The Groundhog Tiller From A

by Raymond Trull

After 14 years of hard work in gardening, my faithful tiller announced its imminent retirement with a chorus of grindings and rumblings and clouds of blue smoke.

What would replace it? In helping others in my gardening family, I'd used many well-known tillers, including Burns, Merry, Snapper, anil Gilson. While most had good and not-so-good features, all were durable, hard-working machines. A tour of local dealers and an examination of gardening magazines ma tie me itch to try every super clean, brightly painted new model on the stones, sticks, weeds, and dirty soil of my garden. There was nothing pretty about those tillers' prices—they had doubled in 14 years. To buy without carefully studying both quality and price was a foolish luxury I couldn't afford.

With attachments, many tillers convert to minitractors that plow, cultivate, rake, make planting ridges, harrow, and even move materials with a scrape blade. Could tillers be practical and efficient ininitractors for gardens and small area crops? I wanted to know!

The Groundhog, by Heakl of Benton Harbor, Michigan, is unique—it's sold as a kit. At $199.95 for a five horsepower, chain-driven model, it's at least §40 less than comparable preassembled models.

Fresh from the factory, the Groundhog is ready for assembly. Raymond Trull

Groundhog's components are made by companies I recognized—engines by Briggs and Stratton and Teeumseh, chain drives by Parmi, and ground-working tools (a good variety) by Brinly-Hardy. More important, by assembling it, I should understand its internal workings and be able to repair it later. The goal—greater self-sufficiency!

Basic assembly included putting the transmission, frame, and tines together, mounting the engine, and attaching control cables and levers—a nine-hour job for this nonexpert fumblefingers. No tasks were strenuous or very complicated, hut some required careful, patient work. A few wrenches, a screwdriver, and Heald's large drawings and careful directions kept the job moving.

With unexpected pride—it started and worked perfectly—I took the Groundhog to the garden for its first trial and my first surprise. At an engine speed just above idle, it cut six inches deep in garden soil undisturbed for six months. To make its task a bit tougher, I added extension tines for a 36-inch-wkle cut. Although an inch of leaves and old stalks covered part of the area, the Groundhog easily maintained its tilling depth and forward speed.

A much tougher test came soon. When dozens of volunteer asparagus popped up among the berries and shrubbery, I wanted to add them to our skimpy parent bed. But before preparing the deep, fertile soil needed by asparagus, a thick sod of common Bermuda grass had to be removed. In the South Carolina Piedmont, Bermuda sod is a devil's brew of intertwined, tough surface runners and a thick underground mat of fibrous roots, usually yielding only to hours of toil with a mattock.

With its extension tines in place, the tiller bounced stightly each time its tines struck. But the Groundhog churned forward slowly, leaving a seven-inch-deep layer of soil and vanquished Bermuda sod in its wake. Three hours' labor was over in twenty minutes'

The Groundhog is an actor with many roles: replace the tines with deep-cleated wheels and it's a mimtractor that works. Add a drawbar and make furrows with one plow or raised ridges with two plows in the iurrower hiller set. Replace them with the cultivator-scarifier set's four plows, and removing weeds and making dust mulches is safer for garden plants. Most of the weight of a well-

Opiional equipment—here a front-mounted temper blade, and two hinds of rear plows —adapts the tiller for many chores. Raymond Trull

Opiional equipment—here a front-mounted temper blade, and two hinds of rear plows —adapts the tiller for many chores. Raymond Trull

Progressive Gardening

balanced tiller is concentrated over its tines to make it dig easily and quickly. That's fine, unless you need to protect plant roots. With the Groundhog's cuiivator plows mounted at the rear drag bar and partially supported by the operator, plow depth is easily controlled.

Add a bit of imagination, and the Groundhog helps with many chores. Leaving two of the four cultivators mounted, I use it to rake together runners from our all-too-vigorous Japanese honeysuckle. (These make good mulch or a condiment for the compost pile when chopped with a lawn mower.) With the two plows still in place, the front-mounted scraper blade can be added for a gentle, mini-earth-moving machine. To flatten the ridge of an old crop terrace, I loosen soil with the cultivator plows and push it into position with the scrape blade. In addition, it smooths soil after potatoes are dug, distributes leaves and compost for tilling in, and spreads gravel. There are other applications and much more optional equipment.

Any problems with the Groundhog? One, due to personal preference. Rototilling with rear wheels in place—many users remove them—lifts the handlebars too high, even with the Groundhog's fine height adjustment. The solution? One extra hole in the wheel attachment rod brings handlebars down to just the right height.

In the minitractor disguise, the Groundhog runs out of traction and starts spinning long before its engine stalls. A better bite—with dual wheels or wider tires—would help in soft soil.

Overall, the Groundhog is a powerful, useful machine comparable to preassembled mct'els. Its price, performance, quick and easy adjustments, and good design clearly recommend it.

I do have one strong opinion. Many gardeners underestimate a tiller's working ability. Except for turning under a heavy sod or green manure crop, a five horsepower, chain-driven Rototiller is not likely to be stumped when used correctly. Can a tiller with attachments provide most, if not all, soil-working power needed for a large garden and small area crops? Yes!

Heald, Inc. Box 148

Benton Harbor, MI 49022

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  • mirin
    Where to buy a Groundhog hand tiller?
    6 years ago

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