Tools of the Trade

May 17, 2013 in Gardening, Stone masonry, Urban Farming

Since the dawn of time…  okay, I won’t get too ‘korny.’

Man (and woman) use tools to complete tasks, solve problems, and save time and energy, that is no secret.  An urban farmer needs a variety of tools as well, whether planning your garden, preparing your selected area, separating those zones with edges or barriers, building structures and other improvements, harvesting, and just about any task you can imagine. Many may not realize the plethora of tool choices actually available.

Do not under-estimate the need for these multitude of tools.  I have heard more than once, “It is important to have the right tool for the job.”  I never quite accepted that statement, or fully appreciated it until I began this experiment in life, creating an urban farm.  All the same, do not be discouraged or quit your endeavor if you are unable to acquire the ‘preferred’ tool.  Use the available tool.  It may not be the most efficient method, but ultimately you will gain experience and complete the task, albeit not as efficient as someone with more tools in their arsenal.

I have learned by watching others more experienced than I, that run to the local hardware store multiple times during a single project to purchase just the right product or tool for the task.  Don’t be mistaken, I see the value in using the best tool, but I also see the value in planning ahead to reduce those trips and the reality of accomplishing tasks with the available resources.  My chosen paths will almost never describe the best method or tool.  When the best tool is known or available, I will certainly point that out.  As experienced urban farmers, carpenters, masons, and similar trades read my efforts, they will certainly detect my errors and may know a better or more ‘correct’ method.  However, I won’t let that discourage me from learning as I go on my own, and it should not discourage you, either.  I will catalog and store the knowledge gleaned from those more experienced.  I, however, am not afraid to try and fail, with or without the best tool in my shed.

Common Garden Tools

Having a variety of garden tools is important but not necessary.  You should obtain the most basic common garden tools such as shovels, rakes, hoes, and forks. See picture of common garden tools below. A scuffle hoe is important for weeding an area.  A heavy duty rake is good for heavy-duty movement, such as rocks and large amounts of dirt.  A leaf rake is good for smaller items such as leaves, small pebbles, and fine detailing an area. I find a square shovel good for long straight cuts such as for trenches, or shoveling large quantities of soil.  I use a spade shovel primarily for deep digs such as tree planting, or getting beneath large rocks.  In fact, I picked up a twist tiller for around $10.00 that has worked best for digging deeper and breaking apart the hard rocky soil in my desert soil.  In fact, it does better than a post hole digger, pick axe  or spade shovel in getting deep holes for posts and trees.  I have managed to dig almost 24″ deep in my extremely solid soil by using the twist tiller (combined with a small spade or shovel) where no other tool comes close. While it doesn’t work as well as seen on TV, it probably works better in your soil than in mine.

These tools are commonly used to prepare a garden or flower bed, which means digging up soil and disposing of excess.

Other common garden tools not pictured: twist tiller, spade shovel, fork, pick axe and of course water hose and nozzle ; if you see some common tools missing, please share.

Common Mason’s tools

When working with stone, rock, concrete, pavers, and bricks, common tools may include a level, rubber mallet, mining pick, chisel, hand spade and fork. Before setting off to mason, laying pavers or bricks, you must first dig out an area, lay a rock base, cover with sand and level.  Much of these tasks, too, include digging up soil and dealing with the excess. Are you sensing a pattern?

Other common tools not pictured: string, nails, stakes.

Our Urban Farm basically sits on top of a granite rock.  The top soil appears to be a mixture of native soils (caliche clay, sand and very little organic material), crushed native granite, and construction debris.  Every new task in the soil seems to include hard labor in the rock mines.  Local professional landscapers familiar with this area joke that a standard gardening tool is a jack hammer, and unfortunately, they are correct.  I personally haven’t resorted to a jack hammer, but I certainly understand why professionals tasked with completing projects efficiently would resort to a jack hammer.  This leads me to my next topic.

Working with Rocks

I thought it would be a great topic to share the trouble with my native soil, the size and amount of rocks in  my yard, the upturned construction debris, and creative ways to use this material to my benefit.  I wouldn’t be surprised to pull out a pink Cadillac from my backyard.

To ‘mine’ rocks from your yard (in order to create an urban farm) I recommend using in addition to the common mason hand tools and common garden tools discussed above, but also a 4 wheel cart (or wheelbarrow), small buck, large bucket, trash bin and multiple sizes of sifters.  See images of all three sets of common tools below.

Common garden tools

Common mason hand tools

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Common tools working with rocks


Many tools are needed to start an urban farm, to garden, to clear away land to make room for improvements.  Understanding the particulars of your task and geographic characteristics and assessing necessary tools is an important step to successfully create an Urban Farm.

Please follow us as we build our backyard urban farm with actual first-time attempts, once these initial background posts are complete.   Over the next several weeks, we will share our attempts at clearing our yard by setting up a make-shift Rock Quarry, laying brick paths, garden edges and patios, creating various raised garden beds, planting trees, fruits, vegetables, laying sprinklers and drippers, harvesting (hopefully), building simple wood furniture and structures, and lots more surprises too.  We already have a number of articles outlined and planned.  We will share details with pictures. We believe it will be very entertaining, maybe for those who know us personally, perhaps for others as well.

This site ( hopes to share common, simple, inexpensive methods to tackle various projects.  If we at BluGill Urban Farm can try and succeed, or try and fail, and fail, and fail again and keep trying until we succeed, anyone can create. We possess no prior experience or formal training how to grow crops in the desert or elsewhere for that matter.  We have no special skills or training building, masonry, carpentry.   Our articles are not intended to be step-by-step how-to do it the right way articles; only that if we can do it, anyone can. We only intend to inspire others to try.

Please feel free to contact us to share your stories.


Gill Blu

Amateur gardener at BluGill Urban Farm
Amateur urban farmer learning and sharing his experiences in the Sonoran desert of the arid Southwestern North America.

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