Dirt. Extra fancy, please.

Leanne mixing the fancy dirt made from manure, peat moss, and vermiculite.


We’ve had a garden for years. I use the term we quite generously. Much like the grasshopper in the old fable, my contribution to the garden has been rototilling each spring, and consuming the produce at the end of the summer. Leanne is the real gardener, par excellence. Each year she makes the garden sing with produce and gorgeous flowers as a testament to her diligent and tender care. She loves her garden and love to be in her garden. It’s a refuge from the frentic pace of life. One doesn’t hurry a garden.

There have been a few disappointments. Our dirt has a lot of clay in it. Tomatoes don’t do so well. Our carrots are short and stubby. The potatoes are golf-ball sized. Attempts to resolve this with compost and fertilizer haven’t fixed the apparent root of the problem, which is the high-clay soil.

image of raised planter bed

Longest of the two raised planter beds - 25 foot

This year she became excited over the concept of “square foot” raised bed gardening. A little different than just an ordinary raised bed, the beds are narrow, two foot deep at the most. In theory, you can put in more plants per square foot because you don’t have the walking areas between the plants. Gardens are laid out by the square foot, each plant having its square foot of soil. You can reach all plants by just reaching in from the side.

Even better was the anticipated quality of the special dirt we would put in the beds. This dirt would be ideal loose nutrient rich soil which would solve the compacted clayness of of the current soil. I asked if I needed to have a cubic yard of dirt delivered. No, that was not the right dirt. We were going to create our special blend of dirt from special ingredients: manure, peat moss, and vermiculite. I observed that in fact there is no actual dirt in our special dirt.

The manure wasn’t hard to find, but Leanne visited every garden store in the region to find enough peat moss, which is what you find in bogs and vermiculite, a flakey light rock sometimes used for insulation. There were several brand names for the manure, but my favorite had the catchy name “Moo-nure.”

We wanted planter boxes that would last in continuously wet contact, so we opted for artificial wood decking rather than green treated wood. The 25 foot long length was too heavy to move as a whole and too close to the fence to assemble in place. So, I designed great long beds, that could be assembled as pieces on the driveway then moved to the garden for final assembly.

Three weeks ago was D-Day. (Dirt day). Leanne mixed the special dirt by throwing bag after bag on a tarp, pushing it around with rakes and shovels, and pulling the tarp to fold over the dirt mix, much like kneading bread dough. She moved some of the flowers and the Rhubarb for the planters.

I built the long boxes and assembled them along the back fence of the garden. The special dirt was placed in them. They are now ready for planting in the spring.

In the end, my calculations place the cost, including the boxes, at $10 a cubic foot. You must agree, that is very special dirt.

Planter boxes at the back of the garden

Planter boxes against the back fence of the garden, seen from the street

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