Those who follow Your Gardening Friend on Facebook, you know we purchased a rototiller about two months ago. Prior to that, we had been renting or borrowing.
When we needed to use a rototiller, we’d spend 2.5 hours hooking up the trailer, driving to the rental location, loading the tiller onto the trailer, driving back home, unloading the tiller, loading it back onto the trailer, driving it back to the rental location, unloading it again, driving back home, and unhooking the trailer. The 2.5 hours don’t even take into account the time to TILL the ground!
Now that we own a rototiller, when I need to till, I walk up to the barn, roll the tiller out, and till. When I’m done, I roll it back into the barn. What a time-saving difference!
As I add more organic matter and natural soil conditioners to this particular patch of land, in time, it won’t need to be tilled each spring.
I realize there are MANY ways to garden that do NOT involve the use of a rototiller, but for those who prefer to use a rototiller, here are a few things to consider when making a rototiller purchase (in case you’re currently renting or borrowing like I was).
I’ll cover five (5) main points:
- HP and CC
- 2-Stroke vs. 4-Stroke Engines
- Tillers vs. Cultivators
- Rear Tines vs. Front Tines
HP and CC
hp = horse power
cc = cubic centimeters (a volume measurement)
There’s not a lot to say about this except the larger the number is the more powerful the engine.
2-Stroke vs. 4-Stroke Engines
While John was explaining to me what mechanically goes on in 2-stroke and 4-stroke engines (sometimes referred to as 2-cycle or 4-cycle engines), he realized his explanation, while quite accurate, was probably a bit more than someone needs to know to simply till their garden. Here’s his revised explanation.
For the SAME horsepower,
2-stroke engines …
- are lighter (weigh less), but
- oil has to be mixed with the gasoline,
- exhaust is somewhat smoky (an irritant and pollution factor),
- spark plugs are sometimes prone to fouling, and
- have a shorter life.
- garden cultivators
- leaf blowers
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
4-stroke engines …
- are heavier (weigh more), but
- oil does not need to be mixed with the gasoline,
- burn cleaner (less pollution),
- require less maintenance, and
- have a longer life.
Mixing the oil and gas for a 2-stroke engine isn’t a big or complicated task, but it’s just one more thing to do. Some 2-stroke engines have a separate reservoir for the oil, and the engine does all the mixing.
All of the 2-stroke engine examples I gave except for garden cultivators involve machines that have to be used while the operator carries them.
We live sort of in a forest, so I spend hours and hours blowing leaves in the fall. Each time I go out to blow leaves I probably spend 30 minutes to an hour carrying the leaf blower around with me. Because of this, I’m very appreciative of light weight 2-stroke engines. The same would be true for someone climbing trees with a chainsaw.
Tillers vs. Cultivators
Tillers are used to break up hard ground. They’re usually more powerful than cultivators, their tines are larger and stronger, and they till deeper.
Cultivators are used throughout the growing season (after the initial use of the tiller) to break up soil, and weed in between garden rows. (There are easier ways to deal with weeds, but this is an option.) Their tines are smaller, sharp, and the metal is thinner than those on tillers.
Tillers are also wider than cultivators. Because of this, tillers can cover more ground with each row of tilling.
Rear Tines vs. Front Tines
There are three types of rototillers:
- rear-tined tillers (tines in rear and engine-driven wheels in front),
- front-tined tillers (tines in front and drag-along wheels in back), and
- tow-behind tillers (hook up to the back of a lawnmower), but not discussed elsewhere in this post.
Generally speaking, rear-tined tillers are …
- much easier to operate but
- more expensive.
Generally speaking, front-tined tillers are …
- more challenging to operate but
- less expensive.
We’ve always rented rear-tined tillers, but we decided to purchase a front-tined tiller.
I won’t lie to ya. The rear-tined tillers are easier on the human body. You can almost bark a command to them, “Dirt Dog (the tiller’s name), go till the garden, and, viola, you have a tilled garden.” They do ALL the work aside from VERY minimal stearing guidance.
Rear tines come in one of three types: standard rotating tines, counter rotating tines, or dual rotating tines. Standard rotating tines rotate forward (in the same direction as the wheels). Counter rotating tines rotate backwards (in the opposite direction as the wheels). Dual rotating tines can be set to operate as standard rotating or counter rotating tines.
I think the counter rotating tines combined with the heavy-duty (heavy-duty on most, but not all), engine-driven wheels are what make rear-tined tillers so easy to operate.
Front tines move in only one direction, forward. With the tines in front, moving only in one direction (forward), and the drag-along wheels having no engine power transferred to them, the tiller gets a little rambuctious to get-up-and-go. The tines pull the unit forward, sometimes before the ground has been tilled at all.
However, if you’ll recall, I mentioned there’s a little trick to getting this puppy to work well. The hardest part is starting each row. Once you get the row started it’s fairly easy. What’s the trick, you ask? Keep the tiller stationary – something it does NOT want to do – until it tills itself into the ground in a little rut. Then, the rest is easy (well, sort of). Just keep the tiller in the little trench you just created, and let it etch away at the wall of dirt in front of it. Doing this makes a HUGE difference – HUGE!
(There’s a depth spike in the back to set the depth of the tines, and it probably also works to drag the unit a bit, although I’ve not used it for that purpose.)
I’ll warn ya. At times, the tiller will try and hop out of its little trench in an effort to get up and GO! This is when it gets a little comical. The tiller will hop and bounce. It always reminds me of … have you ever seen a commercial or snipet of a movie where some teenagers have an old souped up, low-rider, muscle car with the crazy [bouncing] hydraulics? The car will literally bounce up and down 6-12 inches. On those occasions where our tiller bounces, it always reminds me of a car like that.
I did a little research on the prices of tillers and cultivators. Here’s what you can expect to pay.
Rear-tined tillers range from $310 – $2,600.
Front-tined tillers range from $300 – $1,350.
Cultivators range from $100 – $630. Some of them are electric.
Tillers vs. Goats
With the expensive prices of a new rear-tined tiller, I chose to go with the more economical front-tined tiller. You see, I was sort of dipping into my goat fund (money for a couple goats, any additional fencing needed, and goat housing) to purchase a tiller. Owning goats (Lord willing someday soon) is more important to me than owning the perfect tiller (approx. $850) that will be used, at most, a few times a year. Instead, we spent $350 for Dirt Dog. A comparable rear-tined tiller to what we have would probably cost around $650.