How a Hand Tiller Works and Why You Need One

Gardens need tools like a hand tiller in order to thrive, but not everyone actually understands what it is and why they even need one.

What makes a hand tiller necessary? To begin with, tilling is a practice that is meant to make the ground softer right before you plant, which then makes it easy for seeds or seedlings to grow. A hand tiller simply makes the job easier without needing a machine for the task. On the other hand, it isn’t the only option for this task.

Tilling is a part of gardening that too many people overlook at their own peril, especially those that are just starting out and have yet to grapple with the basics.

Why Tilling is Important

If you were to ask the reason why tilling was so important to a farmer, they would probably go through a few more than you really need if you are just a casual gardener. To put a finer point to the discussion, though, we are just going to focus on the most pertinent. These will basically pertain to its:

·         Function

·         Features

·         Potential

·         Path to improvements

Since you are unlikely to till acres of land any time soon, focusing only on those areas should be enough to help you cultivate plants in a reasonably well manner. With that being the case, let’s take a look at some of the most important reasons why you need to till your soil:

Loosening the soilSoil can get compacted over the years, thus requiring the necessity of loosening it to not only allow for the improved circulation of air, which is important to plants but also to break up tougher soils like clay
Bringing healthier soil upWhile it is not always the case everywhere, there the soil layers that are deeper underneath are often healthier than those up top, and tilling helps bring those soil layers up
Spreading nutrients aroundDuring the fall, leaves and branches fall to the ground and by spring, those would become mulch, which tilling can spread for more nutrients on top of mulch you made and fertilizer
Cultivating poor plots of landSome plots of land are poor due to the fact that the top layer of the soil has become dry and dead, but the bottom can still support life if cultivated properly
Making it easier to plantIt is undeniably easier to plant your seedlings or seeds in soil that has been loosened by tilling since you basically just need to move dirt around instead of wrestling with it
Reviving tired soilThe earth can get tired too after supporting life for too long, which is why it is a good idea to till it so that the top can switch places with the bottom and revive the sucker
Preparing for switching plantsWhen you are planning on switching plants for your garden or vegetable patch, it is best to till to prepare the soil for the shift

Naturally, bigger projects come with bigger reasons for needing a tiller and there are times when tillers need to be used in conjunction with other tools to achieve those purposes. This will be discussed in more detail later. For now, though, we can just focus on the items that are included in the table above to keep things simple.

Soil Loosening – As the years pass, soil becomes more solid and compact, which means that it becomes denser and more difficult to penetrate. This is an issue for plants since they would obviously thrive better in soil where their roots won’t have to be jacked up just to make it an inch down. However, this is just the start of the issue.

You will have to think about things like air circulation since compact soil does not provide the best environment for air to move around. A lot of people might not even think about that aspect since air circulation in dirt is not exactly the most obvious point of concern when talking about gardening. However, this is simply the fact of the matter.

In order for plants to thrive, there needs to be a certain level of air circulation in the ground, which will allow all kinds of nutrients to be deposited and for plants to absorbs such things as nitrogen. If the ground is too compact, those will be trapped and the plants will not be able to reach them as easily.

Some soils also naturally need to be loosened as par for the course like those that are made up of clay. Depending on how much of the sticky, lumpy earth is in the ground, you might need to resort to more drastic measures like adding more soil and mulch. If that is the case, you will need to till the soil anyway.

Bringing Healthy Soil Up – Another great feature of tilling is how it brings up soil from deeper underground to the surface, which is necessary for a whole host of reasons. The biggest of them is simply extending the use of the plot of land that you are growing your plants in. This will make the soil healthier for longer.

The enterprise relies on the fact that no matter how healthy the soil on the surface may be, it is almost always the case that the soil that can be found deeper underneath will have a good reserve of nutrients. This could either be because the ecosystem that was created in that kind of environment was undisturbed or the pockets of nutrients that were trapped there had nowhere to go.

Whatever the case may be, it is a fact that you are basically making use of this untapped prospect if you are bringing it up to the surface. Of course, you might need more than just your average tiller to get the job done if you really want to reach a few feet underground, but the idea still remains.

Of course, there are a bunch of other things that go into moving those various soils around that have different levels of health. However, it is very important that you don’t take it for granted anyway. You might be looking at the dirt that looks like it can be ready to support the next batch of plants when, in fact, it can no longer do so.

Nutrient Spread – Soil needs nutrients in order to stay healthy, which it can then feed to the crops, flowers, bushes, and whatever else that grows on it. However, these nutrients can often be difficult spread in a cohesive manner if left alone. Just to appreciate this point better, though, it might be worth it to look into the matter of nutrients as far as natural sources are concerned.

In a typical case, fall is when leaves start falling to the ground, winter is when the rotting mulch are frozen, and spring is when they become available to fertilize the ground. However, a lot of this is basically on a surface level and if you want to make sure that the spread of nutrients is optimized, some intervention might be required.

This is where tilling comes in. You will basically be getting the nutrients that are still on the surface and pushing some of them into the ground. You will also be pushing the mulch wider so that it covers a bigger area. When you do this, it becomes easier for the nutrients to reach other patches of the soil where the distribution might have been a bit lacking.

Now, it is worth noting that there is going to be inequality in the quality of the soil where you are planting regardless of what you do. When this happens, the plants will simply have to expend more effort in reach for more nutrients deeper underground. However, it is always better for you to simply make sure that the entire plot where you will be planting is healthy.

This makes the results of the planting easier to predict and you can also feel more at ease about the quality of the plants once it is time to harvest or appreciate their final forms. Of course, you can always compensate for this issue by simply adding your own mulch into the mix. You could also use fertilizers that you either get from the store or make yourself.

Even then, though, it would still be good for you to till the soil so that the distribution will still be as equal as possible. Just be careful not to go overboard in your desire to get the balance right, though, because you might just end up killing the soil and the plants with too much fertilizer.

Poor Plot Cultivation – There are many places on earth where the amount of arable land is low and even in the cases where there is arable land, it may just be to the point of growing some things. In such cases, the soil itself might be in poor condition and you don’t really have much of an option but to try and make it more accommodating of the plants you will grow.

There are a ton of things that you can do in order to make this happen, however, you will absolutely want to make sure that tilling is one of them. Naturally, you will need to create an irrigation system and make sure that water will be easy to access and will also be reliable in keeping the plot moist. From there, you need to find a way to give the soil some nutrients.

The fastest way to do so is to use liquid fertilizer since this will be the most effective at seeping into the soil and nourishing the earth. However, liquid fertilizer can only seep so deep into the ground. This is where tilling will come in quite handy. You will basically be moving the soil around so that it is easier for the liquid fertilizer to reach its target.

By constantly tilling the soil, you will be rotating the layers of earth so that the top will always be exchanged for the soil at the bottom. By loosening the soil, the fertilizer will also have a much easier time penetrating much further into the ground. This will then help keep the healthy soil underneath in the condition that you want it in so that you can use it when needed.

Easier Planting – Then we have the matter of the planting of whatever it is you might be planning on growing. Regardless of whether you are trying to grow a field of flowers, crops, shrubs, trees, or whatever else, the looseness of the soil is going to come into play. Now, this pertains to looseness in terms of how the ground was churned and not the type of earth it is.

There are soils that are loose by nature and those will be pertinent in gardening, but in a different manner than with tilling. That is to say, if you are going to consider the looseness of clay compared to sandy soil, you would naturally assume that they will support different kinds of plants. Moving on, though, let’s take a look at how tilling loosening soil is a good thing.

First is the matter of access where looser soil is basically more accommodating of seeds and seedlings than compact, dense soil. You can trust that the most the seedlings sprout, the roots will not have any problems navigating their way deeper into the earth since there will be less resistance.

Naturally, the matter of airflow will also come into play where the necessary gases will come into contact with the seedlings. This will then mean that your seedlings will have more reasons to grow in a healthy and strong manner.

Soil Revival – Soil expends nutrients in order to support plants that are growing in it, but as you may imagine, these nutrients are finite. At some point, they are going to run out and when that happens, the soil can no longer support those same plants. This is what farmers mean when they say that the soil that they are cultivating has become tired.

Without the necessary nutrients to support the plants that are being grown, the results are shorter, thinner stocks with smaller fruits or crops, and fewer flowers or other sprouts. This is assuming that you manage to grow anything at all and don’t end up with a field of dead plants that you only managed to grow halfway. This was quite a common sight in many places centuries ago.

This is then why the concept of crop rotation was introduced. By basically changing the plants that are being grown in the same fields, the same nutrients will not be used up each and every time. This will give the depleted nutrients some time to recover, thus preparing the soil for when those crops are going to be planted again.

However, there is going to be a point where the soil will no longer have enough nutrients to give of any kind because of nonstop cultivation. At that point, the soil at the top layer will not be able to grow anything, but the bottom layer might be different. This is why tilling can be such a good practice.

When you come across a patch of soil that has grown tired, you can revitalize it by simply bringing the soil in the bottom to the top. You basically churn the ground so that you can use the healthier soil while giving the weakened layer the chance to recover.

Plant Switching Preparation – Speaking of crop rotation, you can’t just decide to switch the plants that you will grow at the drop of a hat without any prior preparation. The conditions of the soil for growing corn, for example, will not be that suitable for growing daisies. There are so many points of consideration that you need to keep in mind, and readying the soil is one of them.

Through tilling, you can remove the residual roots and other parts of the plants that you used to grow. This clearing is important because it will increase the likelihood that your plot of land will be capable of growing the plants that you are aiming for with fewer issues. From there, you will need to revive the soil again.

Not all of your problems are going to be settled through tilling, but it is integral for preparing your soil to accommodate entirely new plants. The more radical the change and the more exotic the plants, the more intricate the preparations are going to be. You might even need to till multiple times before the soil is ready to be used for your particular purposes once again.

What is Hand Tiller?

A hand tiller is exactly what it sounds like in that it is the kind of tiller that you operate by hand. It can either be powered by a machine or it can be a manual tool, but as long as you are using it without riding it, it is considered a hand tiller. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the reasons why you would want to use a hand tiller for your garden, to begin with.

In a sense, a hand tiller is your best option if you are trying to loosen soil in a small area simply because it is much easier to control. You are basically leading it with the most dexterous parts of your body and you are not solely relying on a tiller that you would have to wrestle with for control. Of course, a lot of this will actually depend on your own skills.

Just for some context, a tiller can basically have multiple shapes and functions depending on a few factors. The simplest tiller is one that is attached to a long pole or elongated dual handles with a control bridge bar that you can hold. The bottom end will then be comprised of the tiller, which should be spikes attached to a cylinder that rotates on an axis.

Tillers will really only be as easy to use as you are as good at using them. It doesn’t matter if it is manual, machine, or heavy, if you don’t have the capabilities to make use of them, you might as well not bother. Then again, there are points for practice, so perhaps you should just not expect too much.

Hand Vs. Machine Tiller

There are hand tillers that are attached to machines, which you can guide with your hands, as already mentioned. However, there are also machine tillers that are much bigger and come with way more spikes that you can use for tilling soil with. With this being the case, you might be wondering which of these you should use when you are ready to start tilling.

Well, the obvious answer is that it depends on what you need tilling for. If you are planning on till a plot of land that is an acre in size, you are likely not going to want to do it with one operated only by hand. That is not only going to take a long time, it will also involve a considerable amount of effort. You are looking at expended effort and hours multiplied by several times.

There is also the matter of depth. Some tillers come with longer, thicker spikes compared to others and it is likely that the biggest machine tillers are going to have such features. These will then dig deeper into the soil, which will help reduce the amount of work that you have to put in while increasing the results.

Finally, you owe it to your plants to use the right tools for the job regardless of what that may entail. Simply put, if you are going to plant crops, a machine tiller would serve you more than if you were to just have a vegetable garden.

Related Questions

Which Is Better Front or Rear Tillers?

It really depends on the situation, with front tillers being better for giving you more precision and control. If you are having trouble tilling those corners, this would be more your speed. Rear tillers, on the other hand, are better for when you are trying to cultivate bigger areas with more space.

What is the Best Tiller for Clay Soil?

It can be difficult to list a specific tiller for the use of tilling clay soil, but if you had to look for specific features that would suit your needs, you can take a look at those with longer and more numerous spikes. They can at least ensure that there will be decent airflow in the soil.

Other Tools for Tilling

There are actually other tools that you can use in order to cultivate your land but not all of them are that useful or that easy to wield. You have to remember that a tiller is used for exactly the purpose of its existence because it is the most efficient at what it does. If you use anything else other than a tiller for tilling, you are basically giving yourself a major handicap.

Even so, if you really want to know, you can make use of things like a trowel for tilling if you are working on a small enough garden. The pace at which you will be able to till will depend on your strength, stamina, and experience. The soil will play a role too since harder soils are more difficult to till than softer ones.

A rake can work too, but only the ones with the really long teeth. Don’t expect your average garden rake to get the job done and even then, you would still have to put in a lot of effort.

What Soil Needs No Tilling

Believe it or not, there are actually some soil that don’t really need a lot of tilling and these are the soils that you use for planting such things as grass for your lawn. If you are living anywhere that has a landscape service, they will pretty much just take a roll of grass to your house and then spread it in front of your house. With that being the case, you can just leave it alone.

There is also the soil that comes in the form of a potting mix, which absolutely needs no-tilling. In fact, if you got the right potting mix, you are highly encouraged to just leave it alone. Those kinds of setups can accommodate the plant that you are growing with ease, so just forget about trying to tamper with them more than you have to.

Then we have soil in the nursery trays that you will be growing seedlings in. Obviously, you won’t be tilling the bed of dirt that you will be planting your seeds in since the soil would likely already be quite soft and loose. Tilling that soil will only lead to an unnecessary mess that you will need to clean up.

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