How I Used a Cultivator to Start a Vegetable Bed

What does a cultivator tiller do? If you had asked me that question a year ago I wouldn't have had a clue. I've always been happy enough with my humble handheld garden tools, but after using the Troy-Bilt 4-Cycle Cultivator to prepare a raised bed for my vegetables, I can't imagine how I got along without it! Today I used my cultivator to prepare and plant a raised bed with very little actual digging at all.

As well as showing you how to prepare a garden bed, this is also a review of the TB146 EC cultivator that I received from Troy-Bilt as a Saturday 6 blogger. Needless to say, I was very pleased.

I've been planning on planting a community vegetable garden for my apartment complex for a while now, but now that my schedule has opened up enough to get started, the Florida afternoons have become too hot and muggy to make gardening seem all that appealing. Especially if that meant converting a patch of thick St. Augustine grass into a raised bed vegetable garden.

What made it a lot easier was a little preparation and the help of my new favorite power tool. I weakened the grass by covering it with bags of composted manure for several days, chopped it up with a shovel and ripped it out with my cultivator. After removing the grass, I used it to mix the composted manure into the soil to create a very promising patch for veggies.

The Troy-Bilt TB146EC cultivator is pretty much an egg-beater for your soil. You can use it to 'fluff' compacted dirt, mix compost and fertilizer into beds, till finished crops back into the soil and even keep large areas free of weeds.

Getting the cultivator started took no time at all thanks to the optional JumpStart Engine Starter; essentially a power screwdriver made to start your garden tools. It works on walk-behind mowers, trimmers, blowers and any other JumpStart capable products, eliminating the need for yanking that horrible cord.

When the folks at Troy-Bilt did a demo of the JumpStart for us bloggers at Garden2Blog, you would have thought they turned water into wine! The audience of seasoned gardeners erupted into gasps and murmurs, no doubt happy to say good riddance to getting an unintentional workout before mowing their lawns. If there's one thing people hate about doing lawn and garden work, it's pulling that dreadful string over and over again, but all you do with the JumpStart is insert the bit into the opening on the cultivator, squeeze the trigger and watch it start! Another plus is the 4-cycle engine, which along with being doesn't require any mixing of oil and gas.

Rather than just try out this cultivator on just the easy jobs, I decided to see what it could really handle. So I set it loose on a thick lawn of St. Augustine grass, right into those thick and ropey tangled rhizomes. To weaken the grass a bit first, I placed the unopened bags of composted manure over the grass for a few days... but the grass was still pretty thick. With the clock still ticking, I got started anyways.

I found this little toad while preparing the bed, but I relocated him to a safer area. 
After chopping up the soil with a shovel, I was able to rip out a patch of thick and thatchy grass without digging. I then let the marooned grass bake in the sun for a day before running the cultivator over the plot again, and the next day I picked up the dried grass and tossed it aside. The soil was knocked loose in the process, so it stayed in the bed where it was needed.

Once the grass had been removed, I was able to start mixing in composted manure by emptying a few bags on the plot and going over it with the cultivator again, watching it effortlessly churn together the old dirt with new.

Then I installed a raised bed that I made from untreated lumber scraps by placing it over the fluffy soil and gently pushing it into place. Once the frame was level, I added more compost and tilled it in. The TB146 EC is really lightweight and maneuverable, so I was able to use the handle in the front to place it in the bed before carefully cultivating the soil within the frame. The tines are adjustable from six inches to twelve inches, so it works well for even cramped spaces.

I'm currently killing off the grass adjacent to the raised bed so that I can use the cultivator yet again to break up that rugged St. Augustine grass and lay down some gravel for a seating area. I have lots of uses for this little workhorse.

When my summer planting of okra, peppers, basil, roselle and other heat-tolerant veggies is ready to be replaced by fall crops such as squashes, I'll use the cultivator to fluff up the soil around plants that are still producing. In late fall I'll plant winter veggies like greens and carrots, replacing them with warm season crops again in spring. Next summer I'll probably plant a cover crop of legumes before tilling them back into the soil for yet another year of planting. When I eventually move into a home of my own, the cultivator will be priceless for starting new garden beds, improving the soil and composting.

The Verdict

It worked exactly as you'd want it to. Even though I've never used a tiller or cultivator before, it was very easy to use and never felt awkward or uncomfortable. Even though it's a gas operated power tool and has a lot of muscle, it never seemed to get away from me or feel out of control. It's so lightweight and compact that I had no problem using it inside the completed raised bed and pivoting to cultivate from different angles.

Though I wouldn't recommend a 4-cycle cultivator for every gardener, it is really useful for anyone with a vegetable bed or annually replanted flowerbeds. Even though I used it to break into some pretty tough turf, I would recommend using a tiller for heavy-duty jobs like breaking ground or breaking up rocky soil.

Have you used a cultivator tiller before? I'd love to hear about your experiences too!

This is a paid review for Troy-Bilt, who provided the cultivator to me at no charge as a Saturday 6 blogger. They have encouraged me to write an honest review of their product, be it negative or positive.


  1. The garden looks great Steve! Can't wait to see the new sitting area you build.


  2. That is awesome Steve you lucky guy! Sounds like a tool we all need!


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