Using the right tools can make a huge difference in the success of diversified production on a small regenerative farm. For more than 20 years, Jean-Martin Fortier and his various apprentices have been able to test several tools adapted to organic farming. This vast experience has allowed him to establish this list of more than 30 must-have tools for small regenerative farms and market gardens. These recommendations were specifically thought out for small diversified vegetable farms that want to practice sustainable agriculture and increase efficiency, which in turn will enable them to make a good living from agriculture. These suggested market gardening tools will save you a lot of time, increase productivity, improve workflow, and offer more ergonomic ways of working.
The broadfork is a tool that loosens the soil in depth while preserving its structure. This large U-shaped fork has two handles and steel tines that penetrate the soil to aerate it without overturning its layers. It’s an essential tool with no real substitute and a must-have tool for small regenerative farms and market gardens.
The Growers & Co. broadfork is light, but strong. It’s perfect for light and medium soils.
For heavy, rocky soils, we particularly like the Meadow Creature broadfork. Despite their weight, these broadforks are definitely the strongest as they are made entirely of metal. They are also available from Dubois Agrinovation in Quebec and Johnny’s Selected Seeds in the United States.
The 30 in (75 cm) wide market gardening rake specially designed by Growers & Co. is an essential tool for any small bio-intensive farm. The rake is used to efficiently prepare the soil for planting or to spread amendments evenly over a bed. The Growers & Co rake is sold in Canada and the U.S. with tubes to mark rows for planting.
Flex Tine Weeder
Light and efficient, the flex tine weeder is used for early crop weed control when weeds are in the cotyledon stage. The flex tine weeder saves a lot of time because it allows you to weed directly on the rows, by simply walking down the pathways. The flex tine weeder is one of the must-have tools if you are growing a lot of baby greens. Available in the United States at Two Bad Cats and Johnny’s Selected Seeds. In Quebec, it’s available at Dubois Agrinovation.
Greenhouse and tunnels
The use of greenhouses and tunnels in a diversified small-scale farm plays a vital role in increasing profitability and are must-have tools.
In our experience, you should look for a greenhouse that is 30 to 35 feet wide because they create a more stable climate and are easier to heat. Make sure your greenhouse structure can handle snow if you are in a northern climate. To help you with that, we’ve put together a series of articles on what you need to know to get started with organic greenhouse vegetable production. You will learn more about how greenhouse growing can increase the profitability of a small, diversified farm, and get practical advice on which greenhouse model to choose.
Les industries Harnois is one of the largest producers of greenhouse equipment in North America. While they are not the most affordable, the quality they provide is undeniable. In Canada, many market gardeners also turn to Les Serres Guy Tessier, a human-sized company whose team are experts in greenhouses and offer good customer service.
The cold tunnels and the caterpillar tunnels are more affordable structures for market gardeners who are just starting out. The caterpillar tunnels have the advantage of being mobile and relatively easy to set up.
Nursery seeding equipment
Johnny’s Selected Seeds sells a high quality vacuum seeder that is well worth its price tag and part of the list of must-have tools on a small-scale farm.
The Jang seeder is in our opinion the best precision seeder on the market for small-scale farms. Its price is higher than many other seeders but its performance is unmatched and fully justifies the investment. The Jang 5-row seeder is so versatile that it can undertake almost any type of direct seeding on a small-scale farm. It also adapts well to more difficult conditions such as the presence of debris on the beds, rocks, heavy soils, etc. The Jang seeder is definitely on the list of essential tools for small regenerative farms.
6 Rows Seeder
This seeder was designed by Eliot Coleman to primarily seed 12 rows per bed with crops such as greens and radishes. Compared to the Jang-5, it is more temperamental on soil containing debris, but it forms an excellent duo with the Jang-1. The 6-row seeder is available from Dubois Agrinovation in Quebec and from Johnny’s Selected Seeds for the rest of North America.
Two-Wheel Tractor (Walking Tractor)
Very compact and powerful, the two-wheel tractor or walking tractor is the only mechanized equipment needed on a small-scale farm. This tool has multiple attachments that can perform a variety of tasks such as cultivating the soil surface, mowing crops, or ridging beds.
The most common two-wheeled tractor model in North America is manufactured by the Italian company BCS. We recommend the 853 model, as most 30 in (75 cm) attachments can be mounted on this two-wheel tractor. It will also do a good job at handling flail mowers and other heavier attachments. We also like to use the rotary plow to shape our permanent raised beds. Check out the BCS America website to see the amazing variety of attachments that can be used with a BCS tractor as well as a list of local suppliers.
Another attachment tool we particularly like is the R2 Rinaldi rotary harrow sold at Earthtools.com. It works the soil more gently than a rototiller and greatly limits the formation of a hardpan. It is also less heavy than some other models. We also like the Berta 34 in flail mower sold by Earth tools.
Small rototiller (Tilther)
The tilther is a small 15 in wide rototiller that is primarily used to work 1 or 2 inches into the soil surface. Conceptualized by Eliot Coleman, this small tiller is lightweight and powered by a conventional battery-powered drill. It’s an alternative to a tiller for smaller farms or for working beds in tight spaces, such as in a greenhouse.
We recommend that you purchase one or two extra 18V batteries when you buy your drill. The small rototiller is power hungry and your battery will run flat after having worked 2 or 3 100 foot beds. DeWalt’s Flexvolt drill system allows for 20V batteries which are more powerful. This is our favorite system when using the small rototiller.
Keep in mind that the tilther is not intended to work rocky soil, but rather to finish off beds nicely just before planting begins. We invite you to consult this article to determine if the small rototiller is the right tool for you. The small rototiller is offered in the United States by Johnny’s Selected Seeds and in Quebec by Dubois Agrinovation.
The wheel hoe is an excellent tool for hoeing weeds around single row crops or for weeding pathways.
It can also be used to incorporate soil amendments, such as compost, and prepare beds before planting. Our favorite wheel hoe has a 12 in (30 cm) blade and is manufactured by the Swiss company Glaser. The Glaser wheel hoe is available in North America from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. The company Hoss sells a version of the wheel hoe that is slightly less expensive, but still very durable. Terrateck also offers a simple wheel hoe with the option of attaching a 12 in (30 cm) blade or bio-discs in order to hoe weeds directly on the row. The Terrateck wheel hoe is available in Quebec and the United States from Dubois Agrinovation and in France directly from Terrateck
You can add bio-discs on Terrateck’s wheel hoes making it possible to weed both between and on the rows. Weeding on the row is done by lightly raising the soil around the crops which buries the emerging weeds. It’s available in the United States from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, in Quebec from Dubois Agrinovation and in France from Terrateck. The wheel hoe is always sold separately.
Hoes are simple and ergonomic tools that allow you to weed efficiently while standing up. They not only cut weeds, they also aerate the soil surface, activating its biology and allowing water to better penetrate the soil which greatly contributes to creating optimal growing conditions for crops. These tools are particularly effective when weeds are young and still in the cotyledon stage.
The Growers & Co. 3 ¼-inch stirrup hoe is ideal for weed control on a permanent bed with several rows of narrowly spaced crops such as spinach, green onions or baby kale.
The Growers & Co. 5-inch stirrup hoe is an essential tool for weed control on a permanent bed with crops with medium row spacing, such as beets, winter radishes or rutabagas.
The Growers & Co. 7-inch stirrup hoe will be your best bet for removing weeds that can smother crops on a permanent bed with one or two rows.
The Growers & Co. 7-inch collinear hoe is the tool of choice for weeding crops such as lettuce or cabbage. This hoe can be used in many situations because it has a flat, sharp blade that cuts weeds close to the plants, under the foliage.
The Interchangeable Wire Weeder is Growers & Co’s lightest tool and is designed to be an all-in-one weeder that offers many options. This handy hoe has 4 interchangeable heads that you can wear on a carabiner on your belt. One of the heads even allows for weeding on a bed with a drip tape installed without having to remove the system.
Proudly designed and manufactured in Quebec by Growers & Co. and Les Équipements Thivierge, these hoes are ergonomic, light and efficient. They’re also available in the United States.
For all our irrigation needs, we trust Dubois Agrinovation who has a very competent team to help design irrigation plans. We benefited greatly from their expertise in designing our system.
They supplied the sprinklers, micro-sprinklers and drip lines, as well as all the pipes, fittings and pumps.
Insect net and floating cover
The insect net is one of the simplest and most effective tools of phytoprotection in organic and ecological agriculture. It greatly minimizes crop losses to insect pests and the need for biopesticide spraying. In Canada and the United States, it’s possible to obtain insect nets from Dubois Agrinovation and Johnny’s Selected Seeds
Row covers protect crops from freezing and retain heat near the plants to create a microclimate favorable to their development. In Canada, floating row covers are available from Dubois Agrinovation. Also available in the United States from Farmer Friend.
Tarps are one of the must-have tools to have on a diversified vegetable farm. The UV treated polyethylene tarps are used to accelerate the composting of crop residues on a permanent bed so that the next crop can be planted. By covering the soil, they activate the biology of the soil, force the germination of weed seeds and limit the leaching of nutrients into the water table. They’re an excellent tool to ensure the succession of crops in bio-intensive market gardening.
We really like the HD5000 6.5 gallon electric sprayer from Petratools. It saves a lot of time and energy for all spraying operations.
The harvesting knife is an essential tool to have with you at all times. It’s especially useful for harvesting zucchini, frisée, leeks, lettuce and greens. We really like the French knife, Opinel, which is a high quality tool. Our favorite is the #10 which is light and comfortably fits in your hand. Opinel and Growers & Co. have teamed up to create a special edition of the #10 knife with a ruler for measuring crops.
Electric knife sharpener
We sharpen our harvesting knives daily. This job is much easier with the Work Sharp MK2 high-speed electric knife sharpener, which we also use to sharpen the blades of our Opinel, Quick Cut Harvester or hoe.
The Felco 310 pruning shears are our favorite. We love their durability, straight blades and the fact that they open on their own with a spring. They can be used in a variety of ways, from harvesting to crop maintenance. The Felco pruning shears are sold at Teris.co and through Amazon.
Quick Cut Harvester
The Quick Cut Harvester is so efficient that it has given small vegetable farms the means to become more competitive in the production of mesclun. Gone are the days of harvesting down on your knees for hours with a knife. What would take 2 people 4 hours to do, can now be done alone in 45 minutes. This is an incredible advantage during harvesting! If your farm harvests more than 100 lbs of greens per week, a greens harvester is really a must-have tool.
When you choose harvesting bins, you are buying a system. It’s therefore important to make the right choice and buy uniform bins from the start. Consider buying bins that can be stacked on top of each other. We chose these sturdy and durable plastic bins for the greens and these perforated bins for the rest. Available at Dubois Agrinovation.
The harvesting cart (Vermont Cart)
We use the large harvesting cart to transport our harvesting boxes to the packing room. We use it every day for various tasks: transporting tools, crops or straw. Light and practical, it has high clearance and easily travels over the beds with its wheels on the pathways. It’s possible to build your own cart, but the company Carts Vermont makes one that is very sturdy.
Many people talk about our rain gear. Jean-Martin discovered Guy Cotten products after visiting several farms in France. The overalls with integrated knee pads are great! The jackets are also of superior quality and keep you dry, no matter how heavy the rain is, making the price well justified. Guy Cotten products are available at Dubois Agrinovation.
Of course, you can farm in the clothes of your choice, but some pieces are more comfortable than others. Growers & Co. designs and manufactures durable clothing specifically for the needs of farmers. Pants with built-in kneepads, comfortable clothing with UV protection, market aprons, tool belts, and more!
The cold room is used to preserve your produce to ensure that their quality is optimal . It’s an essential piece of equipment part of the list of must-have tools and it’s worthwhile doing business with a specialized installation team and buying a new compressor. This is a more expensive option, but it provides access to after-sales services in the event of problems.
The CoolBot is an alternative to compressor cooling. This system allows any home air conditioner to be adapted to control the temperature of a room. The CoolBot unit costs a fraction of the price, is easy to install and uses less electricity than a conventional compressor. The unit was designed by farmers and comes with a satisfaction guarantee. Available online at the inventors’ website and at Farmer’s Friend.
You can purchase the various components to build a vertical electric fence at most agricultural cooperatives. On the technical side of things, it’s a matter of connecting a few “polytapes” (or several 1/10 inch diameter, 12.5 AWG wires) on poles spaced at intervals of 33 feet. The wire must be attached to the pole with plastic insulation, and the electrical current that flows must have a voltage of at least 4000 volts. Ideally, increased voltage is even better: 8000 volts will prevent deer from knocking down the fence at night.
Polypropylene mesh specifically designed to protect against deer, raccoons, hares and other wildlife entering the farm, is sold by Dubois Agrinovation.
For more than must-have tools!
To learn more about the must-have tools for small regenerative farms and market gardens, how to use them, and the best techniques for running a profitable farm, join the Market Gardener Masterclass. The Masterclass is a comprehensive online course that teaches all the steps for a successful vegetable production. Our method has been developed based on over 20 years of experience in organic market gardening and is designed to give you consistent results that will ensure the success of your farm.