Whether you are landscaping a back garden or an entire golf course, preparing a trial bed for planting or a whole field for turf cultivation, cultivation work must be done. The nature of the site, soil and aim of the cultivation will determine the type of equipment best suited to the task. And the scale of work will determine the most appropriate size of equipment.
In its most basic form, cultivation equipment is a spade and fork. Although cheap to purchase and adequate for preparing and tidying small beds and borders, these hand tools are much too slow and laborious for many situations. Mechanism is the answer to reducing the effort and speeding up the job.
Before work commences, it is wise to investigate the soil and consider the reasons for cultivation. Look at the characteristics of the soil and determine if it is a good loam or if the clay, silt or sand content is high. Look at the humus content and decide if the soil needs organic matter. Investigate the depth of topsoil and the nature of the subsoil. Are there any signs of compaction or pans that require breaking in order to allow the free movement of air and water?
Pedestrian-operated machinery is suitable for small sites, especially where access is restricted. Such equipment is available in two designs. First there are dedicated power tillers. These come in various working widths with petrol engines and a belt- or chain-driven rotor shaft with cultivator blades attached. Although supplied with two transport wheels for site-to-site movement, the cultivator rotor propels the machine. Considerable effort may be needed by the operator to prevent the power tiller moving too quickly and to ensure that work is carried out to the correct depth and satisfactory tilth created.
The second type of pedestrian machine is the two-wheeled or walking tractor (HW, 22 January). These have rubber-tyred wheels to propel the machine forwards and backwards, and have a drive system separate from the cultivator blade rotor. The cultivator can be swapped with other implements such as rakes or stone buriers to produce a tilth suitable for the use, be that seedbed or shrubbery. Woodchippers, sawbenches, mowing equipment and trailers extend the versatility of the two-wheeled tractor.
The bigger picture
Work on a larger scale requires equipment mounted to compact or conventional tractors. A wide range of equipment is available, including various types of ploughs and harrows. In each case, the implement should be matched to the available tractor unit.
The plough is the primary cultivation tool and can be used in nursery situations to prepare ground for field-grown crops. Used properly it will reduce the amount of subsequent work required to achieve a good tilth. Two types of plough are available: conventional ploughs that turn the soil to the right and reversible ploughs that allow the tractor driver to work more quickly up and down in the same furrow. There are various body designs: general-purpose (low-draft) bodies are good for ploughing grassland and to expose furrows to winter frosts; semi-diggers for general work; diggers to give a more broken surface; and slatted mouldboards for working in sticky soils. Those preparing ground where there is little surface vegetation sometimes prefer chisel ploughs.
Subsoilers or mole ploughs are used to break through compaction and soil pans, thus aiding the movement of air in the soil and improving drainage. They need plenty of power as working depth is usually around 40cm or even 50cm.
Cultivators, for breaking and mixing the soil, come in several formats. Generally, rigid tined cultivators are used for heavier work, spring-loaded tines for stony soils and spring tines to break clods and produce a seedbed quickly.
Used after ploughing and often instead of ploughing, powered cultivators are used for the rapid preparation of a deep, loose seedbed. They need plenty of power so models of 130cm to 150cm are popular in horticulture unless agricultural-type tractors are available. A following roller will consolidate the soil where needed for seed germination.
Rotary power harrows also produce seedbeds quickly.
Other types of harrow, notably disc harrows, are usually used after ploughing operations. Tined harrows, levelling harrows and chains harrows are used for large-scale seedbed preparation. Stone buriers may be used for the single-pass production of a tilth.
For any equipment you choose, check performance and manoeuvrability. Ease of operation, maintenance and safety features should be investigated and don’t forget to ask about dealer support and the availability of spare parts.