Help with Tractor and Tiller for Community Pumpkin Patch

kansasfruiterMarch 1, 2013

We have a community garden, orchard, vineyard and pumpkin/melon patch. We have done well to maintain all but the pumpkin/melon patch. Have recently received a grant to buy a garden tractor and a pull behind tiller. We have a zero turn husvarna mower for the garden. As we know nothing about garden tractors, we need some advice. The budget for both are 15,000

1)Should we just use the husvarna and put all funds towards the tiller, can the zero turn be used as a tractor?

2)Should be even be looking at a mower, if we don't need the mower aspect.

3) What would a good pair be for a tiller and pull vehicle such as a mower or ATV with a 15000 budget.

We have learned that quality lasts and would like to make sure that whatever we get will last.

Thanks for the advice.

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Before you spend your $15K on machinery, strongly suggest your group do some additional serious discussion/planning on what exactly you want to accomplish with this new machinery. For instance, a larger tractor/tiller combo will do well for annual seedbed plowing/prep/etc., but be too large for ongoing midyear incremental cultivation. Give consideration to machinery storage/security/maintenance needs/expenses and just who will operate the unit(s) and advise us of the size/scope of your garden..
There are a number of experts who frequent this board that will most likely provide good advice on product choices. Good luck to your effort.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 9:20AM
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Our patch is only 2 acres. For two years we have been hoeing it by hand with volunteers. Every year the weeds get worse. We have a storage shed 12 x 12. Volunteers would run the tractor.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 9:31AM
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Lawn/garden tractors, toothbrushes, chainsaws, wives/husbands, etc., don't usually do too well when shared at random. Suggest your group select/elect/find a suitable one (or two) person(s) to both operate AND maintain the equipment. This type of equipment requires care each use plus incremental servicing. It's not just hop on and go.... or there will soon be some uncomfortable large repair bills for the group to deal with.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 11:42AM
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Before going out and spending your money on a tractor, and all of the other things--might i add something to your query?!
The local Borough Parks Association bought two light duty lawn tractors, el Cheapos', to mow the ball field, and drag the base-paths, plus hauling a cart around.
First thing-a week of use, the main drive belt snapped on one tractor! I replaced it, and 2 weeks later--yep--it broke again! Another new belt. 2 months later, they hauled one of the tractors up to my place-said it wouldn't start! Upon checking it, i found the end of the connecting rod sticking out of the block! HMMM! $300 plus labor, to replace the engine! (More or less). The guy in charge said that one of his workmen was supposed to check the oil---guess he forgot for a while. (No need to check the oil--it was ok last week-its a bother to keep pulling the dip stick out and checking the oil-interferes with my coffee break!) If you have heard this before, you have heard it again--it seems to be an affliction caught by a lot of under paid employees, and the well-paid ones, too.
That said, here's another caveat:
So, you buy a cultivator, or a roto-tiller! And you might have a shed nearby, where you can store it when not in use. First time you start it up-the sound of the engine will catch the attention of every thief in the area, who will then liberate it from your shed, and sell it on Craigs List, or the local news paper want-ads. BT/ST!
Plus, you will have the problem of maintenance. Somebody will have to be the main man, or woman, who will take care of checking the oil and changing it occasionally, Changing the air filter, the belts, and generally keeping it in good working order.
Hope this helps: Rusty Jones, The Mower Man

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 12:03PM
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We live in rural Kansas. Town of 3500. The help and take philosophy of the garden, orchard, vineyard and melon patch work very well. With that said, all sheds are locked and only specific group members can run equipment. The zero turn mower was $4400. We have lots of other expensive equipment and truly understand necessary maintenance. Our model works well but we cannot continue to hand hoe 2 acres of melons. Likewise we lost an $800 tiller last year. It is not feasible to run a rear tine tiller for 6 hours a week.

We have learned through our projects and grants such as the orchard, that Garden Web is a great resource. The fruit forum is awesome. Last year was our 4th year and we had peaches! Anyway, this is a big purchase. Any advice is appreciated. We don't have to spend it all on these two items, but do want something that will last. We also do carry insurance. While we have not had issues with theft, we cannot take the chance that we would lose thousands of dollars in equipment. One final note, the melon patch is in a different location from the other venues. Therefore, the zero turn would have to be hauled back and forth between the orchard and melon patch. If this is a good option, we can use the zero turn. Again, I am needing insight!


    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 12:53PM
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Little confused here. You want to run a tractor with pull behind tiller between (presumably) rows of pumpkins/melons? Impossible! As soon as they start vining they'll be all over the place, any mechanized cultivation will destroy the vines. Going in with a hoe is the only way to not destroy the vines. Alternately, spend the $$ on black plastic or other mulch as a weed block.

In the spring, before the vines start running, a simple rear tine tiller would take care of the "balk" of the rows.

How do you prepare the seedbed in the spring?

Good luck, and your community enterprise sounds fantastic, BTW.


    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 2:37PM
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We have a farmer come in and till the bed initially with a large large tractor. We have been managing with hand hoeing after the initial planting. However, this past summer we had a terrible outbreak of sticker plants and could not keep up. Maybe it was the drought, but we could have easily used a tiller weekly for the first six weeks. In fact, at about week 5, we had a neighbor bring a smaller tractor between each row. The stickers came back immediately. Once the plants vine over, we do not typically need to hoe, the vines help squelch the weeds. I think we are looking at a

Craftsman 54 In. 26hp Kohler Turn Tight Hydrostatic Garden Tractor


Briggs & Stratton 36'' Tiller Attachment

I realize that it will take a couple passes in between each row, however, I think it will give flexibility as the vines grow out. Plus, we can do the extended warranty through Sears.

I appreciate all the thoughts. We will not make this purchase until June. Therefore, I am still open to suggestions!

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 1:12PM
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You want to consider engine (reputation for trouble free longevity) frame (look for heavier the better) and transaxle (heavy duty).
Sears is not known for any of those attributes.
Seeing as you state that you have gotten a garden tractor down through the rows without problem I would suggest you look into Kubota or John Deere for the quality and funtion you desire.
For example a JD 540 runs about $8000. and a 3pt mount(easier to manuever and you wont have a separate engine to worry about) tiller will run about $2500 and they come in 30 or 42" widths. You can also add other attachments like a plow if the need should arise. At least visit an independent Kabuto, JD etc dealer and pick their brains and get a feel for comparison..
Good luck

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 1:50PM
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still more questions than answers.... how wide are you making your rows?
What exactly are these sticker weeds you speak of ? thistles? Are you purposely avoiding use of chemical weed control? Have you consulted with your county agent about such?

IMHO, extended warranties you speak of will give some financial protection, but very little when it come to the critical subject of equipment repair down time.
When your tractor or tiller becomes inoperable right during the time when your plot needs being taken care of, prompt service is paramount.
Sears is not necessarily known for such. A well equipped reputable local lawn and garden equipment dealer is usually a much better choice to get your equipment fixed quickly and back on the job, IMHO.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 2:00PM
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The rows are 15 feet apart. The COOP sprays a preventative prior to the season and we do have it aerial sprayed for bugs later in the season. We are not opposed to chemicals and typically the preventive works. However, we do not want another season like last year. The sticker plants are Buffalobur, Kansas Thistle (I looked it up on a website). Last year they were like carpet. However, this was everywhere, not just in our garden. We have a John Deere dealer about an hour away. I look into the John Deere.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 2:30PM
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I would "echo" the previous comments about JD or Kubota, you've got the $$ don't buy cheap!! Sears is good for the ''weekend" gardener, not "commercial," which from your description you are. About "extended warranties," I'm sure the "kid" who sells you this will sell you the warranty, the first time you have a service call and the tech sees you're using it "commercially....." e.g. Most warranties have comments like "2 years residential, 30 days commercial." You might ask wherever you end up buying.

The links to the sears site show a "reasonable" Garden Tractor and would probably hold up just dragging a tiller at "cultivate" mode which is the shallowest depth setting. The tiller on the other hand is a belt drive and IMHO would not last routinely being used on a two acre plot. Don't know if Sears offers extended warranties on "non powered" equipment?

Being old, cranky, and opinionated, (not necessarily in that order :-) ) I still think a good rear tine tiller would work well. Actually buy two since you have $$ and volunteers. I have a rear tine MTD which I've used for 11 years for soil prep and cultivating in a 50 X 70 garden. In that time, other than air filters, plugs, and oil changes have done nothing to it at all. I don't consider that a "good" tiller, but "adequate" for the price point. In "tines forward and depth gauge at 1" it gets rid of weeds and moves right along.

If you really want the sears unit, go to www. my tractor forum . com have to spread it out like that as these two sites don't like each other. Look for the Sears or Craftsman forum and post your question including the links. You'll get responses from folks who actually have these units and can provide input based on "seat time."

Let us know what you end up getting and why.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 3:33PM
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I would go with a small John deere or Kubota tractor with a tiller attachment. Either one will hold up better than a small lawn tractor pulling a tiller attachment.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 5:50PM
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