November 23, 2004: It’s that time
of year when friends and family are wracking their brains
trying to find something to buy for the budding flower farmer--namely,
you. Drop a few hints or you could end up with a cooling gizmo
for your neck that you may or may not want. That happened
to a friend last year--his wife thought it was pretty neat.
As talk turned to holiday gifts this week, she got *the look*.
What are the best “tools of the trade” for flower
farmers, or those aspiring to be? Think practical, most flower
farmer friends responded.
I’ve found, too, that many impulse items purchased
over the years are now dust catchers. Let's see, there was
the fancy greenhouse tray seeder which is too complicated
to describe much less use. Or how about the bucket with a
padded seat and the fold-down knealing bench for weeding.
Both were too much of a pain to keep moving down the row and
wasps loved the cloth tool holder with pockets that wrapped
around the bucket. I got stung more than once before letting
the dust and spider webs have it.
My flower partner, Linda Essert-Kuchar, and I agree on two
tools as must-haves for flower farmers: The
stirrup or scuffle hoe and a
good hedge trimmer or clipper. The narrow 3-1/4-inch
scuffle hoe is our favorite for getting in between close flower
rows or around drip tape, and the wider-width hoes (5- or
7-inch) take care of larger areas like around perennials or
between flowers with wider spacing (such as those not-for-bouquet
The oscillating steel stirrup cuts weeds right below the
soil surface as you gently push and pull. Replacement blades
are available and inexpensive. Last year we got one for each
high tunnel from Johnny’s Selected Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com)
to cut down on search and retrieve time. Catalog price is
$34 for the small to $38 for the 7-inch. Replacement blades
are about $9. A good hedge trimmer (available at garden supply
stores and in catalogs) saves the flower farmer hours and
hours in cutting and clean-up chores. Ours were in use all
season, including today with major greenhouse and perennial
Linda and I differ on other favorites for flower farming.
I love my medium-handled
wire cultivator. This lets me reach across 3-
or 4-foot beds and is easy for quick cultivating under support
netting. It’s great for beds in the high tunnel. Most
versions have the thicker and squared-off prongs so I had
to search far and wide for the wire claw after my last one
bit the dust. Longwood Gardens store had short and long versions
of my favorite. Other upscale garden centers probably have
them also. I suggest putting some florescent tape or paint
or string somewhere on the handle so it doesn’t get
swept up with the weeds and carted off. Yep, that happened
to me a month ago. Linda raked the high tunnel weeds and debris
and off to the compost pile she went -- with the tool I left
lying beside the bed when I ran to take a phone call. I found
it in my second search of the pile. The tool will get something
bright by spring!
Another favorite of mine are needle
nose shears (Johnny’s, $23.30) for cutting
stems, deadheading, etc. My hands are small and these clippers
don’t feel bulky. Plus, the shape means more accuracy
with cutting (most times) when dealing with jumbles of gomphrena,
bachelor’s button and the like. When the shears are
new and real sharp, watch what you’re doing. It’s
easy to cut a fingertip along with a flower stem.
Linda’s best tool is a medium-handled
bulb planter. The sturdy spade-shaped tool is
great for loosening the soil in landscape fabric or plastic
planting holes, or in beds when planting bulbs, corms or plugs.
They're especially useful when the soil has taken some abuse
from Mother Nature and is a bit hard. The bulb planter breaks
the soil up nicely and is much easier than trying to use a
“My very favorite tool,” says Kate Sparks of
Doylestown, PA, “is the Valley
Oak wheel hoe I purchased two years ago. I’m
buying another next spring! I love the wheel hoe because it
makes weeding so much faster than a regular hoe and I can
get very close to the flowers. It’s also good to use
early in the spring instead of heavier equipment which compacts
wet spring soil.”
Kate says the Valley Oak hoe (www.valleyoaktool.com)
comes with three interchangeable blades of different sizes
“and I use them all depending on row spacing.”
She says she researched wheel hoes and likes the quality of
the Valley Oak hoe, along with its reasonable price.
Janet Bachmann, agriculture specialist with the National
Center for Appropriate Technology in Fayetteville, AR, says
she has several favorites for flower farming -- all from A.M.
which, she adds, “was referred to me by someone in the
horticulture department at ISU back in the early 80s, and
I have been pleased with the high quality and fair price of
their tools since.
#2 Original Pruners are what I reach for when
heading out to cut flowers,” she says. “Sturdy,
sharp and feel good in my hand. Replacement parts are also
available. When I lost a spring, it was easy and quick to
get a new one. Price is $33.49 for Felco #2.” (NOTE:
Felco has right and left-handed versions of many pruners).
For hand weeding, Janet likes Leonard’s
Handy Weeder/Cultivator at $6.49. It has a really
sharp blade so you have to be careful with it when it’s
new, she cautions. She also likes their Hot
Bed Weeder at $17.99 which has a convenient
narrow blade for tight spots. The Spading
Fork is also good and sturdy.
Janet finds another good source for tools (and all BCS tractors
and implements) is Earth Tools (www.earthtoolsbcs.com).
“Of course, now I am drooling over all the tools and
equipment I just looked at,” she e-mailed. “But
won’t buy anything today. Tomorrow is my last farmers’
market for this year.”
With regard to pruners, Paul Shumaker of Bangor, PA, says
much depends upon the size of your hand, but Felcos are hard
to beat. He likes Felco
#8 and says he has always had good luck with
Lee Valley Tools (www.leevalley.com
or phone 800-871-8158. Felco #8s are $38.50). He is also a
big fan of the wheel
hoe; for hand weeding he likes a collinear
hoe, with a thin blade. The thin blade makes
for sharp edges which cut small weeds just below the surface.
(Johnny’s Selected Seeds has two collinear hoe designs,
one with replaceable blade, $34-$36.)
A good pair
of garden gloves help save fingernails, and
make stem stripping quicker. Linda and I like the rubber palm
gloves (sold in garden stores and catalogs, various brands)
for stripping leaves from stems. Since I’m left handed
and she’s a righty, we share a pair as we find it’s
easier to wear one glove when removing leaves.
Everyone I asked named the same most helpful flower books:
Lynn Byczynski’s The
Flower Farmer (www.growingformarket.com) and Allan Armitage’s
Cut Flowers (available through a number of catalogs and
websites). Kate also likes Michael Olson’s MetroFarm:
The Guide to Growing for Big Profit on a Small Parcel of Land.
While it’s mostly a marketing book, she says, it also
has good advice on land and crop selection.
Several flower farmers said the gift they’d most like
is more time. Or a clone. (But I'll bet they’d be happy
with a gift certificate for their favorite seed supplier.)
Husband, George (who’s into veggies, but learning his
flowers) suggests a Carhartt vest. I guess that’s a
hint. Happy hunting.