Mantis Mini Tiller (electric and 4 stroke petrol)

If, like us, you have wondered what the point is of a small, handheld, narrow-width cultivator such as the Mantis, then it is time you took a closer look. The Mantis tiller is muscle without bulk.

There is no disputing that this tiller is compact. It only weighs 11kg, arrives at our test site in a handy easy-to-carry format and is uncurled to give a comfortable working tool. So, the first thing to recognise about the Mantis is that it could be useful if you are short on space in the van or trailer when travelling from job to job or if you need to carry equipment across site.

The second thing to realise about the Mantis is that it is vigorous and a hard worker. It's also quick. There is nothing unusual about starting the unit. There's an "on" switch, a primer bulb, choke and pull cord. If you are not used to small tillers, you find it takes a few minutes to discover the best method of working. With the Mantis the tines turn forwards so you should let the tines dig down to create a hole and then pull the unit backwards.

With a little practice it becomes a relatively easy process to create a decent tilth to a depth of 25cm. It's certainly a very quick process - these tines travel at a speed of 240rpm. It's not a clay breaker, but it could improve the soil with regular use. And, by swapping the tines over, you can also cultivate to a shallow depth for weed management purposes. It should prove useful for working narrow rows or between plants in a border.

There is a choice of electric, two-stroke or four-stroke versions of the Mantis. We use the four-stroke in our test. Noise is not an issue with this model. Pinion senses some vibration but, as with most cultivation equipment, vibration does partly depend on the soil and conditions at the time of use.

We reckon there are plenty of situations where the Mantis could prove beneficial. We used it to work a section of border in a glasshouse but it could be used to rip through the soil of old bedding displays in preparation for replanting - especially on those hard-to-get-to sites such as roundabouts. We also suggest the Mantis could be used to "fluff" up compacted surfaces - such as hardened bunker sand.

A range of attachments, including furrower, border edger, de-thatcher and lawn aerator, further extend the use of the Mantis.

The review panel

Rob Pinion,
grounds person, College of West Anglia, Wisbech

Barbara Welbourn,
assistant grounds person, College of West Anglia, Wisbech.

Carrying out a test of cultivation equipment in December was always likely to be plagued by the vagaries of the British weather. That is why we chose to test the equipment in the eastern part of the country. But even at Wisbech the rain can be torrential - so much so that the normally free-draining soil became saturated.

Although the conditions for testing could hardly be further from ideal, we were able to look at six items of cultivation equipment. In the pedestrian section we chose the Husqvarna CRT51 as an example of a wheeled rotary cultivator. It turned out to be a surprise when it came to coping with sticky, waterlogged soil.

The Husqvarna T200 compact and Mantis tiller were selected as examples of small, narrow-width rotary tillers, while the Efco MZ2090R is a full-width tiller. Finally, we looked at two machines from BLEC. The BLEC/Harley power box rake is a tractor-mounted, PTO-driven unit for preparing seedbeds and the BLEC SR3H pedestrian rotor rake is a walk-behind unit for use with Honda power tillers.

The rains eased for the duration of the tests but the soil remained saturated throughout this time. The wind was a cold easterly.

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