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The Art of Making Traditional Digging Sticks

Community Garden Coordinator Jacob Butler leads a Traditional Digging Sticks class on a recent February day.

On February 25, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Cultural Resources Department hosted a class in making traditional digging sticks.

Community Garden Coordinator Jacob Butler showed participants how to make the stick, also known as a planting stick, as part of the nearly five-hour class at the garden.

The digging stick, when used correctly, digs a small hole in the planting ground for seeds. When the standing planter drops the seed into the ground, the planter leans forward toward the stick, which simultaneously digs the next whole.

Community Garden technician Mike Juan and Community Garden Coordinator Jacob Butler work on their digging sticks.
“It’s low-tech, but that doesn’t mean it’s low-skill,” Butler said.

Butler and his staff provided the precut ironwood branches and the carving and sanding tools. Participants made their own sticks to take home. Butler led the class with hands-on examples of removing the bark from an ironwood branch, sanding the stick, and fire-hardening. Fire-hardening the carved stick helps harden the wood and remove any moisture. Plus, it removes small bugs living in the wood.

Stripping the bark of the ironwood piece is critical in the digging stick making process. A Community Garden Program participant strips the bark with a knife from the piece of ironwood.
Butler recommends making the digging stick in the winter months because ironweed tends to crack easier during other seasons. Digging sticks can range in length from 1 to 3 feet, depending on what it’s used for. Smaller digging sticks are usually used to dig deeper holes.

The CRD hosts an occasional series of Community classes related to traditional gardening. A spiral garden class is planned for late spring. The Community Garden is open five days a week, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Staff is on-site for most of the day. For garden-related information, call (480) 362-6325.

Using a sharp knife to strip the bark from the ironwood branch is one step in making a digging stick.