Rotary Tiller Roundup

Turning the soil has never been so satisfying or easy.

| March/April 2008

Rotary Tiller Roundup
Turning the soil has never been so satisfying or easy.
By Todd Kaho

Discovering a mechanical advantage has always been the rural landowner’s ally, and when it comes to stirring up the soil to prepare a seed bed or to kill a few weeds, we have it made with the rotary tiller. This tool, which comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, is perfect for small-scale soil work, where land plows, harrows and disc-cultivators simply won’t fit.

A rotary tiller is a motorized or Power Take Off (PTO) driven cultivator that utilizes spinning tines (specially designed blades) to dig down in the earth, lift the soil and turn it over. The tines are generally mounted on a horizontal shaft that’s powered through a transmission of some sort to provide the torque required to stir the toughest topsoil. Tiller tine design varies greatly from one machine to the next. Some are better suited for fine work in smaller beds, while others are engineered to pulverize the earth in 6-foot-wide swaths.

Great labor-saving device though it is, the rotary tiller offers the added benefit of soil aeration, and its churning blades work well to combine additional organic matter like compost or manure into the soil. It can also be used to mix several different soil amendments before application to the garden. Some folks also use tillers to make their own potting mixtures.

From the smallest compact tillers ideal for working around plant rows and in tight spaces to true commercial-grade PTO-driven heavyweights that attach to a three-point hitch of a tractor, an available model suits any application. You can even purchase a small tiller head that attaches to the quick-connect fitting on popular brands of string trimmers.

Rotary tillers come in a broad range of configurations so you should consider your needs and terrain before shopping. Larger, more elaborate rear-tine rotary tillers, like the Troy-Bilt lineup, are generally self-propelled and offer a reverse gear to allow maneuvering in tight spaces. Simpler front- and mid-tine models are often pulled along by the turning blades themselves. Some models employ an adjustable drag stake or secondary tine that digs into the ground behind the rotating blades to help hold the unit back. Very lightweight units, like the highly regarded Mantis Tiller, are easy to control with an ergonomic handlebar design.

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