When was the last time you “soil”ed your underpants? No, I’m not talking about your toddler that didn’t quite make it in time to the potty … I’m talking about soil health awareness!
There’s been a fun soil science experiment floating around for several years now. If you haven’t yet seen or heard of it, you can do a quick search on social media for the hashtag #SoilYourUndies. Basically, the premise is to bury some cotton “granny panties” — also known as the “Homer Simpson specials” — to check out the biological activity of different types of soil. Below is a video we did on the subject:
As you can tell by the video, this is a fun way to compare different farming methods and how they relate to soil health. How does tillage compare to no-till? What about cover crops? Are their more earthworms in one field compared to the other? You can also use the underwear to gauge soil “skid marks” or stains.
The viral soil health phenomenon was started by the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario (Canada) and has now been utilized by farmers all around the world — from Iowa to Australia to the EU and everywhere in between. It has been such a fun and successful experiment that the Soil Conservation Council of Canada has used this as a way to kick off National Soil Conservation Week, which launches next week: April 21 to 27. In the U.S., 2019 Stewardship Week is the following week: April 28 to May 5. This coincidentally falls during Naked Gardening Day on May 4 where you wouldn’t need your underpants anyway! (More on that next week.)
Soil produces 95 percent of the food we eat, so raising awareness on the importance of soil health is important as our communities and cities continue to grow, demand for sustainable food continues to increase, all while keeping climate change in mind with conserving this topsoil for our future. If you’re an educator, consider trying this experiment in the classroom!
Wanna try it yourself? Here’s how it’s done:
You will need:
- Several pairs of 100% cotton underpants (no dyes or blends)
- A shovel
- A marker
- Marker flags
Depending on what type of field you’re testing, write on the waistband of the underwear what the field is so you can organize the outcome. For example: no till corn and soybean rotation, (with and without cover cops?), tilled corn on corn, pasture, etc. Bury the underpants in a narrow trench in the top six inches of soil, but make sure you leave a tiny bit of the elastic waistband sticking out of the soil so you can find it later. Mark the area with a flag as well so you know where exactly you buried them.
After six or seven weeks you can dig them up and track the results! It’s fun to see how taking care of the soil really does make a positive impact, which has been further documented here and here. If you’ve tried the experiment yourself, leave your results in the comment section!
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker, and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm, which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.