Starting a Garden: Cultivating Garden Soil

A family member of mine recently moved into a new house and wants to start an ornamental garden. I agreed to help because I figured it would make a good garden project for this blog to document the creation of a garden. Also, this gives me an opportunity to see if I can create a less haphazard garden than my own. Mainly, a garden where plants are planted with attention to height and color combination. This is the inaugural post of this new garden project and starting a new garden means starting with cultivating the garden soil.  Actually, starting a garden starts with sketching out a garden plan and deciding where your plants will go but I didn’t photograph this step. The yard the garden is being started in is a good size, but we have to leave room for kids to play in. So, the garden itself will be restricted to a skinny strip a long a fence where someone planted cucumbers earlier this spring. 

I used this as an opportunity to test the electric cultivator that Troy-Bilt sent me this spring to test & review on the MrBrownThumb garden blog. Here are the stats on the cultivator
8 Bladed tines for cultivating and root cuttings. Cultivating depth up to 5 inches. Rotating Tines are adjustable from 6″-9″ for tilling, cultivating and cutting roots. 120 Volt 6.5 AMP Motor. 
Using the cultivator was something new to me since every garden project I’ve ever worked on involved breaking up the soil with a shovel. Wow. Using a cultivator makes a world of difference, what would’ve taken me up to an hour turned out to be a 20 minute job. Like when I reviewed their lithium ion garden trimmer last year I was a little rough with the cultivator because I wanted to see if I could break it in one use. I couldn’t. 
I removed the rocks and stones I found on the surface of the soil, but didn’t do that good of a job. When the tiller dug up a large piece of concrete it stopped the tiller. It was easy enough to remove from the blades without any damage being done to the cultivator itself.
Similarly the roots and stems from the yerba buena and weeds growing in this patch of the yard were no match for the blades. You can see them wrapped around the blades in one of the pictures in the gallery. They didn’t hamper their rotation or slow down the machine. Even the fallen twigs from the large ginkgo tree in the garden didn’t slow down the machine and most of them ended up broken into smaller pieces. I’m actually surprised at how powerful this little tiller is and how much abuse it took during my trial. If I had been tasked with the job of starting this garden and either buying or renting a cultivator I would’ve gone with a larger tool and one that was probably gas powered. 
While powerful, the tiller is remarkably easy to handle. So easy in fact, that I allowed one of my smaller family members to guide the tiller while I took pictures and video of it. Probably my favorite part of this cultivator is how easy it starts. No stupid string to pull, you simply press the large button and lift the handle and it goes. 

The next step in creating this new garden will be amending the soil and after that I’ll add plants that will be divisions from my garden as well as plants purchased at garden centers in Chicago
The TB154 garden cultivator retails for $199.99 but I was given this tiller for free to test & review. 


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  • A mud-encrusted tiller with weed-entangled blades is such a happy sight when the job's all done! I'm waxing sentimental about the three gardens I've created with a tiller (none of them even mine!). I borrowed a larger, gas-powered Mantis but it was difficult to handle: you could only pull it backwards (not push forward), it jumped alarmingly off the ground if it hit something (I don't want my tiller doing wheelies!), and it was a @#$% to start (keeping in mind I'm pretty strong with stuff like that and like working with power tools). Looks like this one is much better for smaller jobs. Did the cord ever feel like it was in the way, though? (Why, no, I never cut through a client's extension cord with my electric hedge trimmers, why do you ask?) I'm looking forward to seeing progress in this garden!

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    This garden cultivator didn't do any jumping! Yikes. The motion was pretty smooth and (don't tell anyone)but I even let one of my 5-year-old nephews push it along for a bit. He was able to handle it.

    No, the cord hooks onto the attachment you see in picture 4 of 12 and I never felt like it was in the way. Also, when it hit that big rock (picture 9 of 12) it didn't jump or tip over, which surprised me. It just stopped in place and I unplugged it and removed the rock.

    As for the starting it was a breeze! You just push the red button and lift up the handle and it starts. The great thing about Troy-Bilt's cultivator is that it is so easy to start. I would've given up if it had been one of those gas powered ones that you have to pull a cord to get going.

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