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Which (electric) machines/tools would you recommend for a small permaculture farm/food forest  RSS feed

 
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In the past couple of years I've sold most of my belongings and only bought something new when it's of very high-quality, durable, multifunctional and very useful/necessary. My current garden is small enough so that I haven't had to buy any electrical tools yet, I can manage with a couple of manual tools. But in the near future I'll have more or less 1 ha of land, which I want to turn into a permaculture farm/food forest. The dilemma is: do I do everything by hand, which would take a long time; or do I acquire some electrical tools that will jump start the whole project so much faster. Then there's the possibility of renting: for example rent a crane for a couple of days to make terraces and dig ponds. Looking for recommendations on which types/brands of machines to get or not get, buy or rent? I also plan on building a cob house, hopefully with clay/sand from the site itself. Should I buy a rototiller for the build, even if I plan on avoiding tilling as much as possible in the long term in the garden?
 
pollinator
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Lets see what you would need some help with

Cutting down the existing timber
Cutting down the existing brush
Making swales/berms (rent/hire)
Mowing aka chop and drop
Sowing seeds
Digging holes

The usual homeowner tools
Chainsaw, Circular saw, Drill, Air Compressor and it's list of tools (eg nail gun), weed wacker, snow blower, etc




 
Philippe Elskens
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S Bengi wrote:Lets see what you would need some help with

Cutting down the existing timber
Cutting down the existing brush
Making swales/berms (rent/hire)
Mowing aka chop and drop
Sowing seeds
Digging holes

The usual homeowner tools
Chainsaw, Circular saw, Drill, Air Compressor and it's list of tools (eg nail gun), weed wacker, snow blower, etc



Thanks for replying!
Drill I have. Chainsaw, circular saw and nail gun I'll definitely get! Snow blower not necessary (I'm in Portugal). Why  the air compressor?? Maybe I'll get a goat for removing brush :-)
 
S Bengi
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You can run alot of tools from a air compressor, esp in situation where you would rather cut a "wire" filled with air vs one with electricity.

Air Fasteners
Compressor Pumps
Drills & Screwdrivers
Grinders
Hammers
Hose Reels
Impact Wrenches
Nail Gun & Staplers
Paint
Ratchets
Riveters
Sanders
and alot more https://www.harborfreight.com/air-tools/specialty-air-tools.html?limit=40

 
Philippe Elskens
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S Bengi wrote:You can run alot of tools from a air compressor, esp in situation where you would rather cut a "wire" filled with air vs one with electricity.

Air Fasteners
Compressor Pumps
Drills & Screwdrivers
Grinders
Hammers
Hose Reels
Impact Wrenches
Nail Gun & Staplers
Paint
Ratchets
Riveters
Sanders
and alot more https://www.harborfreight.com/air-tools/specialty-air-tools.html?limit=40



Very interesting! A new world of possibilities is opening up for me :-)
 
pollinator
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Your subject title immediately made me think... "It Depends"!
Edit: And Duh! I spaced the "Electric" from your title. Ah well. Still a little valid content below. <g>

Easy thoughts for a small lot (less than 10 acres):

1) Heavy equipment = rent, probably with the operator unless you yourself are trained on that machine. Reasons: No capital expense. Share the wealth, be part of the community. Better chance to get it done fast and right and safely. Potentially more expert knowledge about your plans. No storage, maintenance, repair. Exceptions: One tractor of some shape/configuration for land over, maybe, 2 acres that is heavily worked. Maybe 5 acres would be a better tractor-size lot.

2a) Gas powered garden equipment = maybe rent. But you're the operator and you need to be able to do what  you want w/out too must waste or safety hazard. Reasons: Same as #1. Exception might be chain saws, for some people.
2b) Alternative: Hire labor and do hand work. Depending on your market, it's sometimes a very close judgment call and giving money to people as opposed to capital resonates with some. There is huge plus here regarding community relations and potential for leaning about your region and providing yourself contacts for future need. This can also spill over into borderline projects that you might consider renting heavy equipment for. Caveat- you need to make available plentiful water and a toilet.

3) Electric powered tools used more than 3-4 times a month = probably buy. But beware - batteries, although improving constantly, have a finite life span and it's not just a matter of charge cycles - they die of old age. I still use mostly corded tools for anything that require significant power because they are generally more powerful for a given size and weight and because they don't have a battery expense, they're noticeably cheaper, annnnd I can set, say, a rotohammer drill on the shelf and pick it up two years later and it "just works". That just won't happen with a battery tool.  You have to be knowledgeable about how a particular type of battery needs to be cared  for - particularly how it's charged and stored. Eg. some types of Lion (?sp?) battery should be stored at HALF charge, not full nor low.

Power = speed. That's mostly the only advantage. Often it's shorthand to say that certain work requires power, but usually what it actually boils down to is the difference in time required. After all, _somebody_ raised StoneHenge and, no, they did NOT use a crane!

But there are circumstances peculiar to each individual that will easily supersede the above rules of thumb. So. It Depends. <g>


Cheers,
Rufus
 
pollinator
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I can do a lot with cordless tools. The key is sticking to one brand / type so that one battery fits all the tools. Then multiple batteries gives you juice all day for any tool.

My battery runs:
Drill
Impact drill
Curcular saw
Reciprocating saw (tree trimming blades available)
Vacuum
Chainsaw
Grinder
Impact wrench
Vibrating tool
Router,/laminate trimmer
Jigsaw

Theres more available along with a charger that holds 4 batteries.


My system is old but still functional and i can still buy individual tools. Today theres much more available. Possibly systems that run the above tools plus weedeaters, chopsaws, moweres, air compressors, etc. Combining construction with gardening type tools(with same battery) may sway me to make a change.


 
pollinator
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I have made great use of cordless electric hedge cutters not just for doing Hedges but for cutting weeds, clearing out brambles and opening up trails in the bush. They can be used like a sickle bar mower add for almost any chop and drop operation where you want to get things done quickly.

If you have quite a bit of forest, a Long Reach pole saw is invaluable. Stihl and Husqvarna make the best ones.

Amongst lower-priced stuff, E-go is the stand out brand. I will never throw money away on tools made by Echo, Ryobi or Earthwise. The ones I've tried have been low-grade shit.
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S Bengi
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Dale  I was here thinking of you and hoping that you would drop in and give your 2 cent
 
pioneer
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Some things that are nearly indispensable for me.

Chainsaw
good pruners
high quality digging tools like those made by easydigging.com
quality wrenches, sockets, hammers, screwdrivers
something very sturdy to move material like a good wheel barrow or wagon
a good headlamp
a pickup truck
table saw - I have a small contractor type saw
chop saw

 
pollinator
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As far as wood working tools (and some lightweight garden tools go) I use 18v Makita exclusively   I've found the tools to sit nicely in that cheap but quality box and I'm a carpenter by trade so the tools get used daily. What I really like is the electronics in the batteries keep the batteries alive for years. They're extremely long lasting. Any 18v tools would be your best bet if you're looking for daily use, away from the power. Buy one more battery than you think you need and look after them (and any lithium ions [laptops, cell phones etc] by not running them empty if you can help it, and taking them off the charger when they're done, ie don't leave them cooking overnight.

Choose a contractor grade platform you like and stick with that, (dewalt, bosch, Makita) don't buy ryobi or that sort of step down, they don't last under hard use. With tools price is soon forgotten, but you notice quality daily. Having said that I won't buy festool because the price is too high for me to want to take them out in the rain and mud, If I had a workshop, I'd probably bite the price bullet and buy them or Mafel, because they are excellent.

If you don't need the portability so much then (like others have said) an expensive compressor will last forever and tools are cheap.

Sorry for rambling on, I hope you can pick something useful out of this.

 
master pollinator
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I've really been enjoying using my dad's old electric lawnmower.  I even take it home to my place to mow trails through our fields.

 
pollinator
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I always thought for small market gardeners, a 2 wheel tractor converted to an electric motor (or left with its gas engine on) would be most ideal. I have a BSC Tractor that is great, and could be swapped out to electric motor if I wished. Those things have amazing potential with all their attachments.
 
gardener
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Impact driver is my favorite tool for building things, it really does beat a drill for driving screws.
I love my battery tools but I always keep corded backup.
My sawzall is my most versatility power saw.
For a long Time  I used nothing else.
Circular saws are fast, hold their edge better and can cut a strait line more easily.

A propane/gasoline generator is what I would buy to power corded tools independently of infrastructure.
Solar is good, but propane is compact and portable and converting the generator to burning woodgas would be an option.
 
Philippe Elskens
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Some great suggestions already which I would not have thought of! Thank you guys for taking the time to reply!!

William Bronson wrote: Impact driver is my favorite tool for building things, it really does beat a drill for driving screws.
I love my battery tools but I always keep corded backup.
My sawzall is my most versatility power saw.
For a long Time  I used nothing else.
Circular saws are fast, hold their edge better and can cut a strait line more easily.

A propane/gasoline generator is what I would buy to power corded tools independently of infrastructure.
Solar is good, but propane is compact and portable and converting the generator to burning woodgas would be an option.



I plan on producing biogas on site (although I currently have 0 experience). Could I use that in a generator??
 
Travis Johnson
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Philippe Elskens wrote:I plan on producing biogas on site (although I currently have 0 experience). Could I use that in a generator??




Yes...but it would take a lot of biogas to do so.

I looked into this pretty heavily and concluded it could be done, at least with my commercial sheep farm. My plan was to divert the sheep manure from 200-250 sheep (high in methane) into the biogas digester, but also direct corn silage affluent into the biogas digester as well. (I feed my sheep corn silage). Normally that is drained off as it is considered more toxic than raw human sewerage. That would not be a linear composting fuel as it would be heavy during harvest, and then lighten as it aged in the silage bunker, only rising and falling during times of heavy rain. Still it would be worth collecting.

Obviously the sheep manure would be collected daily.

From there I calculated at 3000 watt generator could be powered 24 hours per day for supplemental electricity. That would require a liquid cooled generator, a bit tough to get at that small of a size, but surprisingly I have one kicking around, and one that is dual-fueled as well (could run on propane).

But it is very low on my priorities list to do. 3000 watts is not enough for my family of 6 for domestic power consumption, and sheep farms are very efficient, so 3000 watts is way too much on a 24 hr basis. I concluded it would be better to use the biogas as a fuel for cooking, laundry and potentially domestic hot water. Still quite the system to set up.
 
Philippe Elskens
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Travis Johnson wrote:

Philippe Elskens wrote:I plan on producing biogas on site (although I currently have 0 experience). Could I use that in a generator??




Yes...but it would take a lot of biogas to do so.

I looked into this pretty heavily and concluded it could be done, at least with my commercial sheep farm. My plan was to divert the sheep manure from 200-250 sheep (high in methane) into the biogas digester, but also direct corn silage affluent into the biogas digester as well. (I feed my sheep corn silage). Normally that is drained off as it is considered more toxic than raw human sewerage. That would not be a linear composting fuel as it would be heavy during harvest, and then lighten as it aged in the silage bunker, only rising and falling during times of heavy rain. Still it would be worth collecting.

Obviously the sheep manure would be collected daily.

From there I calculated at 3000 watt generator could be powered 24 hours per day for supplemental electricity. That would require a liquid cooled generator, a bit tough to get at that small of a size, but surprisingly I have one kicking around, and one that is dual-fueled as well (could run on propane).

But it is very low on my priorities list to do. 3000 watts is not enough for my family of 6 for domestic power consumption, and sheep farms are very efficient, so 3000 watts is way too much on a 24 hr basis. I concluded it would be better to use the biogas as a fuel for cooking, laundry and potentially domestic hot water. Still quite the system to set up.



Thanks for the detailed information! I will definitely start with a pilot biogas experiment. My main source would be used coffee grounds, of which there's plenty here in Portugal. I'd use it to grow mushrooms and afterwards put it in a biogas digester, as opposed to just composting it, which is what I currently do. Hard to get a good estimate of quantities at this point. Time will tell :-) Also, since it would have to rely on multiplication of bacteria that are already present in the digester (in your case you continuously inoculate new ones with manure), I'm not sure how much less efficient the process would be...
 
Travis Johnson
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I visited a major biogas plant here in my state (Maine) that sends power onto the grid, and the guy had 1200 dairy cows and could make 250 KW. Then he started taking in food waste destined for landfills and got the production up three times to 1000 KW. Obviously there is a lot more potential with food waste, and why I want to introduce my silage pile affluent (the juice that is squeezed out of it) because of its huge biogas making potential.

Biogas is pretty simple overall though: it is a sheeps stomach!

If it does not get to 103 degrees (f) it is not going to start breaking down the food, and in a sheep biogas is represented by burps and farts. If a person can get food before it is burped and farted out by animals and people, well that is why wasted food has so much more potential. As for the temperature, that is why a person needs a generator that is liquid cooled. There is no radiator, the same liquid that keeps the engine from dynamiting, is run back to the digester to keep it warmed up. As for the bacteria, here we have Eastern Hemlock that has naturally occurring bacteria ideal for biogas production, so that is why the tanks are partially made of Eastern Hemlock.

Forgive me for sounding silly on this, but sometimes when people can attribute one thing as being identical to something they know like a sheep's digestive system, they grasp the concept better.
 
pollinator
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Though I love my tractor, without a doubt the most useful tool on our farmstead is our cordless impact driver. We also have this in a set with the cordless drill and in tandem, they are a powerful work saver. Everything we build or restore at one point or another will call for use of the impact driver.  Brands are less important since most are manufactured by companies that are owned by the same two parent companies. But, I can't find fault with my Rigid brand. I know many also like the DeWalt brand as well. I've not personally used a Bosch, but if someone is set on a European company, that might be an option.
 
master steward
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Philippe Elskens wrote:
Why  the air compressor?? Maybe I'll get a goat for removing brush :-)



We use our air compressor a lot, mainly for inflating flat tires on our riding landmower and on our wheelbarrows (until we got no-flat tires, that is!)
 
Rufus Laggren
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> cordless

Batteries are the main concern with cordless tools. Once you get that first tool, you're more or less committed to that company for cordless tools indefinitely. Unless you want to spend extra bucks for kits with chargers and batteries from several different companies.

For hand power tools, there are 6 or so major manufacturers. Hitachi just got bought by somebody else, but they're still selling under that brand name, I believe. Then there's Makita, Dewalt, Milwaukee, Fein, Metabo, Bosch. Then Senco and Paslode for certain air tools. I forget one or two others.  They all cost more than Harbor Freight, but they work well and live long. I just retired a Milwaukee sawzall I ran for 20 years; it'll cost about $75 to rebuild it and I gave it to a really good worker I've employed for a couple years. Hopefully it'll go another 20 years. I don't know who makes Home Depot's "Rigid" brand, but it might not be hard to figure out. The tool casings don't change shape much even when rebranded. Home Depot gives a very good warranty for Rigid tools so it may be a top quality company. The difference between Harbor Freight and a major brand tool starts to show up when the tool is used hard and long. The HF tools tend to overheat, both the motors and the gears, under continuous use. Next to go is the switches and power cord connections

Another Important Tool (sort of):
The other item rarely considered but critical for any tool: The carrying case. Almost all electric tools require additional "consumables" to function. Blades, discs, bits, belts, etc. The tool is rather less useful w/out a good selection of these "extras" on hand at the time you need them. That means in order to maintain the tool in useful condition you must have those consumables available on site at the time/place you need to use the tool and _that_ requires a case to carry both the tool and it's extras.

Because of marketing practices, this is NOT a no-brainer. Many low cost deals on good tools do not include either batteries or a case. Some tools are sold with a soft case and while much better than nothing I  personally don't like them much. They don't stack easily and they don't protect what's inside well and it's difficult to find the little bits and pieces in the bottom of the bag. However, plastic molded cases often sold with the tool are often not much better because most of the space has been formed to cradle a particular tool and none is left for the essential pieces. However, many plastic cases are fairly strong (not all, though) and can be modified by cutting out much of the supporting interior.  I have found this can work fairly well. Use a "zip" tool or a jig saw with a blade broke off short or some kind of small pull saw to cut out the case plastic. Then duct or other (better) tape can be used to fence off the new spaces so little bits don't dash around and hide under the plastic forms you left.

My favorite cases are old metal ones of an appropriate size with a flat top and good latches. The crappier they look while remaining solid the better - less tempting for otherwise honest people. The flat top is so they stack, sorta (handles are a little bumpy). Even "sorta" is way better than not at all. Metal cases usually live longer and protect better than anything else and, if you select the right size, carry everything that's needed easily.

A further great enhancement is small plastic containers for the small parts you need to keep. An impact driver can use 7 or 8 different types of driver bits, different sizes of each, a chuck, drill bits, extensions, right angle adapters, socket wrench adapters, extra long pilot bits... Some driver bits are sold in very nice little containers; some are sold in really stupid useless containers. You want something that won't break when you step on it, that will close tight and stay closed and will open easily when you need what's inside and that will allow easy access to what's inside. And that will fit into your tool's case. For such a simple concept, this turns out to be a _very_ tall order. Good luck finding something and if you do, ,please share! <g>

Tool Pride:
Lose it. When you get a new tool, take a spray can and squirt all the little out of the way spots on the tool with your favorite color(s). Use the SAME color scheme for all your tools and it will make life _much_ easier if/when you work with other people who also have their own tools or when you go to help out somebody, maybe at their place. This goes for any tool you own, power tools, hand tools, ladders, shovels, chains, wheel barrows, anything. It takes a little time but it helps keep your friends your friends and makes for peace of mind.


Cheers,
Rufus
 
pollinator
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Rufus,

Home Depot’s House brand Ridgid is made by TTI, the same brand that makes Milwaukee.  I bought into the Ridgid line years ago and they have performed very well for me.  I purchased into their Gen 1 line and their current Gen 5 line has only gotten better.  They have kept the same battery fittings, meaning my gen1 and gen5 batteries are cross compatible, something that DeWalt did not do, nor do I believe Milwaukee.  I think they are a great tool for the money.  In fact, it is my opinion that these give you the most tool for the money available.

My favorite Ridgid tool is the oil pulse driver.  This is similar to an impact driver but gives twice the torque at half the noise.  Although Ridgid does not have an expansive array of specialty tools like Milwaukee and DeWalt, they cover the basics very well.  They do have a great set of lights that I think compare favorably to any other brand out there.

Eric
 
Rufus Laggren
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Thanks for the info, Eric

Good to hear HD Rigid are holding up for you. I have had one of their laminate routers for about 8 years and (aside from their stupid height adjustment which I discarded on the first day), it works well. I think you're as right as one can get about the bang/buck value of the Rigid tools I have seen.

Never heard of an "oil pulse" driver. Have to take a look next  time I'm in HD. Probably be a few years before I'm buying a driver, though. The Makita stuff I use for cordless lasts a long time.

Happy New Year!
Rufus
 
pollinator
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One handed Sawzalls are amazing. Milwaukee calls theirs a hackzall; I know Bosch has one that's near identical.

Shorter stroke than the standard type so not as good on really beefy stuff, but so versatile. Pruning, metal pipe, plastic pipe, use it like a big jigsaw, cut nails that you can't access with a standard sawzall, and all sorts of stuff where you need the other hand to brace the thing you're cutting...


I would agree that Ridgid is a good value for a midrange
tool. I see them on a lot of farms and rarely hear a complaint. They have a pretty decent lineup these days.


I use both Milwaukee and Dewalt..

If I was starting again I'd skip Dewalt; their flexvolt is genius, but they used crap cells n the batteries. One battery failed entirely just out of warranty, and runtime on all the 6ah cells decreased far faster than it should; I believe this because the voltage is allowed to drop too far before shutoff, ruining the cells for an extra 2 minutes runtime in the reviews.

The flexvolt blower is shit, the grinder died after super light use and took 3 months for warranty replacement, and both the oiler and tensioner on the chainsaw have gone dodgy after a few months use. The impact wrench and cutoff tool are fine but no better than milwaukee.

The lights are awful(cheap blue-tint LEDs) compared to Milwaukee. The drill I have is geared too high on low, terrible on steel.

In fact the only dewalt tool I own that is hands down amazing is the flexvolt chop saw, which is hands down superior to the other cordless options.

All my milwaukee tools are good. No issues at all except an occasionally dodgy trigger on a drill that was used hard before I bought it.
 
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Portugal:  solar panels -> charge batteries,  -> cordless tools.

i cleared 1/3 ha  of douglas fir with a 14in  40volt ryobi chainsaw.  kept two batteries charging while,i used the third and rotated them.  

my tool philosophy:  buy the cheapest first,  then you'll know what you want, what breaks and how you use it, and then yoi know the best one to buy for your needs whe  the cheapest breaks.  That sounds wasteful and expensive,  but theres nothing more expensive then buying a top of the line product that sits unused once you complete the one project that needed it,  or an expensive product you break,from inexperience.   Ryobi 40v makes a wire-spinning weed trimmer and a small,tiller.  for an hectare thats probably enough.  

circular saw, chainsaw, weed trimmer, impact driver, drill,  reciprocating saw.  I agree with the previous posters:   hire operators for heavy equipment,  hire locals for big manual jobs.  my soil is rocky,  hand,digging is actually easier/faster than using all but the strongest soil-augers.  

Hand diging is also cheaper, because when the auger slides 2m and snaps the bit.... that is expensive!
 
Eric Hanson
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Philippe,

In regards to your original post, I suspect that you don’t absolutely need, but would definitely benefit from some high quality power tools.  And by power tools, I mean everything from electric drills up to a subcompact tractor.  Admittedly, it will be difficult to purchase all of these up front, but I will try to walk you through what I would do if I were in your position.

First, I would invest in some high quality hand gardening tools.  Easy Digging has already been mentioned here and I can personally attest to their high quality and the ease of use compared to other, cheaper big box tools.  I can also recommend Prohoe and Rogue Hoe tools.  If possible, I get fiberglass handles, but opinions vary.

You mentioned that you would don’t want to do a lot of tilling.  Does this mean you want to till once to break ground and amend soil?  If so then I would recommend NOT buying a tiller and renting instead.  Also, is your entire ha going to be gardens/orchards/food producing land?  If so, I would suggest going with raised bed gardens.  This will really help you be productive on a small plot of land and eliminate tilling altogether.

You may want to consider buying a 2 wheel tractor.  These are high quality tools, have many attachments, and will last a lifetime if you do the occasional maintenance.  For attachments you might want a mower, a trailer and a sulky (seat).  BCS has a great lineup.  You may possibly want a rotary plow that can help you make raised beds, but again, you have to decide.

Lastly and most expensive is the subcompact tractor.  These will basically run everything a 2 wheel tractor will plus operate a front end loader.  I own a small tractor myself and the loader is by far and away the most useful attachment.  It becomes a sort of power wheelbarrow, a digging attachment, I can lift objects I could never lift by hand and the list never ends.  These tractors are very maneuverable and might just be the most useful tool on your plot of land.  It will also be the most expensive.

You are in Portugal, so I would think that solar would be a good option, but batteries can be an expensive pain.  I don’t know if you have grass, but if you do you will have to manage that, either with mower or animal.  E-go makes a nice line of battery powered outdoor powerful equipment..

If this were me and I was on a tight budget, I would start with good quality hand tools, then work my way up to electrical tools and finally think seriously about a 2 wheel tractor if you could afford one.  I used to be big on tilling, but have since abandoned the idea.  If you need to till, I would rent one and till once.  Save yourself the expense and storage space.  If you are going to build mounds, maybe rent to do it once, but this is where a tractor with front end loader really shines.  Also, I think that mounds are going to need some maintenance.  Finally, are there any trees/bushes that need clearing?  If so you will likely need a chainsaw and/or a brush trimmer.  These can be either gas or electric, but gas will give you more power and better runtime, but obviously need gas.

Last point:  resist the temptation to buy cheap.  Few things are as frustrating as having tools that break.  As has already been mentioned, you will forget about price, but you will remember quality every time you use the tool.  

Everything I have mentioned here are merely suggestions, you do what you think is right and what your budget allows.

Best of luck and please keep us informed,

Eric
 
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