How to Till the Land: Rototiller Advice, Tips and Tricks

Monte Burch shares his rototiller advice, tips and tricks to till the land with maximum efficiency.

| March/April 1975

  • 032-088-01
    How to maximize efficiency and use from a tiller, including advice, tips and tricks.

  • 032-088-01

My wife and I bought an 85-acre Ozark hill farm a while back, and the first thing we did was to purchase a good tiller … a heavy duty, six-horsepower Troy-Bilt to till the land with the power and ruggedness such a machine needs to stand up to the stony soil on our rockpile of a mountain. Once the tiller had finished its normal job of turning over the abandoned, weed-infested gardens on our homestead, I began to try it on all sorts of other chores and found that it handled them extremely well. Some of those uses are rather unusual and might interest MOTHER EARTH NEWS gardening friends.

Advice, Tips and Tricks: How to Till the Land

First of all, there was the manure problem. We had inherited a whole barnful along with the farm and we wanted to move all that fertilizer out to our gardens. (That's right, gardens. Because of the rocky ground on our hilltop, we ended up with four patches … each small but suitable for tilling and planting.) The barn, however, had been abandoned for several years and the contents were as dry and hard as wood. When I tried breaking up the layers with a pick, the point just bounced off the solid sheets.

Then I got a brainstorm. I moved the tiller into the barn, set it to cut fairly shallow and started the engine. It worked! The vigorous digging action broke the tough slabs of manure into small chunks which my wife and I shoveled onto a wheelbarrow and fed to our hungry soil. (Incidentally, this sort of tilling job isn't for the weak. I had to keep a strong hold on the handlebars and be ready to snap the machine out of gear quickly if it bounced into the side of the barn.)

After this success, I got brave and tried another experiment. The rabbits were eating the tips off my wife's pea plants and we wanted to fence off that section of the garden. We had lots of hedge (Osage orange) to use as posts, but there was just no way I could dig a hole in the hard-baked clay soil. No way, that is, until I had my bright idea. I placed the tiller where I wanted a posthole dug and left it out of gear, in free-roll position. I then set the depth regulator on the machine at its deepest position and let the tines scrabble away at the spot. The tiller very rapidly wallowed out the beginnings of a posthole through what seemed like millions of stones and saved me a great deal of hard shoveling. The trick worked so well, in fact, that I used it again later to excavate "basket-sized" holes for the 12 fruit trees my wife had ordered. (We'd made a bargain: I'd dig and she'd do the planting. Thanks to the tiller, my job turned out to be the easy one.)

The versatile tiller becomes even more so if you have a few accessories handy: One great addition is the furrowing attachment, which is generally used to cut rows for corn, tomatoes, potatoes, etc. … but will also dig drainage and irrigation ditches, open up wet spots for more rapid drying and form compost trenches alongside crops.

In addition, the furrower can help you terrace a hillside garden. The makers of the Troy-Bilt advise tilling up and down a slope as a rule, rather than across. If you need to work in the other direction when terracing or cultivating, however, always begin at the top and overlap each newly tilled section with the uphill wheel in the soft, turned soil.

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