I got caught blindsided the other day. A beginner farmer asked me about my favorite tools that are a must for a start up farm, something that I couldn’t live without and might need to get on hand. Their question was directed to elicit an answer like “Boy, I couldn’t live without my old Kubota 274 cultivating tractor,” or similar response like “You need to get a broadfork for working in your high tunnel greenhouses.” Imagine the look I got when I responded that my favorite go-to farm tool was duct tape.
After some explanation the person appreciated my perspective and, I think, was moved to lay in her own personal supply. I think we use approximately 20 rolls a year around the farm. Need to patch some plastic holes in the greenhouse? Duct tape. Got a big gash in the tractor seat that absorbs rain water and soaks your ass when you sit on it? Duct tape cures it. Got a bundle of unruly tomato stakes? Duct tape. Need something to give that radiator hose a little extra life? Duct tape. Need to fashion a makeshift chute to get potatoes from a bulk box to a table grader? You got nothin’ if you don’t have duct tape.
There are other tools that I find over the years I look to keep in stock. There are wire tie wraps. A little hand tool that takes a piece of wire with a loop on both ends and with a few quick flips of the wrist closes potato bags. At least that is how they originally landed on the farm, and what we needed them for. Pretty soon Mike was using them to suspend purlins in the greenhouse and I was wiring up hydraulic hoses on the harrow to keep them out of harm’s way. Next, they showed up as low-budget hose clamps in the greenhouse and outdoor mum-watering lines. Recently they have been traveling up to the sugar bush to hang sap lines. We prefer the teflon-coated ones because they are easy to see while we’re working in bad light and they seem to keep their structural integrity longer. How did we ever live without them?
For the welder there is a special electrode for welding steel . It is ubiquitously called the E6011 rod, and I try to keep several pounds of rods lying around at all times.. Today there are hundreds of welding rods available to those who weld professionally. A real welder who makes his living from his profession must be part metallurgist, part engineer and part artist. They have different welding rigs (gas, Mig, Tig, Argon shield, electrode AC-DC, etc. etc.) that they choose from to fabricate everything from bridges to sculptures. But the E6011 was designed specifically with farmers in mind. The folks who sell them will proudly tell you that they will burn through 1/2 inch of cow manure on a shit spreader to fuse rusty steel into structural integrity. Sounds like magic. Damn near is. Everyone here at Edgewater who fires up the old Buzz Box (a generic name for the industry standard arc welder) and blobs some piece of machinery or broken steel back together is beholden to the E6011.
Everybody has to do a bunch of hand hoeing at some point around here. Even the girls at the stand. Doesn’t matter if you have the latest collection of exquisite European cultivators for your tractor, or a pesticide shed full of herbicides….in the end there is always hand hoeing. Everybody has his or her own favorite. I started out with an old onion hoe that I bought with the farm. Early on I took a cue from my neighbor, Paul Franklin, and ground it down to emulate his favored “Racing Hoe.” Then there came the Real trapezoid hoe, the Coleman Collinear hoe, the scuffle hoe and the Dutch swan neck hoe. By the middle of July, people working here in the fields find the particular hoe that they like either because of its weight, angle of blade or length of handle. They become covetous of it. Sometimes they hide it from others between uses (yeah, I am one of them). They become territorial about it. I broke the handle on my son’s favorite hoe this fall. Upon his hearing my admission to the crime, his reaction made me fear that he might just bludgeon me to death with the remaining parts. So much for the limits of paternal love.
Everybody knows about Vise Grips… How about the adjustable wrench? Doesn’t have to be a name brand. I figure I need at least two per employee. They gotta be big, too…because most of the time they are used in place of hammers. Occasionally they get used to tighten nuts and bolts, but not that often. So they nominally have to be 12″ in length. They make a handy drawbar pin for a large tractor-drawn implement, and I can see by the handles of some that are returned to the shop in the fall that somebody used them (with the addition of a pipe on the handle) as, perhaps, a fulcrum or pry bar.
One of the regional University Extension personnel referred to farmers as an “innovative lot.” I would say from experience on this farm that we appreciate tools, and endeavor to find creative ways of using them above and beyond those for which they were designed.