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How to Use an Electric Tiller

An electric tiller, also called a power cultivator, is often the best choice for people with small garden spaces. Electric tillers are not as powerful as larger gas tillers, but they are quieter, lighter and they start with a push button rather than a pull cord. They are best used to till in spent plants and soil amendments on ground that has been opened up before. With a 9- to 12-inch cutting swathe, they are not efficient for large gardens.

Wear goggles and boots to protect yourself while using an electric tiller. Sharp bits of rocks and sticks can cut your legs and eyes while working.

Make a plan before you begin tilling. The electrical cord has to reach all parts of your garden, and you have to make sure the cord can get around trees, shrubs and plants without squashing or pulling on them. Avoid doubling back over areas that have been tilled because you will compact the tilled soil by walking on it.

Avoid over tilling. Power tillers disrupt beneficial insects and microorganisms in your soil. You should till the soil in spring to make it fine enough to plant seeds directly into the ground, and autumn tilling is a good way to mix spent plants and soil amendments into the soil. Keep in mind that turning soil by hand where possible is a much gentler way of preparing it for planting.

Till your garden when the soil is moist, but don’t use an electric tiller on wet, muddy soil. The weight of the water will overwork the tiller, and you can compact wet soil with your feet. Compacting wet soil decreases necessary oxygen circulation.

Remove large rocks, stalks, and sticks from your garden before tilling. These can break the tines of the tiller or fly up and hurt you. Keep in mind that an electric tiller may not work well on very rocky soil.

Pull weeds by hand, and remove them from the garden. Tilling in weeds can help them spread and re-seed.

Start the electric tiller in neutral, set it into the soil and engage the forks. The tiller will jerk forward as it tears into the soil, so hold it tightly.

Push the tiller in front of you like a lawnmower. Use both hands and push down slightly to keep it from pulling you forward. Don’t drive the tiller over the electrical cord. You might need to go over the garden two or three times if the soil is very compacted or clumpy.

Return the tiller to neutral. and lift the tines out of the soil when you finish a pass. Tillers do not turn easily, so you’ll have to stop, place it where you want to continue and re-engage the forks.

Till compost, manure and any other amendments into the soil in the fall. This will allow microorganisms to establish themselves in the winter before spring planting. Spread amendments over the garden by hand, and then work them into the soil with the tiller.

Till at least once before spring planting. Three weeks before you start planting, break up the ground and work in any cover crops you planted in fall. This is also a good time to add a layer of manure and/or compost to work in before spring planting. If you have heavy cover crops, let the tilled vegetation sit for a couple of weeks before tilling again to give it a chance to break down.

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