Inquiring Kid’s Want to Know:
What’s the Difference between Soil and Dirt?

We recently received an amazing report from a first-time Veggie U class in Barberton, Ohio. Ms. Bruzda had a lot of wonderful things to tell us, but what really caught our attention was this:

Soil2We took a little detour off the plan because the students were really interested in the idea that "dirt" and "soil" are not synonyms. We created a plan to investigate rather than just tell them because I said so. They collected soil samples from home and we collected dirt from the custodian after sweeping. We really "dug in" to our work! They want to establish some scientific experiments to compare what happens when we plant in each of the samples. I could teach this all year!

Well, that got us to thinking, what indeed IS the difference between soil and dirt?

Soil is a combination of minerals, air, water, animals and other living matter and their wastes or decaying bodies. It becomes compacted over time, making up the ground beneath our feet. When particles of soil erode or are dug up or are ground into clothing, they are no longer associated with where they came from and become dirt. In other words, dirt is soil that is out of place, like dust on the floor or mud on your shoes.

Another fundamental difference between soil and dirt is soil is alive. Dirt is dead. Because dirt is disassociated from its ecosystem, it lacks the nutrients needed to promote plant growth. Healthy soil is a complex community of life and actually supports the most biodiverse ecosystem on the planet with billions of living organisms continuously at work creating soil structure and producing. The health of the soil is essential to the health of our plants, our food and our bodies.

But all is not lost for dirt. You can turn dirt back into soil by adding organic matter (compost) to dirt to revitalize it. The organic matter will provide food for beneficial microorganisms so that the ecological system can start to regenerate.