How do you till a small garden without a tiller? Even if you’re on a small plot, chances are you’ll still want to till your soil. Tilling makes it easier to plant seeds and seedlings, you can turn compost and fertilizer into the soil, and till weeds and plants that have finished growing into the soil. That is, if you’re not a fan of no-dig gardens.
No-dig gardens can be great, you’re leaving your fertile topsoil in place and you can build more beautiful topsoil with organic fertilizers and compost. However, sometimes, it’s nearly impossible to garden in a no-till way. Enter tillers. What can you do to till your garden without a giant, tractor 3 point tiller? As someone on Facebook answered: “Really slowly, believe me.” That’s, without a doubt, true. But NOT impossible. Here are 14 ways to till your small garden without a tiller.
12 Ways to Till Your Small Garden Without a Tiller
1. Manual wheel hoe
Single Wheel Hoe – $169
from: Hoss Tools
Hoss Tools are the boss for these ones. They have a great range of manual wheel hoes with single or double wheels. They also offer manual tilling packs, like the Wheel Deal, below. I’ve also included a video that shows you how these manual wheel hoes work.
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Wheel Deal – $214.99The Wheel Deal features the Hoss Wheel Hoe and is a great starter set for those wanting to grow their own food. Includes the Single Wheel Hoe, 8” Oscillating Hoe for weeding and Left Plow blade for making furrows and beds.
2. Garden Weasel
Garden Weasel has great tools to help you till your garden without a tiller. These tools don’t cost anywhere near as much as tractor-powered tillers or gas tillers and will get the job done, although with more manual labor than the other tools.
Their claw, the C.L.A.W. Pro, specifically mentions it works in heavy soils, including soils. Use your Garden Weasel Claw to cultivate, loosen, aerate and weed your soil. Comes with a lifetime warranty and works in any size garden. It’s super easy to use, with a bit of muscle.
- C.L.A.W. PRO – Cultivate, loosen, aerate, and weed your soil with the Weasel Claw Pro....
- ADJUSTABLE TINES – The tines, or claws, on the Weasel Claw Pro are fully adjustable. Use...
- EASY TO USE – With this tool, no bending is required. To use, adjust the tines for your...
- DURABLE STRONG-STEEL DESIGN – The Weasel Claw Pro is made from carbon steel. It is...
- PRODUCT SPECIFICATIONS: Length: 38”. Includes comfort-grip handle and comes fully...
Garden Weasel’s cultivator is another great tool for tilling a garden without a tiller. It breaks the soil up easily and is self-cleaning. And, you can stand up while you use it! You use it a bit differently, with a back-and-forth motion. It’s best to wet the soil before using this manual tiller.
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- Easy to use – simply apply the Garden Weasel to the soil and cultivate with a...
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- Durable STRONG-STEEL design – the Garden Weasel cultivator is made with carbon steel. It...
- Product specifications: length: 54. 5”. includes comfort-grip handle and comes fully...
3. Use a Hoe for Manual Tilling
- 100% Made in the USA
- Commercial grade
- Limited lifetime warranty
- Extra thick 12 gauge steel
- Extended steel ferrule increases strength
A manual hoe doesn’t cost much and you’ll be able to till the top layer of your soil effectively. Albeit, only the very top layer. You’ll have to use a lot of muscle power to hoe deeper into the soil. Manual hoes are a great tool for loosening the soil for planting though, and you can use them for planting seeds, covering seeds, and weeding.
Use a push-pull hoe if you’re just looking to get rid of weeds and till only a small amount of the top of your soil. Here’s a good video of the difference:
4. Use a Pick Axe/Mattock
Mattocks are my favorite garden tool. I’m forever lugging mine around everywhere. I slash weeds with it, dig holes, till soil, whack fence posts in a bit tighter, make garden edges, remove grass… A mattock’s uses are unlimited.
What I particularly like about mattocks is that you get a lot of power into whatever you’re doing, because you’re swinging it from above your head. I’m not a particularly big, strong woman, so getting that extra swing is very helpful, rather than having to try and stomp a shovel into the ground.
You can get long mattocks and short mattocks . I have one of each. The big one has a wooden handle. I’ve had mattocks with fiberglass handles as well, but I won’t buy them again. I’ve hit a rock at full swing before, and the jarring a fiberglass handle causes is really unpleasant. Wood is strong and it absorbs shock way better.
- 5-pound pick / mattock head combo
- 36-inch double injected fiberglass handle with rubber grip for improved handling and...
- Handle has shock absorbent "poly" guard to protect against overstrike damage
- Picks through hard pan soil, cuts small shrub roots, chews up stubborn soil
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The small mattock is used for getting weeds out and digging smaller holes in gardens where the soil is good. They’re good for precision work, where you don’t have room to swing the full-sized one. Mattocks are great for tilling soil. Yes, it’s hard work, but they definitely achieve the purpose or tilling a garden without a tiller. My small mattock is fiberglass and that works fine for me. There’s nowhere near as much jarring with a small tool like this.
Some of these are even called mini tillers!
- Uniquely designed, dual-purpose head
- Ideal for one-hand use in confined areas
- Maximum comfort and minimum hand and arm fatigue
- Made of Ductile iron
- 16-Inch handle
- Ideal for digging in tough soil
- Large D-handle design offers secure two-handed control when digging
- Welded 14-gauge hardened steel blade and 18-gauge steel shaft provide durability that far...
- Sharpened blade makes it easy to penetrate tough soil or break up hardened dirt clods
- Lifetime warranty
- All-steel construction for heavy-duty durability
Shovels will definitely get you there. How hard it is to get you there depends a LOT on your soil. If you’re on sandy or loose soil, a shovel will be perfect. If you’re on clay or rocky soil, I wish you all the best. A mattock-shovel combination might be good for you, loosen the soil with the mattock then shovel it with the shovel.
If you’re looking for the best of the best, the King of Spades, consider Hoss Tools’ Garden Spade. Lightweight, super tough, used by landscapers for this exact purpose, made in the USA, and comes with a 5-year warranty. And, you’ve got to love the father-son team! Unfortunately, this spade is out of stock at the time of writing, but you can subscribe to be notified when it comes in.
To save your fertile top layer, you can use the double-dig method. This method keeps the soil’s layers in order, by putting the top layer in a wheelbarrow, separating it from the lower, less-fertile layer. More about the double-dig method at Modern Farmer.
6. The Ruth Stout method
- Used Book in Good Condition
- Hardcover Book
- Ruth Stout (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 218 Pages - 01/01/1979 (Publication Date) - Rodale Press (Publisher)
This method definitely achieves the purpose of tilling a garden without a tiller, but really only because it doesn’t till at all. It’s a no-dig method, which you can definitely consider if it suits what you’re looking for.
“Can you really have a productive garden without plowing, hoeing, weeding, cultivating, and all the other bothersome rituals that most gardeners suffer through every growing season?
“Sure,” says Ruth Stout, a prolific author and writer at 80 years young. The reason that Ruth can throw away her spade and hoe and do her gardening from a couch is a year-round mulch covering, 6 to 8 inches thick, that covers her garden like a blanket.”
I do believe that you can achieve your purpose this way, but in many cases, using this method takes a LONG time before you have improved your soil enough. At our previous property, the soil was all rocks and gravel. No amount of mulch would have fixed that in the short term, because we couldn’t dig without a crowbar . And even that was extremely hard.
For us, in that situation, tilling was the only way. It was the only way to get water into the soil. The only way to actually plant something. The only way to improve the soil, in short. After that, we worked with just mulch. Tons and tons of it. So, there is definite merit to this method. If you do only one thing in your garden, it should be mulch.
7. Raised beds
If you don’t want to till, build on top of it! I’m not a huge fan of raised gardens, but they’re really great in some cases. If your soil is so poor that you cannot grow straight into it, grow on top of it in a raised garden.
In the same spirit, you can look at straw bale gardening.
This one is a little tricky. It can definitely work, but there’s a fine line between “tilling” and “destroying”. Pigs, for example, will definitely take care of any weeds you want to get rid of and they’ll turn the soil to mud. Chickens will scratch the top layer and fertilize with their poop. Horses don’t do a great deal to the soil’s structure unless it’s wet.
What they all have in common is that they compact the soil. Compaction is one of the hardest things to solve as far as soil problems go, and you’ll likely have issues with water absorption, aeration, and more. The pro is that they fertilize, which adds nice organic matter.
Goats are another great animal for cleaning up a bush plot, they’ll get rid of everything that grows. In Australia, goats have been used to prevent bushfires in National Parks because they are so efficient at cleaning up!
I personally think it doesn’t exactly do your soil any favors though.
9. Multi-prong hand tillers
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Hand tillers are like a rake but with longer prongs and generally made tougher as well. You can use them to “spike” into the soil and loosen it up. You won’t get as deep as with some of the other tools, but it’s great for loosening the top layer for planting.
10. Drill-powered till
You can get a till attachment for your drill, which makes your drill a real multi-tool.
This particular one is described as:
“Whether for tilling, weeding, planting or digging, this smart home gardening tool kit is here to make your life easier! Designed for use with a cordless drill, this all-in-one gardening tool allows you to dig holes, plant seeds, remove weeds and roots, till your flower bed or aerate your soil, fast and effortlessly!”
The downside of this is that you need a powerful drill. It’ll bog down any “normal” drill that is not heavy duty. People also mentioned this particular one’s hex end wasn’t heat-treated, which resulted in some people’s till attachment wearing out. It might also struggle a bit in heavier soil. The other people loved using this till and, hey, if it works, it’s brilliant!
11. Drill-powered auger
This attachment digs actual holes. You can use it to drill a hole for a plant or tree, or for post holes, for example. You can also use this to drill along the garden, which loosens the soil. You can then use a shovel to turn it.
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12. A garden claw or cultivator
A claw can work well for the top layer of your soil, but it’s not a tiller as such.
It is, in essence, a small, curved rake and works similarly to a rake, but a bit deeper. Great for getting weeds that aren’t too tough or creating a loose layer of soil for planting seeds.
- Forged spading fork head
- 4 diamond pointed steel tines for easy soil penetration
- 30-inch hardwood handle for strength and durability
- Poly D-Grip for added leverage and control
- Made in the USA
Pitchforks work brilliantly if your soil is very loose already. It’s easy to turn and fork mulch and organic matter into the soil. Totally useless if your soil is heavy or compacted though!
For the top of the range fork, consider Hoss Tools. I know I’ve mentioned them a lot in this post, but you just can’t go past them for quality tools. Not only are they made in the US, they’re also backed by a 5-year warranty and these guys really stand by their stuff.
- 100% Made in the USA
- Commercial grade
- Limited lifetime warranty
- Extra thick 10 gauge steel
- 16 tine steel head
The rake is the final tool for tilling your garden. It’s great for smoothing the soil and getting it even. A final till-over!
Tilling a Garden WITH a Tiller
If these manual tilling tools don’t seem like quite the thing, you can of course use power tillers. In a big garden or on a farm, the most efficient way is to use a tractor-driven tiller, like this CountyLine Rotary Tiller at TractorSupply.
However, a tractor won’t fit into a small garden.
The other ways of tilling a small garden, without a tractor but with a tiller are below. These tillers significantly reduce the amount of manual labor you’ll have to put in. If you can use one of these, I recommend them over the manual methods below. If these are not an option, scroll past because I have included a whole list of methods to manually till your soil as well!
1. A tow behind tiller (goes behind an ATV)
- Each side adjusts 0, 15 or 30 degrees in both directions to help break up tough ground
- The parallel linkage design maintains proper implement angle as it is lowered
- Lightweight design is easy to install with one person and minimizes interference with...
- Superior range of motion without having to move pins or manually drop the hitch
- Made of durable Steel with a streamlined, minimalist design
- Requires 66000-Motorized Lift or 66013-Manual Lift to operate
2. A rear-tine tiller
3. A front-tine tiller
4. A smaller gas tiller like the Mantis
- Comes with a handy carrying handle
- Entire unit weighs Only 24-pounds
- Handle Bars fold down for easy storage
- 2-year limited Warranty
- Come with standard kickstand
- Powerful Honda 4-cycle (gas only, no fuel mix required) 25cc engine spins the tines twice...
5. An electric tiller, either corded or battery-powered.
- 6 adjustable tines
- Adjustable 11" To 16" Width/ 8" Working depth
- Powerful 13.5 amp
- Comfortable ergonomic handle. Assembled product dimensions (L x w x h)-40.00 x 19.00 x...
- Lightweight, easy to operate, and convenient to store.Tine length:16 inch
These last 5 options will most likely suit any sized garden. They are optimized to fit into very small spaces, and they’re increasingly easy to turn around and maneuver.
I hope you’ve gotten some new ideas and inspiration for how to till a small garden without a tiller, let us know which tool you’ve decided to buy and which ones you’ve used before!
Last update on 2021-10-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API