Workshop 1: Small Acreage Tools
Michaele Blakely of Growing
Things in Carnation, Washington presented a half dozen tools
for small scale growers.
The collinear hoe was developed by the well-known market
garden expert, Elliot Coleman. It has a straight 5”-7”
wide blade, and is designed so that weeding can be done standing
straight up, without having to stoop. The soil is stirred
just under the surface for weeding, thinning, and cultivating.
Blacksmith-toolmaker-farmer Bob Rayner gave tips on how to
attach a new or separated wooden handle to a metal tool such
as a hoe. “Heat up the cone of the metal tool (which
the wooden handle fits into) in a fire, and get it good and
red hot. It will expand. Then take it out of the fire and
jam the wooden handle into the cone and it will contract down
snugly around the handle.”
Blakely next demonstrated a seed planter for plastic mulch-covered
beds. The implement, which is about three feet long and can
be carried in one hand, punches a hole in the plastic mulch
and the soil. Seed can then be dropped down the tube and released
by trigger. Blakely bought hers used and is not sure where
to get one.
The wheel hoe is an adaptable tool that some in the room
said was the most used tool on their farm. Formerly known
as the Planet Junior, the wheel hoe is now made by Glaser.
The wheel hoe has a stirrup-type blade for which there are
different widths, up to 14”. The width should be about
1” less than the space between the plants. “Weeding
with the wheel hoe takes some skill,” says Blakely,
“I’m the only one on the farm who can use it,
but I won’t do without it.”
At least a dozen implements are available for attaching to
the wheel hoe frame. Tines can be attached in back of the
weeder blade for dragging weeds to the end of the row and
for cultivating. A hiller-furrower is also available, as well
as a seeder. The wheel can be offset from the weeder blade
for weeding from the row.
The weeder blades (and hoe blades in general) should be sharpened
with a flat-bastard file, never when it is wet. Weeding should
be done at about the four-leaf stage. If the plants are any
bigger the stirrup blade doesn’t work well, any smaller
and the plants pull out and can re-root. Peaceful Valley Farm
Supply at www.groworganic.com
has the Glaser wheel hoe.
A strap-on stool for hand-weeding and harvesting elicited
some laughs, but in the end (no pun intended) earned converts.
Blakely says she couldn’t get her son, who has knee
problems, to work the fields without it. The stool, traditionally
used for milking on dairy farms, straps on to one’s
rear-end and frees up the hands when one moves from one spot
to another down the row. Research shows that the stool substantially
reduces time spent in “unacceptable positions”.
here for a full article on the tool. The stool is available
at dairy supply stores.
The flame weeder sparked the most discussion of all the tools
at the workshop. This farm-made (or local metal shop-made)
implement is basically a propane tank carried on the back,
a standard gas regulator and tubing, and a wheel-mounted manifold
and flame dispenser pipe. Holes drilled in the pipe dispense
the flames. A shield protects the flame pipe. Too much shield
coverage can deny oxygen. Some said they did fine without
the shield. The hole size, where the flame emerges, must be
the right size for the gas flow rate.
Glen Johnson of Mother Flight Farm in Mount Vernon, WA, who
helped with the presentation, says he uses his flame weeders
(he has different sizes) all year. “I use my flamers
about an hour an acre. One is tractor-mounted. I have another
that is hand-wheeled (as in the photo), with the propane tank
mounted in front of the flamer. The backpack version froze
my back because as the propane flows from the tank, it freezes.”
Flame weeders are most useful for post-planting pre-crop-emergence
weed control. Red Dragon products at www.flameengineering.com
has most of the parts that need to be ordered, like regulators.
Local metal shops can do the rest, according to Blakely and
others. Michaele Blakely’s email is email@example.com.
Workshop 2: Producing Organic Seed
Matthew Dillon of Abundant
Life Seed Foundation (www.abundantlifeseed.org)
outlined the essentials of organic seed production in a workshop.
Seed production gives a farm an alternative cash crop as
well as seed for on-farm use. Usually the seed crop is harvested
and processed late in the year, after most of the food crop
season is done, and so can fit well into a small farm’s
annual work cycle.
In some cases farmers have started producing their own seed
because their seed supplier stopped producing their preferred
variety. Seed production also enhances the biodiversity of
the farm, as the flowering stage of the seed crops provide
food sources for beneficial insects
Dillon briefly introduced the concepts of vertical vs. horizontal
disease resistance in plants. Vertical resistance has been
used widely in the seed breeding industry to make major leaps
in disease resistance in crop lines, often by finding a single
gene for resistance. But vertical disease resistance has been
susceptible to being overcome by the targeted pathogens, since
those pathogens often need only to have a single gene mutation
to overcome the plant’s resistant gene.
Horizontal resistance involves multiple genes and small,
incremental disease resistance progress in crop lines. While
not as sexy as vertical resistance, horizontal disease resistance
has been much more stable in resisting counter virulence in
the targeted pathogen. Raul Robinson, in his book Return
to Resistance outlines these principles, and provides
a conceptual framework for farmers to form breeding clubs.
Seed production is inseparable from varietal improvement
and breeding, according to Dillon. “By continual selection,
you stay ahead of disease,” says Dillon. Genetic drift
inevitably occurs from generation to generation in plants,
and selection to counteract it is necessary. Selection is
done to weed out off-types and out-crossers and to select
for environmental resilience, disease resistance, and yield.
The best way to determine whether the seed crop you want
to produce is economically viable and marketable is to get
to know the seed companies, Dillon says. Learn their catalogues.
Then, in late winter, send a packet of seed with a letter
stating why your farm would be good for their seed needs.
Having a laboratory, such as that at Cornell University,
do seed quality and disease analysis will increase marketability.
Learning to do basic replicated varietal trials is very helpful
Some people do quite well using low tech seed production
and processing techniques, such as using tarps and mesh screens.
It often depends on the crop. Prices for seed run from $20
to $120 per pound, depending on the crop. Drip irrigation
is usually best. Distance from other plantings of the same
species is important. For “selfers” (self-pollinated
crops), 100 yards is usually sufficient; for out-crossers,
one to five miles is needed.
Workshop 3: Mustard as Biofumigant and
Dr. Lindsey du Toit of
Washington State University gave an overview of this increasingly
popular cover crop.
Since 1999, mustard cover crop acreage has grown more than
ten-fold in the state of Washington to nearly 25,000 acres.
When I visited the Salinas Valley in October, mustard cover
crops seemed to be all over the place, and was being grown
by both organic and conventional growers.
Mustards and other Brassica crops like broccoli contain glucosinolates,
and when released into the soil these are enzymatically transformed
into isothiocyanate – the same substance that is the
active ingredient in metam sodium, a common commercial fumigant
with the trade name Vapam.
The biofumigant properties work best if the crop is well
chopped up and then immediately disked under, as the isothiocyanates
are volatile. Du Toit says that they like to immediately follow
the chopper with a disker to work the freshly chopped mustard
into the soil. Watering also helps to keep the isothiocyanates
in the soil. Mustard’s biofumigant properties are highest
just prior to flowering.
In Washington mustard has been successful in reducing nematode
problems like the root knot nematode and the sugar beet cyst
nematode, and disease problems like Verticillium in potato.
One farm was able to reduce its potato rotation to two years
by using mustard cover crops to reduce early dying caused
by Verticillium dahliae. Comparison trials on potato showed
no significant difference between yields of potatoes from
fields treated with metam sodium and those from fields that
had mustard treatment.
Mustards are also good as just plain cover crops –
they have good weed suppression characteristics and are fast-growing.
Commercial seed for mustard cover crops are generally a blend
of varieties of B. juncea and B. hirta.
Mustards do not sterilize soils as do commercial fumigants.
Not a lot is known about exactly how the soil microbial community
is effected by mustard treatment. There are reports that beneficial
fungi such as Trichoderma and beneficial bacteria such as
fluorescent pseudomonads are higher after mustard incorporation.
This is often true for any carbon inputs such as cover crops;
therefore it is not clear whether mustards actually favor
these beneficial microbes more than other cover crops. Dr.
du Toit’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Workshop 4: Connecting Chefs and Growers
Karen Jurgensen of the
Seattle Chef’s Collaborative (www.chefscollaborative.org)
talked about connecting chefs to farmers and farming, and
how farmers can connect with chefs and restaurants.
Jurgensen described a program at the Quillisascut Farm School
of Domestic Arts in which students from a number of chef schools
in the region spent seven days on the Quillisascut farm learning
where their food comes from. They started by killing and butchering
a lamb. Every chef who serves meat should learn how the animal
is produced and slaughtered (not to mention everyone who eats
meat). The budding chefs learned about culinarily useful parts
of the animal that are not found in the meat section of the
supermarket. The students were taken on tours of local organic
farms to learn how crops are grown. Issues such as sustainability
and food quality were discussed.
Jurgensen outlined eight major points for farmers to consider
when establishing and maintaining a relationship with a chef
Restaurants need to schedule their purchases, and need deliveries
to be consistent and reliable.
Work out a delivery schedule that works for both you and
the restaurant. Learn the restaurants busy times and try
to work around them. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are usually
best to talk to the chef, Friday is a common delivery day.
Ask the chef the best way to communicate wth him/her, whether
by phone, fax, or email. If your product is different from
what you ordered, call to inform the chef and ask if they
still want it.
- Give free samples!
Chefs love free samples of new foods or food varieties –
so be generous.
- Know your customers.
Eat in the restaurants you sell to. Lunch is cheaper than
- Establish good accounting.
Prepare invoices ahead and make them easy.
- Balance specializing and
diversifying. Specializing means you can
get the volume a restaurant needs; diversity spreads out
the delivery season.