The History of Dibbling


| 4/5/2018 2:02:00 PM


Tags: Sam Moore, Looking Back,

Sam MoorePrior to the acceptance of low, minimum and no-till practices, plowing was considered the major task of the farmer. Tillage however is only the series of steps needed to prepare the soil for the real job – planting the seed. Without seed there can be no crop, and the proper placement of the seed is the most critical part of the operation.

For centuries seeding was haphazard; the seed was scattered by hand and then covered with a rake, harrow, or even by dragging a bundle of brush across it. This time-consuming and laborious method resulted in a lot of lost seed and low yields.

I’m a fan of a National Public Radio show called “Says You” on which, among other word games, a panel of “experts” tries to guess the meaning of obscure words. A while back, one of the mystery words was “dibble,” and no one knew what a dibble was (I knew this one, although I usually don’t).

One of the first feeble attempts to improve hand seeding was by a process known as “dibbling.” A hole was poked into the soil with a pointed stick or “dibble,” the seed was dropped into the hole and then covered by scraping a little dirt over the hole with the foot.

Dibbling persisted for hundreds of years; in 1600 an Englishman recommended “setting” seed over sowing broadcast and said the holes should be 3 inches apart and 3 inches deep. He and several others described dibbling frames that consisted of a series of properly spaced wooden pegs set into boards. These frames were lowered onto and forced into the soil, then lifted and carried forward where the process was repeated over and over again. The seeds were dropped into the holes thus made and then covered.

Although there had been hundreds of attempts through the centuries to come up with a mechanical way of sowing seed, the intricacies of a successful grain drill were beyond the capabilities of early inventors and none of the machines they dreamed up really answered the purpose. Seeding broadcast was still the most popular way of sowing well into the 18th century.