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To Till or not to Till!

I'm thinking of investing in a Mantis classic tiller, but at over £300 I want to make sure I'm doing the right thing. my plot is about 257sq yards and I'm thinking I will continue with the winter digging as usual and then come the spring use the tiller before sowing/planting. What's your thought??



  • ButtercupdaysButtercupdays Posts: 4,230

    I thought about this and decided against it! If you are clearing ground you need to get the weed roots out, not chop them up and disperse them. If you have many large stones then you would probably damage the machine. If the ground has been previously dug then it is not difficult to just loosen it again in spring, removing any new weeds as you go, and you are less likely to develop a 'pan' of undug soil all at the same depth that might restrict root growth. Also hand digging is quieter, more environmentally friendly in several ways (anyone else ever turned over a clod and found a toad? Happened to me several times.) and as Tetley says keeps you fitter. And you have £300 more to spend on plants. Case made!

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 81,359

    I agree - as long as I'm capable of digging (or getting someone to dig it for me) I don't see the need for a tiller - in my view the result is always a poor second best.

    “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

  • PosyPosy Isle of Wight.Posts: 3,600

    We 'inherited' one when we bought the house. I am not very strong and found incorporating muck and grit into our solid clay soil to make borders was very slow and painful. The tiller really helped and did a better job of mixing it all up. However, once you plant up, you can't use a machine. Hiring one might be a sensible alternative because once your soil is good, ordinary digging is all you need.

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 81,359

    I've always dug over in the autumn/winter - let the winter weather break the soil down, then all that's needed in the spring is a good raking over. image

    “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

  • KT53KT53 South WestPosts: 7,282

    I've got one and it's the best investment I've made in years.  It is a modern 4 stroke model (I understand some of the older one's are 2 stroke and can be problematic), very easy to start, extremely quiet (my neighbour didn't realise it was running whilst I was chatting to him) and light to carry around. 

    Stones haven't caused any damage, it either bounces off them or the catch between the tines - a quick whack with a hammer gets them back out easily enough. 

    Our ground is quite light, I don't know if it would manage clay soil.  I've used it both for preparing the soil by deep digging and for loosening weeds.  The depth it digs to is different depending on which way round you fit the 'cutters'. 

    I also purchased an attachment for edging the lawn.  A new lawn had been laid quite recently and the idea of edging well over 200 feet of border by hand held no great appeal.  With the edger I had the lot done in about 10 minutes.

    I also use it now to dig over my neighbours veggie plot.  He finds digging it over hard work now at 77.  My neighbour on the other side has used a Mantis for years and it's still going strong.

  • LeifUKLeifUK Posts: 573

    You might want to look into no dig:

    I have adopted this for my garden beds, about 30 square metres of veggies. This year I had few weeds, and very good crops of most things, and I have heavy clay soil.What has not done so well is squash, possibly because, I didn't feed the soil enough. But chillis, tomatoes (last year), beans, carrots, root parsely, salsify, leeks, beetroot, and pak choi do very well.

    I did some digging 3 years ago to get rid of large stones, nettle roots, bramble roots and as much field bindweed root as I could find. Dowding has done trials of no dig versus dig, and the results are similar. The only disadvantage I can see is that you need a lot of compost applied at the start of the year, or even in autumn.

    If you do till, you might consider hiring one. I hired one when I redid my lawn. £60 for a weekend, and they collected it for me. I walked it to my house. Admittedly I am 100m from the shop and my neighbour works there, so the collection cost was favourable.

  • barry islandbarry island Posts: 1,559

    I have looked at the mantis tiller in the past and came near to buying a second-hand one but was put off by the £200 cost of a used machine but having said that they were flying off of ebay for that price. I did consider a brand spanking new one but they go for up to £400 and as my allotment ethos is really to do it on the cheap as much as I can I couldn't really justify the outlay although they do hold their price and it would still be worth money in the future should I wish to sell it. I can see the worth of something like the mantis as even when winter digging clay soil it needs breaking up to a fine tilth in the spring before planting and sowing that is something that the mantis would be ideal for, also you can buy tools for the machine to dig trenches for sowing potatoes into and earthing them up. One thing that may be a bind is that I believe the machine has to be used when walking backwards rather than the usual way a rotavator is used going forward that could be a bit tricky for some. The tines are guaranteed for life so if a stone did somehow damage one you should be covered by the guarantee.

  • KT53KT53 South WestPosts: 7,282

    The walking backwards bit did take some getting used to but once you learn the technique it does work well.  You can you is moving forwards but it tends to create piles of earth doing it that way.

  • Steve 309Steve 309 Posts: 2,753

    Never used one of these, but in my experience of clay soil, producing a tilth fine enough for sowing, especially small seeds, is very difficult.  Spread muck/compost in the autumn and let the worms mix it up.  Rake it flat before sowing, draw wider drills than usual, fill them with a little sieved compost/good topsoil from elsewhere and draw your sowing drills in that.

    The two best things for clay soils are organic matter and growing things in it.

    Or we can hire a big lorry and swap some of your clay for some of my sand!

  • Gardengirl..Gardengirl.. Posts: 4,134

    Hire one or a Rotavator don't cost too much for a weekend - loads of places hire them out and they dig deeper than a tiller

    I do own a tiller but a cheaper one with a lead and plug - does do well for the veg beds and sometimes in other areas of the garden,  yes walking backwards the best way as then digs down in the soil deeper,  it is more the trick with getting it started then it jumping around  - tillers are more jumpy that a Rotavator as I have used both 

    Wear thick gloves if you do get one as vibration go though your arms a lot

    Hampshire Gardener
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