Rotavators - or Rotovators both spellings are in common usage

Q. I'm looking into buying a rotavator but unfortunately I know very little about them and their problems. Could you shed some light on these machines and any issues associated with them like how long it will last for and whether they dig in etc?

A.  Rotavators are not deep diggers, they will reach the top 2-4" of the soil. They can be very hard work to use (but a lot easier than a spade for the area covered). How long will they last? Well like a lawn mower, they should be matched in power to the area to be covered, and when used they are better doing a little and often than a lot every now and then.

I tend to think of them more as a sort of heavy-power-hoe rather than a spade substitute. They are best suited for actively used vegetable / flower plots or market gardens where crops of various types are grown. They can be used to incorporate compost / manure that has been spread on the surface, they won't get it down deep, but they certainly will get it down under the soil.

Feedback received

    I noticed on your site a question posed about rotovators, you say they are very hard work and are only able to dig the first 2-4" of soil. Also your opinion was to use them as a power hoe instead of a spade substitute, I feel all these comments are incorrect and the one about depth to dig is actually very misleading.

The reason why I'm making this point is that rotovators are very close to my heart, having a collection of five, all fully restored and used on a regular basis. The biggest of which, has an 810cc Twin Petrol engine, a digging width of 24" and is quoted as digging 9" I have personally had this machine digging a full spit of earth (12" and more) and is not a new machine, having been made in 1967.

For the past 25 years we have used this to lay the earth rough and fallow overwinter and also use them to dig in grass clippings which incidentally make good fertilizer and help loosen the soil. I'm certain that some of your comments are down to the 'normal cheap' type of! rotavator (like those manufactured by Merry Tiller etc)- the one where the rotor (slashers) leads the wheels (if any are fitted) and the engine is 'on top' the  machine. These I'd agree are hard work and are totally inadequate for any heavy work or where there is virgin soil.

I feel this is misleading and tries to make a point that you are best to hand-dig land. True there are some instances where you have to but there are a large number of instances where machine digging is just as good as a hand-dug plot - it's just personal preference which is used! I'd appreciate clarifying this point on your site Thank you for your attention.

Regards, Ian Alden

Anglian Gardener reply

    Hi Ian,

You are sort of right about assuming that I'm referring to Merry Tillers and the like and it being best to hand dig the soil. My own experience with rotavators has been with larger models however, a large Honda machine initially, can't remember the details, but I know it was over £3500 worth, so not a "home" machine for most people. Most recently I've used machines to rotavate plots in preparation for laying turf. My experience with these machines was as I said, fairly heavy work and not a lot of digging depth - except where they hit a soft patch and started to bury themselves! Soil type makes a big difference too, I've used them mainly on clay, I guess in Ely, your soil is fen-like that many people only dream about.

The comments on the web site are also biased towards my known audience of the site which will more likely than not be people who are considering exactly the Merry Tiller type machine, so yes my comments are biased toward them and this type of rotavator. I sort of assumed that if some one wanted one for allotment / market-gardening work, then they wouldn't be looking at a general gardening website for information. You've made it clear that I can't assume that!

Regards - webmaster

Feedback reply

    Hi Paul,

I know that most people would probably be using the merry tiller type but even new these machines wouldn't necessarily be classed as 'cheap'- the Husqvarna start at about £400 and the 'better' model, probably more like a merry tiller is just over £600. The large models we have are all made by the company Howard which is long since gone. Over the years they made a number of different variations of machine and we have a small representation of these - even their smallest- digging a mere 10" wide is capable of at least 6" but that is in a number of 'passes'! They were primarily for 'market garden' work and such... The soil we have is slightly sandy but it makes it heavy when wet.

We always dig the soil for overwinter just when we have a heavy frost as otherwise we have had the machines caked in mud! Strangely these machines, when Howard stopped making them were costing upward of £4500 and weren't as good as some of the earlier models, can now be picked up for less than £300, so anyone with a reasonable mechanical knowledge would be in a good position to fix them.

Nearly always they are sold by people without a lot of knowledge so there are some bargains to be picked up but I'd like you to stress the obvious safety aspect- many of these machines have been 'used and abused' and as such though not totally unsafe are bound to have undesirable features that require fixing - e.g. no clutch or loose rotor caused by bearing failure.

Machines we've had have had those faults and more and have yet still been used. We've had to rebuild them to make them 'safe' again! A worthy point to note! If you'd like anymore comments about them please feel free to get back to me. On an aside the brochures that came with them said that most weeds including 'bell bind' or bindweed could be killed by continually rotavating the plot. Unfortunately we've never had enough spare land to prove it!

Kind Regards

Ian Alden

Custom Site Search

   Copyright 2000 - present. All Rights Reserved  |  Privacy Policy Statement