Good tools

I'd like to take this evening to appreciate some of the tools I work with at the farm.  I love working directly with my body and hands, and wouldn't want to farm in a way that replaces all my labor.  That's one of the joys of small scale farming or market gardening: I get to be in there, planting seeds and pulling weeds and tossing handfuls of limestone down each bed to keep the fertility high.  There's nothing like the joy of hand-cutting a head of broccoli or gazing out over a bed of young chard plants I just tucked into the ground, and there's no substitute for physically walking the fields to assess how everything's growing.

But there are also many times that I can't imagine doing a project without the right tools, and others (like today) when I realized how much time and energy I'd wasted using the wrong tools.  The hand tools we used today are in the former category: a circle hoe to pull drip tape down a bed who's plants are already too big to drop the tape in between rows (thereby keeping us from crouching awkwardly to hold the tape below the plants' leaves while walking 100 feet down the bed); a pitchfork to act as a pivot point when pulling drip tape at a wonky angle (allowing other people, who would be standing there and feeding the tape along to keep it from plowing over plants, to find more drip tape); a mallet to pound in rebar stakes at the ends of beds to keep the irrigation system in place (hard as I try, my body weight just won't sink them deep enough in hard ground); and a shovel, to do what shovels do best, after we'd instead used our bare hands to slog clots of mud onto the edges of black plastic that's killing cover crop, to keep it from blowing away.

After not even thinking twice about how useful those types of hand tools are to us every day, I was star-struck later in the day over two tools that are on the more glamorous end of the tool-glamour spectrum. 

First, our new flame weeder made its debut!  It arrived in the late fall and has been sitting in the tool shed, unassembled, all spring.  Ted finally just went for it this morning, put it together, figured out how to not blow anything up or start any fires, and set it to work on the greenhouse beds.  I should say, the original flame weeder is mounted on an old external frame backpack, so we'd carry around a propane tank on our backs while managing a double-shafted torch attached to the tank (watch Ghostbusters for the gist of it).  Walking along at a steady pace with the flames running loud and blue just above the soil surface, we could blast an entire bed of weed seedlings (sprouting up just before a carrot or potato crop, usually) in four passes and about five minutes.  I could usually do it for a half hour before feeling uncomfortable, and an hour before needing to give my back a break.  Not bad, but not exactly fun.

The new machine won't necessarily be "fun" either, but it's even more bad ass and will cover a bed in half the time.  I'm hoping the name "flame chariot" catches on, because it's a pretty fancy ride: the big solid wheels span an entire bed, and Ted aligned the five torches to the side, so we'll go up one edge of a bed and down the other and be done with it.  It has its own set of challenges, like bouncing around over uneven ground and being hard to steer from its long handle, but it seemed to do the trick and will hopefully be another tool we look at and say: "How'd we ever do all this without the flame chariot??"

 Lighting the torches on the new flame weeder

Lighting the torches on the new flame weeder

 Ted demos the flame chariot

Ted demos the flame chariot

Later, my mind got blown again by a second machine.  We got a new tractor the fall before last, along with pallet forks to hook on the front where a bucket usually goes.  With this pseudo-forklift, we've been able to transform a lot of tasks and make things easier by palletizing materials and moving them around with the tractor.  I continue to be pleasantly surprised by all the things we can move this way: sheets of plastic, sand bags, soil amendments, potatoes in crates, squash in bins, and so so so much more.  I've been bringing our little flatbed dump truck to the farm a lot lately to haul off our fruit tree prunings to Rexius, the local yard debris processor, and loading it by haphazardly tossing and shoving branches in and trying to pack them by hand (and knee, foot, and shoulder).  Today Ted thought to load it using the pallet forks instead.  

 Loading branches with the tractor's pallet fork

Loading branches with the tractor's pallet fork

After he'd dumped some in, we rearranged and added more before Ted smashed everything down with the forks from above.  I was once again dumb founded and giddy at the strength of that machine!  Every time I use a tractor I'm in awe of what it can do, and while this was just another of those moments, it was all the more satisfying because it effortlessly did something that I'd been trying to do futilely all last week: smash the damn unruly branches down so I can fit more in.  There's still a monumental pile of wood waiting to be hauled away, but we made a dent in it.  Way more of a dent than I could've using just my two little hands.