The Small roto-tillers.
Choice of a four stroke Honda or Mantiss is excellent NEVER a two stroke. They eventually become a hassle when starting, no mattter how careful one is with the gas and oil. I bought mine last year (Honda) and it has to be my most valuable tool in the garden. I use it like a shovel, hoe and rake combined. To plant trees, shrubs and to make a simple hole for some plant, it cannot be beat.
URL to the tiller in my vegetable garden.
Honda FG 110 mini-tiller
29 April 2006 Zone 5. The Honda FG110 was purchased one week ago. It was used to work reasonably good soil, clay with much compost over two years with no rocks. The area worked was over 1000 square feet. This little tiller did a perfect job. The soil was conditioned to a perfect texture for planting.
I also, worked the rather rough soil in the composter, which this tiller did far better than my larger garden tiller. The composted material has been put through a shredder the previous year, but had some fairly large chunks. These were reduced to the proper size and texture for adding to the garden soil.
If the tiller got clogged with fiberous plant strings, I simply removed the tines and cleared the obstruction within one of two minutes.
The tiller started with no effort. To plant onions I removed the outer two tines and pointed the remaining two inwards and got a perfect row for planting about 4 inches wide.
I use the tiller by gently pulling backwards without the drag bar. All the work was done at full throttle as it should be with such a small engine. I consider the operation to be effortless and the result on the soil is simply not achievable with hand tools. In fact, the soil has the texture of almost being put through a quarter mesh inch screen. This depends a bit on the moisture content.
Minor Maintenance: To grease the transmission I installed a metal grease nipple and applied grease with a small gun. I remove the nipple after the service to prevent possible breaking and to prevent earth from possibly getting into the transmission. Oil change is done by tilting into a can and refilling. Gas tank has more than sufficient capacity for an hour or more of use.
The noise level is for all intents and purposes not noticable, since it is a four stroke engine. It is well built, and has no appearance of fragility or poor workmanship. I simply carry the tiller from place to place as required or set it in the wheelbarrow.
To use this small tiller amongst large rocks is misuse in my opinion. I have no rocks. Used with common sense, and not attempting to work it in conditions where a larger machine is clearly required this little machine should last a long time. To work up a small bed I remove the sod with a kick sod cutter, spade the compacted earth to the proper depth, then put the tiller to work to condition the soil. On large chunks it jumps around a little, but that is to be expected. A larger machine simply kicks them out without beating them into small pieces. The result is near perfection.
There may be other small tillers that work, but this is my first experience with one and I could not be more satisified. Why did I wait so long to purchase one? Don't leave home without it.
Do a google to find the full specs.
Worrying about turning a garden into flour like soil is probably little to worry about. I have spend my life trying to get the chunks small enough for a good garden. Usually I have had clay, but by adding city compost and wood chips to keep the soil friable works well.
Fiber, fiber is the solution. The tiller sure beats banging away with a hoe. Clumps of clay contribute nothing to growth. My beds were completed in record time this year and I must admit the flour situation ( soil too fine) is possible, but I add wood chips to overcome making the soil too fine. The older slow rotation tiller simply can't do the job. To make a new bed I can smash the clay clumps into useful sizes with almost no effort. No amount of manual labour with a hand tool can achieve the results of this small tiller. Personally I consider it the most useful tool since the horse and cultivator were retired.
Don't leave home without it.