We grew vegetables for years without a tiller
I am not the vegetable gardener in this family. My husband, on the other hand, has been growing vegetables since he was a teen. When we finally moved here, a decade into our marriage, he brought along the front tine rototiller he had purchased as a single working young man, years before we met.
That tiller didn’t last long here. It was hard to start, difficult to maneuver, and when it broke, well, finding parts for a twenty-year old tiller wasn’t easy. (Getting rid of it was easy, though. “Free tiller, as is. You haul.”)
Until this year, we’ve never had another tiller, though we’ve never stopped having a vegetable garden. At first, we plain couldn’t afford one. And as our sons grew older and stronger, they could work along side my husband, each wielding a mattock to break sod.
Yet while my husband of necessity has had plenty of experience working on machinery, he’s never really enjoyed it. I think he figured by the time he got done servicing and repairing a tiller, he could have the garden cultivated by hand. Or pretty close.
Let’s get a tiller
But earlier this year I was offered the opportunity to test any piece of equipment under a certain price point that Troy-Bilt sold on their website, and then blog about it. Not only am I not the vegetable gardener here, I don’t do power equipment. (Well, I do use a vacuum cleaner. Does that count?)
So I asked my sons, now about the age their father was when he got his first tiller, what piece of equipment I should ask for. Myself, influenced by Carol’s enthusiastic endorsement of her chipper, I was inclined to get something along those lines, either a gasoline-powered chipper shredder or a Chipper Shredder Vac. Not only did we have dead vegetation from the garden like Carol did, but also fruit tree prunings and other occasional tree trimmings to chip or shred. And for several years my kids have hauled leaves home from two different houses. How much easier if we just vacuumed them up and brought them home pre-shredded?
Deep down inside, I knew faster compost wasn’t a high priority with the PEOs (power equipment operators) in this family. To a man, they suggested the rototiller. Whatever we got, I just wanted it to be used, and if it took any kind of strength to start or operate, I knew it wouldn’t be me using it. So I told my contact we’d like to try the Pony tiller.
Does this tiller have what it takes?
The Pony tiller was out of stock, so Troy-Bilt sent us the Pro-Line FRT Garden tiller, which has a Honda engine instead of a Briggs and Stratton. I figured this tiller would get a work out, and I hoped it was up to the job. For one thing, it was designed for gardens up to 1500 square feet, and we already had 2500 square feet under cultivation. For another thing, our soil is clay, rocky clay, and we live on the side of a hill. But it did say “professional strength, … specially designed for … large scale or commercial groundbreaking applications.” We are a big enough family to qualify as a small business in terms of scale, and we try to always get the industrial-strength or commercial model of whatever we buy, be it broom or vacuum cleaner or bona fide power equipment. Even then, we sometimes wear things out before the warranty expires. So, I did wonder how it would do.
Between the time I asked for the tiller and when it was time to start tilling, circumstances changed around here, and it turned out my husband would be doing the tilling. He started to put it together, and found that several parts were missing:
- Keyed washer (1)
- Wheel gear lever knob (1)
- Height adjustment flange screw(1)
- 3/8″ flat washer (2)
- Cotter pin (1)
- Cable tie (2 of 4)
My contact apologized profusely and had the missing parts sent.
By the time the tiller was ready to go, it was the last full week of April. The tiller started with a pull cord. We were both pleasantly surprised at how easily it started. One pull, one easy pull, and it was purring. My husband decided to till a section of the garden that had been cultivated by hand last year. It was roughly 35ft x 75ft, but a 16ft x 16ft piece of it had never been tilled before. I thought it would be a fair test, easier than breaking sod but rougher than ground that had been machine-tilled before.
The Pro-Line FRT tiller took him flying
Oh. my. word. Every time my husband hit a rock, or anything else the tines couldn’t dig into, the combination of both the tines and the wheels moving forward would cause the tiller to lurch powerfully forward. My husband is not a big or heavy man, and I saw him literally pulled off his feet by this monster. I can’t believe Troy-Bilt advertises this tiller as capable of being operated with one hand. Even with two hands firmly gripping the handles, he had to really work to keep from being tugged airborne. (This is not supposed to happen with rear tine tillers, but it did.)
Then it broke
Later, when he had gone over the whole area at a shallow depth, a weld on the handlebar cross-brace failed. My husband said because the cross-brace came off from the handlebar cleanly, that is, the weld itself broke, that indicated it was not a good weld.
Once that broke, the cross-brace broke off of the other handlebar because of the unbalanced stress put on it. That time the weld didn’t break. Instead part of the metal tubing was torn away. That’s because a good weld is stronger than the metal it joins.
Because the first weld failed, the tiller couldn’t be controlled by the handlebars and couldn’t be used. I had been afraid something like this would happen. Our circumstances never seem to be typical and things happen that aren’t supposed to be able to happen.
Goodbye, FRT; Hello, CRT
I got back in touch with my contact. Almost two weeks later, Russ from Afton Equipment pulled into our driveway with a new tiller. But it was not the same model. He didn’t have the Pro-Line FRT in stock, and so brought us the Troy-Bilt Pro-Line CRT Rototiller.
FRT, CRT: what do those letters stand for? Turns out they stand for Forward Rotating Tines and Counter Rotating Tines. The tines on the first tiller rotate in the same direction as the wheels, while the tines on this new tiller would rotate in the opposite direction as the wheels.
Now we’re in business
The engine started just as easily as the first tiller. And when my husband started tilling with it, there was none of the pulling and jerking that had occurred with the FRT. It was a much better tiller for breaking up clay and sod. However, the tines are not as long and it won’t till to as great a depth. (A full comparison of the two models can be found here.) We might miss those two inches of tilling depth later on, when the soil has been tilled for several years. But I don’t know if I could have watched my husband fight with that FRT tiller till we got to that point, so I think the model switch was for the best.
Before and After
More information on choosing and using a tiller
Garden Blogger Reviews of Troy-Bilt Equipment
Garden Blogger Reviews of Troy-Bilt Equipment