Bins, Buckets, Baskets & Totes

Many diversified farms have a variety of containers to best handle individual crops.

So you’re starting to farm, or scaling up your production. You hear talk about food safety, and cleanability.  You are checking out what other farms are doing and are looking for harvest crates and storage bins.

You probably noticed lots of people use many different things. Some use 5-gallon pails, milk crates, muck buckets, some use totes found at the box stores, yet others use what seem to be specific, grey, flip top totes. Does it matter what you use? Not really, but you should have some sort of method to the madness on your farm to help minimize contamination, reduce mix-ups and wasted time on your farm. Consistency is key to organization and efficiency.

I commonly hear “Ok, I like this style of totes/bins/crates, where do I find them?” Well hopefully, this blog post will have a few suggestions to point you in the right direction with user reviews, distributor information, comparison chart, and pictures of features. 

Things to consider when selecting the right containers for your farm:

  • What crops are you going to be moving or storing?

    “Fish baskets” work great for washing greens, in addition to harvest.
  • Do you want drain holes or a solid bottom?
  • Should you have vented sides (e.g. for cooling) or is it more important to retain humidity?
  • How easy is the container to clean?
  • Is the material durable (especially when cleaned and sanitized regularly)
  • Can you easily label the container?
  • Are the containers sturdy and rigid?
  • Does the container provide light blocking and UV resistance
  • Can the container be stacked? Think about how stacking can support more efficiency use in a cooler, on a hand truck, or in your delivery vehicle.
  • Can the container be nested? Nesting can save space when storing empty containers
  • Can you purchase different colors? Some growers find value in having the ability to differentiate field totes from storage totes.  You also want to dedicate cull buckets from harvest buckets to ensure clean produce.
  • Is the container ergonomic – is it easy to pick up? Does it have handles? Properly sized for the product your harvesting?

Growers on the Vermont Veg and Berry Growers Listserv posted the question: “What are people’s preferred harvest bins and preferred source for those bins? I am also specifically interested in bins used for picking and storing the following crops (probably more than one bin type total): tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, greens and roots (with or without greens).”

Some user responses are as follows:

  1. We pick all of our large and plum tomatoes into the yellow harvest totes, found in our catalog. I have them in stock now. They are super durable, we toss them out of
    “How do you like your new bins?” “OMG. [long pause] I’d take 100!” (Decade Plastics, MACXAce is shown)
    trucks into the field and they have lasted 4 years so far. They nest and stack which is a huge plus for storage. Also can fit them on a pallet so it is easy to move around. Easy to clean and overall a great item. Summer squash and zucchini and cucumbers would be great in the yellow totes as well, they have handles on each side so it makes it easy to move around. For greens either the red harvest tote which nests and stacks with the yellow making it a huge space saver, or the green harvest tote. All harvest tote options can be found on page 34. The link to the catalog: http://www.brookdalefruitfarm.com/Irrigation/2018PriceList/
  2. Buckhorn! Best crates and some of our original ones used almost weekly from 1995 are still used. They have a list of discounted ones. And they manufacture many sizes. There is a $5000 minimum order to get great pricing (about $10 per bin) or you can order through a distributor with smaller quantities. We get diff colors and sizes and styles for market, storage and diff weights of crops. We use the lidded 21x15x12 for most everything for markets. We tip to drain them (stack on edge) for the lettuce. We do not want holes in them though I know others drill holes. They would be too messy in our thoughts. Also, use the 9” and double hinged ones, but are looking to get straight wall ones with no lids for tomatoes, strawberries, etc.
  3. Macro Plastic. Most of mine are the 34FV . I have some shorter. They are the industry standard really. Light, durable, washable, Incredibly stackable. Pricewise they get pricy when you have to get them shipped.
  4. At Long Wind Farm, we still have many used “fish boxes.” [Also referred to as “fish totes“] They are excellent plastic boxes for harvest. Volume is about 1/10 of a yard (19″ by 31″ by 12″) They stack or nest. Price is $5 to $6.50 each, depending on volume. We also have many used red plastic berry boxes (13.5″ by 19″ by 4.5”) Price is $4 to $5.50 each, depending on volume. They stack or nest. They are commonly used for harvesting berries. We use them for harvesting tomatoes.

Container Comparison

We are collating a list to compare different containers and styles. This chart is linked and intended to be updated. View the google sheet here:

Harvest & Storage Containers for Fruit and Vegetables 

These harvest containers can be called many things, so here are some pictures to show some of the types, and features available. (Click on the images to view them larger)

Harvest crates, also called Lugs, or Bulb crates
These durable, plastic lugs are easy to clean
Some Farms like to use all the same harvest containers to keep things simple.
“Buckhorn” Flip top totes, or “Round Trip Totes” work great for delivering to farmers markets of CSA pick-ups
Macrobins – From harvest through winter storage
Available in a variety of colors and sizes
Harvest crates can come in a variety of sizes and colors, such as these from Thunderbird. They can be labeled and even marked with your farm name. They both stack and nest depending on whether they are empty or full or product.
Square or round, Whichever you choose! This is a Monte Package display.

We had the opportunity to meet with some vendors to talk about their containers. You can see what they have to say in these videos.

Where to Purchase Harvest Totes and Bins

Vendor Direct

Buckhorn

Decade Products

Macroplastics 

Thunderbird Plastics (Savannah, GA) 

Distributors and product suppliers

Belle Terre Irrigation (Sodus NY)

Brookdale Fruit Farm (Hollis, NH)

Bulk Container Express (Cincinnati, OH) 

Bryan Bins (Gonzales, CA)

Dubois Agrinovation (Quebec, CDN)

Glacier Valley (Baraboo, WI)

Global Industrial (Port Washington, NY)

Grow Organic (Grass Valley, CA)

Monte Package Company (Riverside, MI)

Nolts Produce Supply (Leola, PA)

Oesco (Conway, MA)

Uline (Pleasant Prairie, WI)

Reusable Transport Packaging (St. Petersburg, FL)

 Tranpak (Fresno, CA)