THE ROTOTILLER RE IMAGINED – VERTICALLY

Joe used this new Vertical Tined tiller “right out of the box”, insisting that we had to give it the Russian Roulette treatment. Let’s see what it can handle.

More than most people, I am used to using those buzzwords we seem to hear all of the time – like ‘Innovation’, ‘Raising the bar”, or ‘Game Changer’, so when Troy-Bilt approached me to review a new roto-tiller for them, I had to admit that even though I knew that it would be a strong, dependable tiller, the idea that they ‘reinvented it’ raised some doubts. After all, it’s just a rototiller – how much bar-raising could really happen? (so OK, I caved and agreed to try it. Check this one out guys – it’s got vertical tines (like an egg beater) – this thing might change that way you think about those old ‘jumpin’ and hoppin’. shoulder-poppin yard monsters that eventually sit in your garage or barn.

Troy Bilt tillers are not for everyone, but if you have a large garden and cannot dig it in by hand, they are serious, work horses which last long and can handle some of the toughest terrain one presents.

Rototillers aren’t new to agriculture, has been around since the 1930’s when C.W. Kelsey invented the first America-made rear-tine rototiller (which he named off of a German machine known then as the Earth Grinder), the rototiller had it’s hey day in the mid to late 20th Century – when Victory gardens and large ( huge) family vegetable gardens were not only the rage, they were essential.

They fallen out of favor recently mostly because they are less necessary – most people have small, raised beds. and unless you have a 60 foot or 100 foot quarter acre veg garden (like the one I grew up with), you might be thinking that a rototiller is just what so many garden bloggers write off as not only unnecessary, but insist they are bad for the soil. OK, today, anyone worth their soil science knows that the idea of ‘Earth grinding until it looks like brownie mix” is about a unhealthy for soil structure as overheating a brownie batter if you like them fudgy ( really, is that only me?), but rototillers are designed for plowing larger gardens, not raised beds or a little plot out back. Somehow, folks started buying them just as they started buying ride-on mowers for their 1/4 acre lawns. If you have one of those larger vegetable gardens, then no one needs to tell you that you either need to plow it, or, you need to till it.

And hey, if you think you can hand-turn a quarter acre with a pitch fork or with mulch Mr. Cross Fit dude? – go for it.

The rest of us? We till.

If you are in the market for a rototiller, there are only a few options, and since Troy-Bilt is one of the original rototiller companies, it is one which I trust and fully recommend – not because they are paying me ( they are not, although they offered this machine for free to review – they know I don;t need it, for we have 2 other ones already). This one will go to our new neighbors who moved here from Italy, and who not only barely speak English, they were actually hand tilling a half acre garden which has been taking nearly a month to plant. But first, we tested – or more accurately, tortured. Why not – I have nothing to lose.

Let me say this – we have a rocky garden. So why test this beast in the garden? Why not see what it would do where there had never been a garden? heh heh heh. In the end, we lost, and the tiller won. Well played, Troy Bilt engineers….well played.

Vertical tines, which rotate not unlike an egg beater, are what makes this re-design so innovative.

Vertical Tines (the chomping bits in the rear of this machine) is what makes this model – the Bronco Axis Vertical Tine Garden Tiller so new and special. Instead of rotating like a street sweeper or a snow blower, this design works more like an egg beater. Weird, but kind of brilliant once you see it work. The best part? Expect little to no “jumping” around like traditional tillers – (sure, it made noise as it ground it’s way across virgin sod and rocks, chomping up everything from old rhubarb roots to a field of Japanese Giant Butterbur, but it survived.

We didn’t remove the sod before we tilled this section of virgin soil. Rocks? Sure, but it survived. In an average garden, it should perform very well.

At first we could not identify what is different about this tiller, other than the most noticeable feature which is the depth which it can dig. It seemed to dig deeper by a few inches, and we liked the adjustable pins which allows you to set the tines to dig in very deep if you wish (if you are digging through sod however,we suggest doing this on the second round). Typically it is recommended that one remove the sod first, but we (like many British gardeners) prefer to till the sod in, to allow it to compost, as sod makes some of the finest soil around.

How about tilling in some weeds, rhubarb a Japanese Giant Butterbur? Salad anyone?

We did find the machine a little tough to maneuver while it was not running, but oh – this is one which we could actually use with one hand. It’s true, we tested it, but I would still be careful if you have rocky soil, as it can jump a bit when it hits a rock. No tiller can survive those – but our rocks didn’t kill it. We only stalled once and jammed a rock once in between the tines. we did discover the handy little rollers on the back end of the protective rear hood, which once we discovered, let us relax a bit and simply push the machine back to the shed with no fear of hitting the tines on rocks. Many details and features were similar to other Troy-Bilt products, powder coated parts, enamel paint, harder plastic parts if there are any, and rubber wheels that can handle what any tractor can handle.

Handy rollers were added to this design, which made moving the tiller less of a chore when it wasn’t running, and these wheels helped protect the tines.

I will say this this machine is not light, it will still require some muscle but I equate that with quality, so it was not an issue with me. I did notice that it doesn’t pull you like other machines do – I think some might find this slower drag a disadvantage, but as a gardener, I appreciate it, as I like to dig deeper when tilling a field without having to return to the row too many times. Turning is about as hard as any other machine that we’ve tested, but again, like my mowers, I really don’t like being pulled around, preferring to set my own speed.

We used the tiller in three locations in the back of our yard, along a gravel walk, in a virgin-soil area and near the woods. Not an easy test for any rototiller, but it survived and even tilled the soil along with vegetable material like rhubarb and Petasites.

It’s worth mentioning that we are not the ideal product testers – if anything, we are sadistic.

I like to call it ‘being realistic’. In the past, we’ve popped tires on rocks (even on the last Troy Bilt tiller we testes), jammed tines, bent tines, and even short-circuited electrical lines, but we always want to test things in very honest ways. Integrity, and all. We don’t want to be ridiculous, but look – it’s a tiller, and it HAS to till, right? No worries, it did.

We did have some challenge areas in the garden, rocky parts, almost a woodland, but I wanted to put my ‘average newbie gardener hat’ on, and approach this with the attitude of “hey, we want to plant a large vegetable garden”. In my geeky gardener head, I’m really just planting my Zinnia trials.

The machine started on the second pull ( oops – we left it out in the rain for 2 weeks waiting for nicer weather) Never recommended, but remember “average newbie gardener hat”, OK? – – ( don’t do this, just saying). Still, it survived.

And, oh right…those rocks…we encounter rocks, lots of them, and jammed the tiller twice which stalled it out . It’s OK, it’s designed to do that. Always smart to try and remove as many rocks as possible first. Common sense. No tiller can chomp through rocks just as no human gold crown on a molar can survive a hidden rock in some walnuts from a Wholefoods in Providence, Rhode Island – just sayin’.

I planted 6 varieties of Zinnia’s in this spot, all part of my Summer Zinnia Trials, were I am raised as many varieties as I can possibly find this year.

Joe removed the rock with a hammer (from the tines, not my teeth) and the tiller started again with one try. No damage anywhere, this thing was tougher than we thought. By the way, we have an old Troy Bilt Pony in the shed from circa 1980 which still runs), so we sort-f knew what we were getting into, but sometimes, things are just cheaper or made with less quality over time.

In the end, it really comes down to – first – do you really need a tiller or not? But if you do, why not buy one from the company that was built on the idea and design of the Rototiller? made and designed in America by real people in Ohio in the middle of farm country- it’s just tilled in to their DNA.

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