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Rototiller vs. Backhoe

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by EricDerek on August 02, 2006 03:12 PM
I am looking for a little advice on the some future work I am going to do. First some background information.

About a year ago I bought a house in Northern NJ. Zone 6b. The backyard (~100x75) was essentially woods, as the previous owner did nothing during the last 25 years. The yard was severely sloped toward the house. This year I have cut down several tree and pruned others to provide a yard area for my kids and let some sun in. I cut into the slope and did a rough leveling of the yard (still some slope there) and removed several stumps. But, there are at least two stumps still there.

My next step would be to rototill, level, smooth and seed. The problem is that the ground is so rocky and there are so many roots (most very small, but occasional bigger ones), I am afraid the rototiller would have serious problems. (I cannot put a shovel into the ground without hitting stone.) Most slightly smaller than a deck of cards, various ones the size of a hand or two, and then 5-7% of them the size of a football. Am I wrong to be concerned about the ability of the rototiller to get through this? I will probably get a mid sized tiller from Home Depot or a local rental place. (I was told a larger one would actually be less effective in this environment because it would always be hitting something and bouncing off or seizing.) While I will try to add some top soil, compost and grass clippings it won't be much (1-2 inches).

One thought that I came up with was renting a backhoe and using it to pull the stumps, turn the soil and do some other work. I would dump whatever topsoil, compost, etc. I have and then use the backhoe to turn over the top 5-6-7-8 (??) inches. Basically dig in say 5-8 inches, lift the bucket 5 feet off the ground and dump the dirt. Once I went over the yard, I would use the front shovel to smooth out the terrain. Then rake.

If I get the backhoe, I could order more topsoil and add that in. This method would most likely expose more rocks, which I am using to build a dry stack wall. I could also use the backhoe for some other projects around the house. While I am not an expert with a backhoe, I've used one several times and feel a little comfortable on one.

Which would be a better option? Does flipping the soil with the backhoe make any sense, or is it just a waste of time? Obviously, it wouldn't mix things up as well as a rototiller, but frankly, most of what I would be turning is clay anyway. Is this reasonable, or just grand illusions? Would the rototiller be a better option? The backhoe would be about 2-3 times the cost and while fun, I don't want to spend all that extra money, just to have to bring in a rototiller or something else later. If I do it, to what depth would you recommend digging down? 3? 6? 9 inches? Also, since I still have several trees (75-100 feet tall), any recommendations on what kind of perimeter to give them when backhoing/rototilling around them? Anything else I should be looking out for?

Your thoughts and advice are appreciated.

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Help!!!
by EricDerek on August 02, 2006 03:18 PM
Here are some images.

http://s85.photobucket.com/albums/k73/EricDerek/?sc=1&multi=7&addtype=local&media=image

It seems Photobucket put them in reverse order. The ones with the partial rock wall are the current state.

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Help!!!
by buzylady on August 03, 2006 04:30 AM
Eric, that looks like a lot of back-breaking work. I really don't know the answer to your dilemma, but I like the rocks and the stumps. Maybe you could just work around them. Use them as props. Do you already have big plans? That's a really nice size yard and fenced in too. You can have sooo much fun with this. Do you have a wood burner? That's a good size load of wood.
Have fun
Diane

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buzz buzz buzz  -
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http://s86.photobucket.com/albums/k103/Di_06/
by Longy on August 04, 2006 12:58 PM
I've used a bobcat and a backhoe before to open new soil and they work fine. Use the front bucket. Open the bucket, lay it open on the soil and pull it towards you or drive in reverse allowing the bucket to rip to the depth you want. This will set your depth. Don't go into subsoil, only topsoil. Then just pickup the soil and drop it again. You'll do a big area very quickly. It will be better than a rototiller with all those rocks. As you say, you can also do other work while you have it. Though it may be more expensive you'll move a lot more in a much shorter time. If you wanted to add gypsum or dolomite etc to the soil, i'd do so before turning it. That way it will be incoorporated into the soil from the outset. After you've smoothed it off, add your topsoil and compost in the areas you want it and spread it with the machine. You could always give it a light tilling later to break up any areas where it has become compacted from driving the machine over it.

Regards the tree roots, i'd be very careful about going too deep around them. You should probably do a test and see wht depth the root systems are at a distance of 10 yards or so away from the trees. You could seriously destabilize them or damage the root systems if you get too heavy with it.

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The secret is the soil.
by EricDerek on August 05, 2006 06:59 AM
Thanks for the help.

Your reply and a few others (on another forum) raise a question. For two trees I dug into the soil –significantly within the drip line. Took away about 1-2 feet of soil depth. This raises a concern about the trees' stability.

We've had some pretty bad wind storms since I cut, but I want to be sure the tree's won't blow over. Any advise or test I could do? I could add more soil to the spot and built it back up, would that do anything or not really? For what it is worth, I don't think I cut any major roots.

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Help!!!
by Longy on August 05, 2006 12:15 PM
For what it is worth, I don't think I cut any major roots.
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If you haven't damaged the root system or removed soil from about the root system, then all's well. When i said do a test i basically meant dig a few holes around the trees and see how far and how deep the root systems extend and then make sure you don't risk them too much. Try not to change the depth of the soil over the dripline by too much. The weight of soil over a rootsystem would, i think, help with the trees' stability in wild weather.

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The secret is the soil.

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