Whether you are looking for a small tool for a new garden plot or new to cultivate a large plot of land, a cultivator has many uses on the homestead. That means knowing what a cultivator can do for your farm is important, no matter what type of farming you are doing. It may not be a necessary tool for small-scale farmers, but it can sure make things easier.
What does a cultivator do? In this guide, we’ll discuss the basics of cultivators and how to choose the right one for your needs!
What You'll Learn Today
What Is A Cultivator?
A cultivator is a type of machinery used to till and cultivate the soil. Various forms range from small cultivation on the topsoil to deep tilling like a rotary tiller.
They can be used during the growing season while sparing the crops and ripping up the weeds. Alternatively, they can be used to till the entire topsoil level to remove the plant life and prepare the beds for planting.
Some heavy-duty cultivators hook to a tractor and then there are small garden-size tools suitable for garden beds. They differ from a harrow in that the tilling performed is done in patterns that can spare the crop roots and still till up the weeds. Harrows disturb the entire soil area.
Cultivators can be simple hand tools that are human-powered, run on gas or electricity, or pulled behind an animal or tractor. There is a large field to choose from, but they all serve the same purpose.
Roto-tillers function as a combination of a harrow and a cultivator in many popular models. You must know exactly how your machinery will perform before you make your purchase. After all, you never want to invest in farm equipment without knowing if it works the way you need it to.
That’s where renting tools before buying can be so useful!
What Does A Cultivator Do?
A cultivator can do exactly what a hoe can do for reducing weeds in a given area. While many new-age farmers turn to herbicides to kill weeds, organic farmers tend to till and cultivate the weeds to reduce the chemical exposure to their crops.
This doesn’t automatically make it better for the soil, however. It’s simply a more natural way to reduce weed cover.
A cultivator scratches the soil to a given depth to pull and pulverize the weeds and their roots. It also helps aerate the soil and improves the soil structure immediately after the cultivation/tilling.
The long-term effects of tilling actually increase erosion, reduce soil life, and harm the soil structure, so limiting cultivating and tilling with heavy machinery to when it’s necessary is good for your land. When cultivating you can till in amendments to reduce the negative effects and still get the job done. Win-win!
How Does A Cultivator Work?
Whether the cultivator is connected to and powered by a tractor or a simple walk-behind design, the machine works in the same way. The teeth and cultivation pattern may be different as well.
Using a cultivator during the crop growing season or before planting can be a special function of certain cultivators. When looking to purchase, or rent, a cultivator, it’s important that you find the one that functions the way you want it to.
Various rotary tillers and cultivators for small-scale use are known under different names, including:
- Garden Tillers (here we explain the difference between a cultivator and tiller)
- Two-Wheel Riding Rotavators
Then there are large machines, such as Field Cultivators and Row Crop Cultivators that are to be used on large plots of land.
The majority of cultivators have adjustable settings to change the tilling depth and speed of cultivation. These factors change the effectiveness of the job performed and how much soil tilth is turned.
Deeper settings are great for tough perennial weeds that harbor deep taproots. Shallow cultivation is great for less weedy patches of land.
What Is A Cultivator Used For?
As discussed already, there are a few major uses for cultivators on the farm. These include:
- Preparing new planting areas by uprooting weeds and reducing soil compaction.
- Reducing weeds during the growing season.
- Improving the soil by tilling in amendments to increase fertility and/or improve soil structure.
All of these can be done with the same cultivator if you have the right tool to work with. The idea of a cultivator is simply enough that you can even make your own hand-powered version that gets the job done successfully.
Who’s afraid of a little hard work and elbow grease?!
When Is The Best Time To Use A Cultivator?
If you want to prepare a new garden bed, it’s best to cultivate the current plant life a couple of weeks before you want to plant seeds or transplants (check the weather though!)
If you plant immediately after cultivating/tilling, the soil will still be rebuilding its complex structure and web of life. It won’t be as fertile as it could be.
Also, the weeds that have been uprooted have a chance to compost in place a bit if you give the planting area enough rest time before planting. Multiple cultivation sessions may be even more useful if you have a particularly weedy area you’d like to plant in.
If you are amending your soil, you can turn in new materials at the same time you cultivate the weeds. However, it’d be better to cultivate the weeds first, let the planting area rest, and then cultivate at a later time to add in the soil amendments.
When you need to cultivate during the growing season when crops are already established, you can till the weeds at any time. If you wait too long, the weed root system may be too large to be removed by the shallow tillage required when crops are already in the ground.
Where To Buy (Or Rent) A Cultivator
If you are looking to purchase a small unit that is suitable for garden plots and other smaller areas of land (e.g. battery operated), you can purchase cultivators at any store that sells garden machinery.
The local big box store will have some in stock, but you can probably find a better deal online. This holds true especially if your local store doesn’t have the brand or specific model that you want to purchase.
You can also go to brand outlets to find more commercial-grade options. They’ll typically cost more than the big box store brands, but at least you know they’ll offer better support, warranties, and maintenance work when necessary.
Larger cultivators that are meant to be pulled by a tractor will require a more specialized store. It’ll typically be from the retailer of the tractor itself since many brands of tractors feature proprietary connections to keep you purchasing within the same brand.
If you want to rent a cultivator, the local home improvement stores are a good place to look. You can also look at garden and farm stores and see if they have rental options available.
Many hardware stores are expanding their rental options because they know if you can rent a high-quality unit that they sell as well, there is a better chance you purchase your own cultivator from them in the future.
Renting may be harder than buying, since you can buy cultivators from nationwide stores, like:
- Home Depot
The best thing about renting heavy equipment like cultivators is that you don’t have to worry about the maintenance of your machinery to ensure your investment lasts for years and years.
Alternatively, if you want to do something simple but still relatively effective, check our DIY guide on making a cultivator from an old bicycle frame.
How Much Do Cultivators Cost?
You can buy a hand tool that acts as a cultivator for as low as $20-30. There is no shame in getting hand tools and getting a bit sweaty to get the job done.
Many times, hand tools allow more control in that you can easily alter the depth and strength of your cultivation, unlike machines that have preset functions.
You can buy small units that are gas or electric and can handle small jobs for around $100. They will be great for areas that aren’t overly weedy or full of hard-packed clay and gravel.
These are best suited to turning in soil amendments in a garden bed that is already in decent shape since the strength and size of these models aren’t suited to extra-tough jobs.
Larger units that last long and handle tougher jobs with weedy plots of land and more obstacles will cost more. Units in this quality range start around $250, but it’s not uncommon to see them priced upwards of $500-750.
These are the ones that you should be able to years to come and create new garden areas as your homestead and/or farm expands. They are suitable for small market gardens but still aren’t large enough for most large commercial farms.
Two-wheel tractor cultivators that you can ride on are usually a bit stronger than the previous category and can get more work done. They can be used for larger areas. However, they tend to be rare and hard to find.
If you don’t want to step up to cultivators that attach to tractors, some riding mowers have cultivator attachments that pull behind the mowers. These are typically dragged and not powered themselves and cost around $200-300+.
Tractor-powered cultivators are typically priced based on the local retail outlet since shopping for these online isn’t the best option.
The price range here is huge, so it’s best to shop around if you are looking for a large cultivator to till fields. Models tend to start around $1,000 but can vary dramatically.
What Are The Best Brands Of Cultivators?
Brand name cultivators tend to work better than cheap models available from big box stores. Here are a few of the most well-known names in cultivators:
- Ryobi (corded electric)
- Greenworks (corded electric)
- Black + Decker
- Sun Joe
More important than the brand name is the build-quality. You can buy the cheapest model from the best brand and be dissatisfied while the best model from a lower-rated brand may be the best purchase you ever make. It’s important to pick a reputable brand and a good model!
Hopefully, by now you have a good idea of what a cultivator can do for your farm. You should also have a good idea of how to choose the right type for your current and future projects.
Similarly to another farm machinery (e.g. combines), picking a cultivator from a reputable brand will ensure that your tools are long-lasting and effective at getting the job done.
We’ve given you the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision. Enough talk, let’s get cultivating! If you are looking for more advice, this is our guide to using a cultivator to rake rocks.