ROTOTILLERS Take a chunk of labor out of turning soil

The tool can also be used before planting a lawn or putting down sod.
The glare from the sun is a sign that Mother Nature is smiling upon us again. It's a reprieve from the rain, at least for a few days -- enough to dry and let us work the soil for a vegetable garden.
Instead of turning the soil over with a hand and hoe, a less laborious alternative is to use a rototiller.
Rototillers, which are gas-powered, have blades or tines that help move the soil in a rotary fashion. Basic models have the blades near the front, are small in size and often are used for limited areas.
"Front ones, they chop at the dirt and tend to pull you," says John Letlow, the garden manager at Fresno Ag Hardware in Fresno, Calif. "Average backyard gardeners just need the little one."
Rear-model rototillers tend to be stronger, bigger and for large yards. "When they are in the back, they drop down, and you can walk with" the tiller, Letlow says.
Besides working the soil for gardens, rototillers can be used before planting a lawn or putting down sod.
"If you don't [till the soil], it might not drain right or root right," Letlow says. "It's important to do things properly if you want things to work."
Clovis, Calif., master gardener Gene Marshall has both a heavy-duty rear rototiller and a smaller front one.
"They have made it easier," says Marshall. "They mix the soil and mulch a lot better than what you could do by hand, and much easier."
Tiller maintenance
When he's done using the tillers, he washes them down with a water hose. "Keep checking your oil, and use fresh gasoline," he advises. "Gasoline, as it gets old, develops varnishes and clogs up your fuel system."
If you want to buy a rototiller, keep in mind how much property you will be working. "Determine what you're going to use it for before you decide what type to buy," Marshall says. "The small tiller is good for small areas, but you wouldn't want to do a large area with it because it would take too long."

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