“Soil Your Undies” Campaign Creates Healthy Dirt

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MOSES LAKE – Few of us realize or even think about the fact that healthy soil contains billions and billions of microscopic organisms. Although it may be hard to imagine, a teaspoon of healthy soil contains more microbes than there are people on earth! Soil microbes are important because they feed on organic matter like cotton in clothes. So the more the cotton in an item of clothing, say a pair of underwear, breaks down and disappears, the healthier your soil is.

Soil microbes also help soils prevent erosion, recycle nutrients and store water. These factors are all important in helping to maintain or improve soil health and maintain soil productivity, not only in our lawns, yards and gardens, but across the country and the world at large. Other ways to improve soil health, including avoiding soil disturbance as much as possible; keep the ground covered with mulch, compost or organic residues and/or living plants; and grow a variety of plants to enhance/maintain biodiversity.

The WSU Grant-Adams Master Gardeners are sponsoring a simple, interactive, and unique challenge for anyone interested in assessing soil health. The challenge is to “plant” a new, clean cotton men’s underwear.

Does that sound silly to you? This technique was originally used by commercial farmers in Oregon in 2018. Since healthy soil is vital for farmers around the world, they worked with local soil and water conservation districts. USDA’s Water and Natural Resources Conservation Service to raise interest in soil health.

Farmers use soil tests to help check soil health. They can alert farms to a number of deficiencies and they give farmers the knowledge they need to adjust management practices accordingly. But intensive soil testing can be a bit complicated.

To make soil testing easier, looking for simple confirmation of healthy or unhealthy soil, some farmers have turned to burying their underwear. Healthy soil contains abundant organic matter, with organisms that thrive in it, such as bacteria, earthworms and fungi. It turns out that while they break down organic matter, they also like cotton underwear. In just two months, cotton underwear buried in healthy soil will be completely eaten away, leaving behind only an elastic waistband. Our plan is to extend the concept to all who garden, because maintaining and improving soil health is important to all of us.

So our challenge is for any gardener, school groups or classes, 4-H groups and/or FFA to take up the challenge. This experiment works best in spring or summer. In fall or winter, there may be little activity in the ground, especially if the ground is frozen.

Here’s how:

· In the spring or summer, find a place where you want to study the soil.

Ensure chosen site(s) is on personal property with permission granted if required

· Bury a pair of cotton underwear (preferably new and white) 3 inches deep in a site of interest, taking a picture of the “before” condition of the underwear.

· Mark where the underwear is planted with a marker flag or wooden stake.

· Wait at least 60 days. This gives the soil microbes time to do their magic!

· Do not disturb the area in which the underwear is planted. The more they are degraded or deteriorated, the more microbial activity there is in the soil and the healthier the soil.

· After the 60-day waiting period, dig them up. The less full the undergarment, i.e. full of holes or barely holding together, the better your floor health. Alternatively, the less degraded the underwear, the more unhealthy the soils. So having underwear that’s mostly faded versus just stained or undamaged is the goal.

Master gardeners are available 24/7 to answer gardening questions. Contact the WSU Grant-Adams Master Gardeners at the WSU Grant County Extension office at 509-754-2011, ext. 4313, or by email at ga.mgvolunteers@wsu.edu. Online reference services are available at https://extension.wsu.edu/grant. Sealed samples may be brought for identification to the WSU Extension Office, 1525 E. Wheeler Road, Moses Lake, Monday through Friday, 8 p.m. to 5 p.m.

WANT TO PARTICIPATE?

Send before and after photos (although the after condition is what we mostly want to see) to the Master Gardeners at ga.mgvolunteers@wsu.edu, or bring them in a sealed plastic bag (one bag per pair, if please) to the County Extension Office Grant for Master Gardener Program at 1525 E. Wheeler Road, Moses Lake, with the following information:

Your name, farm name if applicable, address, city and county, planting date and harvest date,

Description of how you managed the soil, watering frequency or amount of rain received during the challenge period, and

· Description of the results and thoughts on what you found.

Once the extension office receives your information and photos, we will display them on a map so you can see the results and compare them to others. For those who may not have access to underwear, we can provide a pair free of charge through the Grant County Extension Office in Moses Lake.

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