Tool Circle Notes from #VIMIXER2016

Posted by Moss Dance on March 02, 2016 1 Comment

Uminami Farm August 2014-4

We just met up at #VIMIXER2016 to talk about our favourite tools and we wanted to share what we learned from each other with this tool notes blog!

Stefan Schmitz, Wolfram Tools

Stefan is making tools in the Cowichan Valley for local market gardeners & farmers – broadforks, wheel hoes, tilthers and more! He is interested in creating tools that are hard to find, overpriced to import & is open to ideas and suggestions for tools. One suggestion he’s already received is a rat-proof chicken feeder. Seems like a great idea for the West Coast!

Stefan suggested that he might be able to replace hoe heads that have broken. If the handle is still intact he suspects that it should be possible to figure out a way to do this.

Here are some photos of his tools:


Broadfork (above)


Cordless drill-powered tilther (above)

Arzeena Hamir, Amara Farm & Merville Organics Growers’ Co-operative

Arzeena loves this tool, but it broke last season: Saan-Kaku Hoes

It’s been great for digging deeper trenches for transplanting. It would be great to have one that doesn’t break! Maybe Stefan will make one… stay tuned…

Heather Ramsay, Umi Nami Farm, Metchosin


Heather has a tool that is a PVC pipe & a bucket she is wearing with a string around her neck. Put the seeds in the bucket, cut a trench and just drop the seed into the PVC pipe, moving the pipe to where you want the next seed to go (photo above.)

Heather only used it for beans this year, but speculates it could probably be used for peas and corn. She hasn’t tested it with small seeds.

Some people asked: why not the Earthway seeder instead of the PVC pipe method? The problem with the Earthway at Umi Nami is that the soil is quite heavy, and the seeder gets stuck in the soil and dumps out piles of seed all in one place. This simple tool ensures even distribution of seed.

Uminami Farm August 2014-2Penetrating Oil: Half diesel half automotive transmission fluid. Put it in a dropper bottle and apply to anything that’s really stuck.

Another way to unfreeze frozen bolts is to apply heat to one side of the bolt and then apply torque. Non symmetric heat is key for this.

Uminami Farm August 2014-3Heather has a tool belt and wanted to highlight a couple important tools. Rubber washers, teflon tape, elastic bands, notebook and pen, drip-tape connectors. You never have to go back to get anything. The toothbrush is one of her favourite tools, it’s used main to clean mechanical parts and any threaded pieces that need to be clean. She dips toothbrushes used for mechanical parts in biodiesel to clean them.

Heather also carries a thrift store knife in her tool belt, which she uses to cut weeds and harvest tender greens. She also uses the knife to cut soil blocks if there are roots that have made their way into neighbouring blocks.

Uminami Farm August 2014-4Umi Nami farm uses fish fertilizer to water in their transplants (photo above.) Instead of repeatedly dipping a small bucket into a larger bucket, they have attached a submersible pump to a hose. With a long enough extension cord to run the pump they can mix the fish fertilizer in a large barrel and then water the seedlings in with pumped water from the barrel.

They also use loop hoes, which are great for precision weeding. Lee Valley tools carries them. Arzeena mentioned that she bought one from Lee Valley that didn’t last a whole season.

Myna-Lee Johnstone, Fulford Valley Organics, Salt Spring Island

Deep watering idea!

PVC pipe irrigation posts: place waist-height lengths of 1″ PVC pipes as close to individual plants’ roots as you can (careful not to damage them) and push them into the soil 6-8″.  Pour water from the hose down through the pipe to deep water each individual plant. Mulch well.

This worked well on 100′ rows of squash and Myna-Lee only had to water once/week.

She also had a question about systems for keeping elastic bands or twist ties when harvesting. Elastics can go on the wrist, but there doesn’t seem to be anything that works for twist ties. If you keep them in your pocket it’s inconvenient, it also needs to be something that isn’t going to tip over. Suggestions included fanny packs, a toilet paper roll with something taped to the bottom and hanging from the neck, but consensus seemed to be that twist ties generally tend to be more inconvenient than elastic bands if you’re bunching in the field.

Wheel Hoe Thoughts

  • Russell doesn’t use the triple-tined wheel hoe attachment, he uses the stirrup hoe the most and finds it’s best for weeding.
  • Pathway weeders have two wheels & two weeding implements.
  • Arzeena has an old wheel hoe (it wasn’t a Glaser wheel hoe, but it looked exactly the same) in her barn after she moved to her farm, and Stefan fixed it up and made a new attachment for it.

Soil Blocks & Potting Mix – not really tools, but what the heck?

Discussion of soil blocks and soil mixes. Arzeena at Amara Farm uses only Peat, Perlite, and Worm Castings in her soil mix. Arzeena has found that if she uses any amendment containing phosphorous in her mix it promotes fungal growth, which makes it very difficult to water the blocks once it has established. She’s tried alfalfa pellets, fish bone meal, and black soldier fly frass. At Umi Nami farm they don’t use any fertilizers in their mix, although they do add lime. They transplant at two true leaves and don’t usually see any indication that the seedlings are suffering from any nutrient deficiencies. They do use nutrient amendments in their mix for potting transplants up.

John Ehrlich at Alderlea Biodynamic Farm uses a wide variety of fertilizers in his potting mix including blood meal, lime, and soft rock phosphate. Elliot Coleman also uses a selection of amendments in his recommended potting mix.

Favourite Interweb Resources 

There are plans for a vacuum seeder on The Ruminant website. This allows you to seed a tray very quickly. Unfortunately the designs are only for large seeded seeds. Find it here! has really cool DIY ideas from farmers.


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