So you think you need (or want) a tiller? Tillers come in lots of types and sizes; you’ll have to wade through a bit of information to zero in on the one for you. This article will not tell you what to buy, rather, what to consider before buying. After researching online, reading gardening books, and consulting lots of gardening friends who have or have used tillers, here a few ideas to consider as you look at tillers.
How big is your garden? Garden size helps determine tiller size. This is the easiest place to start. According to manufacturer guidelines, a mini tiller can work small gardens of 1500 square feet or less, medium sized gardens can be worked with a 5 to 6 horsepower tiller, and anything larger needs at least a 6 horsepower machine. The small ones range in price from $200 to $350; the mediums $500 to $800; and the big tillers will cost several thousand. If you need one of those monster machines, you’re in a category different from most of the Master Gardeners I’ve talked with. Most of them have small gardens, so one of the small tillers — or at most, one of the small to mediums — will work well for them. Talk with your friends who have a tiller and ask about the pros and cons of the model they have.
Think about the character of your garden soil. Be sure first to do that very important garden soil test, and you’ll know what amendments you need to add to your soil. Your county agent has instructions for taking a soil sample, and once you’ve collected it, the agent’s office – for a very reasonable fee – will send it to the lab. Then in about ten days, you’ll receive a detailed analysis of your soil and what it needs. Do you have virgin soil, rocky soil, or compacted clay? And are you preparing to plant for the first time? If yes, the soil probably needs deep tilling, and you’ll want to work in the recommended compost and other amendments. That initial preparation will require a bigger tiller than you need on a regular basis. It is best to get a friend to help or hire someone for a one time deep till in the spring or fall. Once your soil is improved, a small tiller will serve you well.
Hand-in-hand with considering the size and strength of the tiller is considering the size and strength of the user! Most of the women I asked want a machine they can manage on their own – carry it, crank it, guide and turn it, and store it. Even the manly gardeners want to be smart about the right tool for the job. It matters not to a happy gardener if the owners of the big-dog machines joke about a toy-sized tiller. Even in the mini tiller category, there are differences in type, size, weight, and ease of starting. Tillers are available with 2-stroke or 4-stroke engines. With a 2-stroke engine, you have to mix the gas and oil; with a 4-stroke engine, you just add straight gas. A gardener friend, who has a Honda 4-stroke GX25 model FG110, said the 4-stroke engine is quieter and less stinky than a 2-stroke. Plus, she said that model was light enough for her to manage but “not prissy,” and it handles rocky soil very well. Another petite gardener has a Mantis. It weighs 20 pounds; she can crank it and carry it, and it turns easily. That issue of turning came up over and over. If a tiller is hard to turn, you’ll dig up areas you didn’t intend to disturb. The Mantis owner also said the depth blades were simple and easy to change — no tools required. With some practice at the beginning of each season, she can control a bit of “bucking and jumping” over rocky soil. In addition to the 2- and 4-stroke engines, there are also electric powered tillers; two manufacturers offer electric mini tillers. Obviously, you have to consider the distance from the power source to the area to be tilled. The advantages are that they are quiet, not smelly, and very easy to start. The point of all this is that if you get a tiller too big, too heavy, hard to control, or too hard to start, you will not use it. It will be relegated to the gardening gadget graveyard in the shed.
It goes without saying that whatever you decide, follow the manufacturer’s advice about maintenance. With good care, your tool will give you years of service.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the UGA Extension website, www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee ; or contact UGA Extension in Cherokee County, 1130 Bluffs Parkway, Suite G49, Canton, GA, 30114, 770-721-7803. The Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Follow Cherokee County Master Gardeners on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cherokeemastergardeners for gardening tips as well as upcoming seminars.