Field Notes: farm cats and the art of rototiller maintenance

Posted by Moss Dance on October 28, 2014 1 Comment

Last weekend, Heather Ramsay of Umi Nami Farm in Metchosin offered a comprehensive workshop on small engine maintenance. She told us how to take good care of our rototillers, mowers and other small gas machines before winter sets in. Many thanks to Heather for sharing her journey into learning about machine maintenance and giving us some great tips and demonstrations. We hope to offer this workshop again next year!

Big thanks also to local young farmer Robin Sturley, who took some fantastic notes that we are sharing below. If you are looking for more info on how to take care of your gas-powered machinery before winter, have a look at her notes here!

Things to do before storing your rototiller for the winter months



  • Most importantly: when working on your machine, keep everything clean and free of debris! Any debris will clog up and damage the internal mechanisms of your engine. As you remove parts to inspect and/or replace things, wipe everything down first with a clean rag, brush away dirt with an old toothbrush or use an air compressor to blow away debris.
  • When running your machine: always let it idle a few minutes after your done working and before shutting it down, to let excess fuel and oil circulate out.


  • Remove the foam element fitted around the air filter: on a regular basis tap off the dirt, on a yearly basis wash it with soap and water or replace it if necessary.
  • Soak the foam element in clean motor oil before replacing around the air filter, it will catch dirt and debris better this way! (Use a clean dish or pan to soak it in oil, let excess drip off before replacing)



  • Option 1: Keep a full tank of gas in the machine, and run it for 10min or so once a month to keep fresh gas moving through the system.
  • Running the engine with fuel still in it is necessary because the volatile compounds in gasoline will evaporate over time, leaving behind stale gas that is more likely to gum up the engine. Keeping a full tank reduces the amount of surface area for evaporation.
  • Option 2:  drain all fuel from the tank, or let the fuel run out by running the machine. With no fuel left in the system you won’t get residue building up and possibly gumming up the carborator.
  • There are different options for how to drain the fuel system, depending on the design of the machine.  See your user manual for details on draining the fuel system of your particular machine–on many machines you can do so by removing the drain bolt from the carburetor.  All the fuel should drain out if the machine is level, but do tip a bit to make sure.


  • Remove the spark plug using the correct size socket (too large could strip the bolt, this goes for all bolts!) When you replace it tighten by hand, don’t over tighten it.
  • Inspect the bottom of the spark plug. The colour of the residue should tell you if you’re getting the correct ratio of air and fuel into the combustion chamber of the engine. The end of the spark plug should be dry (if you’re seeing wet or oily residue, you’ve got a problem!), white residue mean not quite enough fuel, very dark residue means not quite enough air, some dark (dry) residue is OK.
  • Check the gap on the bottom of the spark plug with a special ‘gapping tool’ – adjust carefully as needed, each spark plug needs a certain size gap, this info should be available from the supplier.
  • Clean all parts off before replacing so no debris gets into the engine.


  • When you have the spark plug out, pour A FEW DROPS of clean engine oil into the hole where the spark plug sits. Pull the starter cord a few times to circulate the oil through the system and lubricate all the internal parts to prevent any rusting over winter.


  • Use the dipstick to look at the quality and quantity of the oil. Your user’s manual should tell you how full to keep the oil. Keep the oil topped up at all times! If you run the machine without enough oil you can do some serious damage. Clean oil is golden and clear, it will get darker as it gets dirtier. Change about once a year (or less, depending how often you use your machine).
  • Run your machine a few minutes before an oil change to warm up the oil and make it flow and drain more easily. Warm up your clean oil if necessary (eg. in a warm room) to make it easier to pour into the machine.
  • Remove the drain bolt for the oil, have a pan ready – it will come out fast! Remember to replace the drain bolt before re-filling the oil!

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