Ag Info by Phone in Uganda


More than 75 percent of farmers in a rural region of Uganda called Kabale have access to cell phones. But access to other things they need, like information on markets, weather, fertilization tactics, plant spacing, and other agricultural tools, is limited. So an organization called Life Long Learning for Farmers in Uganda created an application to text twice-weekly updates to farmers in Kabale. Those farmers who aren’t literate can receive phone calls in their local dialect instead.

Read more about it in this article from the awesome folks at Nourishing the Planet:


Report back from FarmHack New Hampshire

We had an amazing weekend in southern New Hampshire-  touring an inspiring farm that’s a hotbed of innovation;  making headway on new project ideas;  and doing some serious strategizing about the development of the FarmHack project.

The weekend began with a tour of Tuckaway Farm, focusing on the innovative tools and techniques that Dorn Cox has been integrating as part of his work with the host organization GreenStart.  We saw self-contained biodiesel processing rigs, one-pass no-till planting set-ups, farm-fabricated fence stretchers, and we worked on reverse-engineering an old oat dehuller.

Dorn Cox and his mobile biodiesel trailer

The next day we reconvened at the Lee Grange Hall to roll up our sleeves and strategize about the future of FarmHack and to make some headway on designing new tools.


There was much talk about FarmHack’s imminent launch of a new Web Forum to use as a space for discussion of new farm tool projects, knowledge exchange about existing technologies, and communication about standards for collaborative tool development (for example let’s all be on the same page regarding quick connects, power transfer, etc. so we can interchange our inventions.)  Some participants were even able to register early for the Forum and begin populating it with threads.

Cleaning oats with an old fan mill


Those oats that were de-hulled the night before?  We took a break from discussing new media tools in order to use an old-technology hand-crank fan mill to separate the hulls out.  Still works! Continue reading “Report back from FarmHack New Hampshire”

FarmHack: More Earthway Seeder mods

gang of six seeders mounted to a G toolbar

 One of our favorite FarmHack projects is the cheap and easy Earthway Seeder fix that we posted here.

Josh Volk, of Slow Hand Farm and author of the equipment column in Growing For Market, just posted a great roundup of more Earthway Seeder information and modifications, ranging from ganging together multiple seeders, to adding on a wire scraper to keep soil from building up on the press wheel.



FarmHack Projects: Paddlewheel-Powered Pump

drawing of a Wirtz pump
drawing of a Wirtz pump

Here is a great video made by Jeremy Smith of a water pump built by Cappie of Pangea Farm in Spearfish, SD. The pump, which is a “Wirtz pump”, uses a coil of hose and a scoop which are turned by a waterwheel in an irrigation ditch, pumping water 30′ or more vertically into a holding tank, from where it can then gravity-feed into livestock tanks, drip irrigation, etc.  This version pumps about 1 gallon per minute, depending on the flow of water through the irrigation ditch.

Passive Water Pump from Jeremy Smith on Vimeo.

Wirtz pumps have been around for a few hundred years, but haven’t been used much since steam powered pumps came along. Click here for a great resource about Wirtz pumps and the science behind them, as well as further details about the pump that was built at the Windfarm Museum in New Hampshire. Their pump uses “6 foot diameter wheel with 160 feet of 1-1/4 inch inside diameter flexible polyethylene pipe is able to pump 3,900 gallons of water per day to a 40 foot head with a peripheral speed of 3 feet per second.”

They also ran experiments that confirm that these pumps work quite well regardless of how quickly the water source (stream/irrigation ditch) is moving. The amount of water pumped increases pretty linearly with the water speed, but even at very slow speed the pump still operates at about the same overall efficiency.

Materials used in the Pangea Farm version (total cost = ~$250)

For the paddle wheel:
– Heavy cable spool (from local utility company junk pile) for the wheel;
– Cedar 1″ thick boards for paddles;
– Paddle wheel axle, either very heavy gauge tube, or 2″ solid stock, machined at end to accept inlet of the main coil;
– Pillow block bearings to hold the axle (worth the extra cost for their durability and ability to absorb lateral force if axle is out of square with mounts).

For the scoop and coil:
– 4″ pvc scoop with wire mesh screen and reducer fittings, to scoop water into the main coil;
– Check valve between scoop and main coil, so water doesn’t flow backwards;
– Compressed air port at scoop end of coil (for blowing water out coil for winter storage);
– 100′ of 1″ poly hose, coiled on paddle wheel
– Waterproof swivel joint, joining rotating axle to the stationary pipe carrying water to holding tank.

For the storage tank and outlets:
– Reclaimed telephone poles to hold the tank up high;
– Water tank (500 gal, fills in ~8 hours);
– 1″ water line and filter from tank to irrigation system;
– Overflow line to return water to ditch when tank is full.

Lots of possibility for modification for other uses!

Farm Hack: Coolbot Walk-in Cooler

The Coolbot is an invention that makes a walk-in cooler a viable option for a farm with low cash flow.  By using a Coolbot instead of a conventional walk-in cooler, farmers lower expenses while still helping enhance produce quality at the point of sale.

Since 2006, Ron and Kate Khosla have sold thousands of Coolbots, a technology they developed to convert off the shelf air conditioners into a compressor unit for a walk-in cooler.  Instead of purchasing a conventional cooler for $2500 or more, with about 30 seconds of modification, one can turn an A/C unit into a cooler for about $600. Further, electricity costs will be lower and the modification does not void the warranty on the A/C unit, protecting the investment for typically five years.



Continue reading “Farm Hack: Coolbot Walk-in Cooler”

Farm Hack Tools: Barrel Water Collector


This project comes from:

Make: Projects @

From the authors: Chris and Michri Barnes


Barrel Water Collector

Who the project is for:

Small Scale Farmers & anyone with an interest in sustainability

Range of how much it might cost to build:

probably less than $85

What skills are necessary to complete it:

You will need to use a drill, otherwise the directions should get you through everything else.

Summary of the project:

Many people let the rainwater that falls on their roof run off, then they use drinking water piped in from afar for washing floors and watering plants. Here’s a handy, mosquito-proof rain barrel we put together that stores 55 gallons of recycled water and adds a handsome accent to our yard. It’s especially valuable during droughts, and if you’re in a rural area with wells and electric pumps, it also means being able to flush the toilet when the power goes out.

Continue reading “Farm Hack Tools: Barrel Water Collector”

FarmHack: Poultry Housing Options

The growing season is full-fledged and you may be considering raising some fledglings of your own. Check out these housing options for small-scale chicken raising from around the web. Feel free to comment and post ideas of your own – we’ll be sure to include them!


 broiler For Pastured Poultry, try this Greenhouse style pen used by Morris Farm.
The infamous chicken tractor: here is a series of videos on how to build one from Garden Girl TV.
CoopThruGate480 This chicken coop featured on Tangled Nest makes the most of space in a backyard.
This coop featured on includes easy access doors.
This hutch built at La Finca NY used the frame off an old porch swing and other leftover materials to start.
*BONUS* Recommended Reading: The ATTRA guide to Range Poultry Housing.

FarmHack: Sustainable Agriculture Tool Lending Library


Tool lending libraries have been established in quite a few communities– Berkeley’s, which is part of the city’s public library system, is probably the most famous. But these tool libraries are aimed at homeowners. It isn’t unusual for farmers to share infrastructure (like large cooperatives that share processing equipment), and neighbor farmers may informally share equipment (my own farm shares a potato digger with two other vegetable farms, since we each only need it a day or two per season), but organized sharing of tools and equipment between farms isn’t very common.

Ten small farmers in North Carolina have cooperated to take things to the next level, after getting grant funding to establish a Sustainable Agriculture Tool Lending Library. They put up money to purchase implements and tools that no single farm needed on a daily or weekly basis, like a disc harrow, a manure spreader, and a trailer to move the tools around on. To coordinate who gets to use what tool when, the group is using tried-and-true methods of communication like monthly meetings, and newer ways, like Google Calendar. Although they note that sometimes it may be hectic if multiple farms want to use the same tool on the same day– common when weather is dictating what you can do when– they are mindful that without the Library, they probably wouldn’t have access to most of these tools at all.

The Library is targeted at new-entry farmers who are making their living farming, since these are usually the growers with the least resources to purchase the appropriate equipment.

Here’s an illustration of the Library and some of the member farms, inlcuding the founders at Lil’ Farm, and the folks at Bluebird Meadows Farm:

Sustainable Agriculture Tool Lending Library from RAFI-USA TCRF on Vimeo.

Herramienta: Filtro de Agua de Riego


*For the English language version of this post click here*

El proyecto: éste filtro se recomienda para los que cultivan frutas o vegetales y necesitan filtrar el agua de uso para irrigación.

Costo: de $325 a $450 USD.

Herramientas/conocimiento necesario: llave para tubería, habilidad de pegar accesorios de PVC.

Sumario: Es importante tener buena filtración del agua cuando se usa un sistema de irrigación de goteo, especialmente si se usa agua corriente de lagunas o arroyos. En la finca “Hearty Roots” se usa agua de una laguna que tiene sedimentos, hierbas, y algas; si el agua no se filtrara estancaría las lineas de goteo.

Al principio se usaba un filtro redondo sencillo, el cual se lavaba frecuentemente con una manguera porque se llenaba de algas y tierra, ésto para mejorar el flujo y la presión del agua. A medida que la necesidad de irrigación aumentó se necesitó una forma más eficiente de filtrar el agua. Los filtros de arena trabajan bien pero no son portátiles y pueden ser costosos. Se decidió crear un sistema de filtración con reflujo, usando dos filtros redondos y algunas conecciones de PVC, a un costo de un poco más de $400 USD. Ahora se limpia el sistema de filtración mientras está operando y en sólo segundos, reduciendo la pérdida de presión de agua debido a filtros tapados.

*Nota: Algunos modelos de filtro redondo como el ‘Scan Away’ de Amiad, tienen costo y resultados similares. Si tiene materiales disponibles puede construir ésta versión más económica, con menos partes frágiles.


  • dos filtros redondos en forma de T, marca Amiad o similares; en éste caso con salida de 2 pulgadas de diámetro ($190 USD cada uno)
  • dos calibradores de presión
  • aproximadamente 8 pies de tubería PVC tipo 40, de 2 pulgadas de diámetro
  • accesorios de tubería PVC: seis válvulas de dos pulgadas, cuatro T’s de dos pulgadas, y otros
  • accesorios dependiendo del sistema o las roscas de la tubería
  • una tarima de madera (palé) y abrazaderas de dos pulgadas
  • llave para tubería, cinta de teflón, pegante para tubería PVC

Cómo construirlo: El propósito de éste sistema de filtración es poder usar cualquiera de los filtros para reflujo, o sea poder hacer correr agua a través de uno de los filtros y después en forma contraria, mandar el agua filtrada a través del otro, sacando la tierra y algas acumulada por el desague. Se puede hacer el proceso al revés para limpiar el otro filtro.

Para hacer ésto se necesita una serie de válvulas para cambiar el flujo del agua. El siguiente diagrama muestra la forma de instalar los fitros y los accesorios:

Esta es una foto del filtro que se usa en la finca “Hearty Roots”. Se puede observar que el sistema tiene una válvula menos por lo cual solo se puede limpiar uno de los filtros a la vez. El método del diagrama trabajaría mejor. También se puede observar en la parte superior de la foto que se usaron accesorios de tubería PVC con rosca; y en la parte inferior se usaron accesorios sin rosca, unidos a la tubería PVC con pegante. Se usaron las abrazaderas para asegurar el aparato a la tarima (palé), a la cual se le cortaron dos espacios para que cupieran los filtros y la tubería quedara a nivel.

Como usarlo: Observe el diagrama y note los números de las válvulas y los filtros marcados A y B. Cuando se use el sistema se pone a correr el agua por el filtro principal (en este caso el filtro A). El filtro B es usado para reflujo.

Hay tres configuraciones de abrir/cerrar válvulas que se usan:

  • Operación típica, por ejemplo haciendo correr el agua de la pompa a través del filtro A y pasándola por las válvulas 2 y 6; manteniendo las válvulas 1, 3, 4 y 5 cerradas.
  • Para enjuagar el filtro A, hacer correr el agua a través del filtro B y después usar el filtro A para reflujo; configurar las válvulas 1, 3, y 5 abiertas, manteniendo las válvulas 2, 4 y 6 cerradas.
  • Para enjuagar el filtro B (lo cual sólo se necesita hacer de vez en cuando si se usa el filtro A como filtro principal), configurar las válvulas 2, 4 y 5 abiertas, manteniendo las válvulas 1, 3 y 6 cerradas.

Cómo saber cuando enjuagar el filtro? Los calibradores de presión que se colocan en cada uno de los dos boquetes del filtro principal dan una lectura de la presión del filtro, del mismo lado de la pompa y del lado del riego.

En el ejemplo de la foto, un filtro completamente limpio baja la presión a 10psi. Para probar el sistema corremos la pompa a un nivel acelerado que nos de 20psi en el primer calibrador de presión y 10psi en el segundo calibrador. Cuando el filtro está tapado, la presión en el segundo calibrador merma; cuando baja a menos de 5psi (generalmente después de una hora), se cierran las válvulas por 15 segundos para enjuagar el filtro principal y después se abren para restaurar la presión.


Sugerencias para mejorar este sistema: Si se quiere ahorrar dinero, se puede usar un filtro mas pequeño para el filtro B; un filtro redondo de una pulgada y media de Amiad (costo: $74 USD) suple 40 galones por minuto para enjuagar el filtro principal; solo es questión de cambiar algunos adaptadores en el ensamblaje de dos a una pulgada y media. La razón del usar ambos filtros de dos pulgadas es poder intercambiarlos en caso de que algo no funcione bien. También se podrían usar filtros más grandes o pequeños para el sistema, dependiendo del tamaño del projecto.

Créditos: Escrito por Benjamin Shute de la finca “Hearty Roots”, quien siembra vegetales en el Hudson River Valley de New York. Traducido por Jessica Jaramillo.

FarmHack Tools: Earthway Seeder modification

This project comes from:

Chris who runs a wonderful and informative blog

Who the project is for:

Vegetable and/or Flower Growers, Small Scale Farmers

Range of how much it might cost to build:

$90 for the Earthway (only if you don’t have one already) and the cost of the quick adjustment is cheap, most likely under $10

What skills are necessary to complete it:

Just about anyone can do it. You may need to introduce yourself to a saw or drill if you haven’t before, but otherwise it’s a very accessible project.

Summary of the project:

The Earthway seeder is a great tools considering it costs only around $90, and allows you to seed a huge variety of seed types and sizes.  But sometimes when using small round seeds, like arugula, the seeds work their way behind the seed plate, which can begin to pulverize the seed, and keep the seed plate from rotating properly.  This modification helps with that.

Continue reading “FarmHack Tools: Earthway Seeder modification”