Having rocks where you don’t want them can be a real annoyance. They are unsightly, restrict plant growth, and can cause damage to garden machines such as lawnmowers. But there are ways of removing rocks, and here we will look at how to use a cultivator to rake rocks to help you get rid of them.
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Using a Cultivator To Rake Rocks
If you’re not fortunate enough to live somewhere with rich, deep, fertile soil but instead have dirt filled with rocks and stone, growing anything from a pasture to a vegetable garden can be a challenge.
Rocks prevent the soil from holding nutrients and water for your plants and can cause them to be weak and even not survive at all.
Having rocks where you don’t actually want them can be unsightly, but just how can you get rid of them and improve the look and health of your plot?
A cultivator or rototiller is a good way to help begin the process, but it will require a significant amount of work and other procedures to get rid of the rocks.
You can choose to buy or hire some of the tools that are necessary for the job.
- Rototiller/cultivator – These are machines that turn over the soil by digging it up to a pre-set depth. They come in a variety of types and sizes suitable for any size of land, from a small garden to a farm field.
- Long-handled shovel – To easily pick up piles of rocks, you’ll need a long-handled shovel.
- Fixed steel tine rake – These are also called garden rakes and have a row of short, hard steel tines on a straight head and measure just over a foot in width. They often come on a metal shaft, and this can be preferable for the strength and durability of the tool.
- Pickaxe – If you have larger boulders present on your land, you may require a pickaxe to help dig them out.
- Long steel pry-bar – To lever boulders out of the ground once you have dug around them, a long, steel pry-bar can be a very useful tool.
- Wheelbarrow/trailer – To collect the stones, rocks, and boulders, you will need something to transport them away to a pre-designated area. If you are just removing stones from a vegetable garden, a wheelbarrow will probably be sufficient, but for larger plots of land or fields, a trailer on a quad or tractor might make the job easier.
- Work gloves – To protect your hands from blisters and cuts, always wear a good pair of work gloves.
So now you have all of the required tools, exactly how do you go about getting rid of those pesky rocks?
- Tilling – to begin, it’s necessary to turn over the soil and break it up. This will help to reveal more rocks and enable you to rake them up. Using a cultivator or rototiller, set the machine to dig approximately 7 inches deep and go over the ground in at least two passes.
- Raking – Using the fixed tine garden rake, smooth the ground. This will reveal rocks that will begin to lay on the surface. You shouldn’t find raking the tilled ground difficult as providing you have used your cultivator when the ground is slightly damp, not wet, and not dry, then the soil will be crumbly.
- Collecting – You should be able to rake up a large number of small rocks in very little time. Now you’ll need to remove them by raking them into a pile and, using your long-handled shovel, tip them into a wheelbarrow.
- Escapees – There is a simple solution for small stones that go through the tines of your rake, turn your rake upside down, so the tines face upwards – be careful not to tread on it! Now rake over the soil as before to make a pile of these smaller stones.
- Boulders – If you find there are larger rocks or boulders in your land buried beneath the surface you’ll need to use your pickaxe, prybar, and shovel to dig them out. Depending on size, get someone to help you, as you don’t want to injure your back. Once removed, fill the hole with soil from the surrounding area and level.
Can You Use A Cultivator On Rocky Soil?
Using cultivators or rototillers on rocky soil can be hazardous due to them throwing stones at high speeds.
Rocks also make the movement of the cultivator more difficult to control, and if you hit a large rock beneath the surface of the soil, a rototiller will give a strong kickback which could cause injury.
It isn’t uncommon for people to suffer injuries to their feet and legs when the tiller jumps from hitting a rock, so great caution must be taken if you believe there are rocks in your soil.
The jolt caused may also pull the handles out of your grasp, and they can sometimes even break your wrist.
Once out of control, getting things safely back can be tricky, and you should never allow anyone else to be close to you when you are using such a machine.
Best Tiller Type
The best types of rototiller for use on rocky soil are rear tine tillers. This means the digging tines are at the back of the machine behind the wheels and not in front of the wheels as in front tine tillers.
The advantage to rear tine tillers is that the wheels are driven, and they pull the blades of the tiller along through the soil. This makes it a lot less hard work than a front tine tiller.
Rear tine tillers are also less jumpy in stony conditions, which makes them easier to control than their front tine counterparts.
In this video, you will see the differences between front and rear tine tillers:
Good tillers for rocky soils also have some other very specific features you should look out for:
- Safety engine cutout if you release the handles
- Replaceable, highly durable tines
- Strong frame and handles
- Safety cover over the tines that comes down well over the back of the machine
Never try to use a tiller on soil with very large stones or a lot of big boulders buried beneath the soil. These things will need to be removed before you can till safely.
If you’re not sure about buried rocks, you can go over the ground at a shallow depth to reveal any hidden rocks and keep making your depth setting a little deeper with each pass until you reach the required depth.
This will help to prevent you from getting too much kickback. Remove the revealed boulders and large stones between passes.
Is There A Machine To Pick Up Rocks?
There are machines specially designed to pick up rocks. These are called “Rock Pickers” and are generally large pieces of agricultural equipment you pull behind a tractor.
You may be able to find smaller versions that work with a garden tractor, but even these tend to be quite prohibitively expensive.
These work by using tines that are angled into the ground to loosen the rocks. They then scoop them up by tumbling them into a special hopper where they collect at the back of the machine.
Because these pieces of equipment need to be extremely tough and durable, they are made from special super-strong steel that can withstand the punishment they receive. This, unfortunately, also makes them expensive.
Make Your Own
If you’re handy, you may be able to make your own rock picker, as you can see here. This can be done a lot more inexpensively by getting the heavy-duty metal from scrap yards.
How To Separate Rocks From Dirt
Another way to separate your rocks from the soil is to use a rock screen or soil sifter. You can easily build one of these using a small gauge, heavy-duty metal mesh, and some 2” x 4” wood.
The screen should be set at a 45 to 50-degree angle so that when you throw soil onto the screen, the dirt falls through the mesh, but the rocks tumble to a collection tray at the bottom end of the device.
You can make these to any size you require, from small to large. This negates the need to do so much raking. You simply use your shovel to throw the tilled soil onto the screen. Ensure you are working systematically over the entire area.
You can also buy specially made soil sifters, but they can be fairly expensive and not always large enough to do the job quickly and efficiently.
You can use a cultivator to help you rake rocks, providing that you take precautions to avoid injury!
Keep in mind that these machines can be a bit unpredictable in rocky soils, and accidents can and do occur.
The best cultivators are those with the blades at the back of the machine rather than the front.
Ensure you always clean and service your machine each time you use it to keep it working well and to prevent any dangerous issues before they can cause an accident.