In Praise of Dirt

Let me tell you a bit about gardening at Shamayim Hill. We live on a ridgetop. To the north, there’s about four acres of gently sloping turf that could make a lovely garden–or perhaps ten of them. To the south, there’s a half-acre clearing that, while not the richest soil on earth, could grow some good stuff. All of that’s wonderful, but who wants to garden 200 yards from the house and have to walk up a steep hill every time you return from weeding? Realistically, we’re not going to garden in either of those two places. We have determined to garden on the ridge.

There lies our problem. The ridge is there because of a massive pile of limestone that somebody left strewn across the rolling terrain of Lafayette County. I hate to be blaming God for something, but I don’t know who else put this rock in our way. Break the surface of the earth–and sometimes without breaking the surface–and you’ll encounter a host of chunks of good yellow Missouri limestone. The pieces range from the size of your hand to the size of a small car. If limestone could be a cash crop, we’d have our mortgage paid off.

Last year, we admitted that our little garden spot was not an excellent place for a garden. After some consideration, we broke down and built up, erecting four separate raised beds, each some eighteen inches tall. Do you know how much dirt is required to fill a bed four feet wide, ten feet long, and eighteen inches high? Neither did I until I did the math. That’s sixty cubic feet. In other words, two cubic yards (fifty-four cubic feet)  of topsoil would leave us nearly two inches from the rim.

Yesterday, I shoveled two yards of dirt into two of our beds. Since both had some material in the bottom, I managed to fill one of them to the top and get the second past the halfway point. This dirt–or topsoil more appropriately–came from the nearest thing to a humus boutique that I know, an operation called Missouri Organics, where they generate super-clean topsoil and compost in a very large way. My two yards of soil didn’t put a dent in the pile.

I hate the idea of having to buy soil when I own sixty acres of it, but, given the options, it was the best choice. As I finished emptying the truck for the second time yesterday, I glanced over to where Penny had smoothed out my work. “That’s pretty dirt,” I observed.

And it was pretty dirt, all dark and thoroughly pulverized. It was pretty dirt because it would soon be home to a host of vegetables. Only when you don’t have good dirt, do you appreciate just how precious the soil is. I long for soil that will yield easily for the potatoes that form beneath it. I long for soil rich enough to grow buckets full of tomatoes, beans, and greens.

Perhaps it is this rather primeval appreciation for dirt that made Jesus describe the human heart as a soil in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23). If only I could change my heart as easily as I’ve changed the soil in my garden over the last twenty-four hours.