Effective mechanical weed control requires compatibility among the crop,
the soil, seedbed preparation technique and cultivation equipment. As you
plant, so shall you cultivate: use row spacings that will accommodate your
equipment with a minimum of adjustment. Cultivating in a timely fashion
is important, but that can be a challenge because of weather or other farm
management demands. When weeds get ahead of you, a ‘rescue’ strategy with
aggressive cultivation tools and/or hand-hoeing may be needed.
Field Cultivators are used for pre-plant weed control as well
as incorporating residues and preparing a seed bed. They have a rigid frame
with several rows of S-tines or C-shanks attached in staggered fashion,
fitted with sweeps or shovels. There may also be cutting discs, rollers,
cultipackers, crop shields, leveling bars, spike harrows and/or gauge wheels
attached to the frame. Field cultivators are good for keeping fields free
of weeds, or ‘bare fallowing’, until crops are planted. They cannot be
used for after planting, except in the case of narrow units pulled between
wide rows. They are relatively heavy and not suited to small tractors.
Several brands are available; they vary in size, tool configuration, available
options, and cost.
The Perfecta II field cultivator is made by Unverferth Manufacturing.
It comes in widths from 4 to 28 feet, with folding wings in wider models.
The S-tines, spaced at 18 inches on 3 individual bars for 6 inch centers,
are fitted with standard 2 3/4 inch sweeps. Heavy duty models have 7 inch
sweeps and thicker S-tines. The latter lift more soil and require more
horsepower to pull (60+ hp for 10 foot unit, depending on soil). The tooth
leveling bar follows the tines; it comes with either diagonal spikes or
straight spikes which are better with more trash or more clay. Then comes
the crumbler roller which has 2 positions to vary aggressiveness. An 8
foot unit costs just over $2,000 with gauge wheels; add about $300 for
heavy duty sweeps and tines.
Kongskilde, a Danish company and S-time innovator makes a unit called
an ‘S cultivator’ that is manufactured in Canada. It has more tines and
is priced higher than the Perfecta.. It comes in 7 to 12 foot widths, with
2 to 6 inch tine spacing. Available with leveling bar, crumbler rollers
and either ‘trailer’ hockey stick harrows for leveling or long ‘finger’
harrows for stoney land. Brillion makes ‘S-tine basket harrows’ in 12,
15 and 18 foot widths. Stalford also makes a field cultivator, 3 to 42
foot wide with a variety of options.
Flex-tine weeders are used primarily for ‘blind’ cultivation
over the whole surface of a recently planted field. They can be also be
used before planting for bare fallowing. They’re good at uprooting very
small weeds but to avoid uprooting the crop must be several inches tall
or have several true leaves. Some growers plant a little deeper to minimize
crop damage. Tine weeders do not provide control of perennial weeds or
well-established annual weeds.
Flex tine weeders can be used in clay or sandy soils and they work around
rocks better than other blind cultivators. They can be used at fast speed,
so the wider units cover a lot of ground quickly. Most units are light
weight and can be used with small tractors. Originally intended for cultivating
in grain crops, flex tine weeders are suitable for use in many vegetable
The Lely Weeder is made in Holland. It comes in 7, 10, 14 and 19 foot
sections for about $1700 to $3300. The 6 mm tines are set 1½" apart
in 4 rows across the entire width of the unit, so it ‘floats’ independently.
Optional gauge wheels help control depth, avoid gouging of soil on rolling
land, and act as parking stands. It can be used as a blind cultivator with
all the tines down until the crop is 3 to 8 inches tall, then the tines
over the row can be raised and the cultivator used as a between-row cultivator.
The depth of each individual tine can be adjusted, although few growers
do so, instead using the 3-point hitch to adjust the pressure.
The Einbock Tined Weeder is made in Germany. Unlike the Lely, it has
a single quick-adjust lever that controls angle and tension of all the
rows of 7 mm tines. It is sold in 5, 6 and 10 foot sections for about $1600
to $2300. The 3-section unit can be manually folded; units with 3 or more
sections fold hydraulically.
Rotary hoes are a more aggressive blind cultivator than tine
weeders. They consist of thin spyder wheels 16 or 18 inches in diameter,
set 3½ inches apart across the entire unit. The spiders turn independently
and bear the weight of the unit; gauge wheels are available. Rotary hoes
6 feet wide cost about $1800, 12 feet wide cost $2600, available up to
24 feet. Originally intended for blind cultivation of grain crops, they
can be used for control of small weeds in recently emerged corn or beans.
They are good for breaking up crusted surface of soils. They work well
in heavy soils but are not recommended for light soil because they are
heavy and will work too deeply. Rocks can jam in the wheels, keeping them
from turning properly, and possibly damaging the crop. Plastic mulch pieces
in the field will also collect on wheels and require removal. Dull spyder
tips reduce the effectiveness of rotary hoeing. John Deere and Yetter are
Basket Weeders are metal cages that roll on top of and scuff
the soil surface without moving soil sideways into the crop rows. This
action makes them ideal for newly emerged crops or crops like lettuce that
have to be kept free of soil and are not suited to hilling. Buddingh basket
weeders are custom built for two to eight row beds. Angled baskets are
available to work the sides of raised beds. Basket widths range from 3
to 14 inches depending on the space between rows. For wider widths, and
for inner row widths that change as crops grow, overlapping baskets are
available that "telescope" or expand in and out to adjust for the width.
The front row of baskets turn at ground speed and a chain drives the
rear row of baskets a little bit faster, so these kick up soil, and dislodge
weeds that survive the first baskets. Commonly used at speeds of 4 to 8
mph, straight rows and an experienced operator are helpful to avoid crop
damage. At higher speeds, both baskets will provide hoeing action. This
tool is usually belly-mounted to facilitate close cultivation. The baskets
handle small stones but work best in fine soils free of crop residues,
and are most effective when weeds are very small, although they can take
out a thick stand of inch-high weeds as long as the soil is friable. Cost
is about $1400 for a 3-row unit on a 4-foot frame, depending on mounting
hardware. Order well in advance.
Finger Weeders also known as Buddingh ‘C’ cultivators, are used
to work around the stems of crop plants that are sturdy enough to handle
some contact. Rubber-coated metal fingers provide some in-row weeding.
These are connected to a lower set of metal fingers that work deeper in
the ground and drive the unit at ground speed. These units are used at
just a few miles per hour since they are in such close proximity to the
plants. They require belly-mounting, and are ideal for a G-type tractor.
Wet clayey soils can stick to fingers and require frequent removal. Cost
is about $1500 depending on mounting hardware.
Sweep and S-tine Cultivators are used between rows on established
crops. The shanks can be moved side to side on the toolbar to adjust for
different row spacing and crop size. Sweep cultivators have C-shaped spring
shanks, usually attached to 2½ inch diamond toolbars, often
with gauge wheels at the ends of one toolbar. Hilling disks or other tools
can be mounted close to the row. Cost for a 6 foot wide unit with 2 toolbars
is about $1200 for 4 rows. Fewer, wider rows add to the cost as sweeps
are added to work the between-row area. The spring shanks release when
rocks are hit, then re-set.
S-tine cultivators have gangs of 3 tines attached to a 4 by 4 inch toolbar.
Each gang floats independently on its own gauge wheel. They can cultivate
row spacings of 16 inches or wider. Prices start at $850 for a 2-row unit
or $1,500 for a 4-row unit on a 6 foot toolbar. Rolling crop shields or
disc hillers add about $100 per row.
Sweeps, shovels and knives are tools that attach to the end of
a shank. The type of tool, as well as the arrangement of shanks and toolbars
determines the amount and direction of soil movement and the area that
gets cultivated. Narrow shovels with sharp points uproot aggressive weeds
like quackgrass. Half-sweeps work up close to the row or along the edge
of plastic mulch. Tender hoes, beet hoes or side knives cut parallel to
the soil surface, sideways under the crop canopy, allowing close cultivation.
Crescent hoes work raised bed shoulders. Rusty tools they may not cultivate
well and rusty clamps make adjustments difficult. Wasco Hardfacing Co.
is one source of a wide variety of sweeps, knives, shovels, shanks and
Bezzerides Tools are spyders, torsion weeders and spring hoes,
used alone or in combination for close between-row cultivation. The 12
inch spyder wheel has staggered curved teeth and is ground-driven, rotating
on a ball-bearing hub. A pair spyders can be angled in or out to pull soil
away from the row or throw it back. Aggressive and rapid cultivation of
straight rows is possible, even on stony soils. Torsion weeders are square
stock metal bars that minimally move soil next to emerging crops. They
can lightly hill small crops or follow the spyders, leveling the soil and
flexing around plants to clean up missed spots. Spring hoes are flat blades
about 16 inches long. They are more aggressive than torsion weeders, traveling
perpendicular to the surface and stirring soil just below ground alongside
the root zone. Cost for all 3 tools is about $380 per row.
Rolling Cultivators consist of gangs of heavy slicer tines that
aggressively dig up weeds and pulverize soil between rows. The gangs are
ground-driven, and can be turned to adjust how much soil is moved.. Gangs
can be angled one way to pull soil away from the row while the crop is
small, then turned the other way to hill or throw soil into the row as
crop gets larger, burying in-row weeds. The aggressive action can control
rather large weeds.
Rolling cultivators can be used to work a crop like corn for as much
of the season as the tractor can clear. Rear-mount, multiple row units
are rather heavy and are not suited to small tractors. Individual gang
width ranges from 10 to 16 inches depending on number of tines or spyders.
A pair of gangs can be belly mounted to cultivate single rows; rear-mounted
units can cultivate up to 12 rows. Several brands are available, including
Lilliston, which start at $1,600 for a single row unit, up to $2,900 for
a 4-row unit. Options can be added such as sweeps, crop shields, or fertilizer
attachments for side dressing while cultivating. BHC and Brush Hog also
manufacture a line of rolling spyders.
Williams Cultivator has a frame to which 4 rows of Lely flex
tines are attached. It has a standard diamond front tool bar that attaches
to the tractor with 3-point hitch. A second toolbar can be added behind
the front tool bar to make room for more hilling tools, which is especially
helpful if using it on 3 row beds. The flexible tines can be raised up
about 12 to 15 inches off the ground; all of them or just the tines over
a crop row, as needed. By removing two U-bolts you can remove the tine
weeder frame, leaving the toolbar hitched to the tractor. That can be helpful
once the clearance over the crop is limited; if you add the second toolbar
it remains attached to the front one even when the frame is removed.
The tine weeders are good for 'blind' raking of the soil before crop
emergence, and again for controlling small weeds after emergence, without
damaging most crops. As the crops, and weeds, get bigger, more aggressive
hilling action can be obtained by adding disks, spyders, shovels, and/or
sweeps to the tool bar(s), customized to your needs. Since the tines are
really effective only in the bed area, not in the wheel tracks, choose
a frame size based on your tractor 'straddle'. The front bar length is
usually designed to cover outside-to-outside of the tractor tires in order
to allow tools to be mounted that will work the area behind the tires/
in between the beds. The tool system comes in 40, 50 and 60 inch frame
sizes and the basic frame prices are $1680, $1800, and $1920. A second
toolbar is $200, Gauge wheels are $200, and hilling spiders are $225. Available
from Market Farm Implement.
Brush Hoes are made in Switzerland by Bartschi-Fobro. They are
for close cultivation in narrow rows. Units are rather expensive, starting
at $6,000 per row. Shields protect plants from bristle wheels that rotate
independently between the rows, "sweeping" small weeds out of the soil
and creating a ‘dust mulch’ that can suppress subsequent weed germination.
An operator sits behind the rotating wheels and steers the unit to allow
for close cultivation.
Star Hoes, also made by Fobro, are for cultivation between rows
at least16 inches apart. They have gangs of ground-driven ‘stars’ that
are much like the spiders on rolling cultivators, except the individual
star ‘teeth’ are curved at the ends so as to lift soil more than other
types of spiders. The gangs can be angled to pull soil away or push it
into the rows. A second operator steers the unit as a whole over the rows,
allowing very close cultivation. The unit is well suited to crops grown
on beds in uniform row spacings, i.e. 17 inch triple rows, 34 inch double
rows. Taller plants may not fit under the toolbar, and bushy plants may
snag on the stars. These problems usually happen at the time a standard
tractor has trouble clearing the crop. Price is about $4,500 for a 4-row
unit without the steering mechanism for a second operator; it costs about
$1,100 more. Stars can be added for additional rows, fertilizer units are
Cultivating tractors are usually off-set for good visibility
of the crop rows being cultivated. They may be lightweight and low to the
ground for use on young or low-growing crops (the Allis Chalmers "G" tractor,
no longer made, is the classic of this type) or high-clearance for taller
crops (like Farmall Super A, Kubota, etc.). A 50 year-old cultivating tractor
in good shape with implements may cost $3,000 to $4,000. High clearance
cultivating tractors from the 1980's may cost $10,000. A new Saulkville
cultivating tractor costs about $20,000.
Gauge wheels should be considered on rear-mounted cultivators
so you can just drop the implement and watch where you are driving while
cultivating. They help maintain uniform depth of cultivation and eliminate
the need to set the tension with the 3 point hitch every time you set a
cultivator down. They also make it quick and easy to park.
Some Sources of Cultivation Equipment
P.O. Box 651
Grand Haven, MI 49417
Bezzerides Bros., Inc
P.O. Box 211
Orosi, CA 93647
BDi Machinery Sales Co.
430 E. Main St.
Macunie, PA 18062
Buddingh Weeder Co.
7015 Hammond Ave.
Dutton, MI 49316
119 Bridle Rd.
Antrim, NH 03440
HWE Agricultural Technology (Einbock)
Embrun, ON K0A 1W0
Market Farm Implement
257 Fawn Hollow Rd.
Friedens, PA 15541
P.O. Box 1060
Wilson, NC 27894
P.O. Box 357
Kalida, OH 45853
Wasco Hardfacing Co.
P.O. Box 2476
Fresno, CA 93745
Mention of brand name equipment, suppliers and prices is for information
purposes only; no guarantee or endorsement is intended nor is discrimination
implied against those not mentioned. This is not a complete list of cultivation
equipment or suppliers. Prices are FOB estimates.