I am making a list of machinery and device that should be prioritize. Can you please mention your indispensable farm equipment. Something that makes life a lot easier for you and happier for the plants and pets.
To get the best answers, what type of farming do you intend to do?
For my large garden, the tools I like ares a big 8 gallon flexible bucket, a kneeling pad, a few styles of wheel barrow, an antique shovel and an antique pitch fork. The antique tools seem to have better steel.
"Hundreds of years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in or the type of car I drove... But the world may be different because I did something so bafflingly crazy that it becomes a tourist destination"
As Mike pointed out, it depends upon the type of farming you intend to do.
On my homestead, one-person farm I couldn't do this without.....
... Light portable generator
... Light duty chainsaw
... Mantis tiller
... O-o bar (6' steel bar)
... Good pruning shears
... Hedge trimmers (used for everything BUT hedges)
... Lightweight weedwacker
... Self propelled, bagging lawnmower
... Bagging tractor lawnmower
... 4 wheel drive Pick up truck
... Trailer for the pick up truck
... atv with trailer -- it saves my knees for getting around this farm
I find it cheaper and easier to hire a backhoe or skidsteer when needed.
It's never too late to start! I retired to homestead on the slopes of Mauna Loa, an active volcano. I relate snippets of my endeavor on my blog : www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
I am going to reply to this thread on the assumption that we are talking about equipment (and I mean something more complex than just a tool) and a farm/market garden or acreage to maintain as opposed to just a small vegetable garden.
Since we are talking about farm equipment, I am going to say that a compact utility tractor with a loader (as a sort of base machine) is the most useful piece of equipment that I can imagine. I realize that it is indeed possible to accomplish most/maybe all of your tasks without a tractor, and I also realize that a tractor is no trivial piece of equipment (especially in regards to expense), but having owned two tractors by now, I have found that a tractor is immensely useful if not indispensable on my property. To make things clear, I am not farming. I only have a few garden beds for my own consumption. However, I do own 9 acres, approximately 3 are wooded, 1 consists of the house and yard, and the rest are open grasslands. In my opinion, by far the most useful part of a tractor is the loader. A tractor is basically useless unless it has at least one implement. With a loader (and assuming that the tractor is balanced for the loader, a crucial consideration when operating) I can lift extremely heavy objects with ease. I can scoop up dirt/mulch/gravel/etc. I can use the loader as a sort of power wheel barrow, moving heavy, bulky materials and then dump those materials on a specific site, or shut off the tractor and carefully scoop the material out of the bucket. Additionally, a loader/bucket combination is wonderful for moving piles of snow.
A small, almost trivial modification I strongly suggest getting with any bucket is getting some lift hooks welded on. My first tractor had no such lift hooks, and I made certain that I had these for my current tractor. The lift hooks make using a chain a simple, easy affair--you just place the chain link into the hook, wrap/attach the chain to whatever needs lifting, and then place the other end of the chain in the second lift hook. One use for both my tractors, made vastly easier with the lift hooks, is lifting and moving logs. 10 years ago a terrible wind storm (sustained 100 mph winds) toppled about 20 large trees in my woods. It was heartbreaking, but I wanted those dead trees out to make room for new growth. I went into the woods with the tractor and chainsaw and eventually dragged most of the tree trunks out of the woods and today the woods are growing back nicely (though they will never be as before during my lifetime). A much more complex and involved modification for a tractor is to get a grapple. A grapple makes picking up large objects like logs an almost trivial affair. My point about the loader here is that I could never have moved all those logs without the tractor and loader. The wood was simply too heavy. Just after the storm, at least 10 of those large oaks and hickories were laying in my backyard, almost touching my house (I was lucky, there was no serious, structural damage, only loose shingles--others were not so lucky) and I had to get all that wood moved. At that time I had not discovered Permies and ALL wood chippers in the area (perhaps a 100 mile radius) were already rented for weeks in advance by the time I tried to get my hands on them. My only solution was to cut the bulk of those trees up and burn them, but in doing so I had to move them first. I simply could not have done so without the help of the tractor--I loaded up the bucket with four 18" diameter sections of trunk about 2-3 feet long and moved them bucket by bucket over to a pair of fires that burned furiously for two weeks non-stop.
If we move away from the front end of the tractor, we can talk about the 3 point hitch and PTO. All rear attachments will attach by a 3 point hitch and any that need power (like a mower, tiller, etc.) will get it by the PTO. Even a subcompact tractor can make use of a vast and increasingly large number of rear implements sized to these small but mighty tractors (the subcompact tractor is the fastest growing segment of the tractor market). I have run rough cutters, rear finish mowers, flail mowers (a somewhat rare but absolutely amazing mower), scrape/grader blades and box blades with my old subcompact tractor. The list of implements sized to the subcompact tractor only increases each year. In addition to moving logs, my old subcompact tractor rough mowed tall grass, mowed my yard with a finish mower, excavated ground for an above-ground pool using a box blade to loosen and dig earth while I moved the earth with the loader, cleared snowfall from my driveway using a grader blade and loader.
Most tractors and all subcompact tractors also have a mid-PTO. This is only useful for a mid mount mower, a snow blower and a front mounted rotary broom. I have never actually seen the broom option used, but many people use the mid mount mower as their lawn mower and the snowblower is indispensable in snow country. Finally, these small tractors (and certainly larger tractors) can pull a sizable trailer. These are not garden carts mind you, they are full sized trailers that might also be used behind a pickup truck. My subcompact tractor pulled an 8' trailer that we also used as a sort of pickup truck bed that we also pulled behind our mini-van (a sort of marriage compromise). The trailer was big enough that we could go to a local hardware store and get a sizable load of lumber or other bulky/heavy items. Once back home I could hook the trailer up to the 3 point hitch of the tractor and the normal, non-dumping trailer turned into a partially dumping trailer simply by raising the 3pt hitch which tipped the trailer back and made unloading mounds of chips much easier.
By now I think I have made my own opinion clear: I think that a tractor, even a small one, is indespensible for a person with acreage. The last note I will leave is that it is best to size the tractor to the land and expected uses. When I first bought a tractor, I bought a subcompact because it was the cheapest, the budget absolutely dictated so, and I really needed a real tractor before our next winter in order to clear my 400' driveway. This tractor served me faithfully for 13 years. It was remarkable powerful for it size and weight and it could do just about any task a larger tractor would perform but would take longer. I sold the tractor in part due to an old back injury that made mowing our rough acreage long and painful. The new tractor is perfectly suited to the size and tasks I ask it to perform and I will be making some modifications to it in the coming years. To be perfectly fair, tractors and their implements are not cheap (the reason I under-bought in the first place), but since we are talking about usefulness, I think the tractor fits the bill very nicely. They will cost about half the price of a new car, but they will last a lifetime if given their minor maintenance requirements. I have never had a major breakdown (I once rolled over a locust thorn that tore a nasty gash into the sidewall of one of my front tires, The front tires had to be replaced, but this is about the most major repair I ever had), something I can not say about the cars I have owned in the same time period.
In ending, I would say that if you have the land and thus the need for it and if you can afford one, a tractor is immensely useful.
If you have any other questions or if I made anything less than clear, please don't hesitate to ask and I will try to clarify.
Depending on your own circumstances and money you want to spend, Yes, a chipper may be a worthy investment. But before you go out and buy one, consider its cost and purpose. Personally, I chip once per year in the mid-spring. At this time I go out and do a bunch of trimming, largely along an almost 800' living fence in addition to woods alongside my back yard, occasional woody debris from my woods, and from my neighbors. Typically, one neighbor and I will split the cost of renting a chipper and chip up small mountains of wood chips all in one weekend. I will typically save a lot of my trimmed brush someplace obscure throughout the year until chipping day in which case we do it all at once. From my own experience (and if someone else either agrees or disagrees with this statement, please let me know because I am interested in how this works with others) I have found that the official rating of a chipper is mostly a fiction and is actually only good for about half the official rating. I know that statement was clear as mud, but here is another way of looking at it. I used to rent a 6 inch chipper. I could feed that chipper debris up to 6 inches in diameter. Any larger and it would not physically fit into the feeder. While it was technically possible to chip up a 6 inch branch or tree trunk, I could never do this very long and certainly could not keep it up all day. Invariably, even though virtually all of my chipping was 6 inches or less, after feeding large volumes of wood over about an hour, the chipper would break. Specifically, the roller feeder that physically draws the brush and debris into the chipper housing just quit and would only run in reverse. No mater what I did, the feeder would not work and I would then be done chipping. I really tried to get the chipper to work. I would go through the manual, I would make sure none of the numerous safety devices were tripped--everything I could do including partially disassembling the rental unit and nothing I could do would make that chipper work again.
What I started doing after a couple of years of rental machines that were supposedly new and in good condition that would not chip reliable was to rent a 12 inch chipper for the job. A 6 inch chipper was $150/day and a 12 inch chipper was $300/day, but what a difference that 12 inch chipper made! Firstly, the 12 inch chipper could take much, much more material than the 6 inch chipper, and chip it all up much faster. Secondly, since we were chipping material no where near the rated capacity, the chipper never broke down. I can't tell you how exhausting it was to be feeding material into the 6 inch chipper only to have it spit that material back out and try again. With the 12 inch chipper, once the wood went in the chipper, it got chipped up. It was simply a much more reliable process and by experience I have found that the 12 inch chipper is well worth the extra expense.
So by now you may be thinking "that's great, but what about buying a chipper?" A good chipper is not a cheap proposition. In my own case, I have absolutely no problem cutting/pruning/etc. and leaving the material in an out of the way spot for my once-annual chipping weekend. I spend $300/year for all of my chipping requirements so for my case, renting a large, really heavy duty chipper with and in-feed roller is much cheaper than buying a similar unit and certainly easier than storing, maintaining, etc.
But perhaps you are not in my situation. Some people do not have the luxury of just cutting stuff down and leaving it out of the way. For some people, any downed brush would be unsightly and possibly violate local covenants or even local laws. In this case, if you think you are going to be trimming up quite a lot of brush and need it chipped quickly and you will be doing this often, then by all means, a chipper may be worth the costs. I will offer up a warning though--don't buy cheap. Chippers are machines that are practically designed to damage themselves. There are a lot of mechanical forces a work and based on personal experience I have found that a cheapo machine is really more expensive in the (sometimes not so terribly) long run. There are a couple of brands that I might buy from if I really got serious about owning a chipper. One brand makes an 8 inch chipper that looks (and has good reviews) like it might do the job for me. But I have two great big factors holding me back. Firstly the practical. That particular chipper is a 3 point mounted, PTO powered chipper. That means it needs to be attached to my tractor to work. In turn, that means I can not use my tractor for dragging around branches while I am chipping--a real problem in my case as when I am doing my chipper weekend, I would much rather let the tractor do the work of dragging around debris than me doing it manually. Even with the tractor doing the bulk of the work, one day of chipping is surprisingly exhausting. My second major gripe about owning a chipper is simple cost. That great 8 inch chipper will set me back by about $3000. This means I would have to use it for 10 years to get a payback on the machine. For my own purposes, I would rather rent a (better) chipper and get a grapple for my tractor to really make moving debris around easier than to own an acceptable chipper that denies me the use of the tractor for other purposes. To make things more complicated, you could go so far as to buy a self powered chipper, but in that case you would then be buying the additional cost of the engine, and have to store it, and have to perform maintenance. And if it breaks, guess who gets to fix it.
Julian, you are absolutely right that wood chips and mulch can in fact be a tremendous boon to your gardening experience. I am in the process of converting all of my gardening beds over to raised beds full of wood chips inoculated with wine cap mushrooms in order to make my own mushroom compost super soil. I personally strongly advocate for using wood chips as mulch or as compost (or both). And maybe you are not in a position like myself where I can leave branches laying about out of sight for a year. Perhaps a chipper is worth your money. However, based on my experience/frustration with wood chippers, I personally would much rather rent them and let someone else fix them. I have not yet broken a 12 inch chipper, but I shudder at the thought of what one of those machines cost. Ultimately, you do what you think is in your best interest, but for myself, I will rent them.
I hope this is helpful, and if I let anything unclear, by all means, let me know and I will try to clarify.
I work a homestead, landscaping, and a micro farm, total around 1.5 acres, I think so a lot of hand-labor vs. large farms. I work in heavy clay and raised beds. In no particular order:
1. Spade, not the flat head shovel
2. Garden knife
3. Big Flat-head screwdriver (for planting large seed/small bulbs)
4. Weed wacker, a cheap one that won't cause major injuries and can be controlled for fine movement.
5. Boots. (It gets mucky and cold here)
6. Gloves (to keep out the cold)
7. Hand held pruners
8. Big ole loppers
9. I wish I had a manure fork instead of a leaf rake.
10. Snow shovel (works great for all light weight material, not just snow)
11. Garden fork (for planting bulbs, harvesting roots, and mixing soil)
12. 5 gallon buckets
13. A cart to move around heavy things (wheel barrow, wagon, whatever)
14. Harvest bags of varying sizes.
15. A tool belt with a garden knife holster
16. A pair of scissors
17. On the farm I like having a permanent marker and magic eraser for marking what's planted in high visibility areas.
18. String/rubber bands
19. A smart phone with my garden rotation in a simple easy edit text file.
20. Somewhere nearby a bag of trail mix and some water.
As the owner of an 8" PTO chipper, thanks for saving me a lot of typing. I would not buy it if doing over, I would rent a 12" exactly as described, unless I scored a deal on one in that size range used.
It's more the time than the money... it just takes too long! I do enjoy the convenience factor of it always being here, though.
'Theoretically this level of creeping Orwellian dynamics should ramp up our awareness, but what happens instead is that each alert becomes less and less effective because we're incredibly stupid.' - Jerry Holkins
Much of your lack of equipment can be mitigated by design. I go for the least amount of effort for most reward type design. I only tilled once when I took over the farm after 2 years of neglect and thistle as high as my neck. After that, no till works just fine.
Work smarter, not harder.
The Greenhouse of the Future ebook by Francis Gendron