Rotavators are much debated by allotmenters. An allotment rotavator can considerably speed up the ground preparation process, and save much physical effort in the process. However, if used injudiciously, they can compact the ground and spread weeds. This article looks at both sides of the discussion.
What Is An Allotment Rotavator?
As the picture above suggests, an allotment rotavator is often used as a ‘catch all’ term for a number of ground working functions provided by a machine. Similar to a power drill that can also operate as a screwdriver, sander, or wood hole saw, many rotavators also offer the opportunity to change settings and tool bits.
Allotment rotavators can:
- Dig up (smash up) virgin land ready for cultivation
- Dig holes for fruit trees
- Dig trenches for potatoes
- Plough the plot (turn over the soil) – acting as a tiller
- Cultivate the soil by destroying weeds at surface level (rather than digging more deeply through rotavating)
- Mix in mulches to help fertilise the soil
Perhaps their biggest advantage of all is the speed and effort saving in undertaking the above tasks. An allotmenter, with enough will and physical strength, can achieve all of the above using hand tools. However, an allotment rotavator makes these tasks much easier, an advantage that becomes more useful as the size of area under cultivation increases.
Why Don’t All Growers Have A Rotavator?
If they are so useful, this leads to the question as to why more allotmenters do not have one? Some of the reasons are as follows:
Rotavators are a significant investment, starting at around £100, with mid-range models in the region of £200-400, and higher specification machines from £500-1000. At this price, another consideration is how to keep the equipment safe and secure. If locking in a shed is not an option, a rotavator (a dirty piece of kit after use) will need to be transported to and from a plot.
2) Power & Petrol
Some of the cheapest rotavator models are powered by electricity, giving practical constraints for use on an allotment. Using petrol means that an allotmenter needs to transport or store petrol on their plot. Also, some allotmenters would prefer not to use petrol powered machines, preferring to undertake tasks by hand if possible.
You may like to see this article on an alternative digging approach: backsaver spade review.
3) Soil Compaction
A great strength of rotavators is their ability to work virgin soil, or big lumpy soil, into a fine tilth. If used at the wrong time of year (very wet soil), and on certain soil types (especially clay based soils), this can lead to soil compaction or panning. A pan is a layer of soil, commonly either at surface level or at a depth just below the reach of the blades (tines), that becomes so dense it is difficult for water to penetrate (or seeds to grow through). To avoid this happening, it may be best to turn soil by hand in autumn (and leave it in big clumps), and rotavate in better weather in the spring.
4) Weed Dispersal
Many weeds at the allotment propagate through their roots. Plants similar to those shown below will need to be removed by hand, otherwise they will be smashed up by the rotavator and dispersed around the plot (and left to regrow in ideal conditions).
How To Use An Allotment Rotavator
The following videos are available on YouTube, and for convenience are embedded in this page. Other brands of rotavator are available.
Purchasing an allotment rotavator second hand, or hiring one, can be good alternatives to buying from new.
If buying new, it may be worth considering the following:
- Practicality of design
Are the handles adjustable? Does the rotavator have wheels for easier movement? How easy is the rotavator to transport and store?
Does the engine have a guarantee? Is it fuel efficient? How noisy is it? How much power does it have?
- Ease of starting
Are there online reviews from owners satisfied with their purchase?
- Width of tillers
A wider cutting tiller is likely to need a more powerful engine, but it should make faster work of the job.
- Spare parts and accessories
Is it clear how the rotavator can be repaired and how much it would cost? Are there accessories, and how much do these cost? Once you have made the investment in the machine, you may want to use it as frequently as possible to maximise the return for your money.
- Size of space
Has the manufacturer recommended the size of growing space or land that the rotavator is suitable for?