building a farm cart

I went to the Small Farms Conference in Corvallis last weekend, and was once again inspired and edumacated….one of the best things about farming for me is there is so much to learn!  There were definitely more breakout sessions that I wanted to attend than I could fit in the schedule.  My friend Amy had reminded me of Josh Volk’s cool farm cart plans a couple of weeks earlier, turns out he was a presenter at the conference and also happened to be delivering a couple of the carts to farms in the area.  So I got to see one, and give it a good hard look, and even chat with him a bit about it in the lunch line.  The design is very simple, and I realized I probably had all the scrap I needed to build one in my shop at work.  I took inventory in all the scrap bins on Monday and sure enough, all the parts were there.  Most were rusty, some were coated with paint, none had been even looked at by a student in at least a decade.  So, a few mornings after I set up the welding shop and before the students arrived to work, I ‘tested out’ some of my grinders, saws and welders to make sure everything was working properly.  They were.  I got the main frame cut, ground and put together in probably less than three hours over a few days as I had time and space.

yet another fine use for 5 gallon buckets ...and rocks

yet another fine use for 5 gallon buckets …and scrap marble slabs

I am at a stopping point here, I really need the wheels on before I set the handle angle (and thus handle height).  Josh is a lanky 6’1″, and I am a much more efficient 5’4″, so a comfortable height for him is likely too high for me.  Happily there is a good chance I can score a couple of 26″ bicycle wheels from the campus bike co-op, which is what the design calls for.  My handle material is a little smaller and lighter than the specs call for, so I will have to beef up the handles some with additional crossbars or corner braces (or both).  Josh’s commercially produced carts are adjustable in width, height, and handle angle.  The only adjustment I would say looks really useful (assuming one’s bed widths are all the same) is the one that adjusts handle height.  The wheels on this cart are set at a 36″ distance, which should easily straddle a 30″ raised bed (which just happens to be the width of the tiller I intend to use).  Not yet having a farm, this cart may go out to my friends at Square Peg for a trial season.  Amy is about my height so hopefully if I set the cart up for myself it should work for her, though I think her beds may be a bit wider.

cart 3 detail

playing with handle angle/height

The other thing that occurs to me is that this cart would be much more transportable if the handle was removable, as it doubles the length of the cart.  If the handle was removable I could also make it adjustable….hmmmm.  An all welded cart would be stronger, and there would be no hunting for thumbscrews in the long grass when you really need to be doing something else, like using the cart….so I will ponder that awhile.  I think I will also put an additional tube in the middle of the cart for added strength, which also could be used for some on farm MacGuyvered (maybe I should say MacColeman’d) bed markers or seeders or cultivators that can clamp or strap to the frame.  A plywood platform that drops in for carrying flats or amendments or pulled weeds or totes full of produce is also part of the game plan.  I will also most likely tack something on to the bottoms of the legs so they don’t stuff full of dirt.  The proof will be in the pudding, or use, of course, but so far this has been a very satisfying project!  It has me thinking about other things I could build while I still have a welding shop to play in, like a horse drawn stone boat.  I will be curious to see how the bicycle wheels hold up in a farm environment.  Would solid wheels make more sense?  They would certainly add weight, and if made of something like plywood, eventually rot, while a bike tire is easily replaced.  Just thinking what a drag it is to have to pump up or replace wheelbarrow tires, and how solid ones seem much more sensible for that application…..also thinking of my friend’s  Garden Way Cart that uses similar wheels that has lost its tubes and tires and whose rims have been stuffed with walnuts, making it jarring to use.  Maybe it will just depend on whether or not the farmer is also a bike person, who has all that stuff lying around.  Bike tubes and tires are certainly universally available and easily obtained, and rims still roll even with flat tires or stuffed full of walnuts, so there is that.

The tools required for this project:  mig welder, 4.5 inch angle grinder with cutoff wheel and flap disc, metal cutoff saw, Vise grips, magnet clamps, 5 gallon buckets or other props, tape measure, sharpie pen, drill and 3/8″ metal bit (I used the drill press, because I had one, but the holes could be drilled by hand).  Safety gear:  welding hood, safety goggles, earplugs, fireproof clothing, leather gloves

once wheels and handle are attached, this view could become familiar

once wheels and handle are attached, this view could become familiar

Important note!  Having just looked at Josh’s cart again I see I have set up the handle backwards, thank goodness nothing is welded yet!  I can put the handle parts together before I decide how and where to attach it, so that will be the next step.  Please check out Josh’s website, he posts all kind of useful small farm info, links, spreadsheets and ideas free on the web.  His drip-tape roller is another really brilliant idea you may want to look at.  I will have to kick down a few bucks to him for the use of his cart plans.  Thanks Josh! ( And let us know when you design that lie-down pedal-powered one person transplanter….)


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