Richard L. Parish | 4/7/2006 1:18:59 AM
If you have a small garden, or if you have a larger garden and are energetic, a powered rotary tiller is not always necessary, according to an engineer at the LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station.
Many manual cultivation tools are available for your use, says Dr. Dick Parish.
High-wheeled cultivators are an excellent choice for opening, covering and cultivating fairly long rows. These cultivators have one large wheel – about 2 feet in diameter – and a pair of handles. The traditional models have a wooden frame, but newer styles use a steel frame.
"You usually have a choice of three tools that can be mounted on the cultivator," Parish says. A small, straight shovel is used to make planting furrows. A small, twisted moldboard plow can be used to cover planting furrows or to throw soil on a row of crops – hilling sweet corn or potatoes, for instance. The primary tool is a five-pronged cultivator that can be used to loosen soil and remove small weeds.
"These machines are relatively easy to push and steer," Parish says. "They allow you to cultivate between narrow rows and also get close to crop rows. The cost typically is under $100."
Long-handled hoes are the traditional cultivating tool for small gardens. Hoes come in many shapes, and old-timers will argue vigorously about the relative advantages of their favorites.
"More important than shape is keeping the blade sharp," Parish says. "You should file a hoe blade as needed to keep a sharp edge."
Scuffle hoes are designed to cut in two directions – on both the push and pull strokes – so they can work twice as fast as a conventional hoe. Furthermore, they don’t have to be lifted out of the ground. Many have blades that are shaped in a loop. The loop may be rigidly attached to the tool head, or the loop may be free to wobble through a short arc.
"Again, personal preference will dictate your choice," Parish says. "These hoes allow faster and easier cultivation than a standard garden hoe."
Scuffle hoes with spiked wheels go a step further. As the blade undercuts the soil crust and the weeds, a row of spiked wheels mounted behind the scuffle hoe blade breaks up the crust and knocks soil off of the roots of the weeds. This action allows you to move faster, since multiple passes are less necessary, Parish says.
The LSU AgCenter engineer says pronged cultivators are similar to the pronged attachments for high-wheel cultivators but have a long handle for manual operation. They’re good at soil loosening and can root out larger weeds. They can operate in only one direction.
"More exotic cultivators are available from many sources," Parish says. "They include angled pairs of rotating tines, one-sided scuffle hoes and others."
Parish points out many types of manual cultivation tools can do an effective job of removing weeds and loosening soil.
"Most will work, but you will probably find one or two that you like best," he says. "Experienced gardeners tend to have a shed full of cultivation tools – some they swear by and some they swear at.
"My favorites are a scuffle hoe – with and without the spiked wheels – and a high-wheeled cultivator."