The Product Pages: Ask Sally Drury - Sally's helplineI need a rotary cultivator or tiller capable of moderate to professional use in the mid-price range. Have you any suggestions?

A: Before looking at any potential purchase, ask yourself if it would be handy if the new piece of kit could do other tasks in addition to cultivation. If the answer is yes, then it may be better to opt for the versatility of a two-wheel tractor. Initially it will cost you a little more but then you can collect attachments as and when you need them and make full use of the engine power all year round.

But let's assume you want only to turn the soil and prepare ground for planting. Tillers are very capable of speeding up the task of soil cultivation; just don't expect that using a tiller is going to be as easy as walking behind a mower. They need to dig into the ground and, depending on the machine and the soil conditions, it can be a struggle to maintain the working depth and prevent the machine running away and just tickling the surface as it goes. There is also the worry that with repeated use, a compact layer or soil pan might develop at the working depth.

There are a lot of tillers on the market. These range from simple units with working widths of 10in (25cm) or less and cost from about £250 to £350 including VAT. There are models that are dedicated tillers, such as the Mantis Mini-Tiller, but there are also pick-tine attachments for many of the multi-tool systems where other options might include grass trimmers and hedgetrimmers. Mini tillers are ideal for breaking up surface crusts.

The size of the area you wish to cultivate will help you choose the most appropriate machine width. Hobby and mid-size tillers have working widths of between 25cm and 45cm and are generally powered by small engines of 2.5hp to 4.5hp. Prices will vary but as a guideline expect to pay between £450 and £650 including VAT. With a 3.5hp four-stroke engine and 42cm working width, the Viking (Stihl) VH440 fits this category. When HW tested this machine we found it to be surprisingly user friendly. The VH440 is currently priced at £569 including VAT.

We also tested the impressive Viking VH540. This one fits into the "larger" tiller class, having a 5.5hp engine and 82cm working width. Designed for the professional gardener, this unit has loads of muscle for its relatively compact size. It weighs 56kg and has six (2x3) hoes. Like its smaller stablemate it is equipped with one forward and one reverse gear. It costs £689 including VAT.

Honda Power Equipment also offers a good range of rotary tiller/cultivators, with models in the mini-, mid- and large-size categories. The firm's mid-range model, the 5hp with 87.5mm working width, costs £769 including VAT. Husqvarna also offers a range of tillers.

The addition of wheels, making the machine more of a two-wheel tractor, makes rotary cultivators more expensive but easier. With the tines turning independently of the wheels, less effort is needed to hold the rotating tines in the ground at the required depth. Expect to pay upwards of £1,000 for the privilege.

HW tested the Camon C8 Rotavator from Tracmaster. It's the smallest (51cm working width) in the company's range, and nice and compact, but at 8hp it also packs a punch. Although not a two-wheel tractor in the real sense, it can be fitted with dozing and mowing attachments. Retail price is £1,878 including VAT.

A new player in the market is Massey Ferguson. The company offers a 6.5hp, 46cm self-propelled rotary tiller with four tines and forward and reverse gears.

- Email your questions to sally.drury@haymarket.com.


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