The Mantis “Little Wonder” Tiller

I’ve Tested Many Tillers, and I Always Come Back to My Mantis

This spring I had to replace my favorite garden implement, my Mantis 2-Cycle tiller. This is the little red tiller that you see advertised everywhere in garden magazines and on television gardening shows. If I remember those old ads in Organic Gardening magazines about 30 years ago, the Mantis tiller used to be nicknamed the “Little Wonder”. I believed it then, and I still believe it.

My first Mantis 2-cycle lasted through ten seasons of hard use, with no repairs. I wore it out. I liked it so much, I bought a second one, and had it for nine seasons before I wore it out, too. I’m talking seriously large garden here, where I grew enough to feed a family of five during the summer with enough in the freezer and pantry to last through the winter.

One year when extra events occupied my time (wedding, graduations, etc.) I took my second Mantis in to a local shop that worked on them to have it “tuned up”. They did the annual maintenance tasks for me and adjusted the carburetor. That’s the only time I ever paid for any work to be done on any of models. I think the shop charged me about $30, and that included a new spark plug, air filter, and couple of bottles of oil, too.

There are only a few simple annual maintenance tasks to do with the Mantis 2-cycle tiller, and they are easy enough for anyone to do. The manual tells you how, with pictures and instructions. A new model also comes with a DVD that tells you everything you need to know, too, for those who like the video explanations. Each year, you need to change the spark plug and check the gear grease. Check the fuel filter and the fuel line every so often. And if you operate your tiller in a dusty environment, which I do, the air filter will need to be cleaned every few hours of use.

Speaking of the manual…it is complete. It gives you exploded diagrams of the entire tiller including assemblies. If you need a part, you can call the company and find exactly what you need, and you can see exactly how to install it. They are very helpful, and will answer questions if you don’t understand the DVD or manual.

Including the purchase price, the gas & oil, and annual maintenance parts of $10 or less, my machine is the least expensive piece of equipment I own. Including the annual return of food, my Mantis has netted me hundreds of dollars per year.

Points to consider if you are shopping for a garden tiller.

Mantis guarantees their tines against breakage for life. They are a unique, patented “serpentine” design that allows them to really chop up weeds and clods of soil into a fine consistency. Really. I’ve never seen or used a machine that makes such a nice planting soil consistency as the Mantis tiller. I’ve had Ariens and I’ve used Troy-built and other tillers, and they don’t hold a candle to this little workhorse.

The width of the tiller is 9 inches. It tills to 10 inches deep. You can dig deeper by shoveling out the tilled soil and running the machine again through the trench. This is great to prepare a deep planting bed for potatoes or root crops. You can also use this method to dig holes for planting trees and shrubs. In about 5 minutes you can have a nice hole dug for a small shrub, with beautifully pulverized soil to replace around the root ball.

The design of the tines really does break through hard clay soil, too. Some areas of my yard were bulldozed/graded over 40 years ago when the house was built, and in some places there is a nice deep layer of topsoil, and in others it is only a few inches deep with hard clay underneath. My machines digs up that clay and mixes in compost completely.

The Mantis 2-cycle will turn even thick lawn into pulverized planting soil in minutes. Set the tines for tilling, and simply go over the area a few times until it is tilled. To cultivate a previously planted area, turn the tines around (simple, no tools needed!) and the patented position of the tines will cultivate 2-3 inches deep, removing weeds and aerating the soil.

You can cultivate as close as you want to existing plants, because you can easily see where the tines are working. Use this little wonder in raised beds, small areas, and to prepare areas to plant bulbs. One of my favorite uses for my Mantis is to chop and turn my compost pile. It gives me unbelievably perfect results and is the reason my compost cooks up so fast and is so lovely when it’s finished.

The Mantis has an easy recoil starter. Mine always starts on the first or second pull, and I can pretty much hold the tiller in one hand and pull the cord with the other…no wrestling with the thing at all. The off-on toggle is right on the handle, as is the throttle. The company says that the gear box is “virtually indestructible”, and through all the hard use I’ve given my Mantis tillers, there has never been any kind of problem with the gear box.

The entire macine weighs only 20 pounds. It is easy to carry anywhere. The handles fold down so it will fit in any car trunk and it takes very little space to store. You can buy optional attachments, too. I bought a kickstand with my first Mantis and I’ve moved it from one model to the next through the years.

I have the dethatcher, and that thing works better than any mower attachment or other equipment I’ve seen. It replaces the tine assembly; it only takes a couple of minutes to make the switch. You just run it over your lawn and let it do its thing. We run the mower and bagger over after dethatching to pick it all up. Does a great job.

We also have an edger, which is nice around concrete areas, of which we have few, but it makes nicely groomed edges on flower and herb beds where they meet the lawn area. There are two sizes of hedge trimmer attachments for the 2-cycle model. I don’t have a hedge trimmer, but I keep thinking about it.

The Mantis website outlines their 5 year warranty on their tillers. Yes, FIVE YEARS on parts and workmanship. That’s in addition to the lifetime warranty on the tine breakage. They also have a “Use it Free for a Year” trial offer and free shipping if you order from the website.

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