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A Market Gardeners Tools: The balance between economics and ergonomics

Lets take a look at the various hand tools we use as Market Gardeners cultivating the land by hand. Having the right tool for the right job makes all the difference and like all industries having an in-depth knowledge of the tools on the farm and their specific functions ensures an ergonomic operation. To work with longevity is a mainstay of a farmer's psychology, as farmers we are our biggest equity. Unfortunately there isn’t the largest range of market garden tools within Australia yet, we are still stuck in the age old ideology of more land is better and rely heavily on expensive machinery to farm hundreds of acres. Here at Nature Cycle Market Garden we chose our investments wisely as equipment can either save you time, labour and money or cost you time, labour and money.

Things to consider when choosing farm tools

  1. Ergonomics
  2. Economics
  3. Efficiency

1) Ergonomics: The deciding factor for most of our equipment was how ergonomic it was, we are our biggest investment and want to continue to be long into the future. We personally prefers hand tools in the Nature Cycle Market Garden as it allows us to be in touch with what we are doing, we are able to directly observe any minor changes and are able to easily change method mid-way through a task. Always modify the lengths and weights of your tools to suit your body, just saw off any excess cumbersome lengths and plane off a coned end to fit into attachment heads. Ensure your movements are ergonomic from the get-go, within a few sessions any aches will leave and you will be able to undertake the task, with weight, repetitively until the cows come home.

2) Economics: At Nature Cycle Market Garden, tools were justified through a simple energy flux ratio (compare how much energy each strategy will use to create your design). We looked at our tools this way as we found it an easier way to look into the full cost of our purchases rather than the figurative cost we see in the shop window or on an internet page.

Manual labor: energy=food consumed + tool maintenance / body wear and tear

Compared to: 

Petrol powered rotary hoe: energy=extraction + refinement + distance traveled + storage + fuel consumed + emissions + labor + maintenance


The time it will take to complete the task.

Maintain budget restrictions on the desired tools as this will help keep overheads low in case the business doesn't become viable overnight. A wise cost saving measure to take during the initial phases is to hire out expensive or sporadically used equipment. In Nature Cycle Market Garden we have only used a rotary hoe twice and a rotary tiller once so hiring out the equipment made more sense than buying, storing and maintaining it.

3) Efficiency: When it comes to hand tools there is no truer saying than ‘There aren’t bad tools, just bad operators’. Make sure you have a good understanding of what the tools function is, how it completes that function and then use that knowledge to create an efficient method for yourself. An efficient method is one that completes the task at hand while maintaining the desired parameters, in a relative amount of time using the lowest amount of energy. For instance, you wouldn't use the 25cm blade of a shovel to level out a bed for seeding. You would use a landscape rake with dimensions to suit your desired bed widths. While the shovel would allow for soil to be moved at a faster rate it is a bent over motion with jarring actions that require smaller muscle groups to hold the load, your body will feel the repetitive strain from the motion affecting work the next day. A landscape rake allows for the back to be straight, the eye line stays over the bed and the load is being pulled towards the body while walking (energy transferal through motion). This is a much more efficient movement for the body.


15 must have hand tools on the farm

These 15 tools have gotten the Nature Cycle Market Garden through its first 2 years of operations. They stayed within the desired budget restrictions and our preferred growing methods while decreasing the amount of time needed to undertake tasks around the Market Garden!

  1. Broadfork
  2. Hand Seeder
  3. Shovels (square nose shovel, post hole shovel, trenching shovel)
  4. Pick
  5. Multi-tined pitchfork
  6. Landscaping rake
  7. Hoes (oscillating stirrup hoe, trapezoidal hoe, chop/draw hoe)
  8. Multi-tined cultivator
  9. Harvest knives
  10. Harvest shears
  11. Pruning saw
  12. Secateurs
  13. Garden trowel and spade
  14. Ho-mi garden tool
  15. Wheel Barrow

To learn more about Market Gardening and how to set up your own Market Garden be sure to check out;

  1. Green Manures in the Market Garden
  2. Understanding Soils in the Market Garden
  3. Building Biodiversity in the Market Garden
  4. Composting in the Market Garden
  5. DIY Bug Hotel