Farm Collector Blogs > First Things

Dibbles on the Brain

by Leslie McManus


Tags: dibble, gardening, early innovations,

It’s April and I’m itching to get outside and dig, plant and prune (mowing I can wait for).

However, the weather has yet to cooperate. In the meantime, I am marshalling my forces: I’ve purchased seeds, ordered plants and am inspecting my troops of tools to ensure that all is in readiness once the land is.

    dibble tool patented by Warren E. Warner in 1893
  Dibble photo courtesy Sid Stolen
Photo of a dibble with the illustration from U.S. Patent 22,315, granted to Warren E. Warner, Rochester, N.Y., assignee to Weaver, Palmer & Richmond, Rochester, N.Y., March 28, 1893.

Which brings me to Warren Warner’s dibble. More than 100 years ago, in 1893 to be exact, Warren devised a design for a gardening dibble. Whether you’re planting seeds or young sets, a dibble is a handy thing for a gardener. The cone-shaped tool slides neatly into tilled soil, creating the optimal resting place for seed or set.

Elegant in its simplicity, pure in its function, Warren’s dibble is a simple flow of cast iron with a bit of ornamental work for good measure. When I first saw this one (featured in the May 2009 issue of Farm Collector), I knew instantly how it would feel in my hand (good) and how well it would perform its task (flawlessly). As I reconsidered my gardening tools, the assemblage suddenly showed a gaping void where a dibble should be.

At that point, productivity on all fronts plummeted. I spent the next half-hour racing from one website to the next in search of a dibble like Warren’s. As it turns out, there are all kinds of dibbles out there, old, new and in between. But none of those immediately available matched my specifications from a tool developed more than a century ago.

Warren was, clearly, a man ahead of his time. In 1893, when he applied for a patent for his dibble, the word “ergonomics” cannot have been dreamt of. But Warren was already on top of the science of reducing operator fatigue. His dibble’s lines mimic those of garden tools marketed today as ergonomically friendly. And the heft of cast iron would have driven the exquisitely tapered tool into the soil nearly effortlessly.

We often marvel at the ingenuity of early inventors of farm equipment. For their times, those inventors devised remarkable innovations. Today’s technology is a direct evolution of those early advances, but it almost always renders that early work obsolete. Warren’s dibble is a notable exception. Some times, the more things change, the more they don’t.