By now you've bought the farm or a little plot of land to call your own and you’re digging into the soil. That also means you've begun a list of equipment you didn't realize was essential. You didn't wait to buy a tractor, did you?
While you're taking stock of your homestead equipment, consider the following top tools for growing your homestead.
Rear-Tined Rotary Tiller
While you have an option of hitching a plow to a tractor or maybe even a plow horse, a rear-tined tiller is easy to work on and gets the job done. Organic gardening isn't difficult, but it is different, and a strong tiller will make your work easier.
Look for a tiller meant for small-plot farmers, made with cast-iron parts. The advantage with heavier machines like this is they'll break apart sod more easily and will also help to mix your compost into the soil.
Just keep in mind that you'll have to make sure the machine doesn't get clogged with cornstalks or wrapped in vines. If you allow the engine to get bogged down, it'll end up overheating.
All tractors are not created equal, but all tractors are meant for multiple tasks. The most important tool in your repertoire, an engine-powered machine like a commercial-grade tractor is the modern replacement for work horses. In fairness, I'd prefer the horses, but the maintenance costs for a team of horses — not to mention the purchase of said horses — goes outside the bounds of a standard homestead startup.
Your tractor will be one of your largest purchases, but remember you'll be using it as everything from a backhoe or plow to a forklift.
If you absolutely can't afford to buy a modern tractor, look into an antique with a solid track record. They're not quite as reliable, but they're easier to work on yourself.
Come-Along and Wire Fence Mandrel
Fencing sounds simple — keep the good in and the bad out. But rabbits, foxes and other creatures have a habit of going exactly where they aren't supposed to be regardless of a fence. Of course, that means you'll be repairing fences more often than you'd like. That's where the come-along and wire fence mandrel come in handy.
A come-along is a handheld winch and ratchet tool used to pull cables taught between fence posts. Repairing fencing without one is a waste of time. The mandrel is used to keep the loop of cable from the fencepost in place.
When you first start gardening, a hand-harvesting tool is probably all you'll need, but as your homestead begins to grow you'll need to consider the purchase of a harvester, also known as combines. These machines will reap, thresh and winnow your spreading crops and speed up your harvesting time.
Yes, this is your standard, ideal spade. You want a shovel with a thick, flat blade. Also, it will be useful to learn how to sharpen the edge. Make sure you purchase a spade with a flat edge where the handle meets the spade itself, so you have a place to step down on to increase the force of the blade.
Mechanic's Hand Tools
No homestead can survive without a set of hand tools. You'll need a set with pliers, screwdrivers wrenches, ratchet handles and extensions in all shapes and sizes, with a few extras of your most used sizes.
Don't be tempted by sale signs or discount tools. Unlike hand tools for an apartment owner, these will be used every single day on demanding projects. I promise, you don't want to break a wrench when you need to fix your tractor.
My grandfather always told me you were only as good as your pocketknife. As a homesteader, that couldn't be more true, but you'll need more than a pocketknife to run your farm.
A complete knife collection is an essential. Besides the on-the-go use of a pocketknife, you'll have animals to butcher for yourself and for selling. A butcher knife without a razor sharp edge will cost you time and money.
Remember, a kitchen is the heart of any home. A streamlined kitchen will have sharp knives. You just have to make the decision on what type of knife is best for you, and there is no perfect knife. You'll always have to sharpen them and occasionally something will break.
There isn't a way to make homesteading easy, but we can help you make it easier. Practice routine care and maintenance on all of your equipment, and your tools will help your homestead achieve a bountiful season.
Working at sunset. Photo: Fotolia/zannal