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A dibble or dibbler is a garden tool which is used to make small, uniform holes in the soil for the purpose of planting seeds and bulbs. The oldest recorded use of dibbles appears to date to China, where farmers worked with long poles during planting season, and similar devices were also used in Ancient Egypt and in Europe during the Middle Ages. The modern dibble is typically a small hand tool, rather than a long planting pole, designed for use in small flowerbeds and gardens.
The world “dibble” is derived from the Middle English dibben, which means “to make a hole in the soil.” Historically, people often planted with dibbles in teams. The first member of the team would make a line of holes, using markers on the dibble to confirm that the holes were uniform, and the second member of the team would drop seeds in and use another dibble to push the soil back in. Today, other planting techniques are usually used for seeds, but dibbles are very useful for planting bulbs and for seeding small gardens.
A typical dibble is made from turned wood or metal, with a series of markings along the body of the dibble which allow the gardener to easily determine the depth of the dibble in the soil. The tool is usually pointed to make it easy to poke a hole in the soil, and it has a rounded handle which is comfortable to hold. Once a hole is made, seeds or bulbs can be dropped in, and soil can be gently packed into the hole to cover.
Several companies and numerous craftspeople produce traditional wooden dibbles, for those who like to work with wooden hand tools. Others make metal or plastic versions which are just as effective, although not necessarily as nice to look at. As with other garden tools, a dibble should be wiped with a damp cloth after use to remove dirt and other materials, and it should be stored in a cool dry place to prevent the wood from swelling or the metal from rusting, depending on the material it is made from.
Dibbling, as it is known, is also sometimes performed to break the soil if it has developed a crust. This is especially common with potting soil in potted plants, which can become hard and crusty, causing water to run down the sides of the pot rather than penetrating the soil. With a dibble, someone can gently break up the crusty surface of the soil, allowing water to flow freely into the soil of the pot and making the plant healthier and happier.