Gardeners did the Big Dig Saturday in a giant Rainier Valley compost pile, hoping to unearth buried prizes.

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When it comes to compost, they dig it.

So as Diana Ross sang “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” the shovels started flying.

Except for one woman, who fell on her hands and knees and started digging like a pooch.

Others scoped out the pile, methodically picked one place and never left — for hours.

There were 20 contestants in all, each in search of buried treasure, especially the chest with the $3,000 garden makeover — offered as part of the Seattle Public Utilities’ Big Dig, an event organized to promote the benefits of composting.

Even Emily Miller, a composting apartment dweller from Queen Anne, was in the mix, proudly displaying her grimy paws after digging up a garden-store gift certificate.

The site of the dig was a 45-cubic-yard pile of compost at the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetland. After two hours, many diggers were convinced the golden treasure chest with the big prize had a subterranean life of its own: The faster they dug, the more elusive it seemed.

Most, however, were undeterred.

Among them was Lynda Raymond, 68, of Maple Leaf, who had recently moved to a four-room cottage with a 5,000-square-foot lot that needed a makeover. She has been working on redoing the yard on a shoestring budget.

Raymond was waiting for her turn to attack the pile in search of treasure. Only so many treasure hunters were allowed on the mountain at a time.

Next to her was Karen Roti, of West Seattle, who said she “wouldn’t give up this ticket (to dig) for anything. This is way too much fun.”

As they waited, celebrity gardener Ciscoe Morris talked about aphids, using vinegar as an insecticide and how in Northwest moss is such a problem that if you stand still it “will grow on your nose.”

To get into the dig-off, the contestants had to find “Apple Corey” signs around the city. Apple Corey is a character Seattle Public Utilities uses to educate citizens about composting. Every place Corey was found also had a message on the benefits of composting: It saves water, puts nutrients back into the soil, enriches gardens, cuts down on water pollution.

“We’re now diverting more than 35,000 tons per year of food waste from landfills,” said Brett Stav, senior planning specialist for Seattle Public Utilities. Seattle food and yard waste, collected in a separate container, goes to Cedar Grove.

“When something leaves your house, this is what it turns into,” said Susan Thoman, Cedar Grove spokeswoman, as she stood near the compost hill.

As the afternoon wore on, the diggers grew weary.

Maggie Nowakowska came up with one of several treasure chests, but not the one with the big prize.

Sometimes contestants — Raymond, for example — called in substitute diggers.

When Raymond’s turn came up, she sent a helper digger to the hill. Within seconds, he pulled the grand-prize gold box from the dark depths of the compost.

That garden makeover for her cottage was about to begin.

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @BartleyNews.