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Soil and dirt – what’s the difference?
Soil is alive. It contains small particles of sand and clay, decaying organic matter, earthworms, bacteria, fungi, insects, and microorganisms. Soil’s texture, colour, appearance, smell, and even how it feels depend on the amount of each component in the blend. It’s a living environment that’s ideal for growing crops, whereas dirt is basically dead soil.
Soil by depth:
Topsoil Subsoil
Parent Material
Topsoil (on the top) is rich in organic matter but lower in minerals. Subsoil, right under the topsoil layer, has a higher clay and mineral content.
Parent Material is made up of deeper rock, sand, or clay, with no organic content.
The type of soil found on a farm helps in uence what crops a farmer will grow, and how those crops will be grown. For example, light sandy soils let water drain easily, whereas heavy clay soils take a long time to dry out in the spring, or after a heavy rainfall. A farm’s soil can’t be changed, but how farmers work and manage that soil can in uence how productive it will be.
Quick Fact
Soils have unique characteristics that influence the flavour and character of grapes and wines. Wine lovers call this phenomenon “terroir”.
Close-up of a multi-species cover crop
The Real Dirt on Farming 43
Sand – is coarse porous soil, like what you  nd on the beach. Clay – is soil made of  ner and more densely packed particles.
Organic matter – is composed of decaying plants and earthworms, bacteria, and other microorganisms.
Loam – is the perfect mixture of sand, clay, and organic matter (ideal for growing crops).
Crops to cover the soil
Healthy, living soil is critical for growing healthy and productive crops. To help keep soil healthy, farmers take steps to ensure their soil doesn’t erode from wind and water. One way involves planting cover crops where plants like clover, rye, and sun owers (and many more types) are planted after farmers have harvested their main crops. Keeping the ground covered helps keep moisture in the soil, stops topsoil from eroding, and builds soil health by adding organic matter to the ground. Leaving stalks in the  eld after a crop is harvested can also help reduce soil erosion.
Some farmers will also use their cover crops as animal feed by letting livestock graze in those  elds in the fall. Avoiding erosion also means that nutrients from fertilizers and manure stay in the soil, and are not washed into streams, lakes and rivers.

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