Rolling Bed Marker

From my 2010 sketch book

I originally designed the carts for hauling harvest and supplies around the farm, but very quickly I realized that the frame could be used to carry tools, almost like a cultivating tractor, or what is now sometimes called a tool carrier in Europe.

The first tool I set up for the cart was a rolling bed marker and the first photo in my blog post Early Photos shows the rolling bed marker that resulted from the above sketch. There are more photos of that marker in action over at my site here. That early cart was fixed and designed for 36″ centers, relatively tight beds. The bed marker marks out the planting rows, but even slicker, on a field that’s tilled completely flat, by walking behind one of the cart wheels, the other cart wheel marks out the next pathway while the bed marker is marking the planting rows and in line spacing. This is a huge time saver and is much easier than using flags and a tape measure.

The above sketch shows most of the basic parts of the marker. The rollers are made from plywood rounds, thicker is better for the right balance of float and weight, 3/4″ is great, but 1/2″ is fine, or you can sandwich two rounds together. You can see my notes on possible diameters for the rounds. You can probably tell that I went with the 4′ circumference, with four 1×1″ hardwood cross pieces (I think I used oak – a common material for tomato stakes in some areas of the country).  To attach these I notch a V into the rounds for the cross pieces and then drill a pilot hole and drive a long screw through the cross pieces and into the plywood. This isn’t a super strong/stiff connection, but it will work for a number of years if the tool isn’t abused before it gets loose, or you could spend some time making a gusset to support the connection. Maybe using wider 1x boards on edge would also work, notched to the center round and screwed through the plywood into the ends of the 1x.

For the axle I used 1/2″ black pipe nipples, 4-6″ is good with a flange to hold them to the rounds. A larger, 3/4″ (I think, check this) black pipe T slides over the 1/2″ nipples making a very crude but effective bearing. That is screwed into more pipe in the shape of a U using two additional elbows. 30 or 36″ is good for the length of the legs of the U.

Pay attention to what order you screw all of the pipe together, it’s basically backwards from what I describe above. The center of the U has to slide into the brackets first, then you can put that together. The axles are the last thing as they have to fit through the T’s.

I cut plywood brackets to hold the u to the cross bar on the cart. I found the pins in the sketch are completely unnecessary and it will hold itself on just with gravity. I make the slot for the cross bar long enough to also hold a 1×2, or similar sized piece of wood that spans the full width of the inside of the cart frame. This automatically centers the marker when it sits in the frame. Shown are gussets to hold that piece of the wood to the plywood; what I found works better is another piece of 2×4 that sits on top of the cross bar between the two brackets that you can screw the brackets to from the outsides. For the plywood brackets, make sure to leave a decent amount of material to keep them from splitting apart; cut them a bit oversized and consider also cutting handle slots for lifting the whole thing into place.

There are many other possible ways to make this and I’m working on a metal adjustable version to offer for sale. I encourage folks to build their own versions but if you want me to build one for you let me know and I can customize it to your cart and spacing needs.

One note on using the marker: I set them up so that they mark three rows and roughly 1′ hash marks. I plant most things on either 1, 2 or 3, or sometimes 5 rows, so this works for all three of those options. With 12″ (1′) hash marks I can easily plant at 12″ spacing, but also 4″, 6″, 8″, 9″, 18″, 24″, etc. With very little training most folks can get this and essentially all it is is eyeballing halves or thirds. You can set it up however you like of course.


More Farm Cart Photos

I just updated the carts for sale page, and actually the whole look of the site. I have a few photos from this past summer left over so I thought I’d post them with some captions here.

The cart is tall enough that it makes a pretty good work surface when it’s not hauling thing around.
The current single wheel version is a little narrower than the first version and it’s incredibly well balanced. The advantages of the single wheel are mostly that it will fit into much smaller, and narrower spaces than the double wheeled cart.
This is the 4′ center cart straddling a bed of onions. It doesn’t have a deck on it and the bed is only raised a few inches but you can get a sense of the clearance. The handles and frame are stiff enough that it’s relatively easy to pull down the row from one side. You can also set the handles inboard which gives even more clearance on the sides if you like.
A side view of the single wheel cart with a single bin on it. I’ve loaded this thing up with 8-12 of these bins and moved it over sod with no problem.
The cart is great for hauling weeds and debris out of the field as it rolls right over the bed top and the big flat bed makes loading and dumping easy. You can also build a deck with sides for even more carrying capacity.
The cart deck we used all summer was made from scraps of thin plywood and some old pieces of 2×2 screwed together. super simple and super functional. The frame is raw steel and develops a thin patina of rust over time. This is what one looks like after a season of use in the field. They can be painted or powder coated but in my opinion it’s completely unnecessary – although they are easier to find when they’re a bright color, and painting one would make a great art project!


Taking orders…

Well, after much hemming and hawing I’m finally ready to start taking orders for the newest batch of carts. I’ve updated the products page so go there for the full story (more or less). The first release here is just the basic two wheel cart – updates from the previous version are some cleaner lines in the clamps and adjusting plates, added tabs for disk brakes (if you want to add them for helping on steep hills), and jettisoning the little plastic plugs and powder coat because we’ve found them completely un-necessary and we’d like to keep our environmental foot print a little smaller.

I’m hoping to add a few more options in the next few months (maybe even in the next few weeks, but that’s probably optimistic). In the meantime, check out the updated info and as soon as I have actual photos of the new version I’ll post them (although really they’re almost identical to the old ones – it was a good enough design that I didn’t have much to change after five years of solid use).

Fabrication Delays

Good news and bad news, the bad news first. Plans for getting a run of these built in the summer never materialized. This was partly due to me getting distracted by other projects (look for the book “Compact Farms” due out in February 2017), and that compounded problems with finding fabricators to supply some of the parts.

The good news is that I keep getting requests for the carts and positive feedback on the design. I’ve been using the one wheeled version all season on a little urban farm and it’s been great! I’ve also heard back from most of the folks that I sold carts to back in 20013 and they’re still using them on a daily basis, they’re still holding up well, and they still like the design. I currently have the funds available for starting back up so I’m regrouping and looking at my options for fabricators, or even considering going back to building these in my garage (unfortunately I don’t have a garage currently, but maybe I’ll find one).

Keep an eye on this space for updates, or sign up for the newsletter (below)

Short Survey

The site has been quiet for a while, but I’ve been working slowly in the background to start tooling up to make a round of carts again. To that end, I’ve created a short survey. If you have a minute or two to answer some cart related questions your feedback would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance, and if you’ve been waiting to order a cart, I’ll be taking orders very soon – make sure to get on the mailing list below for an announcement as soon as I open things up for orders.

Frequently Asked Questions and Some Possible Upgrades


I get a lot of people asking me why the cart was designed so that the wheels protrude slightly above the bed of the cart; “Wouldn’t it allow more space for the bed of the cart if it were above the wheels?”

Another question I get, not quite as frequently, is “doesn’t the bed need to be bolted down?” Today I got a question something like that, but also asking why I use plywood instead of expanded metal permanently welded in place.

These are both good questions and design changes that you might decide to make. Below is my response, as well as a few ideas for folks who are farming on slopes, or who need to go up (and especially down) steeper sections.

The platform is at the level that it is at because it is just below the height that a deep harvest tote typically hangs from a harvester’s hands when they carry it. This makes the cart easier to load, even though you have to deal with the wheel. In my experience it hasn’t been a problem. Using 20” wheels on the same platform will ride below the platform and only drop the cart 3″, or you could extend the forks if you want which would raise the bed about 4″. The higher the platform, the harder it is to load, and the less stable it is on hills, but the more clearance you have to roll over plants.

The platform is removable because we use it for more than just a cart, it’s also used with a different attachment to mark beds, and I have other attachments I’m wanting to develop for it that would make it a more modular tool. It’s also easier to store without the top on, and we make different tops for different uses sometimes (harvest, vs. toting compost etc.). Plywood, even untreated, has lasted for years with no problems for us, although we do store the cart out of the rain when not in use. Storing in the rain is harder on the wheel bearings than the plywood. It’s cheap, light, and easy to work with. It also doesn’t sag like expanded metal and it has soft edges and doesn’t wear on the harvest totes. There are some expanded metals that might be good, or some applications it might be better for. Also, note that the plywood extends beyond the front and back of the frame overhanging a little on either end.


Two other things you might consider on a farm with significant hills. With hills, going down with a load can be a little tricky with heavy carts. You can use the legs as a kind of friction brake, but it’s not the best. Worksman Cycles sells very heavy duty bicycle wheels that also have drum brakes. You’d need to figure out a way to hook up the brake arm and cable and to mount a brake lever but I don’t think it would be too difficult (I have plans to do this at some point). Also, at Skyline Farm, where one of the early carts has been in service for about 7 years now, they’ve found that the cleat isn’t enough for them to keep bins from sliding off the sides on some of their slopes so they’ve added short sides to the cart platform. The bed still simply lifts off the frame so the frame can be used with the bed marker as well, but essentially the cleats on the sides are a little higher. Again, this makes it harder to load but they like this modification in their conditions.

On relatively flat ground I really like having low cleats and almost never have totes slide off. The exception is when a tote isn’t placed right up against the cleat and it slips while the cart is moving with enough momentum to tip over the cleat (or if it’s sloppily placed on top of the cleat). The cleats I use are only about 1″ high.


I also want share some comments from Jeff Benton who built one of these carts a few years ago and made some modifications. It’s fun to see how people are modifying these and making little additions or subtractions. Here are Jeff’s thoughts:


Overall, the cart has been great and been very heavily used.

Design Variations:

  1.  Asymmetry: Since the bike tires I had (and the one’s I’m likely to get in the future) were from one bike, I decided to accommodate a front and back wheel (spaced wider for the cassette) instead of two front wheels.  This just means that the width of one of the forks is about 1.25 inches wider.  Pretty subtle change. 
  2.  Instead of keeping the frame supporting the plywood flat, I stacked the right and left side on top of the front and back supports.  My goal was to eliminate the need for wooden supports underneath the plywood platform while also creating a lip on the top side to prevent crates from sliding into the tires.  What I didn’t realize was how much more pressure that put on the plywood with supports only on two sides.  Also, the side lip isn’t very big since the steel is not too much thicker than the plywood base.  I think I would eliminate this variation on the next model.
  3. Wire Basket: I took some of the thick metal wire from some old political sign supports to make a basket in some of the dead space.  I attached it to the outside of the frame so that no one gets cut by sharp edges when reaching in.  I find this is a very helpful addition for carrying various things out to the field that otherwise my be clumsy like water bottles, hand-tools, rubberbands, gloves, etc.  I feel it also gives those items a much better chance of making it back from the fields at the end of the day.
  4. Additional Plywood Toward Handle:  This removable piece is great for getting about 3 more transplant trays per load.  It does make the load heavier since the weight isn’t over the wheels, but for transplant trays, that’s usually not a big issue.
  5. Rolling Dibble Maker: I took your idea for the row marker and tried to add dibble too it using some of the scrap steel from the frame.  It doesn’t seem to work very well.  My intention was to be able to roll it down bed covered in black plastic to punch whole for 3 rows at a staggered 12″ spacing.  But I made the dibbles too long and they don’t penetrate all the way down, so my spacing ends up being closer to 17″.  An easy fix, but then I took a step back and realized how few beds are actually 3 rows at 12″, so I decided to not pursue this any further for now.
The biggest limitation of the cart design that I’ve come across is in the ability to add things to it.  As I’ve started trying to work out ways of attaching things like a second platform or taller side walls, I feel like my options are pretty limited.  I think there is a lot of opportunity in the spaces on the sides, occupied partially by the wheels and in my case a wire basket, to creating some placeholders for more accessories.  I’ve included an image in the album to show you what I mean.  I haven’t sat down and really designed it yet, but I think that will be one of the first big edits I do next winter.
You can see photos of Jeff’s cart on his picasa album.


Two responses to Jeff’s ideas: one is that using a rear bicycle wheel on one side opens up some interesting possibilities for a kind of PTO (power take off) and maybe ground driving something like a spreader. I’ve gotten the comment about things being hard to attach a number of times. Building it with something like Telespar might be a solution (although it’s heavier and more expensive). I don’t find it a problem as I’m fine with just clamping things over the square tube, either with square u-bolts or even just making brackets that slip over the square tube and friction fit or hang on by gravity. So far attachment I’ve made has just used a bracket that allows the attachment to just drop onto the square tube and then be lifted off, no tools needed. I kind of think of the frame of the cart a bit like tool bars on a cultivating tractor so at some point I’ll probably have some attachments that require pins to hold them in place as well.

What other folks are doing

I’ve had a lot of good feedback from folks around the country and around the world who are also working with carts. Here are a few photos and links folks sent me to share with all of you.

This one gets the award for being from the farthest away, Perth, Australia. It's also one of the most different. I think it was actually being set up for hauling camping gear on back roads treks.
This one gets the award for being from the farthest away, Perth, Australia. It’s also one of the most different. I think it was actually being set up for hauling camping gear on back roads treks.
Here's one that wasn't inspired by my versions but was made up in Washington by folks at WSU using parts from four old bikes.
Here’s one that wasn’t inspired by my versions but was made up in Washington by folks at WSU using parts from four old bikes. It also rolls over the beds to make harvest easier.

A friend sent me a link to a photo of a cart that looks very similar to the ones on this site but that I don’t know anything about. It was made by a fellow up in Seattle who calls himself Haulin’ Colin and builds custom bikes, trailers and accessories.

The folks at Fiddlehead Farm bought one of the carts when we build a small run and wrote up a review on their website that you can read here.

The folks at Pitchfork and Crow have also sent me a number of good shots (or links to them) over the years, but for some reason I can’t find any of them. Maybe I’ll find them and put them in a future post.


More Photos

I hoping to get back to figuring out how to manufacture very small runs of these carts soon and I have some improvements in mind. Unfortunately they’ll add cost, but I think they’ll be worth it. Heavier duty wheels and an option for a hand break (for taking heavy loads down hill) are both on the list. For the most part the carts are holding up great after three seasons of heavy use, the wheels are the only part I’ve seen fail (under very heavy load going around a turn).

Here are a few more recent photos of the carts in use.

Hauling irrigation supplies for setting up drip tape in the field.
Hauling totes of lettuce into the barn from the field. The load is surprisingly stable with just the cleat on the flat bed to make sure it doesn't slide off. We've found it's usually easier to push the cart with a heavy load and it also makes it easier to ensure nothing falls off.
Hauling totes of lettuce into the barn from the field. That’s probably about 240 heads of lettuce. The load is surprisingly stable with just the cleat on the flat bed to make sure it doesn’t slide off. We’ve found it’s usually easier to push the cart with a heavy load and it also makes it easier to ensure nothing falls off.
The flat bed makes a great work surface out in the field, and it's also very comfortable to sit on when taking notes (just make sure to sit in front of the wheel, not at the back where it will tip).
The flat bed makes a great work surface out in the field, and it’s also very comfortable to sit on when taking notes (just make sure to sit in front of the wheel, not at the back where it will tip).
The one and two wheel versions out in the field at harvest time. The two wheel version actually straddles the beds so it can be used as a harvest container platform.
The one and two wheel versions out in the field at harvest time. The two wheel version actually straddles the beds so it can be used as a harvest container platform.
I'm working on a design for a bike hitch that takes no tools and will mount easily to most bikes. This design didn't work as well as I'd like but I have some simpler ones in mind.
I’m working on a design for a bike hitch that takes no tools and will mount easily to most bikes. This design didn’t work as well as I’d like but I have some simpler ones in mind.

Early Photos


Generation 3The cart above is the third generation of the farm hand cart.  The steel frame is fitted with a simple plywood deck with sides.  Handles cut in the sides allow the deck to be removed easily and replaced by the rolling bed marker that is sitting inside.  This particular cart is set with 3′ from center to center on the wheels.

Generation 2The bare frame above is the second generation cart.  Behind it is a garden cart, the inspiration for these carts.  The wheel size is the same, you can tell these carts are quite a bit taller and wider.

Generations 2 and 1Here’s a picture of the second generation cart next to the first version.  The first version had very similar geometry but the construction was quite different.  The newer versions are much stiffer which makes them a little easier to handle, and much tougher.

The cart above is the first version built by Roger (left) from Adventure Metal, and Mike (right) from Antload.  We used 1 1/4″ .063″ wall square tube with a 5 1/2′ center on the wheels to test the limits.  It’s light and stiff and has been in use in the field for about four months now. This is a big cart! Even so it handles easily when it’s unloaded and with hundreds of pounds of compost on bumpy terrain.

Here’s a photo of Roger bending the handle for our newest prototype – a single wheel cart.  It’s kind of like a jacked up wheel barrow and is designed to use interchangeable parts with the two wheel version, but to fit between rows of tall plants.

Mike sent me this photo (below) of the almost completed barrow project. It’s been in the field for a couple of months now and reports are that it hauls big loads easily, but needs to be set down carefully so as not to tip over.

Above is a picture of the first cart I built using scrap from around the farm when I was at Sauvie Island Organics. They’ve had to make minor repairs to this cart a number of times, but it’s still in regular use after 6 years. Notice that one of the “features” of the cart is that you can tip it up for shade.

The prototype cart I’ve been using has an incredible capacity to carry piles and then slide them off easily. Even without sides the bed sits flat so nothing slides off while you’re moving (as long as it’s flat-ish). This is the cart pictured on the build your own page.

Strong Versatile Carts

Farm Hand Carts are designed to be ergonomic, with high clearance, and good load carrying capacity.  The frame is open making it easy to customize load carrying decks and other attachments. These evolved from a typical garden cart, which is a workhorse around the farm.

The first versions were all farm built using surplus steel, used bike parts, a chop saw, drill, and stick welder. If you want to build your own take a look at the build your own page resources. I’ll keep putting more design info up as finances allow. Hitting the donate button definitely helps with this process – thanks for helping me help you.

If you’re not up to building your own we’re taking orders for adjustable versions. Through a collaboration between Slow Hand Farm, Adventure Metal, and Antload, all in Portland, OR, we’re developing more prototypes of carts and attachments, and we’re taking orders for hand built one and two wheel carts.

Check the products page for our current offerings and prices.

If you’re interested in having a cart custom built contact us.

Any feedback or ideas are more than welcome, just drop us a note.