Sign up for the
Weekly Harvest Newsletter!

Published every Wednesday, the Weekly Harvest e-newsletter is a free Web digest of sustainable agriculture news, resources, events and funding opportunities gleaned from the Internet. See past issues of the Weekly Harvest.
Sign up here

Sign up for the Weekly Harvest Newsletter

What Is Sustainable Agriculture?

Master Publication List

Search Our Databases

Urban Agriculture

Energy Alternatives

Beginning Farmer

Field Crops

Horticultural Crops

Livestock & Pasture

Value-Added Food Products

Local Food Systems

Food Safety

Marketing, Business & Risk Management

Organic Farming

Pest Management

Soils & Compost

Water Management

Ecological Fisheries and Ocean Farming

Other Resources

Sign Up for The Dirt E-News

Home Page

Contribute to NCAT


Newsletter sign up button

· Privacy Policy · Newsletter Archives

RSS Icon XML Feeds

RSS 2.0: Events, Breaking News, Funding Opportunities Atom: Events, Breaking News, Funding Opportunities


NCAT strives to make our information available to everyone who needs it. If you are a limited-access or low-income farmer and find that one of our publications is just not in your budget, please call 800-346-9140.


How are we doing?


Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink How can I determine what will be profitable on my farm?


Answer: Thank you for requesting information from ATTRA on tools for evaluating possible rural enterprises for your farm—to find what will be profitable. The PRIMER for Selecting New Enterprises for Your Farm, published on-line by the University of Kentucky, is highly regarded as an evaluation tool—once you have narrowed the search to a number of specific enterprises—and includes worksheets.

Listed below is the USDA/NAL/AFSIC list of potential ways to use rural land to make a living. Small farmer Brett Grohsgal of Lexington Park, Maryland, says (1) the key to finding your enterprise is “smelling the niche.” The U.S. is almost certainly on the brink of significant change. It is important to find out what your target consumers may want before they themselves (or your competitors) know they want it. Grohsgal has other advice, drawn from his experience (p. 4):

• Start small and experiment
• Never compromise on quality
• Innovate every season
• Don’t’ give up too soon
• Make it easy on yourself by standardizing methods, packaging, etc.

Growing for Market, the monthly that published Grohsgal’s article, is probably the premier source of cutting-edge information for small, alternative enterprises.(2) The publishers (Dan and Lynn) operate a cut flower business, and Dan teaches at Kansas State University.

It takes research, planning, and luck to find just the right enterprise (or combination) for you. Some specialty niche producers have told me they invested a year doing farm visits, research, and education before they felt confident about starting their chosen enterprise. Access to the Internet and confidence in using search tools helps immensely.

Small-farm enterprises follow a curve. If you are one of the first to exploit the niche, you will feel you have at last found the long-term solution. But when many others decide to do the same thing (or when economic conditions change), you may find the niche suddenly becoming shallow and income drying up. Constant innovation is the key.

Suddenly, workshops teaching city dwellers to grow vegetables, raise goats and chickens, and cook what’s available locally are springing up all over, as people become concerned about steeply rising food and gasoline prices. Basic cooking classes are having a new vogue, since a whole generation has grown up without skills needed to process raw foodstuffs into meals. Specialties such as jerking meat and processing through fermentation (sauerkraut, pickles, yogurt, vinegar, etc.) are also making a come-back.

Usually a combination of enterprises—including an off-farm job or profession—is necessary for small farmers to make a decent living.


1) Grohsgal, Brett. 2007. Innovation & risk management: The yin & yang of farm success. Growing for Market. p. 4.

2) Growing for Market
Fairplain Publications
P.O. Box 3747
Lawrence, KS 66046
Contact Lynn or Dan at:
784-748-0609 FAX

Subscription rate: $33/yr. (credit cards accepted)
GFM sells a wide selection of books on market farming. (Call for a list.)


ATTRA Publications:
Evaluating a Rural Enterprise
Agricultural Business Planning Templates and Resources

Gold, Mary. 2008. Alternative Crops & Enterprises for Small Farm Diversification.
March. 15 p.

Woods, Tim, and Steve Isaacs. 2000. PRIMER for Selecting New Enterprises for Your Farm. UK Cooperative Extension, Lexington. 24 p.



Permalink What can you tell me about amending soils with limestone and granite dust?


I am pleased to provide you with information on amending soils with limestone and granite dust.

Agricultural limes are chemical compounds commonly used to decrease soil acidity and as a source of calcium as a plant nutrient. They are made up of carbonates, oxides, or hydroxides of calcium and magnesium. Ground limestone is calcium carbonate and is the most common and widely used liming material. It is made up of the minerals calcite, which is mostly calcium carbonate, and dolomite, which is primarily calcium-magnesium carbonate. Limestone is referred to as calcitic when little or no dolomite is present. As the magnesium increases, it becomes graded into a dolomitic limestone. Calcium oxide, also called burned lime or quicklime, and calcium hydroxide, commonly referred to as hydrated lime, are two other forms of lime.

Calcium and magnesium are both provided to the soil and plants from dolomitic limestones and the oxides or hydroxides made from them. Dolomite or dolomictic limestones are best used when available magnesium is low. Calacitic limestone should be used where sufficient levels of magnesium are present in the soil to avoid the buildup of excessive magnesium.

Rock and mineral powders, such as granite dust, may be rich in both macronutrients and trace elements. They require ample amounts of soil organic matter to hold and buffer them, a balanced pH to make them available, and enough space for mineralizing microorganisms. Applying copious amounts of unanalyzed rock dust to sterile soils with low levels of organic matter can create more serious soil issues.

Granite dust as a macronutrient is often sold as a "slowly available" potash source for organic production. Total potash contents in granite dust typically vary from 1 to 5%, depending on overall mineral composition of the rock, but granite is mostly feldspar, a mineral with low solubility. Therefore, little potash fertility is derived from this material.

Plants require trace elements in very small quantities and imbalances or overdoses can be toxic. Raw mineral soil amendments, such as granite dust, generally provide sufficient trace elements in correctly balanced amounts. However, they need to be mineralized by soil microbes so that they are available to plants.


Brady, Nyle and Ray Weil. 1999. The Nature and Properties of Soils (12th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ; Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Gilman, Steve. 2002. Organic Soil Fertility Management. White River Junction, VT; Chelsea Green Publishing.

Sullivan, Preston. 2001. Alternative Soil Amendments. ATTRA Publication. Butte, MT; NCAT.



Permalink What information can you give me on common farm equipment?


Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information on common farm equipment (including tillage tools).

Farm Equipment

First I will summarize equipment options for three scales of production: Human-Powered /Intensive Scale, Walking Tractor Scale, and Tractor Scale. Next I will list some helpful resources and equipment suppliers.

Human-Powered/Intensive Scale:

Human-powered equipment —broadfork, wheel hoe, hand hoes, hand-held broadcast seeder, push seeder, propagation supplies —can be used to work intensive beds on a market garden in the quarter-acre (100' x 100') to half-acre (200' x 100') size range. Though, realistically, you will probably need to "rent" a roto-tiller to work the soil initially 1-3 times, especially if the land is currently in sod. Of course, many of the human-powered tools can also be used to supplement walking tractor or tractor systems, when you are growing on 1-5 acres.

The broadfork, also known as a u-bar, breaks and lifts the soil in a 2-foot wide spread, and ranges in price from $90 to $150 from equipment suppliers. It is a time saving alternative to single digging or double digging. You can quickly loosen a lot of soil using a broadfork. (Suppliers: Johnny's Selected Seeds, Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, Lee Valley).

The wheel hoe is used for soil preparation and weed cultivation. It is considered indispensable on the market farm. There are several models to choose from ranging in price from $125 to $400 with attachments. The Glaser wheel hoe, imported from Switzerland, has a push seeder attachment. For soil preparation, you can attach the 3-prong cultivator and follow the broadfork to achieve "secondary" tillage. You can prepare a 4' wide bed very quickly using this combination. In contrast, single digging or double digging followed by raking may take 5x longer to prepare a bed. Still, the biggest impact of the broadfork + wheel hoe combination is your health. You can work more land with less wear and tear on your body when you don't have to "dig and rake." Yet, the most widely known use of the wheel hoe is for weed control. There are multiple weeding attachments and between-row spacings that allow you to control row crop weeds with a wheel hoe. When you stay on top of soil cultivation and weeding with a wheel hoe, you can enjoy the beauty of a well-kept market garden. (Suppliers: Johnny's Selected Seeds, Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, Valley Oak, Maxadyne).

Numerous hand hoes and tools are available to choose from, for example a 4-prong cultivator, a scuffle hoe, or a biofork. These tools are used for soil stirring and weed control in tight fitting spaces and bed work where a wheel hoe is too bulky.

A broadcast seeder is used to scatter cover crop seed. It can be sufficient for 5 acres as a starting point, though a seed drill and a tractor-mounted broadcast seeder is desirable for ideal establishment of cover crops.

A push seeder is the most common seeder used on a small market garden. There are several models to choose from, in the $150 to $300 range. With seed plates, you can establish most direct seeded vegetable crops.

Propagation equipment and supplies, which may include a sunlit room in your house or a small greenhouse, with potting mix and trays and fertilizers, is another essential setup.

Walking Tractor Scale:

The walking tractor is a powerful rear-tine tiller that, in addition, has multiple implement options that can be "pulled" by hitch attachment, or "powered" by power-take-off, or PTO. It can be an essential tool for the market gardener raising produce on 0.25 acres to 2 acres in scale. Above that, it would be wise to own or rent a tractor for soil operations, in my opinion.

With its multiple soil stirring and weeding attachments, the walking tractor can be used to prepare a seedbed, finish a seedbed after tractor work, or cultivate for weeds. It can be used as the primary soil working and weeding tool to manage 0.25-acres to 2-acres, and it can be used in combination with a tractor to manage 5 acres.

Walking tractor models include BCS, Goldoni, Mainline, Ferrari, and Gravely. Depending on horsepower (8 hp to 14 hp) and attachments, walking tractors range in price from $1,200 to $5,000.

A powerful aspect of the walking tractor is that it can handle hitch attachments in addition to power-take-off attachments. In 1988 I managed an organic farm in Missouri. We had a 12-hp BCS tiller and crafted two pull-behind attachments for soil harrowing and weed control. One of these was an old 1-row cultivator pieced together from horse-drawn equipment found at a farmyard.

Tractor Based Scale:

Ultimately, a tractor with implements is indispensable on the market farm anytime you move above the "human-powered/intensive" scale.

For a tractor, I suggest you look at models in the 35-45 hp range, though a 25-hp tractor can also be used on small farms. Desirable options for a tractor include row cropping adjustments (bottom height clearance and wheel width spacings), a bucket loader for compost making and hauling, a low-speed gear for operating a slow-moving compost turner, and category II 3-point hitch.

For implements and cropping systems to use in combination with a tractor, I suggest you look into the following:

Chisel Plow / Field Cultivator – This is a small chisel plow, often called a field cultivator, with 5-7 subsoiling shanks. It is used to work the soil deeply for primary tillage. It is often used prior to the roto-tiller, to break the hardpan and loosen the soil to a greater depth, and to break the soil so the roto-tiller does not bounce around so much. You can find a used field cultivator for $300 at farmyards.

Roto-Tiller – This is a PTO-driven roto-tiller, matched to the size of your tractor, usually about 48-72 inches in width. A roto-tiller performs primary and secondary tillage, as well as seedbed finishing. It can take multiple passes to achieve all this soil preparation. The PTO-driven roto-tiller revolutionized small-scale vegetable production. Yet, you should watch for soil compaction. This can be avoided by occasional use of the field cultivator and by raising a cereal cover crop like rye, which has an extensive root system. Roto-tillers cost several thousand dollars.

Mechanical Spader – The spading machines are common on small farms in Europe, and rapidly gaining in popularity on organic market farms in the U.S. The spader performs primary and secondary tillage, as well as bed finishing, in one to two passes, depending on soil conditions. It aerates and works the soil in such a way that it does an excellent job of cover crop and compost incorporation. Building levels of soil humus is said to be a benefit of spading. Model widths can be used to "straddle" the bed between the tractor tires, or to work the entire width behind the tractor. Spading machines are more expensive than roto-tillers, and not as widely available. A spader would be an advanced alternative to the roto-tiller.

Rotary Mower – The rotary mower is commonly known generically as a "brush-hog", though BrushHog is the name of an equipment company. A tractor and rotary mower is a common sight on any farm. If you have pastures or cover crops, you will need a rotary mower. You will need to chop the cover crop prior to soil incorporation.

Flail Mower – The flail mower is a step up from the rotary mower. It will cut your cover crop closer to the ground and also chop the cover crop into finer residue. It is an ideal mower in combination with the spading machine, and in mow-till vegetable production. The flail mower would be an advanced alternative to the rotary mower.

Bed Formers and Shapers – Vegetable production is often done on raised beds. The soil is "thrown" or "hilled" into a bed with a bed former. There are disc bed formers and sled bed formers. You will match your bed width according to the size and width of your tractor and equipment. You will direct seed or transplant into the deep soil on top of the bed. Drip irrigation lines work well in combination with beds. You can also match cultivation and weeding implements to bed production. Some growers have gone to permanent raised beds to gain soil improving benefits.

Plant Seeders, Transplanters, and Seed Drills – Depending on your situation, you will need a plant seeder, vegetable transplanter, or seed drill to handle your vegetable crops and cover crops.

Mulching Supplies – Depending on your situation, you may want to employ plasticulture, organic mulches, or geotextile mulches. Mulches are an incredible time saver for warm-season transplant crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and related crops. Cucurbits also benefit greatly from mulches, but there is a trade-off with squash bugs which like to hide under mulch. Mulches modify the crop environment by conserving soil moisture and suppressing weeds. You can figure on spending several hundred dollars per acre for mulches. As a guideline, it can take 125 to 150 straw bales per acre to employ an organic mulch.

Weeders and Cultivators – A broad range of tractor-drawn and PTO-driven implements exist for the purpose of soil stirring to break the soil crust, and loosen and aerate the soil, and to cultivate for weeds in vegetable and row crops. These can be attached to the 3-point hitch, or to a "tool bar." Tool bar setups can handle multiple implements. A complete tool bar system may include seeders and transplanters, followed by weeders and cultivators, followed by harvesters. Cultivation implements include shovels, finger tines, s-tines, brush hoes, steerage hoes, rolling cultivators, basket weeders, torsion weeders, powered spinning weeders, and related devices.

Cropping System – The cropping system is the whole approach to matching your equipment with bed spacing, row width, wheel tracks, tractor-drawn implements, crop arrangement, cropping patterns, crop establishment, weeding, cover crops, and crop rotations. Ultimately, this is what makes a market farm efficient and productive. Try to use the equipment to reduce your labor as much as possible. When you think about the tractor and equipment you will purchase for your farm, you should think in terms of the cropping system.

Post-Harvest – In addition to vegetable production, you will need post-harvest cooling and handling supplies, which include refrigerators or a walk-in cooler in addition to buckets, baskets, crates, and boxes.

Well, by necessity this is a brief guide to small farm equipment. Please see the recommended books in the Resources section below.


Blanchard, Chris and Kim. 2002. Seeders make the job easier. Growing for Market. March.
p. 1–4,5, 6.

Byczynski, Lynn. 1992. In search of the perfect wheel hoe. Growing for Market. Vol. 1, No. 5 (May). p. 1–2.

Courtens, Jean-Paul. 2003. Farm equipment – How to choose what you need. Biodynamics. Winter 2002–2003. p. 30–33.

Denman, Bob. 1995. When you use a wheel hoe, you're the mule (and it's a lot easier than it looks!). Small Farm Today. April. p. 30–-33.

DeVault, George. 2001. America's working Gs: At age 50-plus, the Allis Chalmers G is still a favorite of farmers. Growing for Market. Vol. 10, No. 11 (November). p. 1–4, 5, 6.

Kittredge, Jack. 2003. Don MacClean: Doing it all with a tool bar. The Natural Farmer. Spring. p. 15–17.

Kuepper, George. 2001. Making a Planting Bed at Shinbone Valley Farm Using a Spader: Ed & Ginger Kogelschatz, Shinbone Valley Farm, Menlo, GA. ATTRA, Fayetteville, AR. 10 p.

Leap, Jim and Martha Brown. 2002. Steps to successful organic row crop production. The Cultivar. Fall/Winter. pp. 5–8, 18–19.

Petersons, Anna. 2002. Implements make wheel hoes more versatile. Growing for Market. June. p. 14–16.

Voshell, Gary. 2002. Make your own cultivator. Mother Earth News. February–March. Issue No. 190. p. 94–95.

Whatley, Booker T. 1987. Chapter 4. Equipping Your Whatley-Style Farm, Sensibly and Economically. p. 32–44. In: Booker T. Whatley's Handook On: How to Make $100,000 Farming 25 Acres. Regenerative Agriculture Association, Emmaus, PA.

For an excellent summary of tools and techniques and how to match equipment to a cropping system, I especially recommend these two titles in the Resource Guide:

Sustainable Vegetable Production From Start-Up to Market. 1999. By Vernon P. Grubinger. NRAES-104. Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service, Ithaca, NY. 268 p.

The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener, 2nd Edition. 1995. By Eliot Coleman. Chelsea Green Publishing Co., White River Junction, VT. 340 p.

Also see:

Tools for Agriculture - A Buyer's Guide to Appropriate Equipment for Smallholder Farmers, Fourth edition. Edited by Intermediate Technology. 248pp pages, 1992

New Cultivation Tools for Mechanical Weed Control in Vegetables
University of Connecticut, IPM Program

Innovative Cultivating Tools
University of Connecticut, IPM Program

Consider a Wheel Hoe
Gord Chiddicks, Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario News

Management Weeds Out High Labor Costs
Chantal Foulds, Sustainable Farming-REAP Canada

Also see:

Cultivation Equipment for Weed Control: Pros, Cons, and Sources

by Vern Grubinger, University of Vermont Extension

Ten Steps Toward Organic Weed Control

by Vern Grubinger, University of Vermont Extension

Affordable Small Farm Equipment for High Residue Production of Vegetables
by Ron Morse, Virginia Tech

Additionally, see this series of helpful tip sheets from University of Wisconsin, on the web:

Work Efficiency Tip Sheets

Healthy Farmers, Healthy Projects Project. University of Wisconsin-Madison.

• A rolling dibble marker for easy transplant spacing
• Build a hands-free washer
• A specialized harvest cart for greens
• Plans for a specialized harvest cart
• Roll produce on a narrow aisle platform truck
• Narrow aisle platform truck schematic drawings
• Narrow pallet system
• Motorized lay-down work carts
• Try a long handled diamond hoe for weeding
• Standard containers

Also see:

Work Efficiency Tools for Vegetable and Berry Farmers
A PowerPoint download, 20245 K



Permalink What can you tell me about worming cattle with garlic and DE?


Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information on research on worming cows with garlic and DE.

According to Ann Wells, DVM, herbs such as garlic work not by killing the worms, but by making the intestinal tract healthier. Since worms and other intestinal parasites have evolved to thrive in the unhealthy digestive tract, anything that will make that environment healthier will be detrimental to their survival. Another source cites garlic as having the ability to prevent larval development from certain parasite eggs (Duval, 1994). Dr. Susan Wynn, writing in the Journal of American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, discusses alternative dewormers in great detail and points out that much more research needs to be done to determine the effectiveness of herbs and other natural substances traditionally used as dewormers (Wynn, 1996). Her article also states that many herbs can be toxic to animals, so great care should be taken in giving them. There are veterinarians who use herbs as part of a parasite control program. The AHVMA has a list of veterinarians practicing complementary and alternative medicine in every state (see References below).

According to Hugh Karreman, an holistic vet in Pennsylvania and member of the National Organic Standards Board, diatomaceous earth (DE) has proved successful for many dairy farmers as a preventative measure in healthy cattle. He suggests mixing the DE with grain mix for pastured cattle at a rate of 8 to 10 pounds per ton throughout the grazing season, “pulsed” every two weeks. For heavy infestations Karreman recommends conventional therapy such as fenbendazole, ivermectin, eprinomectin, or moxidectin. Ivermectin is the only conventional (synthetic) paraciticide that is cleared with the National Organic Program for use as a dewormer, and only in breeding stock, not lactating or feeder animals.

Research Abstracts and Article Citations on DE

Insecticide and anthelmintic assessment of diatomaceous earth in cattle.
Lartigue, E. del C., Rossanigo, C. E. Maestría en Gestión Ambiental (FICES, UNSL), San Luis, Mexico. Veterinaria Argentina, 2004 (Vol. 21) (No. 209) 660-674.

Abstract: “Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a geological deposit of fossilized microskeletons from marine siliceous species and fresh water unicellular organisms, which contains porous particles with certain abrasive and absorbent properties. DE has a strictly physical-mechanical insecticidal action, killing the insect by desiccation. Its antiparasitic effect on bovine internal parasites is seen at 2% of total ration dry matter. The purpose of this study was to test DE for the control of gastrointestinal nematodes and natural populations of horn fly (Haematobia irritans) in cattle. Insecticidal and anti-parasitic efficacy were significantly lower (P<0.01) than that of the commercial products evaluated. DE was not effective for the control of H. irritans and internal helminths.”

Duval, Jean. 1994. The Control of Internal Parasites in Ruminants. Ecological Agriculture Projects, McGill University.

Citation: “Some claim that diatomaceous earth acts as a dewormer when added on a regular basis in the amount of 2% of the ration. Scientific tests on the subject are limited however and opinions of farmers are contradictory. Moreover, diatomaceous earth has no effect on lungworm and is not very appetizing. It may also be a lung irritant. Given that the level of dust is already quite high in barns, diatomaceous earth does not seem appropriate when the animals are fed indoors. The main motivation for adding diatomaceous earth to rations should not be to control internal parasites. If it is to be used, it is important to use non-calcined diatomaceous earth and without additives for insecticide use.”

The best recommendation for preventing parasitism in ruminants is to utilize grazing management and barn/lot cleanliness as much as possible. The trick is to break the parasite’s life cycle. Some tactics for keeping herds healthy by breaking the life cycle include:

1. compost manure and bedding to kill parasite eggs,
2. rotational grazing,
3. multi-species grazing,
4. maintaining correct pasture sward height after a grazing period – close grazing is correlated with parasite uptake by ruminants,
5. resting pastures, and
6. grazing by animal age-group (younger animals are more susceptible to parasitism).

If you would like more detailed information on grazing management please see the ATTRA publications Rotational Grazing, Pasture, Rangeland, and Grazing Management, Pastures: Sustainable Management, and Ruminant Nutrition for Graziers. You can obtain these from ATTRA by calling our toll-free number, 1-800-346-9140, or by downloading them from our website at

If infestations are severe, consider using a conventional anthelmintic parasiticide for the animal’s sake.


American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA)

Duval, Jean. 1994. The Control of Internal Parasites in Ruminants. Ecological Agriculture Projects, McGill University.

Karreman, Hubert. 2007. Treating Dairy Cows Naturally. Austin, TX: Acres USA.

Wells, A. 1999. Integrated Parasite Management for Livestock. Butte, MT: NCAT.

Wynn, Susan G. 1996. Anthelmintic therapy in holistic veterinary practice. Journal of the
American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. February-April. p. 15-19. Quoted in Integrated Parasite Management for Livestock, 1999 NCAT.



Question of the Week Archives