Types of garden cultivators
There are two basic designs of garden cultivators, but both work on the same principle. They consist of an engine driving rotating tines or blades which churn up the soil as they advance along the ground.
Type 1 has the engine set immediately above the rotor blades. They are simple to maintain and reasonably cheap to run, but they are heavier to work and harder to control than the other type. They are best for digging heavy clay soils.
Type 2. which is less common nowadays, has the engine set behind the rotor blades. This type moves more easily across the ground and is easier to control. But because the weight of the engine does not press down so directly on the blades, a machine of this type tends not to dig so deeply. It is better suited, therefore, to light, sandy soils.
Whichever type you use. you may have to make more than one pass over the ground, particularly on heavy soils, to get it properly dug. Most cultivators are powered by petrol engines, although there are a few mains electric models. Electric motors require less maintenance, usually, than petrol-driven ones and are a lot easier to start, on the other hand, the cable limits the machine’s range and has to be watched to make sure you don’t cultivate through it.
Some of the more expensive cultivators have a range of working attachments, such as grass cutters, scythes, sprayers and lawn rakes, as well as the basic cultivating rotor blades. All help to cut down the effort of gardening – at a price.
If you want to avoid the cost of buying a cultivator, consider hiring one from a tool hire shop – especially if you’re going to use it only once or twice a year.
Deep digging cultivators
If you regularly have to tackle rough digging the deep-reaching cultivators, which are generally the ones with the engine set directly over the rotor blades, can turn over compacted or neglected soil, leaving it ready for shallow digging by hand later. They do need some practice, though, because their extra power makes them more difficult to control.
The shallower-cutting cultivators are for digging between rows, for weeding and for preparing the crumbly surface needed for a seedbed. They won’t do for heavy digging on virgin land. But once you have mastered the handling of them, you will find it possible to work close to growing plants without damaging their roots.
Risks of using cultivators
Heavy farm machinery can cause ‘pans’ -layers of hard, compacted earth immediately beneath the cultivated soil – because they always till the ground to the same depth each year. Ordinary powered cultivators designed for the garden, however, are not really heavy enough to cause this kind of problem. All the same, just to be on the safe side, don’t use a cultivator on heavy soil when it’s wet. Otherwise, the spinning tines could smear the clay beneath, polishing it into an almost waterproof layer and leaving you with a serious drainage problem.
Maintenance of cultivators
• Check the oil regularly. In cars, the oil is pumped around the engine. In garden machinery, it lies in the crankcase, collecting all the dirt and rubbish which finds its way into the engine. Change the oil after every 25 hours of use, or yearly, whichever is the sooner.
• The rubbish you find in the crankcase will have found its way in through the carburettor – so keep the air filter clean and efficient by washing it with clean petrol or detergent. This is especially important in dry and dusty conditions.
• Cultivators often stand idle for long periods, so starting can be a problem. Always keep a new spark-plug handy.
• Stiff bearings on the drive wheels or stabilising wheels can turn what should be a comparatively easy job into a hard slog. Clean and grease the bearings regularly.
• After each outing, clean as much of the mud and dirt off the machine as you can.
• Towards the end of each year, get the machine serviced (the queues at the local repair shop will be shorter then than at the start of the spring). Before storing, wipe the rotors and the other metal surfaces with an
oily rag to keep rust at bay.