The Best Garden Hand Tools for Urban Homesteads

The right garden hand tools make working on an urban homestead a joy or painful endeavor.  As a result, choosing the right tools for the right job and your specific needs is important.  As an example, you can wear yourself out bending over to weed large sections of the garden with a small trowel or briskly walk through the garden with the best wheel hoe in minutes to accomplish the same amount of work.

Pick the tools to match the job.  The best tools for weeds is the one that you have when you see them.  A small garden can be done with small hand tools, while larger plots begin to benefit from the power stand-up hand tools deliver.

gardening with hand tools only

Small Garden Hand Tools

  1. Hand Pruners

    A pair of quality hand pruners are important for anyone with a backyard food forest.  Cutting limbs and branches from fruit bushes and trees is part of the regular upkeep.  While a pure vegetable garden doesn’t require a pair of pruners most urban homesteaders have a variety of plants and flowers on their property.  If you have a large number of fruit trees it is advisable to get a set of loppers as well.

  2. Hand Trowel

    A hand trowel is a small hand-held shovel.  Designed for digging at ground level.  A trowel makes quick work when digging small holes for planting transplants, measuring depths for adding bulbs and digging up individual weeds.

  3.  Hori Hori

    The Hori Hori knife is dual sided blade/trowel garden hand tool.  On one side it is serrated for cutting small branches.  The other side is a blade for slicing and is useful for harvesting vegetables.  Lastly, the tool often has measurements down the length of the blade that serves as a good gauge for planting.  As a result, it is my preferred tool for planting flower bulbs like tulips and dahlias. The Hori Hori is my go-to hand tool in the garden when I am doing small tasks and need precision.  If you are container gardening this is the best tool to buy.  It will cover all your essential tasks.

hand tool gardening essentials

Stand Up Tools

  1. Garden Shovel

    A garden shovel is an essential tool for every backyard gardener.  Yes, you can garden with a small trowel and plant a lot of crops.  Nothing beats a shovel for breaking ground in a backyard, moving piles of material around, and breaking through town soil.  I recommend the standard rounded but pointy shovel.  A straight-edge shovel is good for scooping, but not for digging.  Ultimately, if you are going to have just one shovel get a pointed one, with a foot pad for pressing down into the ground.  I like the feel of a tall wooden handle for my garden shovel.

  2. Garden Hoe with Wheels

    The garden hoe with wheels is an exceptional cultivating tool and for weeding large sections of the garden.  Designed for in ground garden beds.  Therefore, if your vegetable gardens are all contained in raised beds it will not be the best tool to choose.  However, for large gardens with crops in the ground it is the most popular tool for weeding, cultivating, and creating furrows in the garden beds.  Using a wheel hoe is simple and reduces a lot of the rigor of other hand tools for similar tasks.

  3. Garden Fork

    The garden fork is good for cultivating garden beds.  It is easy to push down through soft soil and uproot old plants when removing old veggies.  A garden fork is the best tool for harvesting potatoes, carrots, and other root crops.  It has long strong metal tines that slide through the ground.

  4. Wheelbarrow

    The wheelbarrow is critical for moving large amounts of material. Whether you are bringing in new soil and compost to build garden beds. It makes hauling woodchips from a chicken run around to your food forest to mulch the ground a lot easier. Lastly, when cleaning out your chicken or duck coops you can fork in large amounts of composted manure and spread it wherever you need it in the gardens.

    wheelbarrow for compost

  5. Rake

    A good rake helps smooth out the garden beds. Once a bed is created in rough shape by moving the dirt around with a shovel, I will use my rake to smooth it out and fluff up the top couple of inches in preparation for seeding or transplanting.

Extra tools that are nice to have

  • Broadfork

    The broadfork is a specialized hand tool some gardeners really enjoy having in their urban garden tool shed. The broadfork is a series of strong sturdy spikes that go deep into the ground and break up the hardpan or compacted soil. A broadfork is one of the only tools that makes deep aeration of the soil possible for the home gardener. The first time using a broadfork on a new plot will be the most difficult. As a result of using the tool over time, the soil will get very soft making it easier in subsequent seasons.

  • Pitchfork

    I’m a big fan of the pitchfork. Differing from the garden fork, the it has 5-7 tines that are smaller and curved for scooping. If you plan on having woodchips in a food forest, I highly recommend getting a pitchfork. It is the best tool for moving materials like woodchips, straw from a chicken run, and turning compost piles. While a shovel. will work for those tasks, the pitch fork glides in with ease saving your upper body from excess work when moving a load of wood chips from your local arborist.

    garden pitchfork

  • Stirrup Hoe

    The hoss stirrup hoe is my go to for basic weeding around the property. Commonly referred to as a hula hoe or a hoop hoe. It is excellent at weeding by gliding through the top layer of the soil cutting off weeds from their roots with ease. The wheel hoe is ideal when running down along long rows. The stirrup hoe excels in tighter places, in between plants in the rows, and especially in raised garden beds so you do not have to bend over to weed.

Build your set of garden tools as you need them.  There is no reason to go off and buy hundreds of dollars of tools in order to have a small salad garden and a few pots of herbs.  However, you will probably really benefit from a hori hori.  As you expand your garden continue to build out your tool shed to match the needs of your urban food forest.