My favourite tools for self sufficient gardening on rough land

Here are my favourite tools for serious self reliant food gardening, with some notes about what I use them for and what to look for. These garden tools are suited to tall people and people with bad backs, and are tough enough to work on compacted soil and clearing scrubland.

My four favourite tools

5 tine metal broadfork in the forest
Our metal broadfork pioneering in the forest

Metal broadfork

A broadfork gently aerates soil without inverting it, giving some oxygen (but not too much) to the soil life to help it thrive. A broadfork can be used without bending your back – just place it on the soil, put your full weight on it and jump or stomp on it, wiggle it around, and then lift it up with your arms. Broadforks can be quite heavy, so having some arm strength is recommended. If you use animal tractor systems on your garden or if your soil is compacted from anything else I’d consider a broadfork to be a high priority for self sufficient gardening, it lets the right amount of air into the soil and provides channels for roots to go deeper. I use my broadfork for new plantings of annuals and perennials, and it can also be used to aerate pastureland for optimum soil health and grass growth.

I use the 5 tine broad fork from F D Ryan in Australia, in the USA it looks like the Meadow Creature is similar. Some broadforks have wooden handles, and on compacted soil I can imagine a lot of stress being placed on where the wood joins the metal, so they may not last long, so I’d recommend choosing an all-metal fork that is built to last.

Australian link: https://www.fdryan.com/store/p69/broadfork.html

US link: https://meadowcreature.com

peasant hoe
Peasant hoe

Long handled peasant hoe

This is used for chopping up weeds and green manures before and during the growing season and roughly preparing garden beds for planting. 

The peasant hoe looks like the picture below. Mine is 10cm (4”) wide.

For anyone with a bad back, or who is taller than average, it is definitely worth seeking out a hoe with a long handle, at least 150cm (5 feet) long. I’d recommend getting one that is strong, but lightweight enough to handle long gardening sessions without fatigue. If possible, have a look at your hoe at the garden centre to see how the weight feels to you – if it feels awkwardly balanced in your arms, it’s not worth getting, if you can’t hold it with a straight back, look for one with a longer handle.

This is the one that I use: https://www.fdryan.com/store/p80/Chipping_Hoe_Heavy_Duty.html

long handled peasant hoe and rake
Long handled peasant hoe and rake

Rake

I use a generic rake that the previous owners left on our property, it has a wooden handle and metal head and does the job. This is used for preparing bed surfaces, making small trenches in rough ground and mulch for adding compost and direct seeding, making and covering small furrows for direct seeding, and for giving slight compaction to bed surfaces when needed by tapping the surface of the bed. For people growing on standard 75cm market garden beds, a 75cm bed preparation rake would save some time.

Long-handled pointy-ended spade

A long handled spade allows you to work without bending your back. I use one for creating trenches for potatoes, planting trees and shrubs, shaping garden beds, shovelling compost, and basically anything you’d normally use a spade or shovel for.

The one I use is called the “plumbers shovel” from Cyclone. The handle is around 150cm (5 feet) long. Similar shovels can be found from other tool places. If you are tall, have a bad back, or want to do a lot of gardening without aches and pains, look for one with a long handle.

The one that I use: https://www.cyclone.com.au/product/gardening-tools/digging-tools/shovels/plumbers-shovel/

Other garden tools I use

Cart or wheelbarrow

We use both of these on our homestead for moving compost, mulch, and other bits and pieces around. The wheelbarrow is easier to manoeuvre around thin, winding pathways and bringing stuff downhill. The cart is easier to use on wide pathways, and for bringing stuff uphill.

I went without one of these for the first few years gardening here, using large flexible tubs to drag stuff around instead, so this is not an essential gardening tool, it just makes moving stuff around slightly easier.

Precision seeder

I do a lot of direct seeding and not much transplanting, and using a precision seeder has helped me to plant things evenly and get better germination rates and less thinning. In rough ground and in mulch, I make a small trench in the soil and fill the trench with a small amount of compost to help the seeder get through – I used to do this for getting small seeds to come up before I had the seeder. I use the Earthway, which allows me to seed many different types of seeds, one row at a time. For sowing lots of carrots and salad greens, market gardeners often use a 6 row seeder, which is more expensive than the single row seeder, but saves time. The single row seeder is still a lot faster than seeding by hand – I can just quickly walk over a row in a matter of seconds, and it’s all buried at the right depth, spaced somewhat evenly, and covered over with just the right amount of compaction by the seeder.

A precision seeder is one of those tools I wouldn’t recommend getting right away. I gardened for many years without one, and have tried gardening with mostly transplants, gardening with mostly direct seedling, broadcast-seeding, carefully sprinkling seed in rows, and many variations. Many people garden with mostly transplants/plant starts and would not get much use out of this tool, but if you have been gardening for many years, grow a lot of annual food crops, prefer not to grow from transplants, and have trouble getting seeds to come up evenly, this might be a tool to look into.

Precision seeders like the ground to be flat and even, so some preparation is needed. On rough ground and in chicken tractored mulch, I make small trenches, and then fill the trenches in with a couple of spadefuls of compost, using the rake or hoe to flatten out the compost and compact it slightly. I used to do this for direct seeding small seeds without the seeder, instead making furrows with the rake, sprinkling the seed in, and using the rake to cover it.

Strong hand trowel

For transplanting vegetable seedlings, small perennials, harvesting roots, and working with pot plants, it’s worth having a strong hand trowel – weak and flimsy ones can bend or break on anything but the softest soil.

Rice knife

A rice knife or Japanese rice sickle is a serrated blade that can be useful for ‘chop and drop’ of non-woody plants, and for harvesting grain.

Going beyond organic gardening

If you’d like to learn more about growing all your food garden fertility on your own land with no inputs, and lots more information to help you become a better organic gardener, I’d recommend checking out this 30 hour master gardener video course with an organic permaculture focus, currently on Kickstarter here.

Click here to go to the garden master course

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Easy ways to preserve tomatoes off the grid

Tasty organic tomatoes, ready to preserve for the winter months

In A Year in an Off-Grid Kitchen I included recipes for five of my favourite ways to preserve tomatoes with water bath canning – as tomato passata, tomatoes in brine, pizza sauce, salsa, and tomato relish. I’ve recently tried a couple of different methods that I’d like to share here.

Fermenting tomatoes

I’ve been intrigued about fermenting tomatoes for a while, ever since reading Shannon Stonger’s Traditionally Fermented Foods. it seems like such a simple and low energy way to preserve tomatoes, and perfect for preserving the garden harvest as it makes it to the kitchen, because you don’t need a huge amount of tomatoes to justify boiling up the canner, you can just preserve one jar at a time. Tomato season is a busy time on the homestead, and having a way to just quickly preserve things without much fuss is very welcome!

I tested this recipe out, left them alone for nearly a year, and they were still good to eat after that long. Tomatoes are a bit naughty in the jar and have a habit of rising above the fermenting weight (which is why in the photo you can see lots of tomatoes trying to jump out of the jar!), even then in my Fido jar, they were still really good to eat. I definitely recommend checking out Shannon’s fermenting book for more tasty fermenting recipes.

Fermented tomatoes

How to ferment tomatoes:

Pack whole, firm tomatoes up to the ‘shoulders’ of a fermenting jar – I use Fido jars, but mason jars can work too if you remember to ‘burp’ them once a day for the first week or two, or until the bubbling stops.

Add around 3 tablespoons unrefined salt, plus an optional tablespoon of fresh whey or sauerkraut juice for every litre (quart) jar.

Top with non-chlorinated water to above the level of the tomatoes

Weigh the tomatoes down with a fermenting weight, or with a cabbage leaf weighed down with a boiled rock or other heat-sterilised heavy thing.

Put the lid on and leave it at around 23ºC (73ºF) for a week or two, or until the bubbling dies down, then move to root cellar, larder, or fridge conditions of around 15ºC (59ºF) or lower where they will store for up to a year.

Use these fermented tomatoes anywhere that you’d normally add tomatoes – salads, soups, stews, sauces, and more. This is a great low energy way to preserve tomatoes.

Drying tomatoes

One of my favourite tomato varieties to grow is Principe Borghese, In my garden, this is a resilient variety that fruits very early, produces an abundance of tasty red cherry tomatoes that are great either raw or cooked, and it seems pretty resistant to pests. Last tomato season here was rainier and colder than usual, and I grew both this and “Gold Nugget” which is the earliest fruiting tomato that I know of, and Principe Borghese was the first to have ripe fruit, and was very plentiful. It’s also grown well for me in dry warm summers.

Principe Borghese is well-known as a good tomato for drying, but I’ve never grown it for that reason, just for all the reasons above. Last season I experimented with drying them in the wood stove.

Crispy dried tomatoes

How to dry tomatoes:

Slice them in half. Place them cut-side up on a baking sheet. Put them in a very low oven with the door ajar – I dried mine at the bottom of the top oven of the wood stove as it died down for the night, and also in the warming oven all day. Once the tomatoes have mostly dried out on that side, flip them over and dry the other side.

Once the tomatoes are fully dry, they will be crispy and full of flavour.

Tomatoes can also be dried in a solar dehydrator in a similar way – just dry cut-side up until that side is almost dry, then flip over and dry until crisp.

Tomatoes with more flesh and less juice and seeds, such as Amish Paste, Roma, Principe Borghese, and other sauce-type tomatoes are the best choices for drying, but any tomato can be dried in this way.

Store dried tomatoes an airtight container such as a glass jar with lid. If kept dry, they will keep well for a year or more.

Dried tomatoes are great smashed up and sprinkled on salads, on top of pizza, or added to stews, soups, sauces, and more.

For more recipes and ideas for cooking and preserving homegrown tomatoes, see my book A Year in an Off-Grid Kitchen

A Year in an Off-Grid Kitchen: Homestead Kitchen Skills and Real Food Recipes for Resilient Health

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Introducing… A Year in an Off Grid Kitchen!

I’ve been quiet on this blog for the past few months, because I’ve been working on something very big…

I’ve been busy creating a cookbook that teaches the kitchen skills that are most important on a homestead, as well as a huge amount of adaptable everyday homestead recipes.

When the the panic buying, empty shelves, and restrictive rations hit earlier this year, it was not a problem for my family, because we knew these skills, and knew how to feed ourselves without the supermarket system. With the help of this book, you can learn these skills too.

I’ve created a Kickstarter in order to pre-sell enough copies to cover the printing costs. Running a Kickstarter means we can cut out the middleman, so I’m able to offer you a better price than the future retail one, while also being able to offer extra ebooks and other goodies.

Here’s the link to the Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/706848724/real-food-cookbook-a-year-in-an-off-grid-kitchen?ref=b91p7r

There’s also an earlybird offer of extra stuff for people who back the Kickstarter in the first 48 hours, including the best natural home cleaning book I’ve read, plus documentaries on rocket ovens, hugelkultur, and more. You can find out more about the earlybird offer here: https://permies.com/t/151135/Earlybird-bundle-Grid-Kitchen-Kickstarter