Aside from being unsure of where to begin, what to grow, and how to market and sell your crops, there are thousands of tools available that may leave you wondering what you need to get started.
In this blog post, I'll show you all the different types of market garden tools, equipment, and infrastructure we used when we first started our vegetable farm on a budget.
Honestly, depending on your budget you can make it as advanced or as basic as you want, but regardless of how much money you are willing to invest in your farm, there are several tools out there that will make your life as a small farmer a lot easier.
Next to that, I truly believe that in order to increase the success of your farm, you must make small calculated initial investments in the right tools and setup.
You don't have to start with the most expensive climate-controlled greenhouses, walk-behind tractors, or any other high-cost initial investment. Instead, I highly recommend you start with the fundamentals of running a small farm, and with that in mind, let's take a look at some of the things you'll need when starting a farm.
Now, in order to comprehend and anticipate what you'll need, I like to split things up into categories of work that are required to run a small vegetable farm. This work is divided into the following categories:
- Land Preparation
- Seedling production
- Direct seeding & transplanting
- Weed management
- Pest & Disease management
- Marketing, Selling, and Transportation
- Progress analysis
These are the major tasks you'll be doing, and for each of these jobs, there are tools and equipment available to help you streamline the day-to-day operations and establish an effective workflow to help increase your efficiency and ultimately your bottom line.
And with that said, let's get right into the specifics of each of these tasks.
Table of Contents
Starting off by converting your land into a production area. There are many ways of approaching the task of achieving a weed-free growing area.
We converted our piece of land by doing an initial tillage off the land with a tractor and walk-behind tractor and after that moved directly into a no-till / no-dig setup.
With the no-dig method, we cover our growing beds with a 10 to 20-centimeter layer of compost directly laid onto the surface of the soil without incorporating it.
This method is a great approach to adopt for any small-scale vegetable farm for many reasons which we’ll cover in much more depth in an upcoming blog post.
If you follow the same approach, you're going to need some of the following things.
I recommend that when using this approach in an area with lots of persistent perennial weeds, you use a rented sod cutter to remove this layer first.
This will allow you to pretty much instantly remove nearly all of the weeds.
Another option is to do a one-time initial tillage as we did with something like a tractor.
Keep in mind though, that most rhizomatous perennial weeds can resprout from even the tiniest pieces of rhizomes.
This could potentially create a problem after creating your growing beds, as they will start to resprout and grow into the nicely prepared beds you made.
Although you’ll have given a great shock to the plants, ideally you want to make sure to block any sunlight reaching them (which gives them the energy they need to regrow).
You can simply do this by laying down a layer of cardboard after the initial tillage (or removal of sod).
This will further inhibit the now weakened plants to grow and it becomes a matter of time before they die off and start to become food for the soil food web.
I highly recommend using this approach in autumn as it will give enough time for the cardboard to break down and the beds to be ready for spring planting.
We once made a mistake in our small family garden by laying down cardboard in spring and not putting enough compost on top of it and believe me, it's a hassle to plant into and not practical in any kind of way.
Luckily at the time, it was only for a small family garden but on a commercial scale, you don't want to do things halfway.
Once the cardboard is laid out, you’ll need a measuring tape, pegs, and ropes to create the ‘frame’ of your beds.
After that, you can start to create your growing beds with a nice layer of about 10 to 20 centimeters of aged compost.
To move around all this organic matter, all you need is a shovel, a wheelbarrow, a healthy dose of motivation, and a rake to shape the beds.
After creating the growing beds, and depending on whether slugs are a problem in your area, you might want to consider filling up the pathways with a mulch, like woodchips, straw, leaves, etc.
Keep in mind though, that by introducing any raw organic matter, you are potentially inviting whatever pests are in your area.
If slugs are a problem, any raw organic mulch, like straw, woodchips, grass clippings, etc. will have to be avoided, as this will give them all the opportunity to create nice little places to hide in.
In that case, compost as a mulch is probably the best you can go with.
We’ve personally used woodchips in our market garden and never had any issues with them (or other pests), and now on our homestead in Portugal, we are using straw mulch.
Use what is locally available to you at a fair price or preferably free.
Next on the list is a broadfork (or any regular garden fork).
After your beds are created, we want to loosen the subsoil to ensure that water and air can penetrate down into the deeper layers, allowing for better living conditions for the soil organisms at deeper levels.
We personally used this tools for the first 2 to 3 seasons and after that stopped using it as the structure of our soil became perfect, and the use of the broadfork became obsolete.
If you're going to lay down cardboard, it's best to do this right before this step. Otherwise you might pull out the cardboard from underneath your beds. Not ideal!
As last, you'll need a bed roller to slightly compress your freshly made beds.
The purpose of this bed roller is to help increase the seed to soil contact for direct seeded crops, as well as give a better structure to the soil for transplanted crops.
Vegetable plants like firm soil. Not too loose, nor too compact.
Arguably you can get this job done simply with the back of a shovel, or even by walking on your beds, but on a commercial scale this is not recommended, as it is very time consuming.
These are all the tools and equipment you'll either need to rent, or buy, to help you with the creation of your growing beds.
- Tractor / Walk-behind tractor (optional - rent)
- Sod cutter (optional - rent)
- Cardboard (optional - collect for free, or buy in rolls)
- Measuring tape
- Bed preparation rake (75 cm wide)
- Mulch (optional - woodchips, straw, grass clippings, fall leaves, compost, etc.)
- Broadfork (or any garden fork)
- Bed roller
Once you've prepared your growing beds, it’s time to start growing strong and healthy seedlings.
To get this part of your production right there are a couple of things that you'll need.
First of all, you need a dedicated area where you can handle soil and water. For this purpose, we bought a simple and basic small tunnel kit that functions strictly as a nursery.
Here we do all of our seedlings for the year but when you just get started and if you're on a low budget, you might want to consider using a spare room in your
house, your shed, or any other space that you might have available.
Before we purchased our small nursery tunnel, for the first couple of months we converted our kitchen and a spare room into a emergency nursery. Definitely not too practical, but it was our only choice. Our tomatoes, pepper, pepper and eggplants had a head start of about 2 months. We had one of our best years that year. Practical? Not really, but definitely worth it!
As long as you're able to somewhat control the temperature, you can have some ventilation going, you can handle soil and water, and you have enough light for
the growth of the seedlings you'll be all set.
I recommend you make some simple nursery tables or shelving units to help facilitate the work.
In our case, we made a simple DIY shelving unit from dismantled pallets.
Pretty? Not really. Handy? Yes, and basically for free (apart from some time and screws).
Then you're going to need some seedling trays and pots, some labels, and pens to write down what you're growing.
When it comes to seedling trays, we’ve tried many different ones, from the flimsiest low-quality to hard durable trays that last a lifetime (if taken care of properly).
I highly recommend going for the high-end quality for this. Some of those flimsy trays may only last one season (if you’re lucky).
Next to the added cost it brings, it’s not great to have to throw away plastic trays each year.
Preferably your seedlings trays come with dibble plates, as this will allow you to easily “pop” out the transplants without having to damage the tender seedlings.
In the beginning, when we were using low-quality trays without dibble plates, we were literally trying to take out the transplants with a pencil by pushing through the tiny hole on the bottom of the tray.
Not a great way to spend your time on the farm!
Next to the trays and pots, you’ll need a watering hose to water the seedlings, seeds, and high-quality potting soil.
And that's pretty much it for the nursery.
Of course, we can make things much more complicated, advanced, etc., but when you're starting out, definitely if you're on a tight budget, it's important to get really only the things that you need, and upgrade and improve your tools, equipment, and systems over time.
- Nursery (or any converted spare room, basement, etc.
- Potting table
- Shelving unit
- Seedling trays/pots (with dibble plate)
- Potting mix
- Watering hose
- Ventilation (optional)
- Grow lights (optional)
- Heat mats (optional)
From the nursery inside we had over outside where you will need to direct seed and transplant crops. On our farm, we follow a couple of basic steps before we either direct seed or transplant a crop into a bed.
In many cases, there is generally always another crop or residues of the previous crops in a bed. So, we first harvest the crop that is currently in the bed, or we remove the residue of the previous crop.
One specific action we do by following the no-dig method, is we try to leave as many roots in the ground as possible, to let them decay over time, as this will continue to feed the soil food web and ultimately improve the fertility of the soil.
After removing the previous crop and cleaning out the bed, if necessary, we do one pass with the broadfork to loosen up the deeper layers of the soil. Generally, we like to do this after a long winter, and in between each succession.
As I mentioned before, after several years of growing, I haven’t noticed any beneficial impact on this task, so we ultimately stopped doing it altogether.
After the beds are “loosened up”, we amend them with a fresh layer of compost.
Generally, we’re adding a large quantity of compost at the beginning of the season that will allow us to do up to three or four successions in a bed before we start to see that the crops can use a little bit of extra nutrition.
In the case of heavy feeders (crops that require lots of nutrients) that might stay for several months in the same place, we might add a little bit of extra organic matter during their growth.
After amending the beds, we shallowly rake these amendments in using a rake.
We then direct seed our crops and finish it up with the bed-roller to get a nice soil-to-seed contact (which help increases the overall germination rates).
Having said that, if you’re using the Jang seeder (which is my preferred tool for this job), the bed-roller isn’t necessary as it does a great job of covering and compressing the soil after seeding.
For transplanting seedlings from the nursery to the field, we basically follow the same set of actions except instead of direct seeding we transplant the crops.
To know exactly where you’ll have to plant each individual plant you’ll need to use a tool to mark out the perfect spacing for the plant that you’re going to transplant.
For this task, you have a couple of options.
You can choose to use a 75-cm rake with some poly tubes that you set at the required distance. This is the cheapest option and works great.
Another option is to use a dibble system on the bed-roller. I personally have never found this practical, and I can’t remember the number of times these dibbles fell off.
The best option, in my opinion, is to use the “gridder”. This simple tool allows you to create the most visible lines and points where you have to transplant the crops, in the fastest way possible.
Mind you though, I only recommend you get this tool if you have enough funds built up, or you can build it yourself. Otherwise, I recommend you stick with the rake and the poly tubes for the first couple of seasons.
In terms of efficiency and practicality, nothing beats the “gridder”. It will allow you to mark out the exact spacing you need for the crops with a simple pass over the bed
and it comes out super clean and straight.
These straight lines are not only pleasant to the eye, but they’re also very beneficial for preventive weeding in between those rows, without damaging the growing plants.
- Direct seeder (my favorite: Jang seeder)
- 75-cm rake with polytubes
- Gridder (optional)
This is a must-have system if you're growing crops like tomatoes and cucumbers.
These are some of the crops that don't like to get their leaves wet and humid for extended periods of time without drying out, and thus benefit a lot from the drip system where water is directly supplied to the root zone.
On the other hand, in terms of seed germination for direct seeded crops, I personally like the overhead irrigation the most as this will allow for a uniform germination rate of the direct seeded crops.
Whether you're going to irrigate your crops with a drip system or an overhead irrigation system you're going to need some of the following equipment.
First of all, you're going to need a water source.
This could be the main outlet from your house, a well, an irrigation pond, a river, or any other kind of water source.
From there, unless you use the main outlet of your house, you're going to need a pump to get the water to your crops, filters, irrigation hoses and pipes, basic hose connections, fittings and clamps, drip lines, and sprinklers.
Ideally, you’d install some timers, manifolds, and posts to attach your sprinklers on.
These are the exact things we use on our farm to get all of our crops irrigated.
It’s impossible for me to say exactly how much of each of these items you’ll need for your farm, as this is specific to each and every situation.
Ultimately, the components stay the same, and this will give you some food for thought to help identify what is required for your personal irrigation system.
If this part of installing your farm worries you, I highly recommend you get the help of a professional irrigation designer to help you identify exactly what is required specific to your needs.
- Water source (Pond, well, river, etc.)
- Water pump
- Irrigation hoses and pipes
- Hose connection, fittings, and clamps
- Drip lines
- Sprinkler heads
- Sprinkler posts
Definitely when you're just starting out farming, you'll be surprised how fast weeds can take over your plot of land if not taken care of properly.
Despite the fact that no-dig garden beds are known for reducing weeding to a minimum, seeds do fly in from neighboring lands and are distributed by birds, insects, and other wildlife.
There are several strategies that can help you avoid these situations in the first place and the tools and equipment you use, in combination with the management, can mean the difference between clean beds or an overgrown patch.
But don’t worry. Luckily it isn’t that hard to do.
In order for you to stay on top of the weeds, you have to remember to be proactive and not reactive.
You have to make sure that you won't allow any weeds to get established in the first place (and definitely don’t let them go to seed).
After doing the initial preparation of your beds, you'll need to follow a specific set of rules that will keep you on top of them.
Some of the rules we follow on our farm include:
- Only transplant or direct seed in weed-free beds; make sure they’re clean beforehand
- 2 weeks after transplanting or direct seeding, use a precision hoe to ‘break up’ the surface of the soil between your plantings; ideally killing off newly germinated weed seeds
- A couple of times per week, take a stroll through your gardens to observe how everything is growing. Check to see if there are any weeds popping up in specific places and if there are any pests or diseases that require immediate action.
These are just some of the things we do to make sure our fields are clean, organized, and productive.
After talking to other farmers, and visiting many farms in the past, I’ve come to realize that everyone has their own set of rules or “tricks” that allows them to stay on top of their game.
As for the tools we use on our farm for all the weeding in a no-dig setup; they are pretty basic and affordable.
We use a linear hoe, an oscillating hoe, and occasionally a bit of hand weeding.
These precision tools allow us to cultivate in between the crops and take care of all the weeding that is required with the no-dig method.
If you use compost as a mulch in the pathways, instead of any other raw organic matter, I recommend using a wheel-hoe for weeding the pathways.
And that’s all there is to it!
- Precision weeders (E.g. linear hoe, oscillating hoe, wire-weeder)
- Wheel-hoe (optional)
No matter where you are situated on this planet, you will have to deal with some kind of pest or disease occurrence on your farm.
Whether it's flea beetles, caterpillars, mice, moles, or bacterial or fungal diseases, knowing what kind of pests and diseases occur in your area is essential in knowing how to prevent these from becoming a problem in the first place.
The best way to initially find out about pests in your area is to talk to other local farmers and gardeners about their experiences with this.
On our farm, we are dealing with several pests that tend to love some of our crops.
The main pest problems we have are flea beetles, Japanese beetle larvae, and cabbage root maggots.
Knowing that these cause the most harm to our crops, we can start to look at how to avoid these pests altogether.
Sure, having a balanced and diverse ecosystem around your farm will help a lot in
“controlling” certain pests. Beneficial insects and predators can help a lot with the overall balance and management of pest populations.
Yet, in the beginning, when you're just starting out, you're much better off relying on identifying what pests occur in your area and then using that information to create a plan of approach.
Take for example our pest problems.
We now know that most of our pest problems come from three pests: flea beetles, Japanese beetle larvae, and cabbage root maggots.
In our first years, we picked a lot of the Japanese beetle larvae by hand at every sign of an attack on a crop.
We pulled the affected plants and nine out of the ten times we were able to find the larvae.
Knowing that these larvae were causing us problems, we started to learn about their life cycle and found out that the adult beetles like to lay their eggs in grassy areas, which explains why we had so many of them since the land we converted had been a grassy area for over twenty years!
It was the perfect place for them to lay their eggs.
After we removed all the existing vegetation so that we could start growing our crops, the larvae had no other option than to start feeding on the roots of those plants.
Knowing this, we need to make sure to not make it inviting for the adult beetles to lay
their eggs in our fields anymore.
We can do this by keeping the whole area weed-free and installing insect netting over our crops when the adult beetles are the most active.
We could also look at what animals are predating them and try to attract these predators as an added backup.
This is just a simple example of how you can go about pest problems.
With pests, it’s best to prevent them from becoming a problem in the first place. Once they are a problem, it becomes more difficult to restore the balance in an annual vegetable production system (as far as that is possible).
The best to start with is using insect netting with the right meshing combination for the pests that occur in your area, using basic crop rotation practices, and from there on, start putting effort into increasing the diversity on your farm.
Try to include hedgerows, install birdhouses, and “insect hotels”, and try to always increase the diversity on your farm to create a balanced, functioning ecosystem that in time will be able to take care of itself.
For insect netting, we personally cut simple 5 mm steel wire at lengths of 1.5 meters (5 feet). With these wires you can create simple hoops that perfectly fit on our 80-centimeter wide beds (30 inches), allowing enough space for most of the crops to grow.
We place these hoops at roughly every meter distance and follow with an insect netting that we lay right on top of them and anchor them with basic camping pegs that go through the netting into the soil.
This is a solid way and leaves no gaps for insects to enter.
In high-wind areas, you might want to consider using more hoops and pegs per bed, to ensure that the insect netting doesn’t get blown away.
If you're dealing with other pests, you will have to use other approaches.
For example, if you’re in an area with lots of deer, fencing is a must.
If there are too many mice, get yourself some cats.
You get the point.
As for diseases, most of the diseases on the farm can be prevented.
Some diseases are transmitted by insects feeding on your crops and others come from poor growing conditions like ventilation and poor soils.
The key to pests and diseases is prevention.
With farming it's important to put a huge amount of energy and time in creating healthy, balanced, and resilient soils and ecosystems, which can take a bit of time, but the end result will be worth.
- Insect netting / fleeces
- Steel wire cut in hoops
- And more depending on pests & diseases in your area
If a crop is harvested too soon you might end up with a crop that's not mature and that can have a huge impact on the quality of your produce.
The same goes for harvesting your crops too late. It will affect the shelf life of your vegetables.
Depending on the crop you harvest, there are a couple of different types of tools to do this efficiently.
On our farm, we use a quick-cut-greens-harvester which is a must-have for anyone growing significant amounts of baby leaf crops like mesclun (salad mixes), arugula, young spinach, mustards, and others.
Next to that, simple harvesting knives are great for vegetables like lettuce heads and large spinach leaves.
For tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, and occasionally peppers, we use small scissors that are specifically made for this task and come in very handy, as well as our hands. And unless you like the smell and stain from tomato tar, a pair of gloves will help avoid a lot of time rubbing with vinegar!
For bunching crops, like radishes, carrots, turnips, and beets, we use our hands and elastic bands to create individual bunches.
To collect the crops we use harvesting crates, and if you're on a larger piece of land I highly recommend you get a harvest cart that will allow you to pick up larger amounts of produce in one go.
And that is really all there is to the harvesting tools and equipment. Nothing fancy!
- Greens-Harvester (only if you grow large amounts of "salad mixes"
- Harvesting knifes
- Harvesting scissors
- Pair of gloves (optional)
- Elastic bands
- Picking bags
- Harvesting crates
- Harvest cart
This is probably one of the most important elements on our farm, where we spend nearly most of our time.
Luckily enough this section of the farm does not have to be super expensive to create as I will show you.
Most of this area has been made with recycled materials from the bathtub that we use to wash the crops, all the way down to the walk-in cooler we've made with a Cool Bot and second-hand insulation panels.
Now, let's go over some of the necessities.
Once we harvest the crop, we first clean them using a simple cleaning gun. I highly recommend you get the blue washing gun that is specifically made for this task. It allows you to control the pressure of the water and the range in which it sprays simply by pressing harder or softer on the handle.
We then let them drain on the drainage table to get the excess water off.
For salad mixes, we simply throw them in a bathtub full of water. This does two things: We get to wash the produce, and it drastically lowers the temperature of the crop, increasing the shelf-life of the produce.
After that, we place them in the salad spinner and from there we either package them directly in their final packaging, weigh them, label the crates, and store them in the cooler.
Everything combined, from the washing station to the walk-in cooler, costs us roughly 2000 euros to set up (which is quite all right considering the amount of produce that goes through it).
Make sure that when creating this space, everything is up to the standards of the health and safety guidelines.
In most cases, this means that you'll have to invest in stainless steel tables, and easily washable surfaces.
- Dedicated, luminous area/room
- A place to wash your crops (washing table)
- Drainage table (could be within the washing table)
- Washing gun
- Water-proof apron and boots
- Storage bins
- Packaging equipment: bags, crates, plastic bands, etc.
- Stapler, labels, stickers
- Scissors / knives (for cleaning and removing roots etc.)
- Walk-in cooler
- Speakers (you spend a lot of time in post-harvest)
- Notebooks (harvesting and storage tally)
Depending on where you’re going to sell your produce and to whom, you’ll need a bunch of different equipment.
For example, when selling to our wholesale customers, all we need is a large enough van to stock all the produce and package them in wooden crates lined with a plastic film for hygiene purposes and extended shelf life.
On the other hand, when we set up a roadside stand at the entrance of our farm, similar to a farmers market, all we need are a couple of tables, crates, labels, and a roof over our heads.
If you sell at markets that don’t provide any infrastructure, you'll need to invest in a couple of sturdy mobile tents, some weights to keep them in place, adequate storage crates, and display crates labels/signs, scales, and packaging.
- Transportation vehicle
- Delivery boxes / crates
- Foldable tables and sheets
- Presentation crates / packaging
- Mobile tents (if selling at a farmers market where there's none)
- Heavy-duty weights (for the mobile tent)
- Watering spray (to keep your produce a bit fresher during warm days)
- A way of accepting money + invoicing if required
- Loose change (lots of it)
- A smile (will go a long way)
When it comes to office supplies, most of the tools and equipment required to run a commercial vegetable farm we generally already have available at home, but it’s important to mention it, nevertheless.
The office is the place where, believe it or not, the most important work is done.
This is the place where we come up with our plans for the growing season and identify what we need to grow for our customers, that will satisfy their needs, and allows us to make a sufficient profit to create a sustainable business.
Without going into extended details about the office supplies, as most of these things speak for themselves, here are some things you’ll need to think about getting for the office:
- Papers, pens, and pencils for writing and printing documents
- A printer for printing invoices, labels, and other important documents
- A phone and internet access for communication with customers and suppliers
- A computer or laptop with relevant software such as accounting software, inventory management software, and customer relationship management software (we created our own sheets using excel)
- A filing cabinet or other storage solution for keeping track of important documents such as financial records, contracts, and employee records
- A calendar or scheduling software for keeping track of important dates such as planting and harvesting schedules, delivery deadlines, and meeting dates (we use our own excel sheets for this, which you can find here)
- Office furniture such as desks, chairs, and tables for creating a comfortable and functional workspace
- Office essentials such as a stapler, tape, and scissors for everyday tasks
- Depending on the scale of the farm, could also include specialized software for crop management, GIS mapping, and other precision agriculture technologies.
If you're just getting started in farming, it's important to keep your expenses down by being thrifty and simply buying the essentials at first.
Using what you learn, you can then improve and expand your farm. You'll be able to see where you may cut costs and where additional tools would be useful in facilitating your daily farming operations more effectively.
You may have observed that while the tools discussed here are a good starting point, they are by no means exhaustive.
These are merely the tip of the iceberg, but they should give you an idea of the breadth and depth of the duties you'll face on your farm, as well as the kinds of tools and equipment you'll require.
It sure is exciting to start your own small vegetable farm, but remember that the most important thing is to get started with the basics and then add on as you gain experience and knowledge.
Finally, don't be afraid to take baby steps, and remember that your level of success in your quest to create a profitable farm will be determined by your ability to assess, adapt, and develop your farm with each growing season.
Also, in this video that I made several years ago, I go over some of the tools included in this blog post. Feel free to watch it here: