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Learning to Make Tools
By Hunter Flynn, Farmer at The Jeavons Center

Paul from Kenya demonstrates the Dibble Board
Intern Paul from Kenya demonstrates the Dibble Board

During the week of July 7–15, Steve Moore, long-time farmer and agricultural educator, came to The Jeavons Center to teach a tool-building workshop. Steve currently is a professor at Elon University in North Carolina, and is also an advisor and board member of Ecology Action. Before teaching at Elon, Steve managed his own Biointensive farm in Pennsylvania. The events of the week combined classroom lectures and work in the tool shop with all Ecology Action interns and staff attending, as well as members of the local community.


The week provided attendees with a wide array of tools to work with, from flatting and pricking-out aids, to mini-greenhouses, to seed-cleaning equipment. The goal of the week was to make tools that are simple and accessible. We always try to focus on utilizing human energy and developing a system that is applicable anywhere in the world, for those who may not have the income or the same equipment that’s available in the U.S.


During the winter, I built a dibble board, with help and advice from Steve. A dibble board can be used for flatting or pricking out seedlings, but the one I designed was specifically for winter grain planting. From September 21–November 1, we are in a mad rush to transition our entire garden from summer crops to winter grains and legumes. We transplant our winter grains on 5-inch centers after about a week in the flat. A 100-square-foot bed contains approximately 800 plants of any of the winter grains, so when you have 100 beds to plant, you need to work efficiently, and in a way that doesn’t hurt your body. The dibble board I designed is 5 feet wide and 2.5 feet long and has 4-inch dowels drilled into the board every 5 inches with offset spacing. For simple handles, I drilled two holes on each side and bent rebar into the holes.


To use the dibble board, two people lay the board along the bed every 2.5 feet and step on it to make sure the dowels press down deep enough into the soil. Be sure to press along the entire length of the board while two people follow you, one tossing seedlings toward the holes and another placing the seedlings into the hole and pinching soil around the young plant. After timing myself multiple times, I found, to my surprise, that I am actually able to transplant a bed quicker by myself with the traditional method using a digging board, marking tool and hand trowel, but what I enjoy about using the dibble board is the way my body feels after. I am not hunched over for as long, and I enjoy the company of one of my colleagues next to me as we transplant what will become next year’s bread.


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