Thursday, March 13, 2014

Weeding Tools

There are a number of weeding tools offered by Johnny's, each with their own unique application. Using the right tool for the right job not only makes the work faster and more efficient, but the ergonomic advantages they sometimes offer can even make the work somewhat enjoyable. Sceptical? Let's take a look...

Long-handled Tools 

The Stirrup Hoe

Our most popular hoe, hands down. Why? Efficiency and versatility. This is a root-slicing hoe that is designed to cut on the forward and reverse stroke. It is rugged enough to take on more mature weeds yet has a rounded blade, allowing the user to weed very close to the crop without damage. This is a great all-around hoe that can literally cover some ground in a hurry. It is especially adept at inter-row weeding and keeping the footpath under control. Stirrup Hoes come in three sizes - 3-1/4", 5", and 7" wide and sport a beefier handle to support the extra stress involved with the push stroke.

Mark Guzzi hoes a row at Peacemeal Farm in Dixmont, ME.
Photo courtesy, Eric Gallandt, University of Maine.

The Collinear Hoe

Also, one of our all-time most popular hoes, the Collinear Hoe is very unique. Eliot Coleman designed it with a sharp, rectangular blade that lays flat against (or collinear) with the ground. It is a type of 'draw hoe' because it is pulled toward the user. Doing so, slices weeds off just below the soil surface, leaving them to whither and die in the sun. It is very versatile and especially effective in and around low lying foliage on crops like head lettuce. It is also designed with ergonomics at its very inception. The idea was to create a hoe that could be used in a vertical stance, to reduce lower back strain. The collinear hoe is therefore used with a thumbs-up grip, much as you would a kitchen broom. It can be used in a back and forth motion in lighter weed pressure or more aggressively as a draw hoe on more mature weeds. There are three versions of this tool - 3-3/4" and 7" fixed blade models and a 7" model with a replaceable blade.

This series of photos courtesy Jean-Martin Fortier,
Les Jardins de le Grelinette, St. Armand, Quebec.

The Wire Weeder

This is a highly ergonomic weeder designed by Eliot Coleman, with surgical precision in its application. Like the Collinear Hoes, it is designed to be used with a straight back and both thumbs up. It is great for emerging weeds, especially in and around younger crops or closely-spaced crops, where clumsiness just will not do. It is somewhat blunt, so it is designed not to cut through the weeds, but to overturn them, exposing their roots to the sun. There is also a short-handled version of this tool.

Back & forth operation.
This tool may be used in a back and forth motion, or simply dragged through the soil if weeds are just emerging. You will see above that the user is holding it at a slight angle to fit between these closely spaced crops. 

Simply dragging the weeder through the soil.

The Trapezoid Hoe

This is our favorite for mid-sized weeds. It is a traditional chopping hoe with a unique trapezoidal shape. The beveled blade is angled just enough to get under the edges of plants. Sharp corners tackle stubborn roots. The replaceable spring steel blade allows easy renewal after multiple seasons of vigorous use.

The Cobrahead Long-handled Weeder/Cultivator

The curved blade of this tool acts like a steel fingernail. It weeds, cultivates, digs, furrows, and plants with ease. It works well in almost any soil. The blade is set in place with Allen screws, allowing easy replacement.

The 3-Tooth Cultivator

This tool was designed by Eliot Coleman to have a push-pull action for incorporating compost and fertilizer, and loosening soil. What's that got to do with weeding? Well, it can also be used for cultivating between rows in footpaths and is especially effective on emerging weed seedlings in those areas as the cultivating action of its teeth act to bury those young plants, smothering them.

A vigorous back & forth motion is used to cultivate.

Short-handled Tools

The Hand Hoe

Also known as the Nejiri Gama Hand Hoe, this low-cost lightweight tool becomes an extremely sharp and precise extension of the user's arm when in use. It is by far, our best-selling small hand tool. It sports a D-shaped high-carbon steel blade, welded to a steel shank, set in a wooden handle. These are great low-cost tools for growers to equip their entire farm crew with for detailed in-row weeding in the field.

The Lucko Wire Weeder


This tool was recommended to us by Paul and Alison Wiediger of Au Naturel Farm in Kentucky. The Wiedigers prefer this European-made tool for detailed weeding in their hoophouses. The round wire design creates a business end of the tool that won't cut drip tape but will easily upend young weed seedlings. It has a narrow end for weeding between closely spaced crops like dense plantings of baby leaf lettuce and a wider end to cover more ground in open areas.

The Wire Weeder

The short-handled version of one of Eliot Coleman's favorite tools, it is perfect for in-row weeding of closely spaced crops like salad mix, carrots and onions, as well as perennial flowers and herbs.

The Spring Tine Cultivator

Three round, spring-steel tines with a wooden handle. This light-weight tool feels great when cultivating tight areas. It's spring tines scratch the soil just enough to uproot smaller weeds while loosening the surface soil, allowing water and oxygen to penetrate.  

The Ho-Mi EZ Digger

This is also known as the traditional Korean hand plow and dates back over 5000 years. It has multiple curves in its forged design that impart strength as well as function. It can be used to dig, furrow, weed, cover seed, transplant seedlings, and loosen, level, cultivate, and mound soil.

The Cobrahead Weeder & Cultivator

The short handled version of the Cobrahead described above. The tough, sharp steel blade and comfortable handle make fast work of tedious garden chores. Used to weed, cultivate, make small furrows, and even as a mini trowel for small transplants.

Thermal Weed Control:

Flame weeding is also a very effective method of organic weed control. There are two main methods...

Spot Flame Weeding

Spot flaming is done most often at the ends of rows, and in the footpaths to control weeds after a crop is established. It is not necessary to char or burn the weeds. The flame need only overheat the tissues of the plants and break the cell tissues to be effective (visually, the plants will wilt).

Pre-emergence Weed Control

This is a practice that many farmers swear by, especially for dense, hard to weed crops like baby leaf lettuce or greens. In this method, the bed is prepped for planting a couple weeks prior to seeding and weeds are allowed to grow. Just before seeding and without tilling or disturbing it, the grower will flame the bed, killing any weeds that have started to grow and then seed into a so-called 'stale bed'. After that, the crop should come up nearly weed-free. The labor and fuel costs associated with flaming are usually far less than the cost to hand weed these dense beds or cull out weeds in the wash water, so the method pays for itself.

Other general notes about mechanical weeding:

 Weeding is most effectively done when the weeds are young and in the morning on a sunny day. Together, those two tactics will result in the highest mortality rate, reducing subsequent weeding. Young weeds are simply easier to kill and all weeds are easier to kill when the afternoon sun is available to dessicate their disturbed foliage and roots.

Also, although there seems to be an unending supply, there really are just so many weed seeds available in the 'weed seed bank' - that collection of weed seeds lying dormant in your soil, awaiting favorable conditions to germinate and cause you problems. Weeding while the weeds are young and have not gone to seed, works to effectively deplete the weed seed bank and eventually will result in relatively weed-free conditions. But, you have to be diligent and proactive in order to ever achieve that.

Thanks for reading and best of luck in your own personal battle against weeds.


Adam Lemieux
Tools & Supplies Manager


Monday, March 3, 2014

The Market Gardener

Jean-Martin Fortier is a market farmer in Quebec who, along with his wife, Maude-Hélène Desroches and their two children, operates Les Jardins de la Grelinette.
With about an acre and a half of intensive diversified crops in production, they are able to support a CSA with over 140 members and attend two local farmer's markets. After 10 years of refining their craft, and trying to grow more and more out of their limited land base, they now gross more than $140,000 on their micro-farm.
Jean-Martin has clearly been influenced by the writings of Eliot Coleman, as many of his methods are straight out of Eliot's playbooks. As a result, he employs many tools that were developed by Eliot and Johnny's. He has even named his farm after one of them. 'La Grelinette' is the French name for what we call the broadfork, a two-handled fork invented in France by André Grelin in 1946.
It was redeveloped here in 1998 by Eliot Coleman and Johnny's Selected Seeds.
For many years now Jean-Martin has been describing his growing strategies and use of scale-appropriate technology on a web site and blog, where he promotes the idea of farming with hand tools (i.e.: they don't have tractor) as an alternative way of entering farming professionally.

In 2012, Jean-Martin published Le jardinier-maraîcher, a 200 page manual for small acreage organic agriculture. The book quickly became a Canadian best-seller and has since sold more than 15,000 copies.
In it, he describes (in French) the technical aspects of his operation and the tools that they use to make their labor efficient and cost-effective. Many of the drawings in the book illustrate Johnny's tools, including Broadforks (of course), the Tilther, several seeders including the Six Row Seeder, the Bed Prep Rake, Collinear and Stirrup Hoes, and the Wheel Hoe.

His approach in Le jardinier-maraîcher is that 'small is beautiful'. That is to say that he keeps his operation small and profitable, but it is more than that. It is not only about being profitable, but about enjoying life, enjoying what you do, and remembering to take time off regularly so that your work remains enjoyable. All this is feasible he stresses, if your operation is super efficient all the way through.

As a follow-up to The New Organic Grower in 1989 and Four-Season Harvest in 1992, Eliot Coleman released The Winter Harvest Handbook in 2009.
It was very well received by the public and included a great many things learned between that time and his last publication and many new innovations as well, particularly those centered around winter crop production. Converse to Jean-Martin, in 2013, he released a version of The Winter Harvest Handbook translated into French, entitled Des Legumes en Hiver.
In November of 2013, it seemed only natural that the two should promote their books together in France, and that is just what they did.

Dear Jean-Martin,
Chris Siladi shared your email and it reminded me that I had never thanked you for the book. It is very well done and should be of great use to market growers everywhere. But most delightful to me is the idea of your trip to France and Belgium. I love the exchange of ideas and information. And when we pass ideas on, the next person gets to start where we got to and take the ideas to another level. My most important early inspiration came from Louis Savier in France (as I wrote about in The Winter Harvest Handbook) and that jump-started my farming at a higher level and gave me the opportunity to add ideas of my own. You say in your book that my work inspired you (thank you for that compliment) and you have subsequently modified and improved upon that. So, I am delighted by the thought that all of this accumulated knowledge will soon return to France where it began in order to start the cycle all over again and hopefully spread even further and inspire future generations to excel our efforts.
I believe the Grelinette is still made in France by the son of the originator. It would be interesting to visit him.

In Paris, they addressed a standing-room-only auditorium at the prestigious university, AgroParisTech.

Eliot also presented three other very well-attended workshops in both France and Austria.
In 2013, Jean-Martin also set out to publish an English version of Le jardinier-maraîcher and in January of 2014, the market gardener was published.
It included a very inspiring foreword by Severine von Tscharner Fleming.
Severine is director of the Greenhorns, "a non-traditional grassroots non-profit organization made up of young farmers and a diversity of collaborators",  whose mission "is to recruit, promote and support the new generation of young farmers". She is also a co-founder of the National Young Farmers Coalition, "a national network of young and sustainable farmers organizing for our collective success", who mission is to "represent, mobilize, and engage young farmers to ensure their success."
The following is a 'letter of praise' that I sent New Society Publishers after receiving a digital review copy before the book was published:
Jean-Martin Fortier extols the virtues of being small-scale, and expertly details the use of such scale-appropriate tools as broadforks, seeders, hoes, flame weeders, low tunnels, high tunnels, and many other unique tools, specifically design for this brand of farming. He picks up right where Eliot Coleman has left us, applying many of his cotre principles, but doing it in such a brilliant way as to provide beginning farmers the information they need to start up and become successful small-scale growers themselves.
Jean-Martin remains a tools collaborator and field tester for Johnny's Selected Seeds and we are in frequent contact.
He is also a new member of the Slow Tools Group founded by Eliot Coleman and Barry Griffin. The group has met three years in a row now at the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, NY to brainstorm new ideas for scale appropriate tools for small commercial growers. We intend to keep that creative momentum going with another gathering in December.

Meanwhile, Jean-Martin continues to promote his book through interviews, lectures and other speaking engagements.

At Johnny's Selected Seeds, we are more than proud to carry this fine publication in our line of books. You can find the market gardener on our website here.



Adam Lemieux
Tools & Supplies Product Manager