What to Look for When Buying a Tiller

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Thinking of buying a tiller? Here’s how to choose the right one for your homestead’s needs…

If you have a large garden – which many homesteaders do – preparing your entire garden with a digging fork can be overwhelming or impossible. There are a number of no-till methods that some gardeners prefer, but if you are establishing a new garden, or if you have compacted or clay soil, you will likely need a tiller to help loosen the soil, break up clods, and create a hospitable environment for your crops to grow in.

There are many different options when it comes to choosing a tiller, and the fall months provide a great opportunity to get a good deal – plus, it’s a great time to break ground and prepare your garden for spring planting or cover crops for the winter.

Make sure you are familiar with the different options that are available, and decide what you need in advance before you head out to buy one. Knowing the basics will make the whole process a lot less confusing and stressful!

Types of Tillers:

Cultivator: These mini-tillers are narrow enough to pass between rows of vegetables to “cultivate” the weeds that emerge after a crop is planted—meaning dig them out—without disturbing the roots of the crop. Besides removing weeds, cultivators are good at loosening the surface of the soil and mixing in compost in preparation for planting. They are not the tool, however, for tilling up hard earth that has never been tilled before.

  • Garden Size: <500 square feet
  • Tilling Width: 6”-16”
  • Tilling Depth: 3”-6”
  • Price: $100-$300

Front-Tine Tiller: These light-duty tillers, in which the tines (the blades that churn up the earth) are at the front of the machine, are larger and more powerful than cultivators. They are an affordable, all-purpose option for medium-sized gardens. The turning tines help to propel the machine forward, but it takes a fair amount of upper body strength to operate them, and they are tiring to use for long periods or in soil that is hard, rocky, or full of roots.

  • Garden Size: 500-5,000 square feet
  • Tilling Width: 12”-24”
  • Tilling Depth: 6”-8”
  • Price: $300-$600

Rear-Tine Tiller: These heavy-duty tillers have blades at the back and wheels at the front. More importantly, the wheels are typically powered by the engine, so they are easier to operate for long periods compared to front-tine tillers. On the other hand, the machines themselves are much heavier and larger, so it still takes plenty of strength to maneuver them. These tillers are the best option for breaking ground in heavy clay soil that has never been tilled before, or where the soil is full of roots and rocks. High-end rear-tine tillers, while pricey, are still cheaper than a tractor, so they are often employed by small sale market gardeners whose plot (and income) are not big enough to justify a larger investment. Gardeners with small plots often rent a rear-tine tiller to work the ground for the first time, and then buy a cheaper front-tine tiller to maintain friable soil on an annual basis.

  • Garden Size: 5,000-10,000 square feet
  • Tilling Width: 16”-36”
  • Tilling Depth: 8”-10”
  • Price: $600-$6,000

Mid-Tine Tiller: These are a variation of front-tine tillers where the tines are directly under the engine. The weight of the engine helps push the tines into the earth, while widely-spaced wheels on either side provide added stability. Mid-tine tillers are used for the same purposes as front-tine models, but they require significantly less strength to operate.

  • Garden Size: 500-5,000 square feet
  • Tilling Width: 12”-24”
  • Tilling Depth: 6”-8”
  • Price: $400-$800
Read more about tiller features at ModernFarmer.com


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