Cover Crop Roller

This tool is used to roll standing annual cover crops and crimp the stem to prevent regrowth and create a heavy mulch in place that can be planted through using no-till drills, planters and transplanters. This tool entry is based on the Rodale Institute’s open source design and is currently being manufactured by I&J equipment in Gap, PA.

Farm Shop Basics

A group of Farm Hackers at Intervale started a collection of info about what tools should be in a well-equipped farm workshop.

Self Contained Mobile Biodiesel Processing Trailer

The farm based self contained mobile biodiesel plant constructed by GreenStart is based on a common aluminum beverage trailer platform. The heat and power is provided by a 3 phase diesel generator coupled with a 10hp air compressor. Each functional component is designed to fit the standard beverage skid of 36″ square which enables swapping of components. The shutter sides provide secure weatherproof environment for storage and transport. The low deck height also facilitates operation and maintenance from the ground level.

Automatic chicken coop door powered by arduino

As Farm Hackers Louis, RJ and Ben work on the Wireless Greenhouse Monitor project, which is powered by an open-source Arduino circuit board, we have come across yet another great use for the Arduino on the farm:

Check out this Instructable for an programmable, self-locking chicken coop door, whose Arduino microcontroller tells the unit under what conditions to open and close the coop.  It’s just one of many possibilities for open source electronics project on the farm.  

Wireless Greenhouse Monitor: Update two

We have been hard at work developing our farmer-built Wireless Greenhouse Monitor that we were funded to prototype and test through a SARE farmer grant, which we outlined in our first post on this topic.

Louis, the lead hardware developer and programmer for our device, has been testing different configurations of parts, with an eye toward making things as simple and as useful as possible for farmers who want to monitor the temperature of their greenhouses from afar, using cell phone text messages.  

The heart of this tool will be an Arduino, an open-source microcontroller circuit board that is beloved by hobbyists and DIY-robot-builders.  Just as open-source computer programmers work on projects with the intention that their programs will free and accessible for all to use and modify, the Arduino is a design of a circuit board that is meant to be a platform free for all to use and to build using off-the-shelf parts.  The Arduino can handle simple tasks such as receiving signals from sensors, doing some calculations, and taking an action like turning on or off a switch or motor.  In our case, the Arduino will be sensing temperature in the greenhouse, processing that information based on the parameters that the farmer has set, and then sending (or not sending) the farmer a text message in response.  For example the farmer could set the Arduino to send out a text message alert whenever the temperature in the greenhouse rises above 90 degrees, or falls below 35 degrees.  Or the farmer could just set it to send out an update with the current temperature every hour;  or to simply reply with the temperature whenever the farmer sends a text message to inquire.  

Louis has been keeping track of developments on the project, and the current list of materials, on the page for the Wireless Greenhouse Monitor on the new Farm Hack Tools Wiki.  Check there for updates and to give your own feedback about the project:  how you might use it, features you hope it will have, etc.  This is a textbook Farm Hack opportunity for collaborative tool development!  

Meanwhile, we will be updating you here on the blog as we make progress on the tool.  Next step:  a trial run of assembly and testing in the greenhouse at Hearty Roots Farm, in two weeks. 

DIY Genetically Modified seeds

Image from CIMMYT

We’re excited to announce that we had a secret Farm Hack – St. Louis event last week, at which young farmers and off-duty GMO scientists put their heads together. After an all-nighter hack-a-thon, we came up with a great new way to create DIY Genetically Modified Seeds on your very own farm, using off-the-shelf materials!

Materials list:

  • one packet of regular seeds
  • one .22 caliber rifle
  • one briefcase full of cash (for lobbying against GMO regulation)
  • some genes from a fish, to help create a flood-tolerant plant.

Next step is to put on a Tyvek suit and click here to follow our detailed instructions.



Custom bed shaper attachment for tiller

Local Roots Farm in Washington State has come up with a design for a bed shaper attachment for their rototiller, to allow one-pass bed making on their vegetable farm.

As of their blog post on the tool, they hadn’t yet tried it out in the field. But it sure looks like they’re on to something.

Check out their tool– we hope they will put up drawings and reports on the Farm Hack Tools Wiki!

Tiller/Bed-Shaper Modification Experiment

photo from Local Roots Farm


Introducing the Farm Hack Tools Wiki (beta!)

The Farm Hack planning team has been hard at work dreaming up better tools for our own farms, and also better tools that the Farm Hack community can use to share our ideas and information with one another.  

Image from the "Oat Dehuller" entry on the Tools Wiki

Up until now, we have profiled farm tools in blog posts and brainstormed new ideas at Farm Hack events, but we dreamed of creating a more interactive way to allow for documentation and development of farm innovations. This week we have reached a milestone in this pursuit with the release of our new Tools Wiki, in beta mode.  Beta means we are still testing it, working out the bugs, and making it pretty, but it is active and ready to be used by all.  

The Tools Wiki is a place where tools can be profiled throughout different stages of development–  ranging from “Concept”, to “Prototype”, to “Ready to DIY”, to “Commercially available product”.  The documentation about a tool can be changed by Farm Hack community members who are working on improving the tool by updating the Wiki.  But there are additional opportunities for Farm Hackers to interact with the Tools pages.  Our newly-tailored Forums are linked with the Tools pages, allowing community members to comment on, ask questions about, and add information about tools, right on the Tools pages.  In so doing we will record the living conversation and collaborative development effort that go into tool development, testing and field use.  

So take a look around the Tools Wiki pages, think about what tools you might want to profile using the Tools Wiki–  your own, one you saw on a neighbor’s farm, a farm robot you have dreamed about but not built, something from 1890 that you took apart . . .

Thanks to a lot of work by the team and especially programmer R.J. (who has logged weeks and weeks of volunteer time) for making this happen, to Emily who has added the first pieces of content, and to planning team members Dorn, Severine, and Mihaela.  And remember this is still in “beta” mode, so chime in on the forums if you see things that need fixing or have ideas for improvements, and Donate to the Farm Hack project so that we can move things forward more quickly (right now we are ALL volunteers!).  

Tool Development Diary: Wireless greenhouse monitor

I have run my own farm for eight years, but because I have always farmed rented land, I have never lived within two miles of any of my greenhouses.  That means that I have had a lot of restless nights, wondering if my seedlings were alright.  Fortunately, a few collaborators and I recently received a grant that will help us to develop to new tool to solve this problem.  

Over the next few months, I will use the Farm Hack blog to document our progress as we brainstorm, prototype, test and tweak the tool that we have come up with.  

The baby seedlings at Hearty Roots Farm that we want to protect with our new monitor tool

The problem

CSA vegetable farmers like me have a lot at stake in our seedling greenhouses–  tens of thousands of plants, which we depend on for a productive season.  If it gets too hot, or too cold, a die-off in the greenhouse can have a devastating impact on the farm’s bottom line.  I can’t count the number of times that I have driven several miles from my home to my greenhouse just to check the temperature,  sometimes at 1am on a cold night, or at 1pm on a hot afternoon.  95 percent of the time, everything is fine:  the heater is fired up and keeping things warm;  or the fans on thermostats are working properly and venting out the heat.  A waste of a trip, except that without going to check on the seedlings, I probably wouldn’t have been able to fall back asleep.  

There are alarms that farmers can buy and install in their greenhouses to monitor temperature.  Some of them just sound a siren if things get too hot or cold.  Others hook into a land line, or an internet connection, to call a farmer with a temperature alert.  None of those were going to work for me, since  my greenhouses aren’t near a land line or an internet connection,  and they are miles away from earshot.  This situation is common to a lot of young farmers who are growing on leased land.  

Super-sad photo of some lettuce seedlings that fried when our greenhouse got too hot

An idea for a solution

At Farm Hack New Hampshire last fall, we had a working group on “smart farm” tools.  We were lucky to have both farmers in the group, as well as some allies with skills in open source software and hardware development.  I joined the group to discuss how farmers might use sensors, open-source circuit boards, and computer code to create DIY tools that could make our farms more efficient and more sustainable.  We threw around lots of ideas, some crazier than others.  One project that seemed straightforward and useful was creating a farm-built greenhouse monitor that could deal with any problems that might come up.  We knew that the possibilities for this were wide open:  it could monitor soil moisture and turn on sprinklers, or temperature and send turn on fans, all while collecting data that could allow the user to monitor the temperature trends in the greenhouse over the day.  

We wanted to make the first attempt at this tool simple and useful, so we decided to tackle the problem outlined above.  We wanted a greenhouse monitor, built from easily accessible parts by a farmer without major electronics skills, that would send a SMS text message to a farmer if there was an “alert” situation in the greenhouse, or that would just send regular status messages about the state of the greenhouse.  We decided we’d also like to make the communication two-way, so that the farmer could text the greenhouse and get a response with the current temperature.  We knew that many farmers didn’t have a landline or internet access at their greenhouses, so we wanted our tool to operate using cellular networks to communicate.  And it would have to be cheap enough to appeal to cheapskate farmers!

Applying for a grant

A subset of our team set out to apply for a grant to fund the development of this tool so we could build it, document it, and share it with the farmer community at large.  RJ and Louis (open-source computer programmers and hardware developers) joined up with me (Ben, vegetable farmer) to apply for a USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (“SARE”) Farmer grant, which funds farmers to carry out research and share it with other farmers.  

We just learned this week that we got the grant!  So we are excited to spend a chunk of time this spring putting together a prototype of this tool, getting some other farmers to test it, and documenting the whole process to share with the world.  This is the first step, and you can keep tabs on the project as we go forward right here at Farm Hack.


Updates on Farm Hack Project

Some news on the Farm Hack project– where we’re at and where we’re going:

Events on the way

The event as RISD is just weeks away, and big plans are underway for the event at Intervale/Essex Farm.  More events are in the idea stages and we welcome suggestions for locations, new alliances, and topics.  

Looking ahead to our Wiki-based interactive tool library

There was great momentum coming out of our New Hampshire event to improve the Farm Hack site and to include a comprehensive Wiki-based repository of tools + ideas.  Volunteer programmer / developer R.J. has been hard at work developing a structure that can make Farm Hack into a collaborative site that allows for farmers and allies to develop new projects together, and document them solidly.  We will need funding to get these new plans off the ground, so spread the word and rack your brain for ideas on that one.  

Contributing to the current site

Until our interactive Wiki site is fully implemented, we are relying on our blog and our Forum to keep the information flowing, and we welcome your involvement to make that happen.  Right now Farm Hack is a totally volunteer-fueled project with no dedicated funding.  The blog posts, events, and web site building have all happened thanks to energy from motivated farmers and allies.  If you are enjoying the work of the Farm Hack community, please step up and contribute!  Document a tool you’ve built, or seen on a friend’s farm, with a write-up and photos, and submit them as a blog post.  Start a new thread in the Forum and add to other threads.  If you’re motivated to get really involved an make a commitment of several hours a week, get in touch about joining our steering committee or becoming a regular blog contributor.

Inner workings of Farm Hack plumbing. (actually radiant heat system at Katchkie Farm greenhouse)