finish with a second tillage two weeks after the first.

Once the field is prepared, I make beds with the furrower on the BCS or four discs mounted under the 1949 Farmall cub. The infinite adjustment on the cub allows me to set the outer discs lower for a better bed. On planting day, we spread organic fertilizer by hand on the beds and finish them with a shallow till using the 10HP gas machine.

Cultivation and Trellis

Most of our cultivation is done by hand. We space our rows 10 inches apart on the beds (marketing them with the seeder’s row market attachment) to accommodate our Swiss wheel hoe’s blade.  Our plants are spaced at least 10 inches apart in the row to allow the collinear hoe to pass easily. A few people can weed a quarter acre in a morning if the rows are spaced properly. One day, the Farmall will be used for cultivation, but we haven’t used it yet.

In addition to cultivation, some crops need trellising. We use cattle fencing bent into a circle as our tomato cages.  These are supported by a row of T-posts and electric fence wire. Our pea trellis is a light plastic fencing that hangs from a wire supported by T-posts.

Harvest and Post-Harvest

Once you’ve grown the crop, you have to get it picked in a timely fashion. At some point, the plants have to be cut, and for that we use the serrated Victorinox knife and sheath or the lettuce knife from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Felco makes perhaps the best pruner in the world, but they don’t come cheap. Earth Tools in Kentucky sells a Bahco pruner for about a quarter of the cost. It is lightweight plastic, but heavy enough to cut anything we grow.

Our harvest bins are various sizes of Rubbermaid Roughneck bins (10, 14, 17 gallon). I’ve used a heavier type with a hinged lid that I like a lot better, but the ones we use are about half the cost and are easy to find locally.

Marketing

We sell directly to the public through CSA and farmers markets, and to local chefs. One of the challenges is getting to market, and we solved that this year with a used Sprinter van. The purchase price is relatively high, but it has a fuel-efficient diesel engine that should run for years and years. Once we are at the market, our three-tiered stand helps customers see our products, and our colorful table cloths help us stand out.

> Learn more about Parsons Produce at parsonorganics.com!

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