The Two Power Tools I Wouldn't be Without

Note: this is not an ad! This is just me, describing two tools I love, how I got them, and why I love them. Neither Mantis nor CORE knows I'm doing this, though I will send them each a link, as I always do for anyone to whom I link in one of these posts. I have linked to their websites only so that you can check them out if you are interested.

When I first had the chance to fulfill my dream of homesteading, I was a purist of the purest persuasion, to coin a term. I was 32 years old, and a single mother of three children, ages 2, 6, and 8, plus a small dog, age 11, who took a new lease on life out there in the woods. We had five mostly wooded acres in Ohio, and a trailer. Little by little, we’d gotten the trailer leveled and electricity connected, but we carried our water from a spring that came through limestone, a natural purifier. Second-best water I ever tasted! We hand-dug a pit and hand-built a privy over it. It didn’t have a door; it faced over a wooded gorge and there was no one to see anything. It looked like something built by a small woman and three kids, but it was ours!

As a purist, I thought we were going to use only hand tools. We bought an axe, some hatchets, a couple of bow saws, and of course shovels, rakes, hoes, and so on. The soil was hard clay and a punishment to work. I also bought a rotary lawnmower, but the ground was too uneven, and the weedy grass too thick and stemmy for that to work. I once cut most of the front yard on my knees with long-bladed hedge trimming shears! Just once, believe me…

The Mantis Tiller

Fast forward through some pretty hard times, and not just for the immediately obvious reasons. I was now remarried to a wonderful man who had a central Ohio farm with the very best spring water I ever tasted. The soil was even stiffer clay. We had an ancient tiller, older than me I’m pretty sure, and it was like trying to till up a parking lot. My gardens still weren’t doing much. I thought I was lazy, but the truth was, it was so freaking hard I just couldn’t keep up, despite adding all the manure and hay and sand and whatever that I could get my hands on, and struggling to get it incorporated.

Then I saw an ad for the Mantis ® Tiller. Well, I’d seen ads before, and drooled over it… Finally I bought one. At the time it came with an entire year of guaranteed return, no questions asked. Well, my friends, I set out to kill that thing! I had a year to try to make it die. I tilled hardpan clay, I tilled fields with two-foot (1/2 meter) tall weeds, I created trenches for potatoes and asparagus… That little workhorse did every single thing I ever asked of it, and little by little, I started to get a real garden! It also is fairly easy to pull-start. I tell everyone I could be a poster child for Mantis, and I know that I have personally been responsible for at least a few other people buying one, not to mention the second one I bought myself when mine was stolen.

It’s the only tiller I have and the only one I plan to have, and my garden is about 30’ x 90’. That’s besides several flower gardens, two herb gardens, and a labyrinth with my small orchard in it. In the labyrinth, after trying quite a few path coverings, I now use the tiller to thinly cultivate every month or so along the paths, and keep them open and clear that way.

I don’t want to just write an ad for Mantis, and you can learn all the details at their website, but I just want to say that if you either don’t want to or are not strong enough to use only hand tools, this small tiller is a good thing to have on a hard-working homestead. Its gas tank holds maybe a quart or so, but that lasts for a good hour of tilling or more, which is about all I want to do at one time, anyway.

It’s difficult to describe in words how I use it, but I’ll try. I stand with my feet far apart so that I won’t walk in newly tilled soil and compact it. I’m going to till from right in front of me going forward, in a long strip. I use the tiller in a kind of rocking motion, forward and back, something like a vacuum cleaner, and till from side to side about two feet or half a meter wide. The tiller pulls forward (quite hard—hang on! It will stop automatically if you lose your grip) so you are pulling backwards against that. The effect is kind of like double digging. It digs a little trench from side to side in your row, and then you move forward and it pulls the soil from the next bit into that trench, and so on.

I till in the fall, too, and find my beds are much easier to prepare when spring comes. Here is a picture of a small portion (about 15 feet or 3 ½ meters square) of my veg garden.

Corn and tomatoes grew here this year, and for the two months since the corn was done and the one month since the tomatoes were, I’ve allowed weeds to grow, and also have dumped small mounds of fresh manure from the barn all over it. The day before this picture, I spread those out more, with a garden rake. It took about five minutes.

Today, in 38 minutes of elapsed time, including stopping once to detangle tines…

...pain in the neck, but only about 3 minutes to clean them...

...I got it looking like this. You can see the wide rows and the footprints between them. I’ll use those as paths—I try never to walk on tilled soil. The top 8 inches/20 centimeters of dirt is now well mixed with the weeds, the fresh manure, and any leftover old manure, hay, and crop residues (not much of that; cornstalks and vines go to the manure makers—donkey, goats, and poultry.)

Mind you, this has been used as garden soil for about eight years now. You will not be able to do a new bed this quickly. I know, because I created this bed out of hard, weedy grassland with this tiller!

I have been unable to find a video of anyone using it quite like I do, and don’t have anyone to video me doing it, but here are two that will sort of give you the idea. This one shows a guy doing just one row on already cleared soil, and he pulls back. If you don’t want to listen to him talk, cut to about a minute in. Then this one goes all through putting the tiller together and so forth. You can skip to about 3.5 minutes in and watch him going through heavy weeds. He’s going to dig out a patch of weeds in his lawn so he can reseed, so he’s going around in a circle, but you can see not only the motion I’m describing, but also how it powers through the weeds. And of course you can continue to do your own research. I skipped any that were actual ads for Mantis, but you can watch those, and I’m here to tell you, it’s really that good. It’s noisy and a little smelly, but I dearly love roaring along leaving dark, rich earth where a strip of weeds used to thrive.

The CORE Electric String Trimmer 

For years, I haven’t been able to use trimmers. I can’t start our big one, and since I now live alone, everything has been terribly weedy around the edges unless I could afford to hire someone. I finally decided, about three years ago, to try to find one I could use myself. I happened across the CORE trimmer only because my local store was doing a temporary test market. I was intrigued by the idea of an electric trimmer, but suspicious of its power. I don’t live in a neat suburban neighborhood! I asked questions, and learned that the store employee was amazed at the warranty, which was a full five years for a residential customer and two for professional use. She said she’d never heard of such a thing.

I went home and did some online research. I was impressed to read that they wanted to provide “environmentally clean yet powerful alternatives” to gasoline engines, and even more so when I read about why their engine has comparable power to gas. With that and the warranty, I decided that if it lived up to its promise, the fairly hefty price would be worth it. I not only bought one, but I took the step of emailing the company to say that if they would really stand behind it, I was willing to be a kind of “beta tester,” in a sense, since it was a fairly new product at the time.

Well… they’ve never had to stand behind it. I LOVE THIS THING!!! To start, I squeeze two buttons. To stop, I let go. A battery charge lasts about an hour on regular, or 45 minutes on high (which I seldom use even in my horribly thick weeds and fencerows), and that’s about as long as I want to trim, anyway! Some people would find it a disadvantage that you have to cut two 10 feet/2+ meter pieces of cord and wind them on, but it’s no big deal, and that way you can buy the inexpensive bulk cord. I bought a big package and it’s going to last me for years. And I do use this thing. A lot! And I only have to replace cord perhaps 3-4 times per summer.

In the case of the trimmer, I don’t have to try to give instructions; you use it like any trimmer. Some people have said it’s heavy, and I do know they are always working on producing lighter batteries, but it isn’t too heavy for me, and I’m not very big. It’s not as heavy as our big one that I can’t start!

Before trimming (about 10 by 20 feet/3 by 5 meters):

After trimming, about ten minutes elapsed time:

It does get tangled—that’s because I use it in very nasty tall-weed situations—and I simply let go of the buttons, touch it to the ground to stop its spinning, pull off the weeds, and keep going. I rarely have any trouble pulling off tangles, which I have to say is not true for the Mantis. So here’s the best part of all—I no longer have to till in weedy situations! (Except to demo for you, above!) Normally, I simply “scalp” the weeds with my trimmer, then till. It’s a marriage made in heaven. My only wish is that I could afford a second battery to have on hand. They are expensive, but the one that came with it is still holding a charge nearly as long as ever, after three seasons of hard use, and that’s a lot less money than the gas would have been.

Moral of the story: if you have to use power, try to use it responsibly, as little of it as possible. I doubt if I use two gallons of gasoline per season in all my tilling, and I my power bill hasn’t gone up visibly with charging the tiller battery.

What power tools do you use and why?

 



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Bobby Lyon (Bobby Lyon)

October 8th, 2015 at 4:06pm

I don't have a Mantis but I do have a Honda mini tiller and you are right...It is great. The Mantis 4 cycle has a Honda engine also. Really easy to start and a tank of gas last for over an hour.

William Free (ShadyGlade Farm)

October 9th, 2015 at 7:53am

Pushing 10 years ago started using a bought-at-auction Mantis tiller. Whereas it does like to be primed for the 1st start of the day, it's always done way more than it was intended to. Very handy for tilling raised beds, breaking up composted manure piles & mixing up the deep litter in the poultry's quarters. My technique in open ground quickly developed into what you describe, as the flats of the tines will skip off stones, but the ends will pull them up & out. Forget detangling, cut & pick instead... take that old screwdriver that you never use because you have better ones, bend a right angle parallel to the tip edge (if Phillips, etc., pick a spot) 1/2 - 3/4" from the tip (may require heat), & sharpen the inside edge. Slip between the tine hubs or axles & the stems & pull, it's a time/frustration saver.

Debbonnaire Kovacs (Debbonnaire)

October 9th, 2015 at 1:03pm

Thank you, William! I've tried using a screwdriver before, but not with a sharpened edge!

Jesse Glessner (JayGee)

January 24th, 2016 at 10:53am

Using a Mantis, any time you try to till down through sod or even till ground that has settled be prepared to go over it several times. The tiller will do the job, but, it is lightweight - the action of the tines are what pulls it down further. To have that happen efficiently you need to walk the tiller backwards - or as stated above, walk forward a bit, and then pull back over the area. I do a row this way from one end to the other and then reverse and go back over it in opposite direction to catch areas that may have been skipped over. YES, it does get tangled in weed patches. I use an old aluminum handled short kitchen knife with a steel blade that, if I keep it sharpened, cuts through those weeds quickly. It is still a chore though as you have to do one side and then turn around and do the other. People who are ambidextorous would be good at doing this job. Be careful, you can get stuck, your knife can get stuck, or you can get easily cut on this unit. ALWAYS PULL THE PLUG WIRE BEFORE WORKING ON A MANTIS. THEY COULD POSSIBLY START JUST TURNING THE TANGS! DON'T TRUST THAT "OFF" SWITCH, PULL THE PLUG WIRE!!!!!