Tools for an Urban Homestead

Urban homesteads can get a lot done with a few select hand tools.  My essential tool shortlist includes a shovel, wheelbarrow, hoe, and pitchfork.  There are lots of additional specialized tools that make one specific job easier.  However, it is very easy to go down the path of purchasing tons of tools and equipment.  Keeping it simple is always a well-proven strategy, especially as you start to establish an urban homestead.  

The following guide is a simple list of urban homesteading garden hand tools that everyone should consider for their homestead.

tools for urban homesteaders

  • Wheelbarrow

A good wheelbarrow is an important tool for your urban homestead.  Whether you are moving loads of wood chips to mulch a food forest or straw to the compost pile.  A wheelbarrow is one of the tools that I use consistently throughout the year and would not be able to get much done without.  Get a load of compost delivered, move it with the wheelbarrow.  Building a new sheet mulched lasagne garden bed, fill up the wheelbarrow with materials, and bringing it to the garden.  Unless you own acreage and a tractor starts to make sense due to the distances you need to travel a wheelbarrow is an essential tool.  Ultimately even if you have a tractor you will want a good wheelbarrow.

My number one suggestion for a wheelbarrow is to get a replacement tire that is a flat-free version.  

  • Shovel

A quality garden shovel is an essential tool.  Shovels come in all kinds of sizes and styles and some may be better than others for your ground.  You will use a shovel all the time, especially when building initial garden beds, planting food forest fruit trees, and any manual earthwork projects like swales.  Shovels have been with humans since the dawn of agriculture and warrant a place in the shed for an urban homesteader. 

The classic round point shovel with a long handle is the most common shovel and an excellent option for an all-around tool.  Another option to consider is the shorter handled shovel with a similar round point.  A square shovel can be good for moving materials such as loading a wheelbarrow with sand or gravel or digging paths in garden beds. However, this shovel style will struggle to dig a hole.  Digging a hole with a flat shovel can be very nice.  Flat shovels excel as tree planting shovels.  Although a flat shovel will not be a good choice for an all-around tool.

Get a good round pointed shovel for the first shovel in the tool shed.  In no time you may have a collection of shovels, I like to pick up additional tools at garage sales and estate sales.

  • Hoe

The classic garden hoe is a very useful tool for weeding and preparing in-ground garden beds.  A hoe has a long handle with a thin metal blade at the end.  This tool excels at weeding vegetables full of weeds.  It also excels at breaking up compacted soil and cultivating the soil during garden bed prep.  

Similar to shovels, hoes come in several different styles with specialized blades for different tasks.  The most common alternative style is a hula hoe, also referred to as a stirrup hoe.  The blade on the hula hoe is similar to a hula hoop in that it is open in the middle.  As a result, it is easy to quickly weed emerging weeds with this tool.   In short, it will glide through the top inch of soil cutting the leaves from the roots below killing the weeds.

The wheel hoe is an excellent tool for backyard gardeners with in-ground garden beds.  The garden hoe with wheels is perfect for weeding, cultivating, creating furrows and with the right set of attachments used as a seeder.  When looking for cultivating tools it is hard to not look at the various wheel hoe options seriously.  High arch wheel hoes are the preferred option for small-scale growers that need to hill corn and potato crops.

  • Pitchfork

A traditional pitchfork is an essential tool for urban homesteaders with chickens or ducks.  Similarly, they are important for on-site composting or moving a pile of wood chip mulch.  A pitchfork generally has 5 to 7 tines or more that are long and skinny.  On the positive side, they will slide into chicken manure straw, compost, or a mulch pile easily.  On the negative side, they are not designed to dig in the ground and can break off in hard soil.  

Use a pitchfork for moving materials and a garden fork for working in raised beds or in-ground gardens.

  • Garden Fork

A garden fork looks similar to a pitchfork.  However, it will generally have 4 or 5 tines and they will be thick and heavier material.  The best garden fork task is for harvesting root vegetables.  It also excels in working in the soil to loosen it for mixing in amendments and compost.    A garden fork is great for preparing garden beds.  

  • Hori Hori

The hori hori is a specialized garden hand tool.  This tool looks like a long blade.  However, it has a slight cup to help use it for digging.  On one edge the blade will be sharp like a knife.  On the other side, the hori hori has a saw blade for cutting tougher plant materials.  The blade edge is perfect for harvesting vegetables. While the saw edge excels when chopping and dropping mulch like comfrey or other green materials.  My hori hori also has a measuring tape engraved on the knife blade to aid in planting.

  • Garden Hose

The garden hose will be used all season long.  I recommend a heavy-duty rubber garden hose, preferrably in the 100 foot length.  A good quality hose with brass fittings will last for many years and is a wise investment versus cheaper hoses that easily kink and degrade quickly.

  • Broadfork

The broadfork is a specialized piece of equipment to manually break up hard compacted garden beds.  The broad fork is 20 – 30 inches and will have a single row of very sturdy tines that are designed to drive into the soil when body weight is applied.  By rocking the broadfork back and forth and pulling straight back the fork will break up the hard soil and raise large rocks underground to the surface.  Depending on your soil and gardening methods on your urban homestead.  A broadfork may be an essential piece of equipment or something that you only use when building new garden beds and then rarely after.

  • Ladder

A ladder is an important tool around the homestead.  Whether used indoors for fixing the house or outside painting an exterior, cleaning gutters, or trimming backyard orchard trees.  Make sure that you use a quality ladder, as a fall from heights is a major cause of long-term health problems.  Check out the weight ratings for the ladder that you are going to use.  I prefer a foldable ladder than can be stashed in different places depending on what I am doing.

  • Mechanized Tools

While a tractor is rare for the urban homestead some mechanized tools may not be out of the question.  A few common types are listed below.

  • Rototiller
  • Tilther / Mantis Tiller
  • BCS w/ attachments
  • Electric wheelbarrow
  • Wood chipper