Bob Westerfield is Extension Consumer Horticulturist for the University of Georgia, Griffin Campus. Caley Anderson is Horticultural Program Assistant at the University of Georgia, Griffin Campus.

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Selection of Equipment for the Vegetable Garden
by Bob Westerfield and Caley Anderson       #Tools

There is nothing I like better than discussing, testing and using garden equipment. I am fortunate enough in my position at the University to operate a trial garden in which I test and trial, not only a variety of vegetables, but equipment as well. Anytime I see something new come on the market, I like to get my hands on it and put it to the test to see if it is worthy of owning. From small power equipment to large tractors, I have had a lot of experience running this equipment through my garden. My hope is that this article will enable you to make better decisions in both selecting and maintaining your garden equipment.

When it comes to selecting garden or landscape equipment, the old rule of thumb is “you get what you pay for.” While the initial investment in quality equipment can be substantial, you must also consider the quality and longevity of the product. Whether you are choosing hand clippers or a full-sized garden tractor, compare closely how the equipment is built and other factors, such as the warranty, availability of parts, etc. When looking for new equipment, it definitely pays to shop around for a better price. The computer has made it much easier for shoppers to compare prices from a multitude of locations with just the click of a button. While online shopping is convenient, there can be advantages to looking for equipment with a dealer, as well. Oftentimes, you can utilize their experience, helping you make the best choice for your purchase. It is often possible at times to negotiate a better price with a human than a fixed price on the Internet.

    For larger gardens, self-powered pull-behind tillers
    or tractor-powered PTO models may be in order. 

One of the most useful, yet expensive, pieces of equipment you may want to consider for your garden is a tiller. Prices can range from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, depending on what you need. Consider the size of the job, how often you will use the equipment, and your budget when considering the purchase. The mini-tillers are great for tilling up small areas and for tilling around small beds, but they are not adequate for breaking new areas of ground. There are several brands available, but perhaps the two most popular are Mantis and Honda Harmony. I have tested both of these and found them to be good machines. I personally give the nod to the Honda Harmony, as it’s built a little stouter and has a four-stroke motor, compared to the two-stroke Mantis. Four strokes are typically easier to maintain and a little more reliable in cranking.

Tillers come in a range of sizes from small, inexpensive mini-tillers to this large model for big gardens from BCS.

Cultipackers help prepare the soil for planting and increase seed germination by ensuring good seed to soil contact. 

Moving up from mini-tillers, we have the standard-sized tillers, which can range in horsepower from 3 to over 20 HP. These larger tillers are great for frequent use in areas bigger than a few hundred square feet. Standard-sized hand tillers can vary in price from $500-600 to well over $2,000, depending on horsepower, brand and accessories. For those with larger areas or considerable sized gardens, you may want to consider a pull-behind tiller that is operated behind a small garden tractor or pulled by an ATV. These tillers will either be powered off the tractor by a PTO (power take-off), or they will have a motor mounted on top that will allow it to be self-powered. Real estate tends to go up when looking to purchase a pull-behind tiller. Prices can vary from $1,200 to several thousand dollars. Think of it as a long-term investment if you plan to do a lot of groundbreaking. Regardless of which tiller best meets your needs, always compare the quality of the machine, construction of machine, availability of parts and the offered warranty. While some tillers may seem like a bargain, it doesn’t do you much good if they are always broken and you can’t find replacement parts.

There are several other attachments and tools that make gardening easier, including small plows, discs and cultipackers. While traditionally these implements required a farm tractor, today many versions are available that can be pulled behind a small lawn tractor or ATV. As with all garden equipment, quality can vary and is normally proportional to price. When selecting this type of equipment, consider the horsepower rating of the implement. Some of these implements might only need 10 horsepower to pull while others need 20 horsepower.

One piece of equipment that I have really come to rely on is the cultipacker. The cultipacker is simply a ribbed, or segmented, roller that uses weight to help prepare the seedbed and packs seed in after it’s been planted. I have noticed a substantial increase in my seed germination when I use a seed cultipacker on the bed, as opposed to not using one at all. The cultipacker helps in firming the seedbed and ensures good soil-to-seed contact, which in turn increases germination. The model of cultipacker I use is made out of a tough plastic and fills with water to add 400-500 pounds of weight. I pull mine easily behind my ATV or small garden tractor. I not only use it in my vegetable garden, but also when planting wildlife food plots in the fall.

A push planter such as this model from Cole can take much of the backbreaking work out of planting seed and speeds up the process substantially.

Another tool I could not live without in my vegetable garden is my push planter. A push planter essentially takes much of the work out of seeding the garden. It works very similarly to a large planter behind a farm tractor. The way it works is you select the proper seed plate for the seed you are planting, fill the hopper with seed and begin to push it down the row. The planter automatically opens up the furrow, drops the seed at the right depth, spaces it properly, then covers and firms the bed. Anyone who has ever used a hand-planter like this knows that it speeds up the planting process tenfold and saves a lot of ache in the back. While there’s not a tremendous selection of hand-planters available, there are a few out there. EarthWay makes an excellent model that would be perfect for most consumers, and it runs about $100. Another model by Cole is much stouter and can be used in larger gardens, but costs over $500. If you’re marketing vegetables from your own garden, this might be a model to consider.

One innovative tool that I often use in my vegetable garden is called a Kentucky high wheel. This tool operates similarly to the push planter but is primarily designed to cultivate the rows and keep weeds under control. They also work well for hilling up the soil around corn and potatoes. The model I have comes with several attachments that allow you to cultivate, plow and cut furrows in the row. Prices usually range from $100 to $200.

Every gardener should also have an arsenal of quality hand tools to assist them in their vegetable gardening chores. When it comes to shovels, rakes and hoes, look for metal parts made of tempered steel and strong hickory or fiberglass handles. Handles should be securely inserted all the way into the metal blade shafts, and not cheaply riveted together. I also like to keep several mini-tools on hand, including hand shovels, miniature hoes and cultivator rakes. These allow me to work easily in the raised bed portion of my garden. Keep the metal parts of these tools oiled and the blade ends sharp. Protect wooden handles with either paint or a coating of linseed oil. Store hand tools in a shed or garage out of direct sunlight, and they should last a lifetime.

Through proper selection and care, you can enjoy many good years of service from your garden tools. Remember that price is not always the most important factor, but quality, durability, warranty and availability of parts should also play into your decision process. These tools can actually make your garden experience more fun by saving time and effort and assisting you in producing a bountiful harvest.


Posted: 12/05/11   RSS | Print


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