Farm Visits & Grower Profiles

Eliot Coleman & Daughter and Farm Manager Clara Coleman of Four Season Farm

Celebrating Over 20 Years in Partnership with Eliot Coleman

Above: Eliot Coleman with daughter and Farm Manager, Clara Coleman, at Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine

Ergonomic tool design for year-round, scalable vegetable production

Eliot Coleman & Johnny's: Signature Tool Design
As Johnny's Tools Advisor, Eliot Coleman has worked with our Tools & Supplies Research Team for many years to develop tools that enable the success of growers.
Eliot Coleman has over 40 years' experience in all aspects of organic farming, including field vegetables, greenhouse vegetables, rotational grazing of cattle and sheep, and range poultry. He is the author of The New Organic Grower, Four-Season Harvest, and The Winter Harvest Handbook. Coleman and his wife, Barbara Damrosch, additionally co-authored The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook, and own and operate a commercial year-round market garden, in addition to horticultural research projects and tool invention, at Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine. Eliot Coleman has served as Johnny's official tools advisor for over 20 years.

"I want to encourage all growers to look beyond the tools that are readily available and hunt up unique tools or create their own to make their work on their farm easier and more pleasant. There are lots of other growers out there looking to pioneer new systems and new crops who can benefit from your ideas and who can in turn inspire you with theirs. We need to invent the future of small farming by ourselves to make all of us more efficient."

— Eliot Coleman (2004)

Johnny's Research Department is honored to work together with Eliot Coleman to develop and test tools of superior design and performance for our home and market garden customers — we know you appreciate high quality and lasting value.

Forged over two decades ago by our founder and CEO, Rob Johnston, Jr., Johnny's partnership with Eliot is predicated on common core values:

  • Advocacy for small-scale sustainable agriculture.
  • A strong commitment to sharing knowledge.
  • A passion for ergonomic tool design and development.

In more recent years, Eliot's daughter Clara, manager of Four Season Farm, has also consulted with Johnny's, providing us with invaluable input and feedback to our tool design and trialing projects.

Eliot's designs and recommendations can be found throughout the Tools & Supplies section of our site and catalogs. Learn more about the time- and labor-saving tools that make up series through the videos and articles listed below.

" …Before using the Tilther, we aerate the soil by making a pass down the bed with a broadfork… The operator applies pressure with one foot to press the tines into the soil, and then pulls back on the handles just enough to lift and loosen the lower soil slightly. Then the operator rasies the tines out of the soil, moves 6" further back, and repeats the sequence. "
— Eliot Coleman, pp 136–137, The Winter Harvest Handbook
" I knew from experience that weed seeds don't usually germinate from more than 2" below the surface, so our aim was to work the soil only 2" deep when adding soil amendments, so as not to bring up more weed seeds from below. I modified a 3-tooth cultivator from Glaser Engineering by widening the space between the teeth, and we had an excellent tool for mixing amendments shallowly throughout the upper 2". "
— Eliot Coleman, JSS Advantage (2004)
" As we expanded our operation we outgrew the 3-Tooth Cultivator (nicknamed the human rototiller) and built this simple lightweight rotary tiller powered by an 18-volt cordless drill and equipped with a precise depth regulator to do that job more easily. "
— Eliot Coleman, JSS Advantage (2004)
6-Step Bed Preparation Method
" We have found that the most effective compost applications are mixed only shallowly into the top ½-inch of soil. For that, we needed a wide, but lightweight grading type rake with curved teeth… We now also use it as a row marker for laying out a grid for transplants by adding plastic row-marker teeth at the proper spacing. "
— Eliot Coleman, JSS Advantage (2004)
" [For close-row spacing], our most basic need was a seeder… the 4-row Pinpoint Seeder turned out to be perfect. With three passes, I could plant 3, 6, or 12 rows on a 30-inch bed. When we wanted to plant a wider range of seed sizes, we had a second shaft made with both larger and smaller seed holds than the original. "
— Eliot Coleman, JSS Advantage (2004)
6-Row Seeder Video
" The front roller levels the soil and the rear roller drives the seed axle and presses the seeds into the soil after they drop… Without the need to roll the bed separately before and after seeding, and needing only two rather than three passes to sow a 30-inch bed, the 6-row seeder greatly speeds up the process. "
— Eliot Coleman, p 150, The Winter Harvest Handbook (2009)
These rakes quickly and efficiently remove emerging weeds when they are easiest to kill — at thread stage. When drawn over established crops, the tiny weeds are pulled out and the crop is left unharmed and weed-free. The primary key to their versatility lies in varying the amount of downward pressure you exert on the handle during use…
Collinear Hoe Video
" A well-designed cultivating hoe… should have a thin, narrow blade, a blade-to-handle angle of 70°, a slightly curved shank between blade and handle, and have the working edge of the blade in line with the center line of the handle (a collineal design). This is a light and precise tool designed for a specific purpose — shallow cultivation. It is used as a soil shaver or weed parer rather than as a chopper or digger. "
— Eliot Coleman, p 163, The New Organic Grower (1989, 1995)
Long- & Short-Handled Wire Weeder Video
"The 3-row crops (beets, onions, etc.) could be cultivated with the Collinear Hoe, but the 6-row crops (turnips, spinach, Claytonia, minutina, etc.) with rows only 4½" apart needed a smaller hoe with a very thin blade that didn't throw soil, and thus the long-handled wire weeder was born. The 12-row crops (lettuce, arugula, 'Bianca Riccia,' and 'Bull's Blood' for mesclun mix; Oriental greens for braising mix; plus carrots and radishes) could not be easily cultivated at the 2¼-inch row spacing, so weed prevention was key."
— Eliot Coleman, JSS Advantage (2004)

Video Courtesy of Eric Gallandt, University of Maine Weed Ecology / Northeast SARE
Soil-blocking is an ingenious seed-starting method that allows the grower to produce vigorous seedlings with roots that quickly reestablish growth upon transplanting. Soil-blocking further eliminates the expense, waste, and storage issues associated with plastic pots. Read Eliot Coleman's account of how he came to develop and perfect this system for the small commercial grower.

Learn more about Four Season Farm and the principles that make for its year-round success.