DIY Food Resilience: Turning a Wheelchair in a P-Machine

Here’s a little bit of DIY ingenuity that I thought was worth sharing with you, because it’s both useful and something I haven’t seen before at less than industrial scale.

Given how useful it looks, it may become a commonly seen item in many resilient communities (at least in mine, since I have a good relationship with my back).

What is it?   It’s a self propelled, solar powered gardening cart that I found on Build-it-Solar (via NoTech magazine).

Randy, the inventor of the vehicle had a problem (an itch in tinkering parlance).   It was something that almost everyone over 30 would agree with:

I really Love gardening but I have a bad back and when it comes to staying bent over in the garden it gets rough. So I built this Helper Machine. I  call it My P-Machine. Planting/Picking/Pulling weeds/Putting around the garden machine

Here’s what he built (how he scratched that itch):

You can instantly see how useful this cart would be in reducing the difficulty of maintaining a large garden.  You can also see how valuable this cart would be in a community garden or as an amenity that’s part of a housing complex garden allotment or community supported agriculture (where the owners can reserve it’s use online).

What does it do?  Besides saving the backs of aging gardeners that want to eat well, here are some details:

  • The top speed is a walk.
  • It can turn on a dime.
  • Joystick control (like a wheelchair) that can be easily moved.

Here are some engineering details on the cart for those that are interested:

  • Simple 1″ tubing (1/8″ thick) for the frame.  Welding + bender.
  • Drive motors + harness were removed from a powered wheelchair.
  • Geared 4.6 to 1 to produce lots of torque.
  • 4x T105 6-Volt Golf Cart batteries hooked up in series for 24 v.
  • 2x 12-Volt 80 Watt solar panels in series keep the batteries charged via a 20 amp 24 volt charge controller.

If you build one of these.  Let me know.  I’d love to see the pictures.


John Robb

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  • Burgundy

    I’m, not so sure this would be a useful vehicle. Say you wanted to harvest those cabbages, how would it help? The seating is unhelpful in performing any tasks requiring both hands near ground-level. If there was a bed over the vegetable row on which you could lie face down, now that would be useful, allowing the use of both hands at ground level in a reasonably comfortable position. And those wheels on the front, way too small, and steering? Looks totally unfit for purpose in its current configuration.

    Beefed up, it might have applications in forestry for moving small tree trunks for milling.

    • johnrobb


      Like any tool, it’s usefulness depends on the user’s needs. That’s the beauty with DIY. You can modify it until it scratches your itch.

      Both hands? I suspect that could be solved by swiveling the seat and narrowing it to a bench width.

      The front wheels aren’t for steering. The rear wheels do all the work (0 turn radius mower type action).


  • DC

    Similar DIY harvesting machinery used in the areas south of me, except holding up to 10 workers at a time, often over 20 feet wide with wings hanging over the rows, using a combustion engine chain driving a single wheel. Somewhat resembling this machine:

    Timely post, just finished building an ergonomic/wheelchair accessible garden bed w/ irrigation.

    • johnrobb


      Exactly. That industrial scale equipment was the only thing I’ve seen until this.


    • Lena

      I would love to see some pics of your ergo accessable gardens. I’m needing some ideas for myself as well as the local urban growers cooperative startup of which I’m a founding member. I’m also thinking of the assisted living highrise in the middle of my town where a large number of mobility challenged people like myself could greatly benefit from any increase in independence.

      • johnrobb

        Lena, I would too. JR

  • Burgundy

    True, that’s the beauty of DIY. One of the problems, here in Europe, is finding suitable equipment and tools for small scale agriculture at a reasonable price. And due to the wholesale de-skilling of the workforce, people that can actually produce bespoke equipment are few and far between. There’s big agriculture and gardening, everything in between is a niche market poorly supplied. I’d imagine it is that niche that resilient communities will find the most productive.

    • johnrobb


      Same problem in the US. RCs are an attempt to reverse that. It’s the goal.


  • Seb

    Surely a better solution would be to sort out the bad back? That way you reduce dependence on / usage of materials, and you also get to know your body better. Also, I’ve read ( that you’ll get more crops per unit area if you grow in beds rather than rows.

    • johnrobb


      Thanks. I take care of my back. It takes care of me. No complaints. ;->

      There are definitely lots of ways to make a plot more productive. Will cover that.


  • different clue

    As I began reading the entry and looking at the picture, I thought: why not make the chairs able to swivel? But that is the whole point of a prototype. You see what problems emerge and solve them till you have the machine how and where you want it.

    I would never have thought of this machine, but now that I see a picture I can think of things I would make different. But I would never have thought of those things either, if I had not read about this machine to begin with.

    I did used to think about how a lower-body-compromised elder gardener might be able to garden. I thought of raised beds separated with firm walkways between them wide enough for the eldergardener to drive his/her little rascal elder gocart down the rows between the raised beds. And make the chair swivel so the elder gardener could stop the little rascal at any time and swivel to face the target. And make the beds high enough that the elder gardener could reach right into them without difficult bending.

    How does the elder gardener get this when he/she is old? By building it over the preceding 10-20 years step by step when he/she is still younger.

    • johnrobb


      Thanks. That’s exactly the process of thinking we need.


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