soil vs dirt

Ep 10 – Soil vs Dirt: Know the Difference to Prepare your Garden

Wondering about the difference between soil vs dirt? Want to know which you have and how you can get the right one for your garden? This post will give you the down and dirty about what’s in the ground!

The medium we place our crops in so probably the most important part of having a successful garden season! In my first season growing food, I knew I was going to have to fertilize, so I bought the cheapest top soil, not really understanding the difference between soil, dirt, mud, any of them. I just assumed that it should grow food.

Needless to say, I spent much of that season, amending the soil with not a lot of return on my investment! In this episode, I want to talk about the difference between soil vs dirt as well as recognize what you can do to prepare your garden soil for healthy plants and a productive season.

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Soil vs Dirt

Hey ya’ll and welcome to another episode of the Podcast! Today, I want to do a quick deep dive into the composition of soil and really get an understanding for how you can evaluate the growing medium of your garden as well as prepare it for the season!

In society, soil and dirt are often used interchangeably. As children we play in the dirt, and so many of the popular gardening saying include the word dirt as part of the catch phrase. But when it comes down to building the space we will eventually grow our crops, we want to make sure we understand the distinction. We can’t simply dig a hole in the ground, plant a tomato plant and expect bountiful harvests. We COULD get that, but depending on the make-up of the soil in that hole, we could get vastly different results! 

Understanding your soils composition is key to creating a healthy and thriving garden space. Let’s take a quick moment to look at some definitions for both soil and dirt and then do a quick comparison of soil vs dirt. 

What is Soil

According to the Soil Science Society of America soil is: The unconsolidated mineral or organic material on the immediate surface of the Earth that serves as a natural medium for the growth of land plants.

Healthy soil is made up of three main components: minerals, organic matter, and living organisms. Minerals provide essential nutrients for plants to grow, while organic matter helps improve soil structure and holds onto moisture. Living organisms such as bacteria and earth worms play an important role in building good soil by breaking down organic matter into usable nutrients for plants.

There are three types of soil: sandy, clay, and loam. Sandy soil has larger particles and tends to drain water quickly, making it more suitable for plants that don’t like too much moisture. Clay soil has smaller particles and holds onto water longer, making it suitable for plants that need more moisture. Loamy soil is a balance between the two and is often considered ideal for gardening.

What is Dirt

Now dirt on the other hand is a constituent of soil. It does not include the organic matter or living organisms that soil contains. Dirt is often thought of as the part of soil that is not beneficial for plant growth.

Dirt can be made up of various materials such as sand, silt particles, and clay particles. Soil that has been depleted of nutrients, eroded or  polluted can all be considered dirt.

Preparing Your Garden Soil

Now that we understand the difference between soil and dirt, let’s talk about how to prepare your garden soil for a bountiful gardening season. 

This is a great place to talk about the three main types of gardening that can be done, and how each of those are affected by the native soil. 

In-ground gardening

The first, and probably most affected by  soil quality is in-ground gardening. This type of gardening involves planting directly into the ground, relying solely on the natural soil for nutrients and moisture. In this case, it’s important to test your soil and amend it as needed to ensure that your plants have everything they need to thrive.

Container gardening

Container gardening involves using pots or containers filled with potting mix, which is generally a mix of various types of soil and organic matter. Since the plants are not planted directly into the ground, it’s important to choose a high-quality potting mix that has good drainage and nutrient retention.

Raised bed gardening

Raised bed gardening involves creating a garden bed above the native soil, often using a mixture of topsoil, compost and other organic materials. This type of gardening allows for more control over the soil quality and can be ideal for growing crops that require specific soil conditions.

Testing and amending soil

If you are using in-ground gardening or raised beds with old soil, testing is the easiest way to get a firm understanding of your soil health and prepare your garden for the new season. Prior to amending its a good idea to test your soil for mineral availability, pH and organic matter. Testing can help you determine the exact nutrients your soil is lacking and what amendments to add for optimal plant growth.

Three ways to test your soil

After you have decided to test your soil, there are three main methods you can go about getting it tested.

  1. Use a home soil test which is readily available at most garden centers but may not be as accurate or detailed.
  2. Get a soil test done with your local extension. This is often a free or low-cost option but can take time. 
  3. Use a Soil test like Soilkit, which is a quick and easy way to get a detailed soil test that is easily digestible with the information you want. 

Once you have your test results and understand the different ratios or minerals, it’s time to amend the soil. Adding organic matter such as a high quality, fully broken-down compost or earth worm compost or castings can improve soil structure and add valuable nutrients. You can also use fertilizers to provide specific nutrients that may be lacking in your soil. 

Use a Cover Crop

Another way to increase soil organisms, and improve beneficial nutrients in your soil is to use cover crops. Cover crops help to decrease erosion, improve soil conservation, increase the nitrogen level in your soil as well as build the community of living organisms that call the soil home. 

With your soil amended  and ready to go, you can now confidently plant your garden and watch it thrive! Remember, understanding the composition of your soil is key to creating a healthy and successful garden.

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Happy Gardening and Remember It’s never the wrong time to Grow where you are!

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