Monday, January 24, 2011

Choosing A Garden Tiller

I'm trying to get ready for my spring garden and one item that is on the top of my wish list is some type of cultivator or tiller. As the garden has expanded, I usually break up the soil with a larger gas powered rotary tiller that I borrow from a friend, but I don't always plant the same day and so often need to go back with something smaller to get rows ready for planting. Later in the season, I need to loosen just a bit of the soil between rows or plantings in order to reseed for staggered crops or to add in a new items as the weather changes and the soil warms up. I don't want to disturb layers of dirt, just enough to break up the ground. 

And I need help from fellow homesteaders that garden...

Photo Credit: bent6543

The question is... what kind of tiller should I purchase?

Most people immediately opt for a gas-powered tiller. My friend who has a small organic farm uses the Honda FG110. While she's a bit more petite than I am, she's still able to maneuver it without help from her husband - something that is a must for me. It does almost all the work which is the major benefit, but on the negative side, it uses gas, is subject to breaking down, will bounce on hard ground, has a limited life, and it might not work in really tight spaces. So that's one option.

Lehman's, who has served the Amish for years with their non-electric catalog of items, has a Rotary Cultivator that's received great reviews (one reviewer even commented that it's as easy to push as a grocery cart if properly set). And since the Amish are famous for their gardens as well as their quality tools, I'd say it might be a serious option. Besides being well built, this cultivator will hoe, lightly aerate, and till. At 11" wide, it will work in all but the tightest spots and since I would have more control over it, I think it might work for my some of needs. But, it won't furrow or hill; that's the negative for this option.  I'd would certainly like to hear from anyone who has used this!

Next, there is the Valley Oak or Glaser Wheel Hoe, both modeled after the original Planet Jr. Wheel Hoe. One is swiss made, the other American, but both are similar. These do not have a motor either and require human muscle power, but in their favor is the fact that each has options for different attachments for furrowing, cultivating, and hoeing. The Glaser also has a seeder that can be attached - all for a price! And one hefty price at that! I'm amazed that a non-motorized too can run $300-400 without the additional attachments. Obviously, I would have to make this purchase over several seasons, but if I'm going to do this, I really want to know from readers that it's worth the investment. I should also mention that the Valley Oak has a steel wheel option which is nice because a tire wheel could easily go flat. Nice while it works but a pain when it won't.

After a little research, I've found a possible alternative to the Valley Oak and Glaser Wheel Hoe, The Hoss Wheel Hoe, which runs closer to $160 for a single wheel or $200 for a double wheel. I think I'm leaning toward the double wheel because it stabilizes the hoe and you can actually go right over a row of seedlings with the plants in the middle until they are about 6" high. Attachments only run around $40 making it a more affordable option. There are also handle options which you may wish to consider - the curved wheel plow type or the pistol grip (tell me your opinion on these if you have one!). Planet Whizbang has a nice essay on this subject and tells you how to build your own, but time is of the essence and even the "kit" costs about the same as the Hoss if you purchase everything you need, including handles. So that being said, I think I'd stick with the Hoss.

Apparently, Planet Jr. is now The New Planet Jr. and can be purchased from Jim and Linda Brown. I see very little difference between this product and the Hoss, so it would just be a matter of preference, price, and parts. But even these factors are so similar, it's a toss up. 

Finally, there is the "hand tools" option, like the Broadfork. Developed years ago in Europe, Eliot Coleman has utilized this tool for years in his own garden and Johnny's Select Seeds is now carrying it in their catalog. I really like that I would get a gentle workout while using the Broadfork, but it shouldn't be so difficult as to wear me out! It aerates the soil without bringing weed seeds to the surface, however, I'd still need some type of hiller or hoe to make the furrows for actually planting the seeds. I really like the Broadfork, but it too is pricy and just one of several tools that I would need. This short video demonstrates it in action and gives more of it's benefits for those interested.

So, there you have it... tools I've researched for the job to date. I'm sure there are other options out there and I'd love to hear what they are, how you are using it, and what you like or don't like about it. And, if you are using one of the options I've mentioned, tell me what you think; give me the scoop that I don't know. I need to make a purchase soon, so weigh in with your thoughts! 


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