Workshop 1: Small Acreage Tools
Michaele Blakely of Growing Things
in Carnation, Washington presented a half dozen tools for small
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
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
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
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”. Click
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Workshop 2: Producing Organic
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
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
Workshop 3: Mustard as
Biofumigant and Cover Crop
Dr. Lindsey du Toit of Washington
State University gave an overview of this increasingly popular cover
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
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
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
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 or restaurant:
- Commitment. Restaurants
need to schedule their purchases, and need deliveries to be consistent
- Schedule. 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.
- Communicate. 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
- Know your customers.
Eat in the restaurants you sell to. Lunch is cheaper than dinner.
- 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.