Creating healthy soil in the garden begins with good cultivation. Cultivate your soil to aerate it, break up large clumps of sod that may impede a plant's root growth, evenly distribute fertilizer and soil amendments and loosen weed roots. The Iowa State University Extenstion Office recommends first cultivating your soil in the early spring. An abundance of tools can help you cultivate your garden's soil. The size of your garden and your own physical abilities should help you choose which tool is right for you.
Ideal for the small backyard gardener, a hand tiller, also called a three or four-tined cultivator, breaks up the soil with its small tines. Think of it as a mini-pitchfork. Using a hand tiller will mean you will be working on your hands and knees to cultivate your soil, but in a small area this compact and light-weight tool can make the work go fast.
If you have a small to medium-sized garden, a pitchfork makes quick work of soil cultivating projects. Pitchforks keep you from having to work on your knees and effectively work up the soil and loosen weeds. The pitchfork you use needs to be suited to your height to avoid back strain.
The U-Bar Digger has a simple design--long handles so you can stand upright--attached to digging tines at the handles' base. To use the U-Bar Digger, push the tines into the soil using your foot and lean back on the handles. This loosens the dirt with minimal effort on your part. The authors of the website Great Gardening Secrets describe the U-Bar Digger as "a spading fork on steroids."
In the early to mid-1900s almost every garden had a wheel hoe. Today, wheel hoes have made a comeback with the rise in small farms and backyard gardens. Several distributors, including Johnny's Seeds and Hoss Tools, list them. Walk-behind or push cultivators typically come with both cultivating and weeding attachments. They clean the weeds and aerate the soil between crop rows with minimal disruption to plant roots. Wheel hoes do not require you to stoop or bend to use them, though they do require a certain amount of shoulder strength.h cultivators typically come with both cultivating and weeding attachments. They clean the weeds and areate the soil between crop rows with minimal disruption to plant roots.
Wheel hoes do not require you to stoop or bend to use them, though they do require a certain amount of shoulder strength.
If you have a large garden project or hard, compact soil that makes cultivating by hand more of a chore than a fun project, a rototiller may be the right cultivating tool for you. Front or mid-tine rototillers work best for home gardens. You walk behind the tiller, and the tines move the machine forward. Never till too deep. Two to three inches of tillage will kill weeds without disturbing crop roots.
Rototillers require a certain amount of physical strength to operate no matter their size, but you can find rototillers that weigh as little as twenty pounds.