Screen capture of a Soil Conservation Council of Canada showing how to test soil quality by burying underwear.

Testing soil quality with underwear

“Go bury your underwear in a field,” sounds like an idiom you’d hear from your grandfather as he rambles on about the good ol’ times.

However, that’s exactly what the Soil Conservation Council of Canada asked of farmers, gardeners, and anyone else interested in the quality of their soil.

The council launched the #SoilYourUndies campaign during the National Soil Conservation week, which ran between April 16-22. But, really, you can bury underwear whenever you want.

“What better way to understand the inner workings of our soil than with your own easy-to-do soil science experiment,” said Alan Kruszel, a farmer and SCCC chair, in a statement.

The Test

While burying underwear in the ground may be fun in itself, there is a point to the experiment: testing the biological activity within the soil.

To do so, take a new pair of white 100 per cent cotton briefs and bury them within the top six inches of soil. Leave the elastic band above ground, or mark with a flag to remember the spot. Two months later, dig up the underwear and see how much is left.

Ideally, there shouldn’t be anything more than a g-string left. That means there’s a team of bacteria, fungi and invertebrates like worms, working together to break down organic matter.

“Healthy soil is full of amazing, living organisms. It is what sustains us and is the foundation of a thriving civilization,” said

Farmers can bury several pairs of underwear across many plots to see which fields are most active, especially if you compare traditionally tilled land to no-till fields.

Claire Coombs, a research technician with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, did just that. Her experiment shows no-till land with the usage of cover crop and crop rotation has a much more active underground biology.

The SCCC is challenging participants to share the results of their experiments on social media with #SoilYourUndies and #CdnSoilWeek17. In August, the council will present some of the highlights at the Summit on Canadian Soil Health in Guelph.

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