Gardener Recommends Lean Farm Philosophy

The Lean Farm by Ben Hartman; "6S"

By Lorna Carlisle

Soon the gardening season will begin – slowly at first, then building until we can’t keep up. For now, let’s take what can be a slow time for us and look for ways to improve our efficiency. I highly recommend The Lean Farm, by Ben Hartman. Lean philosophy is sometimes referred to as “6S” – sort, straighten, shine, standardize, sustain, and safety. When I was in the electronic industry, they even added another “S” for security.   

Even if you’re not running a farm stand, being “lean” can free up more of your time for other things. How many times have you spent hours looking for a particular tool, packet of seeds, hardware, etc., only to give up and head to the store? Sadly, once back from the store, the missing item is found in an unexpected cubby. Wasted gas, money and time. Now is a good time to organize things. My seeds are in various tins by category. Winter squash versus summer squash. Tomatoes are with other ‘heat loving’ crops like peppers and eggplants. Herbs and flowers are generally together.  

When was the last time you sharpened or cleaned your tools? Better to do it now while you’re organizing. Speaking of tools—how many do you really need? I was a victim of “tool envy.” Johnny’s Seeds had so many cool gadgets. Evaluate which ones you really use and consider getting rid of the others. Sometimes having too many choices can slow you down. 

I have three favorite hoes, and each one is for a specific job. The large bladed one is for chopping. Two other styles are for precision weeding. All have long handles so I can stand upright. A poorly designed tool can be a torture device. Once I have that favorite tool, I might have three of them, one for each hoop house. You might not need that many, but for me it saves multiple trips back to the garage. It’s great for getting my daily steps in, but not so great for getting jobs done.   

Another concept of “lean” is putting your tools back in the same place. They even recommend an outline of the tool so it identifies exactly what is missing. Think about the people who repair airplanes. At the end of the job, they don’t want to hunt frantically for that missing screwdriver.   Hardware stores sell a wide array of tool organizers that can make your life easier. 

If you standardize tools, it will eliminate wasted time in re-learning how a tool works. I’ve narrowed my pruners and cutters to the same brand so I know how to disassemble them for sharpening (and, more importantly, how they re-assemble!) Even the feel of a tool changes with the size, shape, length of handle, etc.  

With your tools sorted and organized, you should have like items together. We don’t want to have the tool equivalent of the “kitchen junk drawer.” I don’t want to add up how much time has been spent looking for the missing tool. Was it left in the field? Maybe leaning up against a fence or a tree? Never lay it down in the grass! In case I’m tempted to leave a tool somewhere, I have sprayed the ends of the handles with bright orange so it hopefully stands out. We might be tempted to think someone stole our tool(s). This was the case of the missing chains. Eventually, they were located at the base of a tree. We had carelessly laid them down and proceeded to forget about them. A few extra minutes of putting them back on the tractor bucket would have saved us a lot of aggravation. 

Having a sharp knife, pruner or hoe can make your job go so much faster. In addition to sharpening, you need to clean off dirt, rust or sticky sap so the tool performs optimally. Your hands and back will appreciate a clean, sharp tool. Otherwise, you find yourself working much harder. Wasted time and energy. Weeding with a sharp hoe can make the task pleasant and you can keep at the job longer. 

Even making a plan for your upcoming garden can save time. Where will each plant go? Will it help with crop rotation? With all those seeds you ordered, a plan will help you figure out if you have enough space for everything. You might want to also make a plan on what to do with the extra time you’ll save.   

Wishing everyone success in the upcoming gardening year. Challenge yourself to get organized.  Good luck!