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Digging in the Dirt

By Alexandra Nelson, U IL Extension Master Gardener

You’re not supposed to call it dirt.

As explained in Master Gardener training, “dirt” is what’s under your fingernails or on the knees of your jeans. That stuff in the garden is soil.

Soil is just a mixture of organic remains, clay, rock particles, air, and water. Peterson Garden Project recommends supplementing it annually with organic material—typically compost (you’ll find several supplements and fertilizers at our plant sale.

Xan with the twins- plant sale(The author digging in the dirt with a couple of friends at last year’s plant sale)

So when I’m in Master Gardener, or even just regular gardener, mode, yes, I call it soil.

But sometimes, when I’m there on my knees, my gardening gloves forgotten nearby, with my hands in that rich, brown loam, I revert to my inner 4-year-old, and it’s a joyous game of digging in the dirt.

If you’ve ever tried to garden with a small child, you’ll know exactly what I mean. A sure fire way to get them to stop pestering you is to give them a trowel and tell them to go dig in the dirt. Just understand that they will inevitably decide that the plain dirt is not nearly as fun as that dirt with the cool green things in it, and they will dig up your plants. Alternately, they will attempt to plant you, by dumping a trowel-ful of dirt on your head. At which point it’s definitely “dirt.” (And don’t worry, your children already know those words you just shouted.)

There are, incredibly, actual health benefits to getting dirty. Getting soily” just doesn’t sound the same, and of course “soiled” is another thing altogether. I’m sorry I brought it up.

I’m not the only one that understands the difference between soil and dirt and comes cleanly (haha) down on the side of dirt. Extension even turned it into an online game, although personally, I like the real stuff better.

Even the PGP theme this year is “Dig In.” Because there’s nothing more fun.