The Best Tools for Organic Market Farmers & Gardeners

Collinear, Cobra & Stirrup Hoes: the best tools for organic market farmers and gardeners

Collinear, Cobra & Stirrup Hoes

When it comes to market farming and gardening, there’s no shortage of tools to pick from.  

And if you’re a tool geek like we are, you’re always searching for just the right thing to make your work easier and more efficient.  
We’ve tried out many tools in our years of growing, and these are the ones that earn their keep.

The Best Tools For Organic Market Farmers & Gardeners:

SOIL PREP

collinear, cobra, and stirrup hoes, and meadow creature broadforks: the best tools for organic market farmers and gardeners

collinear, cobra, and stirrup hoes, and meadow creature broadforks

Broadfork

This is hands-down the most used tool on our farm.  The only time we tilled our field was the very first year when we turned it from pasture to cropland.  Since then, it’s been all about the broadfork.

Broadforks aerate the soil without inverting the layers.  This loosens the soil while keeping the structure intact.

While our soil isn’t clay, it tends to the heavier side, and after breaking a few broadforks the first year we finally found Meadow Creature.  The. Most. Amazing. Broadfork.

Seriously.  Meadow Creature has revolutionized broadforks to make them sturdier and stronger, and they come with a lifetime guarantee.  They don’t even know that I’m writing this—I just love them so much, and when anyone asks what kind of broadfork to get, I practically yell Meadow Creature.  We have 3.

Stirrup Hoe

If I could only have one hoe, this would be it.  The stirrup hoe has a moveable stirrup on the end of it, and it weeds in two directions.  I love this tool for mid-sized weeds that are too big for a lighter hoe, but don’t require hand-weeding.  I also love it for the rhythm of pushing back and forth, and how that simple movement makes weeding so much faster.  

Collinear Hoe

This is Edge’s favorite hoe.  It’s ideal for tiny weeds that have just germinated, which may be why he loves it—if you only ever have to use a collinear hoe, it means you are very on top of your weed management.

This hoe is designed to be ergonomic, and allows the user to stand straight rather than bending over, another reason Edge loves it.

Cobra Hoe

I was skeptical of this one—it seems so dainty compared to the stirrup hoe.  But farming and gardening teaches me over and over that strength and resilience often lie beneath seemingly dainty things.  And that not everything needs the disruption of a stirrup hoe.

The cobra is the perfect hoe for crops sown in tight rows, like carrots or salad greens.  

It’s narrow enough to fit between closely planted rows, and can easily cultivate a bed of lettuce mix before the crop is big enough to shade out weeds.  

30” Bed Prep Rake

This rake is the same width as our beds, making it easy to ensure the beds are consistent the entire length.  It’s perfect for raking out compost and giving you an even, level bed before direct seeding.

HARVESTING

harvest tools: serrated knife, tomato shears, stainless steel produce knife & diamond hone: the best tools for organic market farmers & gardeners

harvest tools: serrated knife, tomato shears, stainless steel produce knife & diamond hone

Tomato Shears

These all-purpose shears do more than prune tomatoes.  They’re also great for harvesting kale, chard, peppers, kohlrabi, herbs, and trimming roots on bunching onions.  We pretty much always have a pair of these in our pockets, which leads to them being the most lost and found tool on our farm.  (Lesson: train yourself to put things back where they belong, rather than just taking tools out of your pocket in the kitchen or car or office or…you get the picture).

Victorinox Serrated Knife

This little knife is mighty sharp.  A great all-around harvest knife, and especially suited for harvesting greens.

Stainless Steel Produce Knife

My other favorite harvest knife, this one is great for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and more.  Before we got the Victorinox serrated knife, this stainless steel produce knife was our go-to lettuce and greens harvester.

Diamond Hone Knife Sharpener

Knives dull.  Dull knives slow down the harvest.  We carry this sharpener around in our pockets to ensure we can quickly sharpen in the field without losing time walking back and forth to hone blades during harvest days.  

Quick-Cut Greens Harvester

If you really want to cut loads of salad greens in minutes, invest in a quick-cut greens harvester. This revolutionized our greens production, and made it feasible for us to sell wholesale mesclun mix.  The quick-cut greens harvester is a must-have tool for market farmers harvesting and selling more than 100 lbs of greens a week.


What tools could you simply not live without?  Let me know in the comments below.

Stop Weeding Your Garden! 4 Steps To Take Now For A Weed-Free Season

Organic weed-free straw helps control weeds organically in the garden

I may be among the few who actually enjoy weeding.  

There’s a meditative quality to hoeing between rows of vegetables.  It’s simple. The journey from one end of the bed to the other is straight.  I can look up and see exactly how much progress I’ve made, and how much farther I have to go.  

This is more than can be said for running a farm.  Between the weather, crop maps, succession plantings, pests and diseases, and all the behind-the-scenes of running a business, there are countless variables we work with on a daily basis.  

Which is why the simple act of hoeing can feel so good.  It’s so straightforward: just movement and clearing.

Often the physical act of clearing out a space, be it a closet or a weedy garden bed, leads me to clearing out my mind.  And when this happens, the path forward through all of the other variables becomes a bit clearer, too.

But.  I don’t want to weed all day.  

And even if you’re nodding along with me, I don’t think you want to weed all day, either.

There’s a time for clearing, and there’s a time for planting.

…and watering, and harvesting, and all the other -ings that come with farming, which includes simply being in the field.

With that in mind, here are some easy organic steps you can take early in the season to cut down, and dare-I-say eliminate the need to weed your garden this season.

Hoe now, even if you don’t see weeds

Weeds are so much easier to contend with when they’re tiny.  They also have a way of shooting up overnight—that bed of onions that looked relatively clean a few days ago is now lost in lambsquarters, and now the weeds are so big you need to hand-pull.  Neither the onions nor your back are happy about this. (I speak from experience).

By hoeing before weeds are a problem, you’ll keep them from ever becoming one.  

Cover the soil with straw or landscape fabric

Plant into landscape fabric for organic weed control

Once you’ve hoed and disrupted tiny weeds, cover the bed with straw or landscape fabric.  Along with suppressing weeds, this covers the soil, which does a few important things: keeps the soil cool, and reduces erosion and evaporation.  Keeping the soil cool and covered reduces the need to water, and it also keeps your soil in place during heavy rain storms.

I’m partial to laying down organic straw, because it’s a natural product that can eventually break down and add organic matter to your soil.  The downside of organic straw is that it can be expensive, and depending on how much space you have to cover it may not be the most efficient use of time.

 

Landscape fabric can be applied quickly by simply rolling it out along the bed.  While it is a plastic product, it’s much tougher than the single-use plastic mulch used on many organic farms.

Landscape fabric is made of woven-plastic, which allows water to seep through while blocking out sunlight so weeds can’t grow.  It also has a much longer lifespan than the single-use plastic mulch, and can be re-used over many seasons.  

Flip Your Beds Quickly

When one crop is harvested, plant another one that same day.  We call this flipping a bed.

After you harvest, scuffle-hoe and rake out the bed to disturb any weeds.  Hoeing and raking at this stage will be quick, and will prepare the bed for the next crop.  When you flip beds quickly, the disturbance from harvesting, hoeing and raking will keep weed pressure down and increase your harvest yields.

Prepare space with silage tarps

Incorporate silage tarps into your organic weed control strategy

a silage tarp holds space and smothers weeds before planting

Silage tarps are heavy plastic tarps that are laid down on soil to smother weeds and create stale seedbeds.  For a long time, we avoided plastic, but the trade-offs with silage tarps are worth it.

Silage tarps warm up the soil, encouraging weed seeds to germinate.  Once the weeds germinate they quickly die without light and air flow.  If there are established weeds, they’ll die within 4 weeks of being covered.  Meanwhile, the warm moist environment under the tarp encourages worm activity, which helps break down the established weeds.  

Silage tarps are a great way to hold space in garden before you’re ready to plant.  They keep the soil covered and do the job of weeding for you.

Best of all, because they’re heavy-duty, they last for years.  

With these simple steps, you can spend more time planting, harvesting, and simply enjoying your garden this summer.  

If you do find yourself needing to weed, here are my favorite tools to get the job done.

Enjoy being in your organic, weed free garden


Tell me, are you one of those people who love to hoe, like me?  Or are you rejoicing at the thought of a weed-free garden?

If you have tips of your own, let me know in the comments below!  We can never have too many organic strategies for dealing with weeds.

Beyond Lettuce: How To Grow Great Mesclun Mix

Organic Purple Mizuna, Arugula, and Tokyo Bekana growing in the field, learn how to grow mesclun mix

Organic Purple Mizuna, Arugula, and Tokyo Bekana growing in the field

Of all the crops we grow at Good Heart Farmstead, mesclun mix is the heart of our farm.  

We call the salad greens that make up our mesclun mix ‘gateway vegetables’—because even if you’re a meat and potatoes kind of person, you probably have a salad with dinner.  

Think you don’t like radishes?  Oops, I just slipped some in your salad, and they’re dancing around with the cucumbers waiting to delight you 😉

Spring mesclun mix, learn how to grow mesclun mix

In all seriousness, I believe everyone should try their hand at growing greens.  Salad is the epitome of fresh, and it doesn’t get fresher than harvesting leaves just before dinner. 

If you go to the store to buy greens, you’ll likely see a variety of different mixes: spring mix, spicy mix, lettuce mix, mesclun mix, and so on.  So what exactly is mesclun?

Mesclun is a mix of baby greens eaten together, and typically includes lettuces, mustards and Asian greens.  

As farmers there are a few standout reasons we love growing it:

It’s light

Mesclun mix is our main wholesale crop, and in the summer we harvest and sell around 300 lbs a week.  I know 300 lbs of mesclun weighs the same as 300 lbs of carrots, but the price point of each is vary widely.  Which brings me to the next reason…

It’s profitable

We grow on only 1 acre, and this forces us to be efficient and look closely at the profitability of each crop.  Organic mesclun mix retails for $12.00/lb, whereas organic carrots range between $2.00-3.50/lb.

Growing on 1 acre also means that we don’t have big equipment to mechanically harvest root crops.  We’re more of a market garden, and we’ve found that harvesting and transporting greens is easier on our bodies.

It’s beautiful

One of the benefits of farming and gardening is getting to be outside, close to the beauty of the fields.  Of all the crops we grow, there’s nothing so beautiful as rows of greens (or reds or purples, as mesclun has a variety of colors).

Even if you’re not selling it, you should still grow mesclun mix.  Here’s why:

You can save a whole lot of money

As I said, mesclun mix retails for $12/lb.  If you eat salad every day (or twice a day, as I typically do in the summer), that adds up!  Put your money into seeds instead, and grow your own.

You can make your own mix

I personally love a spicy kick to my mesclun mix, and add in hot greens like wrinkled crinkled crumpled cress and ruby streaks.  But maybe you don’t. Growing your own allows you to play with the ingredients and come up with a mix that you love best.

It’s beautiful

Beautiful gardens are joyful places!  This is how gardens do more than feed your body, they feed your soul, too.  Growing joy is at the root of everything I do—don’t you want an extra dose of beauty and joy in your garden and life?

How To Grow Great Mesclun Mix

Organic gourmet lettuce mix, ready to be added into mesclun mix

Organic gourmet lettuce mix

Choose your varieties

As I said, one of the benefits of growing your own mesclun mix is being able to create your own mix.  A good mesclun mix will have loft, varied textures and colors, and varied tastes from sweet to bitter to spicy.  

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

You don’t need to grow all of these at once—I recommend trying one or two from each category.

LETTUCES:

Choose between a baby lettuce mix, like the gourmet mix, or one-cut lettuce heads. {Read more on one-cut lettuces over on my latest post for High Mowing Organic Seeds}

MUSTARDS:

Green Wave – medium

Ruby Streaks – spicy

ASIAN GREENS:

Mizuna – mildly spicy

Purple Mizuna – mildly spicy

Tokyo Bekana

White Stemmed Pac Choi

SPECIALTY GREENS:

Astro Arugula – medium spicy

Esme Arugula – medium spicy

Wrinkled Crinkled Cress – spicy

SPINACH & KALE:

Red Russian Kale

Vates Kale

Butterflay Spinach

Escalade F1 Spinach

The most important thing when growing greens is to start with clean garden beds. 

There’s nothing more tedious than having to pull weeds that have sprouted up among the baby greens, so start by scuffling the entire bed to remove any weeds.  Depending on your soil, add a layer of compost and rake it evenly over the bed.

Next comes seeding.  

Before you sow, check the days to maturity (DTM) on each variety you’re growing.  Asian greens and mustards reach maturity faster than lettuces, so stagger the seeding date based on DTM.  

For example, Mizuna Asian greens are ready for harvest in 21 days.  Gourmet Lettuce blend is ready in 28 days. To ensure they’re ready at the same time, sow the lettuce blend a week earlier than the Mizuna.

We sow a few hundred feet at a time, and love this six-row seeder to sow quickly and evenly.  If you’re working with a smaller space, you can either sprinkle the seeds in rows, or broadcast in blocks by hand.  

The second most important thing is to water evenly and consistently.

Be sure to consistently water your seedbed so the seeds don’t dry out.  If they do dry out, you’ll get patchy germination. Covering the bed with reemay or agribon row cover helps keep the moisture in during germination.  

Once the beds have germinated, we remove the reemay on the lettuce, but keep it on for the mustards, asian and specialty greens to protect them from flea beetles.

After germination, we water the greens every few days, depending on the weather.  Watering can be a bit of a dance, with the frequency changing based on temperature and sun vs. clouds.  While it’s okay to let the soil dry a bit, greens will grow best with regular watering.

Harvest time!

Harvest the greens by hand with a sharp harvest knife.  One of the benefits of baby greens is that you can cut and come again, getting 2-3 harvests from one planting.  To do this, cut about 1” above the ground, leaving the growth point in tact.

If you’re harvesting 100’ beds like we are, the quick-cut greens harvester will cut down your harvest time by hours.  

Mix your harvest together, wash and enjoy!


Do you grow your own mesclun mix?  What’s your favorite green to add to it?

If you haven’t grown your own yet, are you going to give it a try?  Let me know! And if you have any questions, post them in the comments below.

Eat Your Weeds : How To Make Dandelion Pesto

Field of Dandelions, Dandelions are edible and make great dandelion pesto

Dandelions are either revered or reviled.  It really depends on who you ask.

I grew up delighted at the site of the yellow blooms, often adding them to wildflower bouquets for my mom.  My neighbors were not delighted at the site—though I never had to ask them. It was evident in their dandelion-less lawn.

As a child, I wondered how it was possible that our front lawn blossomed with small suns every summer, while theirs remained green.  To put it simply, they had a different style of lawn care than we did. My parents mowed, and that was it.

A few years ago, a friend who’d moved to Vermont from a lifetime of city-living, drove by field after field in bloom, and asked, “What are those flowers everyone’s planted?  They’re so beautiful!”

Her awe delighted me to no end.  I carry it as proof that when you meet a plant without a preconceived judgement of it being a weed, your appreciation and relationship with that plant can blossom without restriction.  The same goes for meeting people.

And anyway, appreciation feels better than judgement, and I’m more interested in joy than frustration.  Dandelions are, too. That’s why they can grow even through cracks in a sidewalk. They understand how to make a hard thing soften.

Dandelions, Taraxacum officinale, offer medicine along with their bright flowers.

Dandelions in bloom, make dandelion pesto for a delicious wild edible treat

Long before its status was relegated to weed, Dandelion was regarded as a medicinal plant.

Taraxacum means “disorder remedy” and officinale refers to a plant with an established medicinal use in the 1800s and early 1900s.  

Plant medicine has a way of popping up when our bodies may most need it, and dandelions are one of the first greens to return in the spring.  Known as a diuretic and liver tonic, Dandelion can support the body during a spring cleanse.

From the roots to the blossoms, every part of Dandelion is edible.  

Chop up the roots and roast them for a delicious tea.  

Add the leaves raw to a mesclun mix.

Sauté the roots in olive oil, wilt the leaves and drizzle a bit of balsamic over them.

Fry up the flowers in batter for Dandelion Fritters.

Or just do what Waylon does and nibble on the blossoms as you walk outside.

One of my favorite ways to eat Dandelion is to make pesto.  It’s a delicious addition to eggs and toast, noodles, or anything else you love pesto on (and I love pesto on most things!)

How To Make Dandelion Pesto

Washing dandelion leaves for dandelion pesto

I first made Dandelion Pesto under the tutelage of Annie McCleary, while I was a student at Wisdom of the Herbs School.  I’ve added the lemon juice and chevre recommendations here, but I have to thank Annie for first teaching me this recipe.

I’m a recipe-by-feel kind of person, and I apologize in advance to everyone who likes precise measurements.  Take this as a challenge and opportunity to stretch your “feel” muscles, or as I like to call it, “recipe improv.”

Ingredients

Fresh dandelion greens for dandelion pesto

  • Dandelion leaves
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt
  • Garlic or Garlic Scapes
  • Lemon Juice
  • Optional:
  • Nuts: pine nuts, almonds, or cashews
  • Cheese: romano or chevre (chevre makes for deliciously creamy pesto)

Instructions

Chopping dandelion leaves for dandelion pestoGather & Wash leaves: harvest green leaves anytime of year.  Spring leaves will be less bitter than fall leaves.

In a food processor, add a few cloves of garlic, a few pinches of salt, and a splash of lemon juice.  If you’re using nuts, add them now. Pulse until the garlic (and nuts, if using) are roughly chopped.

Add Dandelion leaves, and drizzle olive oil over top.  Process until smooth. Adjust salt and oil to taste.

*Pesto was invented long before food processors.  If you don’t have a food processor, finely chop all ingredients.  You can further pesto-ize by grinding with a mortar and pestle.

Enjoy!


Have you eaten Dandelions before?  If so, what’s your favorite way to prepare them?  If not, are you going to try them now? Let me know in a comment below!

Small Steps & Giant Leaps: The Most Important Lesson For Starting A Farm

I did think, let's go about this slowly. Poem by Mary Oliver

We bought our land in June 2012, and told everyone we weren’t going to move here until the following spring.

“That’s very responsible of you,” our lawyer said at the closing.  “If it were me I wouldn’t be able to help myself from moving right away.”

I smiled inside, feeling very responsible indeed.

After all, we just bought an open field and a plot of forest.  Aside from a powerline in the Southeast corner of the property, there were no utilities, no water, no buildings.

We started our farm from the ground up on an open field

We started our farm from the ground up on an open field

We’d borrowed more than the land cost, so between our savings and the money left over from our land loan, we had about $30,000 to start a farm.  Even now, 6 years later, I look at that number and think, “$30,000 is a lot of money.”

But geez, it doesn’t go far when you’re literally starting from the ground up.

So yes, I felt very responsible that we were going slow and taking very thoughtful, careful steps.

But bless us—

By September we raised a yurt and moved onto the land.

Yurt raising at Good Heart Farmstead, it's important to have helping hands when starting a farm

Yurt raising at Good Heart Farmstead

We spent $3000 to develop a shallow spring and run a frost-free hydrant to the sheep barn we were building, and a line with a hand pump up to our yurt.  The hand-pump thrilled me to no end, because for 2 years we’d lived in a yurt on another farm, hauling water in 5 gallon jugs.

So a hand-pump was pretty high-class living.

{And if you’re wondering, we managed to save up money by living on a farm in our own yurt, trading work for rent.  Edge and I both worked elsewhere in the winters—he in a sugar woods and me at a ski resort, then a bakery. We occasionally splurged on fancy local cheese and Redbox movies.}

By summer 2013 we were growing our first CSA and a baby.  While both steps were thoughtful, neither were small.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned more than anything over the last 6 years of starting and running a farm it’s to start.  Just start.

Plant a seed.  Take a leap.  

Start before you’re ready, before you know everything.  

Because you’ll never know everything.  

In fact, it’s more likely that you’ll know less the longer you farm—or at least, you’ll appreciate that there’s so much you don’t know that you don’t know.

Growing a farm and growing a life is a constant unfolding.  Having a vision is important, though I believe curiosity and flexibility are the most essential tools any farmer, homesteader, or gardener can have.

And when all else fails, a good poem can bring back of the joy of it all.


April is National Poetry Month!  I LOVE poetry, and Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets.

Is there a poem or poet with a special place in your heart? Please do share in the comments below—I always love discovering more poetry.