Soil is “alive”. The average garden soil is full of living organisms such as worms, fungi, insects, bacteria, and organic matter. It supports life with its naturally occurring nutrients and minerals, making it a perfect planting medium that help plants thrive. It is a complete and self-sustaining ecosystem. Soil is created when mountain stones and bedrock are broken down by wind and rain over centuries, the different sized particles create texture and structure, which aid in aeration and drainage. With the input from plants, animals, and bacteria, soil is actually made up of multiple ecosystems of microorganisms. The insects will create a food web transferring nutrients to and fro. These microorganisms generate things like fiber and water that help to support life aboveground. They also absorb carbon from the environment, detoxify pollutants, and recycle nutrients; all things which help create and support a stable ecosystem.
Dirt is “dead”. Dirt is made up of sand, silt, rocks, pebbles and clay and more. It has none of the minerals, nutrients, or living organisms found in soil. It does not have anything close to resembling a live and working ecosystem. It is not an organised ecosystem. There is no topsoil or humus, no worms or fungi. Lacking texture and structure, dirt does not compact when moisture is added, unlike a handful of soil. The result is run-off and erosion. Due to the fact that it’s dead and devoid of nutrients, it can’t support or nurture the growth of life.
Why do we garden in soil, yet when we wash it off our hands or out of our clothes, it is annoying dirt? How can one item have two definitions, one positive and one negative? Soil provides food, trees, shrubs, and flowers, but dirt is a nuisance to be removed. Yet they are the same thing!
Moral of the story? You can’t plant a successful and thriving garden using dirt.