Monday, June 23, 2008

Dishing The Dirt

I just bought some dirt.

It is not the first time that I have done this - nor will it be the last. If I weren't a gardener I would think that anyone who spent their money on bags of something that, other than water, is the most plentiful compound on our planet was just plain crazy. But I am a gardener. And therefore I not only think that my financial investment in this stuff on which we stand is not only not insane but is in fact one of the best uses of my disposable income that I am likely to make in this entire fiscal year.

Because this is really important to me I want you to read this very slowly and emphatically - IT IS NOT JUST DIRT, IT IS TOP SOIL!

Dirt, as one of the members of my garden club would say, is something that you find in your kitchen. This is soil. And moreover this is not just any soil; this is the very topmost soil - not bottom soil, or middle soil, or even upper-middle soil - but top-of-the-line topsoil.

And organic too.

Maybe you are saying, "What in the world is inorganic soil? Is it some glow-in-the-dark earth from the farms surrounding Chernobyl? Or perhaps a laced-with-lead, man-made dirt substitute manufactured in China?

Not to worry, this soil is from Canada, from the same company that produces the Tourbe de Sphaigne Canadienne that I also purchased along with it. I have been using Sphaigne Canadienne for many years and, in spite of its country of origin, have never found even the slightest trace of the dreaded "Four Canadian Ps" - Pucks, Poutine, Pork Pie, or Pea Soup in the peat. (There is a slight underlying maple syrup aroma, but hey, nobody's perfect.)

Although it took me a while to become comfortable with the concept of buying dirt, purchasing peat has always made sense to me - even when I was just a neophyte jardiniere and had no real idea of what it was or what it did. I knew that it came from bogs and, probably due in part to my Irish heritage, that was plenty good enough for me.

I was however pretty shocked to discover that it came in bags. I was expecting something more like a dripping bale of wet black, foul smelling stuff inefficiently bound together by hemp cords and oozing organic matter like an overexcited volcano. But I was even more stunned when I cut the shrink wrap container open and discovered that it had been mistakenly filled with old, stale cigarette tobacco. It did however smell great and my lungs instinctively reverted to that happy feeling of fullness that I remember so well from my Lucky Strike / Camel days.

This was all of course before I knew that:
"Prior to a peat bog being harvested, it is first drained of near-surface water and cleared of all surface vegetation. The bog is then harrowed to a depth of three to four inches to expose the top layer of peat to the sun and wind. Once dried, the peat is vacuumed with harvesting machinery. A vacuum harvester can harvest an average of 100 acres per day and ideally the number of harvesters per bog should enable the entire exposed portion of bog area to be harvested each day" (

This probably results in a pretty impressive bog-to-bag ratio but it does take a lot of the romance and excitement out of the consumer's usage of the product.

Nonetheless dried and vacuumed peat has proven to be just as addictive as its nicotine laden look-alike. I have pretty much never been without an open bag of Sphaigne Canadienne on the premises and I have used it faithfully to prepare every planting site on my property since my very first vegetable garden back in 1977.

So not surprisingly, according to experts in the horti-addiction field, my use of "soft" soil supplements quickly led to further experimentation with more potent, and more expensive additives such as mulch, vermiculite, composted cow manure - and ultimately imported Canadian topsoil. Once you've experienced that transcendent gardening high you will pay whatever it takes to keep it going.

Obviously the person who coined the phrase "dirt cheap" was not a gardener.

No comments: