17 March 2012


One of the best investments we've made since we moved to Saint-Aignan is the machine in the picture below. Without it, we wouldn't have much of a vegetable garden. The first year, we starting digging up the ground and turning over big clumps of heavy clay soil using a shovel. Then we got a clue.

You fold the front wheel up and out of the way. Then
the blades or tines dig into the ground you want to till.

And a rototiller or motobineuse. It's a rotary hoe with an engine. Here's what the Wikipedia article on cultivators says, in part, about tilling soil with such an engin.
Rototilling is much faster than manual tilling, but [the tilling machine is] notoriously difficult to handle and [tilling the soil with it is] exhausting work, especially in the heavier and higher horsepower models. If the rototiller's blades catch on unseen subsurface objects, such as tree roots and buried garbage, it can cause the rototiller to abruptly and violently move in any direction.
It's a 5.5 HP Staub tiller with a Briggs & Stratton engine.
It has a reverse gear, which makes it easier to maneuver.

To me, tilling with the machine is not nearly as back-breaking as digging in hard soil with a shovel and hoe. Or a pickaxe. With the rotary cultivator, I can work the soil in our medium-size vegetable garden a couple of times in the spring, before we plant, and, if the weather allows, once in the fall, after we've pulled out the plants.

Our vegetable garden covers just over
80 square meters (900 sq. ft.) in all.

Yesterday I did an initial tilling of two of our four main garden plots. I was glad that the tiller's motor started right up when I pulled it out of the garden shed and put some gas in the tank. This is its 8th or 9th year of service, but since I only use it for, say, 10 or 12 hours a year, it seems to be holding up pretty well.


  1. Got my broad beans in yesterday - yah!

  2. Wouldn't dare use a rotavator on our soil yet... just tooooo many large stones [sorry...ROCKS!]

    I've "bean" ploughing instead and we have the next 3 by 14 metre slab of soil ready for the spuds... also got the "cheat" salads in the ground yesterday... now for some radish alongside... Spring has sproing... the flowers is riz... oi wunder where the boidies is...

  3. Susan, I'm never sure what broad beans are. Fava beans (fèves)?

    Tim, it's gray and chilly today. Hope the sun comes back soon.

    Our garden plots are nearly 10 years old now so we've eliminated a lot of the rocks. What do you mean by "ploughing"?

  4. Tim, that's the first poem I learned, except we said grass instead of flowers.

    Like Ken, I wonder what you mean by plowing.

  5. We daren't use a rotavator here... not just because of the aforementioned rocks... but we've an awful lot of couch grass [also known as "twitch"] and field bindweed... with both plants, any small bit left in the soil gives rise to a new plant.

    So I plough [or plow]... we've purchased a two-wheel tractor to which we can hitch up a woodchipper, a cutter bar for the meadow and, unpowered, a set of culivation tools... one is a fully adjustable pough-share and turning the soil in that way allows us to remove long lengths of couch and bindweed root. I plough the land the same way that a big tractor does... but in a much smaller space. I go up and down the 14 metre bed, twice, and follow that up with the more tedious task of ploughing across the 3 metre width... the tractor, fortunately, has an unlockable differential... so, whilst I keep the diff locked for ploughing, I can unlock it and spin the tractor round on its two wheels, line it up, re-lock the wheels and swing the blade across and plough back the other way... we have a two metre grass strip between the big beds to allow this.

    One of the other cultivation tools is a "potato lifter".... this is also used as a stone lifter... I go through the already ploughed soil with this on the back and it breaks the soil up a bit further lifting the nstones and good lengths of couch to the surface... that is next weeks first job!
    I feel a "de la bonne boufe" blog entry coming on here.

  6. Tim, I wondered if you had a horse or an ox to pull the plow.

    Carolyn, yes, the grass is riz...

  7. I'm also still trying to figure out if a stone is smaller than a rock, or vice-versa.

  8. How exciting to be starting work on the veggie plots!

  9. Oh, and I like the new banner photo!

  10. Stones are smaller than rocks... unless a group of lonely stones* have clumped up with each other... then the clump is larger, heavier and more reticent at leaving the ground than either of the former... the stones are around seed potato/baseball size.... our rocks can be flint or limestone and the size of a hand, a head or a small car engine [usually flint those ones!] I've got one to move that is 2ft by 18" by 10"... or thereabouts... it is still part buried.
    *Please note... gravel and sand clump together in winter to form stones... or that's what one of our allotment neighbours used to reckon... she'd remove bucket after bucket from the plot in the spring... grow her crops, harvest them, tidy up for the winter.... and in the spring would be removing bucket after bucket of stones...again!
    And on allotments in the UK.... sand by itself fuses into glass in the summer heat... or seemed to on our plot... we were forever removing bits of melted glass!


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