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3 Keys to Using a Ripper/Subsoiler and Potato Plow

For subcompact tractor owners, the ripper, middle buster (potato plow), and subsoiler all-in-one attachment may already be the favorite multi-purpose extension for gardening or trench digging. Multiply its value and versatility with these additional tips from leading subcompact hitch manufacturer Heavy Hitch. The Heavy Hitch Ripper uses Grade 2 bolts that are designed to shear or break if you hit something hard. It is important not to tighten the bolts, you want the shank to have a little play to allow the bolt to break. Also, be sure to leave at least 1 hole space in between the bolts.

1. The ripper is a beast to pop rocks and cut roots, but not on all excavation.

Your all-in-one ripper and optional anvil-shaped middle buster are perfect accessories to enable your tractor to clear and repurpose an acre on a new or existing property for a garden, to install wire or water lines, or to use in the process of excavating or regrading.

Customers buying the industrial-strength Heavy Hitch ripper were amazed at the clearing damage their newly outfitted machine could do. Steve wrote:

It transformed my little green tractor into a root ripping machine. I can remove small stumps with ease. I rip roots on all 4 sides of stump, hook under the side of stump, lift, and drive forward. Pops them out every time! Biggest stump so far was about an 8″ apple tree!

Rippers can be ideal implements to team up with when excavating foundations or grading a yard, most brands reaching into the earth 24 inches, easily disturbing the hardpan soil, that 4-12” deep dense and water-impervious layer beneath the top soil. But the job can be further expedited with a little strategy.

Here’s the question: for the most efficient layered excavation and removal, when is the chiseled middle buster helpful (see photo of that Heavy Hitch option in the link above), or will the ripper/subsoiler alone suffice? A reviewers’ conversation in Tractor by Net offers helpful advice.

Jim is about to regrade his yard to finally deal with his lawn-mowing frustrations:

I have several sections of my property that are a bit uneven. They don’t look good and I often scalp those parts of the lawn with my 48″ mower. There is also a section that slopes towards the house and with some work I can change it to slope away. I was going to use either a middle buster or a subsoiler to break things up before I took the front-end loader and rototiller to the areas. So which, middle buster or subsoiler, might do the job better?

One customer described the main difference between the middle buster and subsoiler:

“The subsoiler will break up compacted soil deep without moving it much, while the middle buster will move soil and create a shallow furrow. Middle busters are also known as potato plows. If you are interested in disturbing the top 6-to-8 inches of soil to make it easier to move with a bucket, it seems the middle buster might be best. Subsoilers are intended to break up compacted soil for drainage purposes and, as they don’t have any plow share, they don’t really disturb the top soil much.

All-purpose implements are great unless there’s a standalone that can save lots of time and money, so choose your tool wisely. The ripper’s distinct advantage is that it is designed for easy adjustment at multiple depth settings, so it can partner well for varying needs, with bolts that will sheer to preserve the implement if you hit an immovable object.

But the middle buster plow is worth the time to replace when you are trying to remove a top layer or brush. Moreover, it’s perfect for the more delicate precision work of planting furrowed rows.


Many gardeners use the subsoiler during planting as a first-sweep way to break up compacted soil to ease wear and tear on rototillers.

This accessory’s ability to dig deep is a particular advantage when creating simple rows for planting root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, radishes, and parsnips in the spring. Vegetables with longer taproots like carrots, radishes, and beets love loose and non-compacted soil at the greater depth a subsoiler is built for, and the deep watering that allows for taproot development.

Subsoilers allow families to get the fun started early in spring, as root vegetable seeds or transplants can be the first in the ground. Heavy Hitch owner Terry Schell and his wife Shannon, whose family business sports the most durable implements in the business, dug up a family garden this past year, he said.

“It’s a great way to spend time with the kids, and it doubles as an extra research and development plot. The subsoiler works great at varying depths, and people love that it’s all American made with a perfect color match to John Deere green and Kubota orange!”

According to Eartheasy.com, radishes are best planted from seed at 12-18” deep, a perfect starter plant for new gardeners and kids. With speedy gratification, they can be harvested in less than a month!

Potatoes and onions are also planted at 12-18,” onions benefitting most from an early planting. But the subsoiler is particularly helpful, doing a job nobody wants, burrowing to a depth of 18-24” for beets and carrots, while parsnips hide at a record depth of 24-36”! Maybe it’s their natural concealing ability that keeps them from finding their way into more recipes!

It isn’t difficult to see why the middle buster attachment, popular for creating furrows and unearthing vegetables at harvest, got the name “potato plow,” since it is only recommended under good soil conditions to dig at the depth that is ideal for potatoes or onions.



The subsoiler is the tool of choice for breaking up hard dry ground after a summer drought, but one is well-advised to spot check throughout a field before assuming if more man-made drainage is needed. Indeed, manipulating a field can be tempting since hardened soil can cause spring-melted water to pool, delaying a tractor’s first run in the field. But don’t jump too soon!

Disturbing the soil with a subsoiler can be counterproductive, interrupt natural processes, and ruin all-important “soil structure,” according to Farmer’s Weekly. Soil structure improves through nature – physical interactions like shrinking, freezing, drying and cracking as well as the biological effect of worms, plant roots and fungi. (“7 Steps to Successful Subsoiling,” Farmers Weekly, Ruth Wills, Nov. 15, 2018)

The shrinking caused by drought-like conditions causes natural cracks in the earth, opening greater depths to the next watering or rain, and subsoiling would not only close those grooves, but disturb the channels created by nature’s volunteer workers below the surface. In fact, a naturally subsoiled field could be optimal, and can be left unconditioned for years. Soils expert Philip Wright recommends taking a closer look to assess needs by dropping a spade into the earth at several locations.

First, assess changes in moisture level to find whether rain has been absorbed evenly, without being fooled by the natural moisture change at the level between topsoil and subsoil. It is very common for part of a field, perhaps an area without shrinkage cracks or more dense in clay, to need subsoiler tilling. Here’s where it’s the perfect tool, ideally used in early autumn before autumn rains.

Unlike other accessories, without a plowshare, it doesn’t disturb the topsoil as much, and that’s just what’s needed! Hopefully these three practical tips will both reassure potential buyers of the great usefulness of this simple implement, and educate them to field uses that are the most productive, to get the greatest value from it. If you have any questions, feel free to check out our FAQs or contact us today.


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