Dirt gets a bum rap. Think about these familiar phrases: treated like dirt, dirty looks, dirty jobs. Sounds like dirt’s a bad thing, doesn’t it? Yet at creation God wrapped parts of the earth in dirt. And God saw that it was good. So let’s look at real dirt (soil) to give this good wrap a good rap.
Imagine a world without dirt. That might sound good for a minute or so. But think of what would happen if dirt disappeared:
- All plants would die. Plants need to eat. They get their nourishment from recycled minerals found in soil (see “A Closer Look”). No dirt means no plants.
- All animals would die. Animals eat plants. Or they eat animals that eat plants. No plants means no food for animals.
- We would die. Almost all the food we eat grows in soil or comes from something that grows in soil. (Only seafood doesn’t need soil.) If dirt disappeared, we’d have no fruits and veggies and no meat. No potatoes, no bread or crackers or cake, no snackies, no fast foods, no salsa, no pizza… You get the idea.
If dirt disappeared, so would we. Aren’t you glad God gave us dirt?
A Dandy Experiment
Find two small pots or cups. Fill one with dirt, the other with gravel.
Dig up two dandelion or clover plants, roots and all. Plant one in the dirt pot and one in the gravel. Set them in a sunny place and water them regularly.
Which plant survives and which plant dies? Why?
Take two apple (or orange or banana) peelings. Put one in a sealed plastic bag. Keep the other one out.
Dig two inch-deep holes in some dirt. Throw the naked peel into one and the plastic bag with the peel into the other. Cover them with dirt and mark the spots with sticks.
Once a week dig up the peels and check them. Which peel disappears? Why doesn’t the other one fall apart?
Take an X-Ray
Imagine that you have X-ray eyes. You can see through dirt and watch critters move around in it. Here’s what you’d see:
- Animals burrowing. Creatures such as gophers, badgers, shrew, deer mice, and ground squirrels help mix dirt. When they dig tunnels, they end up pushing dead leaves and other stuff down for recycling and buried minerals up for plants to use.
- “Buggy” critters recycling. Ants, mites, pill bugs, centipedes, and other tiny critters chew up dead plant and animal stuff. Their chewing breaks it down to release minerals locked inside. They also help mix air into the soil.
- Earthworms crawling and eating. Worms eat dirt and their waste helps make soil rich. Their tunnels help loosen soil so water and plant roots move through easily.
- Nematodes eating. These microscopic worms eat and help recycle tinier plants and animals.
- Bacteria scooting around, eating. They help dead plants rot and recycle their nutrition. Some bacteria help plant roots take in nitrogen.
- Fungi reaching out for plant roots. Underground plants grow threadlike hairs around roots of other plants. They help the plants take food and water from the soil.
You get the idea. More critters than we can count live in dirt. They make it into good, rich soil. Close your X-ray eyes and thank the Lord for little critters that make good dirt.
Count the Critters
You’ll need a scoop, a sieve, and a magnifying glass if you have one.
Find some soil that’s easy to dig. Take a scoopful of soil and put it into the sieve. Shake the sieve until all the dirt has fallen out. What’s left crawling in the sieve?
Count how many different kinds of critters you can see. Then use the magnifying glass. How many more can you see?
Food for Thought
1. Read Genesis 2:15.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and _____ _____ _____ it.
Does this verse in some way apply to us?
2. Read Numbers 6:24-26.
The Lord bless you and _______ you (v. 24).
In the original Bible language, the word that goes into this blank means the same thing as the three words that go in the blanks in Genesis 2:15. Does that say something about the way we should care for the earth—dirt and all?
Old as Dirt
…and other amazing facts:
- Scientists say it takes 100 to 1,000 years for 1 inch of topsoil to form. Rich woodlands build up soil faster than dry deserts.
- If you could separate rich soil into parts, you’d find that half of it is simply water and air. The other half is rocks that have broken apart and the decayed remains of animals and plants.
- At least 5,000 different kinds of nematodes (microscopic worms) live in soil.
- One teaspoon of farm soil can contain 10 yards
(9 meters) of fungus roots. A teaspoon of forest soil can contain 10 miles (16 kilometers) of those roots.
About the Author
Joanne De Jonge is a freelance writer and a former U.S. National Park Ranger. She attends West Valley Christian Fellowship in Phoenix, Ariz.