Choosing The Best Garden Tiller

The best garden tiller for your needs will be determined by three things; the type of soil that you have, the size of the area you need tilled, and, your budget. Whether you have a small vegetable garden or a large farm, these three things are the likely criteria for finding the right piece of tilling equipment.

Choosing The Best Garden Tiller

Garden tillers are powerful machines that dig up soil using rotating metal blades, called tines. Tillers come in many forms; gas or electic, front or rear tined, and, can be propelled by the wheels or the tines. Garden tillers are usually used to both plow and harrow the soil. In simple terms, 'plowing' digs up and overturns the soil, while 'harrowing' breaks down and smoothes the soil for planting.

Types of Garden Tillers

Because tilling is often the most labor-intensive part of growing any crop, it is important to find the best garden tiller for you; one that is durable, comfortable to hold, and the right size for your needs. Garden tillers can be put into three basic groups:

Mini Tiller (Cultivator)

Mini tillers are often called cultivators, and work best in loose soil that is free of rocks. This type of garden tiller is the easiest to control due to the smaller size, which also makes them easier to store. They often come without the need for wheels. Mini tillers can be used to cultivate shallowly between planted rows, or small beds. This smaller sized machine is the best garden tiller for a person without the upper-body strength to control larger tillers. A mini tiller is recommended for gardens that are sized less than 1000 sq ft. The width of these tillers usually ranges from 6-9 inches.

Front Tine Tiller

Front tine tillers are mid-sized machines that are recommended for gardens that are 1000 - 5000 sq ft in size and have moderately loose soil. These garden tillers have forward-rotating tines located at the front of the machine. The forward-rotation of the tines pulls the tiller forward through the soil. Rear-mounted wheels allow the operator a leverage point to pry the tines in and out of the dirt. Be aware that a front tine tiller will tend to jump to the surface and skip over compacted soils. Tillers with engines placed further forward tend to help keep the tines in the ground.

Rear Tine Tiller

Due to their larger size and power, a rear tine tiller is the best garden tiller for areas larger than 5000 sq ft, with soil that is rocky and/or compacted. Ensure you have ample space to maneuver this tiller, as it will need more room to turn. These machines have front-mounted wheels that propel the tiller through the dirt, while the tines that are located in the rear. Standard-rotating tines (SRT) rotate in the same direction as the wheels, while counter-rotating tines (CRT) will rotate in the opposite direction. Rear tine tillers can be purchased with either of these rotations, and some will allow both. Counter-rotating tines are designed to dig up harder ground, but can be harder to manage. Since the counter-rotating tines pull opposite the pull of the wheels, the tiller is easier to get stuck.

Which Type is the Best Garden Tiller For You?

The following table provides an overview of the guidelines for purchasing the best garden tiller to fit the area you need tilled, your soil, and, your budget. These are guidelines only.


Type
Relative Size
Your Soil
Area To Be Tilled
Approximate Budget
Mini Tillersmall garden tillersloose, rock-free, small or narrow spaces< 1000 sq ft< $350
Front Tine Tillermid-sized garden tillersloosely packed, moderately rock-free1000-5000 sq ft$350-$800
Rear Tine Tillerlarge garden tillerscompacted, rocky, or native (untilled) ground> 5000 sq ft$800-$2600


How to Use a Garden Tiller

Reading and following the manufacturer's instructions is the most important step of operating any piece of machinery. But there are some general guidelines for operating and maintaining garden tillers.

How To Use A Garden Tiller

Safety

Follow the manufacturer's instructions. Safety glasses, hearing protection, gloves, long pants, and steel-toed boots are recommended.

The Soil and Weeds

Do not till soil that is completely dry or wet. Your soil should be lightly moist for tilling to be effective. If you have tall weeds in the area that will be tilled, mow it first so that the long stems will not tangle in the tines...they can be very hard to remove from the tines later!

Visual Inspection, Checkout and Tine Depth

Visually inspect the tiller for any gas or oil leaks, and ensure that all parts and levers are in working order. Check the oil and gas levels to ensure that they are topped up and that the air filter is clean. Inspect the tines to ensure that they rotate freely, are not tangled with weeds, and are all securely attached.

Set the tines to the depth that you require. Two passes over the soil are usually recommended. If you have compacted soil, set the tine depth for your first pass to be shallow enough to be effective (you will find this depth as you try tilling - triall and error). The second pass is at the full desired depth, and is perpendicular to the first pass.

Starting Garden Tillers

Many small engines such as those used on tilling machines have a choke, throttle, and pull cord to start. Here are the general guidelines to start a garden tiller.

How to Start a Garden Tiller - Choke

  1. Turn the fuel on if there is an on/off fuel switch.
  2. Set the choke to the on (choked) position.
  3. Pull the start/pull cord quickly and firmly (Or press the start button if your tiller has an electric start). Be careful not to pull the cord out so that it reaches its end. This can sometimes cause the fly-wheel to jam. If this happens, you can often gently tap the fly-wheel housing with a hammer. This is sometimes enough to retract the cord. If this does not work, you may need to take it apart (if you are handy), or take your garden tiller to your local small equipment shop.
  4. How to Start a Garden Tiller - Pullcord
  5. Continue pulling the start cord until the engine sputters. At this point, move the choke to the half-way position.
  6. As soon as the engine starts, begin to move the choke to the off (normal operation/run) position. If the engine continues to run poorly, or immediately shuts off, you may need to leave the choke on a little longer until the engine can run without the choke on.
  7. Turn the throttle to the desired position once operating.


Engaging and Operation Of The Tines

How to Use a Garden Tiller - Tines Once the engine has been started, is warm, and you are ready to till, slowly engage the tines (often a lever on the handle). Hold the tiller firmly or it will "walk" away on you. Start slowly and get a feel for your garden tiller and soil. Allow the tines to dig into the soil to the desired depth and pull itself slowly forward. Make parallel passes until your area has been tilled completely.

For the second pass, turn off your tiller and set the tine depth to the full desired depth. Mow restart the tilling machine and make another pass over your garden that is perpendicular to the first.

Cleanup and Maintenance

Garden tillers can experience a lot of wear and tear. Wash the tiller carefully after use, and check for any loose or broken parts. Replace the oil and air filter when and how the manufacturer suggests. If storing for the season, it is recommended to drain the fuel from the tank. Regular maintenance is the best garden tiller practice.

Warning!

The best garden tiller advice we can you - be careful! Be careful on slopes and rough ground. If you loose control of the tiller, stop tilling and regroup. Trying to wrestle an out of control garden tiller can lead to fatigue and injury. Above all, try to find the best garden tiller for you and your job.

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