Thursday, February 23, 2012

You Scratch My Back, I'll Scratch Yours: Cultivation tools


On the farm, as in life, sometimes it is the simplest solutions or most subtle changes that make all the difference, but in order to get to a level of understanding that allows for this type of creative thinking, we must first understand the basics of whatever it is we are trying to accomplish.  Air, sun and water are the most quintessential elements required for plants to survive.  Although there are many other factors that contribute to the life of a plant, without these three basic needs, there is no life.  One of the main functions of a greenhouse is to reduce the variables involved in growing.  While we can control much of the quantities and qualities of air, light and water, we are still left to contend with some of the inevitable issues that abound when attempting to create such a controlled growing environment, especially in the winter when the greenhouse creates a cool, moist environment.   One of the biggest challenges that we face by creating this cool, moist environment is the development of moss and fungal pathogens.  As we discussed last week, herbal tea remedies such as chamomile sprays can truly help reduce the spread of these issues, but this is only one piece to the equation.  In addition to the tea spray, we can offer more assistance in this fight by simply cultivating the top layer of soil both in the beds and pathways.  This scratching of the soil surface is a tiny adjustment, but can offer huge benefits such as
decreasing compaction and increasing airflow.

Using 3 separate tools we can ensure that we scratch the soil all without needing to bend down and put more stress on our bodies.  Using these tools helps us move quicker and more efficiently throughout the greenhouse.

The first tool is called a wheel-hoe, which is basically a flat bladed hoop hoe attached to the back of a wheel.  The blade is sized slightly shorter than the width of our 1' footpaths.  I've noticed that the pathways are most susceptible to moss buildup.  I believe this has to do with the inevitable compaction caused by the constant compression from walking.  Air can't flow when soil is compressed, water gets logged and moss starts to form and spread quickly.  The wheel-hoe allows us to counteract this.

The best part about this tool is that when the blades are sharpened, they just need to graze the thinnest top surface level of the soil which makes for a quick and easy process without the need to dig down deep into the pathway creating more unnecessary stress, time and effort.  Here we see Robin, a fellow apprentice who spends time in both the restaurant and on the farm, a true pro demonstrating an exemplary round of wheel-hoeing in the greenhouse.

The wheel-hoe is mainly used for the pathways because it does best when working in straight lines.  The second tool, which we refer to as the tine rake, is officially called The Gladiator II.  Although this tool was originally created as a leaf rake for home gardens and landscapes, it's versatility is incredible in the greenhouse.  It's about 17'' wide so with two strokes we can cover the entirety of our 30'' soil beds.

Amazingly enough, the extremely loose, thin tines flow right over the top soil level without ripping out the roots of our fragile baby plants.  By using this tool on any newly sprouted and small growth bed on a weekly basis, we can cultivate the soil just enough to prevent any of the compaction, fungus and moss from developing and stunting the growth of the plants we are looking to harvest.  It works well with almost all plants we grow in the greenhouse from lettuces to carrots.  An incredible tool to say the least and a great find by The Captain.

The 3rd and final tool, the collinear hoe is used to scrape the surface layer of the bed space in between bigger plants that are two big for the tine rake.  It's narrow shape and thin blade allow us to work within the bed and around each plant without tearing out the roots or putting too much pressure on the soil.

Herbal sprays, consistent cultivation of the top soil layer and avoiding over watering all play a big role in preventing these mosses and fungus from taking over the greenhouse during this fragile time for growth when plants are in their baby state of growth for an extended period of time when compared to the hot summer months.  Keeping an eye on things and finding innovative ways to efficiently interact with all the plants growing in your system is a key component of hands-on agriculture. 


  1. Very interesting blog. Did not know about the chamomile tea. . .

  2. Thanks. We are doing a Equisetum tea spray this week as well, which is prepared in the same way as the chamomile. Equisetum helps builds cell structure and increase light reflection in the plant. Come back and check it out later this week.