The soil my yard sits on it extremely rocky. It's very nice soil, all
glacial till and stream bed composition, but more rocks than I care to
count. Digging a hole is an exercise in futility as I will encounter round
rocks about the size of a baseball or grapefruit more often than not.
I would like to take a rototiller to a patch of land but fear what will
happen with all those damn rocks. What kind of things should I look out for
when rototilling really rocky soil? Do I need a special tiller, should I
simply not do it, would renting one be a bad idea (I'm thinking of damage to
the unit), would a rototiller not do a good job? Are there other options
besides a tractor?
Sounds as good an argument for raised beds as I've ever heard. Or you
could build some of those quaint rock fences that are so popular in New
England. First, get yerself half a dozen illegal Mexicans (Canadians
just ain't no good for this) and some implements of destruction. Be sure
to work with them, to model the proper work ethic and you'd be amazed
what can be wreaked in a day.
Of course, they would rather be back in Mexico but NAFTA and our
$10,000,000,000 CORN SUBSIDY (ain't that a kick in the head?) chased
them off their lands.
Coloribus gustibus non disputatum (mostly)
Consider digging all of it up (well, one bed or small area at a time
presumably) and putting it through a screen. These screens are
usually homemade from a wood frame and hardware cloth, and look
something like this:
If you really want to get industrial, there are fancier versions of
this with vibrating screens and such, but I've only done the
rototiller can handle large rocks and difficult soil without damaging the
I'm gathering from the fact that no one wants to directly address the
question that the answer to it is "no". So now I know what not to do.
I'll directly address it. It's a slow day here today, most folks are
elswhere. It hasn't been that long since you posted.
Yeah, you'll likely damage a tiller, though you didn't specify what
kind of tiller. Rear-tine, front tine, belt drive, gear drive?
Likely you'll be shearing pins on a reartine, belt drive, if equipped
with shearpins. Likely will shear drivewheel pins, as rocks get wedged
between the tines/guard/drivewheels.
If rocks are large enough they can be forced inside the tinebasket and
be a bear to get out.
Been there done that, no fun, noisy, bends things.
So yeah, tilling is gonna be rough and damaging. Maybe to yourself as
well. Rocks can split or be shot out and cause injury.
Charlie's right about the tiller having a bad day with large rocks.
I asked about the plants because if this were a vegetable garden, and you
were cycling multiple crops through it each season, you'd want to get it
really clear of rocks because you'll be working with that soil every year.
You'd want it to be easy.
On the other hand, if this is an area where you're putting in a fixed number
of shrubs, why clear the entire area of rocks? Focus only on the spots where
each shrub will be planted.
It's summer. High school kids need jobs. Hire one or two to de-rock the
area. Just make sure they understand how much force can be applied to a
pitch fork before it breaks.
I missed the OP, butt I've dealt with rocky soil and didn't really want
raised beds. So, I just dug down the 18 inches or so I wanted for a decent
perennial bed and sifted them out of the soil. Took dang near forever, but
it really worked nicely. Rocks either frame the bed/paths or form the few
raised areas I made in individual beds.
Those size of rocks will tear up the tines, and possibly, lock up the
Rocky area here. Range from fine gravel, enlongated broken stuff to rocks
the size of a small car. As another replier stated, a raised bed is
probably appropriate. I dig holes in it using a rock bar, leather-gloved
hands, and alot of sweat. This, when I put in fence posts. Garden plot is
Empathy, no sympathy.
The rototiller may jump out of the ground and eat your leg. Literally.
A tractor tiller may do you some good, but you're going to have to
pick out the rocks brought up.
I have similar soil... trees are planted by backhoe, and we sometimes
have to change the planting plans because the rocks are just too big
to deal with without dynamite. We have approximately half a mile of
rock wall 2-4 ft tall surrounding a two acre property, legacy of the
previous owners when they prepared the slab (not basement, slab on grade)
for a three car garage. I pulled half a ton of rocks (estimated by
weighing buckets I was filling and carrying) from the top 4" of our
alleged lawn, about 1/5 acre -- and I left all rocks under 1.5" diameter.
The five trees planted this spring (bareroot, small stock about 3/4"
caliper) went in with auger-dug holes. I have a 1/2" x 6" steel bolt,
one of two that secured the auger to the PTO -- it's bent and partially
stripped from hitting a rock. I pulled anything baking potato size or
larger out of the holes, and had to add about 50% brought in soil to fill
the planting holes.
I've been making my own soil by composting wood chips gotten from the
tree crews and growing most produce in large planters. Anything planted
in native soil otherwise goes in by seed or with a tree bar for small
I vote for raised beds, which will happen here after new house construction.
In a word, no. No tiller will remove rocks, and the size rocks you
describe will definitely impede tiller operation, probably cause it
and/or yourself damage. Tillers are not designed to work virgin land
anyway, even without rocks, needs busting up first with a plow, spade,
For a relatively small plot (500 sq ft or less) you can choose to bust
your butt spading and picking out rocks by hand but with larger plots
you really need a tractor (or a team of oxen) fitted with a plow to
bust up the sod and a box rake for picking out rocks. For ground you
plan to till each year (ie. crops) you really need to remove the
rocks, but for planting trees and woody shrubs you can get by with
just clearing a planting hole.
Without knowing how large an area you need cleared of rocks and what
you plan to plant (if anything, you don't say) then all anyone can
offer you is wild speculation.
There's one other option... a crew of illegal aliens with picks,
shovels, and rakes. LOL
Well damn damn damn. Lots a lots of backbreaking work it is then. Might as
well do it now while my body is still reasonably resilient. Actually it
sounds like a tractor is the best route to go. I have plenty of experience
working with the large ones, doing farm labor to put me through college, but
wasn't ready to crack out the 8 wheeled articulated to work a 20x30 plot of
land. I've never used the small homeowner ones though - John Deere 146 is
the smallest I've driven.
BTW: I know you all are wondering what the hell I'm asking this for. Its
not that I'm being deliberately vague just to piss you off, its just that I
wanted to have the basic question answered without wading through all the
alternative solutions that will inevitably come out.
In the 70"s some older folks in the NE USA were sort of famous for
taking on large tasks a little at a time. I can't remember their names
but making a large pond by a few wheelbarrows a day sort of gives you a
glimpse of how they worked and it may have sold books.
When I have many tasks I decided to do I work on one then slide over
to another when it becomes drudgery. Some times nothing prevails.
Bill forget instant gratification aside from .........
S Jersey USA Zone 5 Shade
http://www.ocutech.com/ High tech Vison aid
I'm doing something similar (but different): Following the shade around the
yard as I work. It means that each of four areas will look unfinished until
Monday or Tuesday. But, it beats sweating all day.
my suggestion would be to give the tilling a miss and go for raised
beds, then the rocks are no problem.
On Sat, 23 Jun 2007 11:46:10 -0700, "Eigenvector"
With peace and brightest of blessings,
len & bev
"Be Content With What You Have And
May You Find Serenity and Tranquillity In
A World That You May Not Understand."
Building 300 sq ft of raised bed is the same labor but more dollars
than spading and picking out rocks. I have a 2,500 sq ft vegetable
garden (50' X 50') that I spaded and picked rocks by hand, took me a
good forty hours of hard labor over a week. I probably didn't have as
many large rocks as the OP but I had enough and it was back breaking
work. My plot is sort of a modified raised bed as I enclosed the
space with railroad ties, (real RR ties), and then added like 30 cu
yds of topsoil I had delivered. Then I spent an entire day tilling
the new soil into the old with a 7 HP Simplicty tiller (don't you
believe those ads of some ninety year old lady guiding a tiller with
one finger, no way). But now that my garden is in nice condition I
can strongly recommend the Mantis tiller for regular tilling
maintenance, what a great little machine, definitely not a toy... my
Simplicity 'killer' tiller is in retirement.
Reading your post made me realize something obvious. I intend to increase
my raised garden substantially in size. Right now, its cram packed in an 8'
X 8' space. Was considering hunting down some railroad ties as well. Light
went on, there's some old utility poles on my property left behind from
years ago before I bought the place. They're 16 footers. Intend to make 2
plots adjacent to each other. One for the chickens, one for the garden.
Move the chicken coop every couple of years in the winter to the former
garden side, and the garden to the chicken side.
A utility pole border will definitely work, and better since yours are
free. But you'll need to do something to keep them from rolling.
Even with my RR ties I drilled holes through every four feet and
hammered lenths of rebar through eighteen inches into the ground. I
also joined the ends and corners with fish plates. I don't know the
climate where you live but here in Upstate NY the wood would
definitely move from all the heaving from freezing and thawing.
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