Till, We Meet Again

Till, We Meet Again

Bob-O has always used a big Troy-Bilt rototiller for our garden work. Last year, he acquired a used 5-foot-wide tiller for our tractor, which works well on our bigger pasture projects. Wanting some tilling autonomy, I purchased a minitiller about 10 years ago.

Hard Row to Hoe

Our soil is volcanic clay—adobe, really. For the last 23 years, we have amended our soil with as much manure as we could haul home. We used to have an “in” with the local 4-H rabbit teacher. That was worth a couple of mounded pickup loads of manure per year. We shoveled the manure from under the cages, into wheelbarrows, past the dead car in the driveway, and out to our truck. It was a lot of work, but it was great stuff. Then our rabbit connection retired from 4-H.

Luckily for us we live in horse country, where folks amass big piles of manure they would just love to get rid of. We used to shovel the manure into the pickup and then shovel it out again at home. We moved the gardener’s gold by wheelbarrow.

Now, we are wiser, so we only get manure if the rancher has a tractor to load it into our dump trailer. Back at home, we dump the load close to whatever garden area we are working on. It’s easy to use a wheelbarrow to distribute the manure to specific beds. Like Bob-O says, “Let the horses [as in horsepower] do the work.”

Our dirt is in really good shape for planting, although one year without the manure and we would be looking at adobe again, since growing vegetables depletes the organic matter from the soil. Once the dirt was workable after the big tiller had broke ground in the spring, I wanted to use a minitiller. And we had some raised beds and a minitiller would be just the thing for working in the rows.


I bought a four-cycle model so I would not need to mix gas and oil. Now I could do some small tilling jobs without having to wait for Bob-O to get a chance. As we made more raised beds, the tiller really shined in prepping the beds for planting.

It was great, except for one thing—although I drained the gas every fall, and even used a fuel-stabilizing additive, I had to take the tiller to a small engine repair shop to get it running again each spring. After one carburetor rebuild, Bob-O had refused to work on the minitiller ever again. (I’ve heard that carburetor is French for “don’t mess with it.”) I felt like I was renting the tiller, paying out every spring for the privilege of using the tool for the season.

For several years, the gas minitiller sat unused. I just couldn’t justify spending any more money or energy fixing it. My off-grid gardening buddy Bill Battagin from Feather River Solar had been using an electric minitiller for five seasons—that is some hands-on history. His garden is mostly raised beds, too. He was sold on its attributes: no fuel stink, quiet operation, no carburetor cleaning in the spring, no air filter to clean, no spoiled gas.

Well, I was sold, too—it made so much sense. In the spring, our electricity comes from water, wind, and sun. My minitiller would take advantage of the abundance of that seasonal renewable energy.

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