Best Garden Tools for Big Plots and Large Harvests

Discover the best garden tools for running a small-scale farm, including walk-behind tractors and their implements, hand tools of European design, and the modern wheel hoe.

| June/July 2014

Imagine you finally have some land and you’re going to start gardening in earnest. I’m talking serious food production here: growing a significant portion of your own food, and possibly even selling surplus produce at the local farmers market. After your garden grows to a certain size, however, your generic hardware-store tools will become woefully inadequate. These tools will wear out too quickly and they’re poorly designed, so they’ll wear you out quickly, too. For big gardens, you need serious tools!

Mechanized Gardening Equipment

While smaller gardens — 5,000 square feet or less — can be managed by hand tools alone, larger gardens usually require some level of mechanical aid. The typical North American “lawn and garden equipment” market offers a plethora of single-purpose machines, such as garden tillers, walk-behind or riding mowers, chipper-shredders, and so on. This equipment works, but there are two major drawbacks. First, each machine has its own engine, which increases costs and maintenance work. Second, in my experience, most “consumer-grade” equipment offered at big-box stores is designed with just enough durability to outlast the warranty period, and then it needs major service or is completely worn out. You’ll do better if you spend a little more money for “professional-grade” models.

 Another option is to go for broke and jump into a four-wheel tractor with a power take-off (PTO) and a host of implements. This option overcomes the problem of needing a different small engine for each task, and, if you purchase equipment of a reputable brand, durability won’t be an issue because any tractor with a PTO is usually built well enough for agricultural service. The downsides of a four-wheel tractor are greater upfront costs, less maneuverability, and even lack of exercise for the user. These downsides can be justified if you have enough land to cultivate.

My own homestead is a good example of this quandary. In addition to managing a quarter-acre organic garden, we mow an acre of lawn and 5 acres of brush, maintain a quarter-mile gravel driveway, chip and shred as needed, and haul stuff (firewood, compost, rocks — you name it) around the property. The work on my land could easily justify either of the two equipment scenarios previously mentioned. I don’t have enough acreage to condone the cost of a four-wheel tractor, nor am I willing to sacrifice maneuverability or exercise. I also tired many years ago of repairing and replacing poorly made, single-purpose machines that were built to be “consumable.” What other options do I — and others in a similar situation — have?

Walk-Behind Tractors: The Best of Both Worlds

Unlike North America, many European countries have the tools to support large-scale gardening. These countries have a class of large-garden tools that effectively fills the void between four-wheel tractors and single-purpose machines: walk-behind agricultural equipment.

The idea of walk-behind farm equipment is not new to North America; it has just been largely forgotten. From the 1920s to the 1960s, scores of walk-behind tractors (also called “walking tractors,” “two-wheel tractors” and “hand tractors”) were produced in the United States. These machines comprised an engine, two wheels, transmission and handlebars, plus a variety of attachable implements for garden or small-farm tasks.

6/4/2014 8:43:22 AM

I'll bet those European tools from Holland you are speaking of are DeWit Tools. They are the greatest. I've had mine for years.

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