You’re starting a market farm this year, that is awesome! I’ll let you in on a little secret – so are we! Did you know that you’re gonna need equipment to get started, not just a shovel and a dream?
It’s true, you will need some equipment, but you don’t need ALL of the equipment in your first year as a market farmer.
You need just enough so that you don’t break the bank, and will want to continue market farming for a long time and not just throw in the towel after a frustrating first year.
In the last article, I highlighted the necessary tools you will need to get started with your market garden.
In this article, the focus is on equipment needed for your first year as a market farmer, specifically irrigation and indoor seeding equipment.
An irrigation system is an absolute necessity if you want to grow your crops for commercial sale.
The main purpose of irrigation is to ensure optimal germination rates for direct-seeded crops and to provide sufficient moisture in the ground for transplanted seedlings.
Pretty important, wouldn’t you say?
Irrigation is also used for crops that require a steady stream of water. As you know, weather is unpredictable and we typically have dry spells in the summer months, so a steady stream of water is necessary so your crops don’t dry out and you’re left with sad little dried out veg come market day.
A good irrigation system should be flexible and adaptable to the specific needs of your market garden.
There are a couple of systems to consider overhead sprinklers and drip irrigation.
You might only go with one for your first year, or you might need to use a combination of the two for your particular land.
J.M. Fortier recommends using a low-flow sprinkler that uses a low-pressure pump (about 35 psi).
These micro sprinklers are lightweight, and their plastic nozzles sit on a 4ft stainless steel rod attached to a 1-inch pipe via a quick coupling.
This makes setting them up and taking them down quick and easy, which is awesome because then you can move them from one plot to another and it’s not an all-day task.
The advantage of drip irrigation is that it uses water a lot more efficiently than overhead sprinklers since the water travels slowly and directly to the targeted plant’s roots.
The downside of drip irrigation is that it is labour intensive, as you have to remove the lines each time before you can hoe the bed.
For this reason, drip irrigation is generally reserved for the greenhouse, hoophouse, and any crops that grow under plastic mulch where additional water is definitely needed but the lines don’t have to be moved as often.
No matter what type of irrigation system you choose for your market garden, it is recommended that you seek help from a professional in your area.
A professional would know how many sprinklers you need for your size of farm, what the spacing should be between each sprinkler, and additional equipment such as rapid disconnect valves, connecting plugs, pumps, water lines, sediment filters, etc.
I think you get the picture.
You should also invest in some rain gauges so you can measure rainfall and accurately calculate the required sprinkling time for your crops.
We plan on using only overhead sprinklers our first year of growing (2021) simply from an economical point of view, as well as practical. We do not currently have a greenhouse or hoophouse (we’re working on that one) so it just doesn’t make sense for us to spend additional funds on drip irrigation when we are brand new.
You can bet that we will be getting the advice from a professional as well because there are a lot of moving parts when you initially set up a sprinkler system on the farm, and we are certainly not water experts.
Don’t worry, I will be documenting this process and will link the post here when we have successfully installed our water system.
Starting your seeds indoors is important if your goal is to grow crops intensively in your gardens.
The success of your market farm may depend on your ability to start seeds indoors, so if you are not sure if you want to incur the added expense of indoor seeding equipment in your first year, I urge you to do some more research and carefully examine the advantages of indoor seeding and transplanting before making your final decision.
Advantages of Transplanting
- Seeding begins before the start of the frost-free period, greatly extending the growing season
- Germination and growing conditions are controlled in the early stages when plants are most vulnerable
- Chances of crop success are improved because seeding density is perfect and crops have a head start over weeds
Failed germination, slow growth, diseases, or any problems at the seeding stage can have disastrous consequences come harvest time.
By no means do you need a high tech set up, in fact, you can produce high-quality transplants with a low-tech set up.
There are many different techniques used for starting seeds indoors.
Here is a couple to consider:
Eliot Coleman is a champion of soil blocks. This is the method he uses on his farm.
A soil block is a block made out of lightly compressed potting soil, they have no walls so to speak, only soil.
It serves as both the container and the growing medium for a transplanted seedling.
- Everything can be done in small pots, trays, or plugs without the expense of a container
- Blocks can be made to accommodate any seed
- Can be made with a large hole to transplant smaller seedlings
- Provide the modular advantage of plug trays without the problems and expense of a plug system
- Not stuck with mountains of plastic containers, better for the grower and the environment
For this method, you will need a soil block maker or ‘blocker.’ There are two features to keep in mind about the blocker before you make your decision.
Size of Block Form
Forms are available to make 3/4 “ blocks (mini blocker), 1 ½” blocks, 2” blocks, 3” blocks, and 4” blocks (the maxi-blocker).
The block shape is cubic rather than tapered. A cube shape has found to be more superior to the tapered-plug shape for root growth of seedlings.
A larger block is used for early sowings or where planting outside is likely to be delayed.
A smaller block would be sufficient for short-duration propagation in summer and fall. The mini-block is used only as a germination block for starting seedlings.
Size and Shape of Centre Pin
The pin is the object mounted in the centre of the top press-form plate.
The standard seed pin is a small button that makes an indentation for the seed in the top of the soil block, suitable for crops with seeds the size of lettuce, cabbage, onion, or tomato.
Other pin types are dowel or cube-shaped. Depending on what seed you are potting will determine what size and shape the centre pin will be.
Make sure to have all of these pin options available for optimal potting.
J.M. Fortier uses cell flats in his market garden.
These are plastic containers separated into many compartments in which the roots of seedlings begin to grow. Flats are placed in trays that add support for moving them around.
These flats come in various sizes from 24-200 cells. Each plant’s root system will develop within its own cell, making it easy to transplant individually to specific sites or containers.
- Easy to handle
- Drain well after watering
- Create clumps of soil that hold together well
- Some will break and end up in the trash after each season
Additional Equipment for Your Seedling Room
No matter what method for indoor growing you choose, you are going to need a room in your house to do so.
The main objective of a seedling room is to control growing conditions perfectly.
The ideal temperature for plant growth is 18-23 degrees Celsius or 64-73 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime and 18 C (64 F) at night.
The relative humidity should be 60-90%, which you can easily control with a vaporizer.
The seedling room should be lined with polyethylene to trap in heat and humidity.
A fan is helpful to prevent fungal disease resulting from stagnant air.
The plants need to receive 14-16 hours of light per day, so fluorescent lights positioned above your plants are the cheapest and simplest solutions.
You will need both cool white and warm white fluorescent bulbs in order to provide your plants with the full spectrum of light.
The lights should be adjustable in height and positioned about four inches above the tips of the plants as they grow.
We plan on using soil blocks for our first season so we do not have a ton of plastic containers kicking around that we will have to store.
We like the idea of the soil being the pot, so we are going to give soil blocks a whirl.
When we start our soil blocking process, you can bet we will be documenting all of it and will link our article here.
Well, there you have it, these are the necessary pieces of equipment you need to become a successful market farmer in your first years.
You may not need all of this equipment or you might use more, every market farm is different and the decision is ultimately yours.
I encourage you to do a lot of research and decide for yourself what method will work best for you and your market garden.
What type of equipment did you use your first year? Let us know in the comments below.
Kathy & Jon
your friendly neighbourhood growers