Dirt, Soil or Earth


Earth Worm

Aristotle called earthworms the intestines of the earth.

The soil for the containers has been delivered. It’s a beautiful rich, dark earth that will work well for growing vegetables. A family dropped by the garden and I found myself in conversation about the colour of the earth.   Someone mentioned that she grew up in Alberta so she was used to the deep black colour of the soil.  Coming from Alberta, myself it also seemed familiar, but of course the colour of the soil varies depending on the region.

This conversation made me think about the composition of the soil – beyond aspects such as PH, sand, organic matter etc… I was reminded of the term “terroir,” the french term for the particular qualities of local geography, geology and climate that shape the flavour or taste of produce.  Fruit, vegetables, wine, coffee and tea become distinct based on the specific conditions of a site.

In April, I visited BARAGA (Burnaby Allotment Garden Society) and met with Abdul Mejid. He suggested that the life of the soil was really more significant than the type of seed.  The health and flavour of the produce is determined by the rich life of the soil.  As food writer, Michael Pollan says,

“Humus is the stuff in a handful of soil that gives it is blackish cast and characteristic smell.  It’s hard to say exactly what humus is because it is so many things. Humus is what’s left of organic matter after it has been broken down by billions of big and small organisms that inhabit a spoonful of earth — the bacteria, phages, fungi and earthworms responsible for decomposition…But Humus is not the final product of decomposition so much as a stage, since a whole group of organisms slowly breaks humus down into chemical elements plants need to grow, elements including but not limited to, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.  This process is as much biological as chemical, involving the symbiosis of plants and the mycorrhizal fungi that live in and among roots; the fungi offer soluble nutrients to the roots, receiving a drop of sucrose in return. Another critical symbiotic relationship links plants to the bacteria in a humus-rich soil that fix nitrogen, putting it into a form the plants can use.  But providing a buffet of nutrients to plants is not the only thing humus does: It also serves as a the glue that binds the minute mineral particles in soil together into airy crumbs and holds water in suspension so that rainfall remains available to plant roots instead of instantly seeping away.” (147)

These interrelations between, plant, animal and fungi are all part of an on-going process of sustenance and decomposition.  I came across a worm in my soil and I’m wondering how many more might be in this dark mound producing humus and transforming the terroir of this shared space.

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivores Dilemma” A Natural History of Four Meals. Penguin Press, New York. 2006.

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