Tertill is a gardening robot, but what does that really mean?
Stop me if you've heard this before. A product gets announced that sounds a bit too good to be true. It somehow solves the very problem you've been looking to remove from your life and promises to do it with little to no effort on your part.
We've been through this with robot vacuums and it took years for them to finally be good enough to become an easy recommendation. Ironically enough, the brains behind the original Roomba are back again with a similar promise: to keep your garden weed-free via the help of a little helper robot.
What started as a promising Kickstarter project has actually delivered on the promises made; seemingly a rarity among such projects, which often begin pie-in-the-sky and end up ordinary, at best.
So what exactly is Tertill? It's a Roomba for your garden, essentially. This little green robot, shaped like a tall green Roomba, roams around your garden and mercilessly beheads weeds in its path, keeping your garden neat and tidy all season long.
It's a way to keep your garden weed-free without using herbicides, and it requires no power from the grid since it's completely solar-powered.
In fact, Tertill might be the most eco-friendly way to tend to your garden aside from good old fashioned hand-picking. I would wager many of us don't have time to regularly weed large gardens, and some may even find it physically uncomfortable to perform such tasks on a regular basis.
On top is a solar panel for charging the internal battery and, underneath, you'll find a set of extreme cambered wheels and a tiny weed wacker between them. It's Tertill's shape and design that makes it work so well, with grooved wheels that don't get stuck, even in wet clay.
The body is made primarily of polycarbonate which has been rated for both hot and cold climates. Hot Summer days and cold Autumn mornings didn't stop Tertill from working during my testing, and it seems that any climate in which plants grow is a perfect climate for Tertill. Even heavy rains or snow won't hurt Tertill, although typically, once it snows, you won't need Tertill in your garden any longer.
On the front is a large, hidden capacitive touch panel that's not designed for human hands at all (as the capacitive touch screen on your smartphone is). Instead, this touch panel is made for keeping Tertill away from the plants you're actually trying to grow, and it works unbelievably well.
The trick is all in the software. The sensitivity level of this capacitive sensor can be adjusted on the fly and helps Tertill operate even in rainy conditions. If you've ever tried to use your phone when your hands or wet or during a rainstorm, you'll know how difficult a feat this can be.
I've been watching Tertill work in my garden since the Summer, and have yet to see it falter or cut the wrong plant down. That, in and of itself, is a technical marvel and an achievement that makes this product worth its weight in gold.
Tertill can connect to an app on your smartphone via a Bluetooth connection, which means you'll need to be nearby in order to interface with it. But Tertill isn't designed like many other robots of its shape; it's designed to work completely on its own without human intervention.
The app is more or less just a tool to check the robot's status; see its battery level, how much solar power the cells up top are generating, and see the internal temperature of the robot. There are no controls or scheduling tools here; Tertill does all that work for you.
Setting things up
While Tertill works marvelously in my well-manicured garden, it does so primarily because I built this garden specifically for this review. The Tertill team has put together a guide for owners specifying the best operating conditions for the little robot to work in and, at least for me, that meant a good deal of preparation work before I ever got to use the robot. I started by digging a 10ft x 15ft rectangle out of my grassy lawn and dug about 1ft down into the clay.
Having clay soil meant that I had a fair bit of extra prep work that more sandy or loamy soils won't encounter, as there are a significant amount of small rocks in this mountainous Western North Carolina soil. I did my best to level the ground out and clear out any loose rocks I found but tried not to go overboard and let my OCD take over the situation. After all, I can't imagine too many people will try to make their garden as flat and level as a tiled floor.
Tertill requires a physical barrier to keep it within the bounds of the garden, which is fine since I wanted to keep the grass out anyway. I used a handful of 2×10 wood boards to make a physical barrier, but fencing can also be used. Franklin Robotics also notes that plants should be spaced about 1ft apart from each other, which leaves enough space for Tertill to work.
You could always group plants together, but the important part is that empty space left should be wide enough for Tertill to roam through. Franklin Robotics ships Tertill with two sets of plant collars (10 sets of collars, 10 row markers) that can be used to shield seedlings and smaller plants from being forcefully removed from your garden.
The rule of thumb is that anything shorter than ½ inch will be chopped. These collars can be removed once the plant is high enough to touch the green plastic on the front of Tertill. This, too, scared me a bit at first, as I was sure Tertill would run these plants over and cause havoc.
To my great surprise, Tertill is incredibly gentle with garden plants. In fact, the instant a leaf touches the front of Tertill's grey shell, the robot turns away and begins working elsewhere in the garden. It almost felt like magic, and that's when you know a product is really good at what it does.
In my particular garden, I started everything from seed and needed a large number of collars to get things started. I attempted to make collars out of old tomato cages but failed to realize that the height of the collars is what matters most. Any collar that was too tall or short and missed the green plate on the front of Tertill was treated as non-existent.
I had no issues with the collars that Franklin provides in every Tertill package and, if you don't want to deal with making your own, you can purchase additional row markers or collars for your own garden for $15 per set. This could get costly upfront depending on your garden size, but they're long-term investments that will last many years.
For my part, the collars I made from tomato cages are mostly useless now since I didn't make them properly and will now have to be recycled instead of being reused next season.
So while this is a lot of work upfront, at least in my case, it has been totally worth it for the complete lack of effort it takes to keep the garden up while Tertill roams around.
A real workhorse
I had a bit of a learning curve getting used to how Tertill worked and what worked best. Turns out I simply put too much thought into it. Tertill does what it's supposed to very well, and it needs little or no help at all while doing it.
Setting up your boundaries is the most important part and, if you follow the instructions provided by Franklin Robotics, you'll have zero issues in your garden.
Tertill is an exceptional product that did exactly what I needed it to, but I didn't realize it at first. I was rather skeptical of the efficiency of the product the first time I saw it.
From the initial look of things, Tertill seemed to randomly roam around the garden and aimlessly chop rocks and small bits of things instead of what I considered the "real work." The long-term effects of Tertill being in my garden had proven me very wrong, indeed.
Over the span of the last four months, I've never had a more weed-free garden in my life. I've been gardening since I was a kid, and it's simply never been this care-free.
Right now, I'm utilizing about 300 square feet of my back yard as garden space, half of which Tertill maintains. The difference between the two 150 square foot beds couldn't be starker. One is neat, tidy and orderly. One is filled with overgrown plants and weed sprouts that I haven't been able to get around to plucking.
It's clear the robot is better at this than I am.
In fact, Tertill is so good at what it does, I'm considering getting another one for my second bed just to keep all of my plants happy and healthy.
Since Tertill is weather-hardened and solar-powered, I never had to worry about charging the robot or setting up schedules. Everything is completely automated, down to the pathing and scheduling, which Tertill does throughout the day.
Once Tertill is in your garden, you forget it's there, and that's probably the best part about it. It does its job without fuss, without hassle, and without needing to be babysat or taken care of.
Maintenance and limitations
Tertill's effect on my gardening habits is essentially identical to how my vacuuming habits have changed since the adoption of intelligent robot vacuums. While Tertill will not completely replace every single bit of manual labor in the garden, it will easily eliminate 90% of what you would expect to have to do in regards to weeding and general grounds maintenance.
That being said, you'll need to understand that Tertill cannot tackle absolutely everything that's thrown at it. I found that low-lying grasses and certain types of ivy will be bypassed by Tertill's rotor. Franklin Robotics told me it's working on solutions for this but, for now, it's notable that these will still need to be hand-picked.
I also found that clay soil makes its way into Tertill's wheels and will occasionally gum them up. I typically would clean out Tertill's wheels once per month and that was enough to keep any issues from building up. The exception was during a week when it wouldn't stop raining, causing tons of muddy clay to build up in and around the wheels.
Having a better soil balance will be both better for Tertill and for the plants, though, which means existing gardens with rich, balanced soil will see the best performance in this regard.
The only other maintenance I had to perform on Tertill involved switching out the weed wacker once per month for the first two months, and then once most of the large rocks had been eliminated, this weed wacker lasted about 2 months before getting too bent to be useful. Tertill comes with a handful of replacements in the box, and additional replacements can be purchased from the website.
As plants grow larger, Tertill's effectiveness could be reduced, depending on your soil composition and garden design. I found that mulching my plants after they had gotten big enough was a good way to combat weeds growing near the root ball, while Tertill handled everything other than that.
You'll also need to be aware that garden density will have a direct impact on Tertill's effectiveness. If there's not enough space between the plants for Tertill to roam, it can't chop down weeds. It's really that simple, and your garden plan needs to reflect that requirement.
A gardener's best friend
Regardless of the limitations that Tertill has, this is the robot you want if you're looking to make gardening a little more fun and a little less work.
Gardeners looking to pick produce instead of always picking weeds will quickly find out that this is fully worth the $350 entry price. Tertill is one of the very best products of the year, and easily one of the best household robots you could possibly own.
It excels at its job in every possible way and, even though you'll need to follow guidelines for garden setup beforehand, once you've got everything in place, Tertill does its job without needing intervention and without needing to be told what to do.
It truly is a gardener's best friend.