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Digging when you have a weak grip

Digging is when you turn over the soil to a spade’s depth or more. Digging helps break up the soil, to aerate it (get air into the soil), and it can help to loosen weeds.

Top tips to make digging easier

  • Long reach spade with fist grip
    If you use hand tools to cultivate your raised beds, you can improve the grip on your existing tools by sliding pipe insulation over the handle. This gives a wider, more comfortable hold.
  • Choosing a spade of the right length and weight will help you avoid some of the stresses and strains when digging. There are a number of tools that you could use, other than a spade, which are lighter such as a long handled trowel or a three pronged cultivator.
  • Look for tools with a grip that is comfortable for you. There are different grip options including fist-grips at right angles to the tool, T shaped grips, grips made from soft materials and tools with extra wide handles – they are all designed to make gripping the tool easier.
  • Keep your beds narrow so you don’t have to step on the soil to reach. Also, consider opting for 1-metre square beds - these will give an edge to dig inside and also make planting easier.
  • Digging is hard work so it will help if you can adapt your garden to avoid having to dig at ground level and to keep the amount of digging needed to a minimum. 
    • Make narrow ‘no-dig’ beds by covering beds with a thick mulch such as newspapers and then with a thick top layer of manure or compost.  Worms and micro-organisms will help break the soil down and the mulch will help stop weeds growing.
    • Alternatively, lay down a weed-suppressing membrane in permanent beds and plant through slits cut in the material.  Cover the membrane with a mulch such as bark or gravel.
  • Consider using raised beds and containers. These bring the soil off the ground, reduce the need for digging and make any digging that you have to do much easier. Find out more about raised beds
  • If your garden soil is heavy and clay based, any digging is best done in the autumn. This is because by the spring, the soil will have dried out and be very hard, which will make digging extremely difficult and physically demanding. Also, if you dig it over in the autumn and then leave the surface uneven over the winter, any frosty weather will help break up the soil even more. However, if you have lighter soil you should dig in the spring as the ground will be warmer and much easier to work.

Taking care

  • Digging with a short trowel
    Digging can put a strain on your back, shoulders and arms. Take care not to strain your hands by using tools that you find hard to grip. Try out different tools to find one that suits you.
  • Always 'warm up' with a few gentle stretches before digging, keep your back straight and only work for short periods, to avoid strain. 
  • Choosing a spade of the right length and weight will help you avoid some of the stresses and strains when digging. There are a number of tools that you could use, other than a spade, which are lighter such as a long handled trowel or a three pronged cultivator.
  • If you are digging at ground level and using a long handled trowel, consider sitting or kneeling to work to avoid strain.
  • Make sure you protect your feet and lower legs to avoid injury from sharp tools like forks and spades.


Equipment and tools

  • Digging sitting down
    A lightweight border fork and planting spade are a good choice for breaking up the soil and digging. Check that the weight and length is right for you before you buy.
  • A long handled trowel, fork or claw cultivator will be lighter than a conventional spade and can be used sitting down to reach ground level. You can find long reach tools like this with T handles, or the Peta long reach range have a fist-grip which is like a comfortable trowel handle.  This range includes a fork, trowel and cultivator and is used with an arm support to reduce strain on the wrist.
  • There are tools designed to break up soil using actions such as pushing, pulling and twisting – these are called Cultivation tools – and may be easier for you to use than a spade.


Soil miller  

Soil miller

Larger than the star soil tiller, this tool has a cutting blade at the back which digs deeper into the soil.

Find out more about soil miller


Cultivator  

Cultivator

This is a large three-pronged tool used for quickly breaking up soil. It is dragged through the soil and used without lifting the tool head.

Find out more about Cultivator


Peta long reach Easi-Grip hand tools  

Peta long reach Easi-Grip hand tools

These long but light steel tools have soft grip handles that are at right angles to the tool head. This allows the wrist and hand to be held in a neutral position which reduces strain.

Find out more about Peta long reach Easi-Grip hand tools