Digging Smart

How many times have you jumped into a gardening project that requires a large amount of digging only to wear yourself out before the project is completed? By assessing the job, matching the tools to the task, and practicing proper digging techniques, you can complete the job safely with a minimum of time and effort.

"Digging" is a generic term used by gardeners that often involves different activities. Digging, shoveling, and spading are actually 3 different actions. Digging turns up, loosens or removes soil. Shoveling moves loose material from one place to another. Spading mixes the material leaving it in the same location. For example we dig a hole, we spade (work) compost into the soil, we shovel the soil mix back into the planting hole. Digging, shoveling, and spading require different tools. For digging the best tool to use is a round-point shovel. The point at the tip of the blade focuses the digger's weight on a very small area, increasing the pounds per square inch on the shovel and allowing the cutting surface to move through the soil easily. This becomes a disadvantage if the blade hits a tough root or rock. For shoveling the tools of choice are a square-point, flat-backed shovel or the round point shovel. On a flat surface the square- point, flat-backed shovel works more efficiently. For shoveling out planting holes, the round-point works best because its smaller head can fit into tight spaces. For spading, a digging fork or a round point shovel work well.

Digging becomes easier if you let the laws of gravity guide you. Gravity pulls straight down and digging is easiest if you dig straight down. When digging, the blade of the shovel should be vertical, not the handle. Once the blade is vertical then add your weight by stepping on the shovel. Limit your work to taking slices of soil rather than fully loaded shovels of soil. This will minimize back and muscle strain as well as reducing the amount of stress on your tools. Lift loaded shovels with your legs, not your back. Keep your back straight and knees bent.

Shoveling is a horizontal movement rather than a vertical one. Hold the shovel so its back is on the ground and push it into the pile from the end of the handle. Pushing from the end of the handle instead of from the side lets your weight do the work. Once loaded, lift the shovel with your knees, not your back.

Spading is similar to digging. Drive the fork or shovel straight down, then use the spading tool as a lever to begin the lifting process. Push the handle of the shovel or fork down towards you and the soil comes up ready to be turned over.

When "digging", pace yourself instead of working to the point of exhaustion. Take frequent breaks to admire your progress and to drink a replenishing glass of water. Select appropriate, quality tools for the job and dig smart.

This article originally appeared in the March 23, 1994 issue, pp. , 1994 issue, pp. 28-29.

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