Cultivators, Tillers & Rotavators – Spring 2009 Review

If you have a vegetable plot or allotment to maintain and want to save yourself lots of back-breaking work digging over the garden this year, now’s the time to start considering a garden cultivator or tiller to help you with the task. In this Review we shall be looking at what there is on offer and assessing some of the main products currently on the market. Our Spring 2009 Review of Cultivators, Tillers & Rotavators will cover everything from mini garden tillers for smaller gardens to large-sized professional rotavators intended for the serious gardener and commercial operators. We shall also of course be covering front-tine cultivators which make up the main part of the market.

Owners of very small-sized vegetable plots will have struggled in the past to find a cultivator suitable for their needs. They have been have been faced with an unenviable position of choosing between under-powered hand-held electric products which didn’t really do the job (such as the now discontinued Flymo Power Hoe) and petrol powered mini-tillers which at over two hundred pound or more were difficult to justify from a financial point of view.

The recent launch of an electric powered tiller / cultivator by Handy at under £100 therefore fills a very big hole in the marketplace. The unit is lightweight and really easy to handle making it suitable for just about anyone to use. Because it’s electric powered, the Handy tiller / cultivator is quiet to operate and starts easily with the push of a button. The metal tine will dig down to around a depth of 230 mm (9″) and the 300 mm (12″) working width is more than adequate for smaller-sized vegetable patches. We think this cultivator is a great buy and represents fantastic value for money.

The next category of garden cultivator we shall consider is the petrol powered mini-tiller. These products have been on the market for quite a few years now and the choice of brands has become ever wider. The look and feel of some of these small-sized cultivators is practically the same from model to model and they all share the same tilling width (36cm). Therefore your choice of brand is likely to be influenced less by the design, which varies very little, and more by engine type (Briggs, Honda or own-brand) and quality of manufacture. Brands offering these very similar-type mini tillers include Al-Ko (the first on the market), Apache, Centurion and Einhell. The Al-Ko ‘Hobby’ MH350-4 Mini Cultivator benefits from quality German engineering and comes powered by a reliable Briggs engine. The Apache and Centurion mini tillers are both Italian-made, the latter with the option of Honda as well as a Briggs engine. The Einhell BMH33/36 Mini Tiller is powered by an own-brand engine and manufactured in China. As a result, the Einhell tiller has a huge price advantage over the other brands and is around £100 cheaper. This may well make all the difference in a year when many households will be monitoring their budgets more closely.

There are also a number of petrol powered mini garden tillers which have a more distinct look and feel to them. The Handy MLTILL3.5 Garden Tiller has a neat little carry handle at the front for lifting in and out of the car and the slightly wider (38cm) tilling width then the models mentioned above might make it a more attractive buy to some. Honda’s FG201 Mini Tiller is very lightweight (14.5 kg) and has a variable tilling width of 160-230 mm. Its price tag of just under £400 will however limit its market to those looking for a very top end product and buying on quality alone. The same can perhaps be said of the Husqvarna T300RS ‘Compact’ Petrol Cultivator which is slightly less expensive and weighing in at only 12 kg ideal for senior gardeners and those looking for a lightweight, easy to use machine. Another really lightweight model you may want to consider is the best selling Mantis Tiller / Cultivator which has the added advantage of being available with a number of add-on attachments including a Planter/ Furrower for planting potatoes and onions.

Straddling the divide between mini tillers and our next category – front-tine rotavators – is an interesting machine from MTD – the MTD T205 Garden Tiller. This small-sized cultivator has a larger sized tilling width then any of the mini tillers mentioned above (40cm/16″) and features a superior worm drive system (the models above mostly have belt drives) that delivers higher levels of torque. If you’re being extra carful with your budget this year, the MTD T205 might just prove to be an acceptable alternative to a front tine rotavator for anyone with a small-medium sized vegetable plot.

As mentioned above, front-tine rotavators form the largest part of the market for garden cultivators. They are used by anyone with a large-sized vegetable plot to cultivate and are popular with allotment societies and jobbing gardeners as well as private owners. As with mini tillers there are a lot of very similar products on the market with brands such as Centurion, Apache, Mountfield and Honda all selling similar specification, belt-driven cultivators which share what might be called a common ‘European’ styling. Where these cultivators differ will be on engine type (Briggs & Stratton, Honda) and length of warranty – most have 1 year but Honda tillers come a 5 year guarantee subject to the company’s servicing requirements which you may or may not wish to keep up with.

There are a number of distinct products in their own right in the front-tine rotavator category. The Dori MD50R Cultivator is also European made (it’s French – the models above are made in Italy) but has a more robust build and comes with a commercial grade Subaru-Robin engine – a good choice for contractors and professional garners. The Chinese-made Handy front-tine rotavator – model TH-TILL5 – has easy to fold handles for compact storage and two rear wheels for easier transportation. The Ardisam Earthquake Rototiller is American made and probably about the toughest front-tine rotavator you’ll find. As well as having an all-steel construction, the Rototiller comes with some seriously heavy-duty tines which will cut through the toughest of turf or hard soil. The large-sized wheels make transportation a doddle and the way they flip back when the machine is in use is pretty neat too!

Another stand-out model is the MTD T245 front-tine rotavator. This model takes advantage of some of the recent advances in 4-stroke engine technology and comes powered by the latest fuel-efficient, low emission OHV engine which is also quiet running. The MTD T245 also benefits from worm drive for more reliable and solid performance and a 3-stage variable tilling width of 33-61 cm.

If you’re looking for a top-end front tine rotovator, there are a number of models currently available on the market from brands including Husqvarna, Al-Ko and MTD. The Husqvarna T560RS has a top-of-the-range Robin Subaru engine and features a pneumatic drive system which will withstand commercial use. Al-Ko’s MH5060R front-tine rotavator has a total of six tilling blades and is ideal for allotments or larger-sized vegetable gardens. The MTD T380 tiller has a chain reduction drive system with a permanently sealed chain case – it’s maintenance-free and designed to deliver the highest levels of performance in demanding conditions.

The final category of cultivator covered in this review is the rear-tine tiller. These are particularly suited to tackling compact soils and breaking-up virgin ground such as older lawns and meadow and in the case of some models can also be used to good effect for leaving a fine tilth finish ready for sowing. Popular models in this category include the American-made Rally RYX820 Rear-tine Rotavator Tiller which has good specifications and features for the money and the Husqvarna CRT51 Professional Rear-tine Tiller which features chain drive to the rotors and the wheels for robust use. MTD’s T450 Rear-tine Tiller is alone amongst these models in featuring dual-direction tines which can be used for breaking up the toughest of ground as well as cultivating the ground to leave the finest of finishes. As an alternative, Honda’s F510 Tiller can be fitted with either heavy-duty rotors or a rear-rotary cultivator to undertake each of these tasks but at twice the price you may well want to opt for the MTD model and take your money and run!

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