How to use your Dibber, by Charles Dowding.
You can use this tool both for making holes in which you can pop in plants raised in modules, also use it to draw shallow lines on your beds in the surface compost. These lines along a bed will guide your plantings and ensure they are in straight rows. A further use is spacing thanks to the circles we have turned into the wood at different intervals (explained below).
A top tip when dibbing holes is to rotate the dibber as you withdraw it upwards. This makes for a clean hole with little compost sticking to the surface of the dibber.
Make your holes 2 cm deeper than the depth of the module root ball. This means the transplant you pop into the hole will be sitting below surface level, and this is always a good thing, except for the very few plants with almost no stem, such as corn salad.
It is absolutely fine for plant stems to be below surface level, of all vegetables.
On each dibber we have made circles which are to give you spacings between plants.
- The lowest circle is at 15 cm/6 inches from the tip, for the space between plantings of corn salad and multisown radish.
- The next circle is 22 cm/8.5 inches above the tip and is my standard space between all plants for salad leaves, also between clumps of spring onions, peas for shoots, spinach, chard, pak choi, coriander and many herbs.
- The third ring is 30 cm /11.5 inches from the tip and measures the distance between plantings of celery, multi sown beetroots and onions, first early potatoes, sweetcorn and broad beans.
- The final spacing is 35 cm / 13.7 inches which I use for celeriac, swedes, calabrese and Chinese cabbage.
The dibber is 60cm long which gives the space between Brussels sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli and cucumbers, also tomatoes at wider spacings in order to decrease the risk of late blight. See my new Skills book for more about spacings.
A general rule is that slow growers need more space and fast-maturing vegetables need less.
Close spacings are a form of companion planting, and are especially helpful to seedlings: they like being close to their mates. Close-spaced seedlings is one reason why interplanting works so well. For all vegetables, grow plants as near to each other as is possible, yet also according to the harvests you would like.
Spacings I give here are for equidistant plantings of vegetables raised in modules or pots. Measurements such as 22 or 30 cm, are my best averages for many different vegetables, but you can vary them according to your preferences. Say you like larger onions, then plant multisown clumps at 35cm rather than 30cm.
Gardening is easier and quicker when spacings are correct for each plant. At the same time, there are no right or wrong spacings – just good ones make a difference. They play a big part in how plants grow, how much and how easily you harvest, and for how long a time.
Good spacing is the balance point of allowing enough room for successful growth and harvest, yet also without wasting growing space.
Mixed spacings at Homeacres on 26th July, 2021, three weeks after many of these vegetables were transplanted for second harvests.
Spacing depends on what you want to harvest
The spacings I recommend are a mid-point between the maximum number of plants and growing them to a decent size. It partly depends on what you want to harvest, so I recommend trying a few different spacings and seeing how they work for you.
For example, chard, kale, pak choi and spinach plants can grow you small, medium or large leaves. This depends on spacing (22 cm for salads, wider for cooking leaves) as well as other variables, such as:
1 The time of year – leaves are larger in summer and smaller through winter. Space more closely when transplanting in early autumn for harvests in the winter months.
2 Your picking method – this can result in smaller leaves when you pick plants ‘harder’, meaning you harvest small leaves more regularly.
Spacing multisown modules
This can take some practice to find your preferred harvests.
There are other variables too. Multisown modules need wider spacing than single-sown plants, but the number of seedlings per module often varies – there may be one to five, when you had aimed for four. If this happens, you can either remove any weak seedlings from modules with more than your desired number, or group two together if they have less, say one or two seedlings instead of four.