A campaign this month is challenging Pennsylvanians to learn about the health of their soil and neighborhood microbes by planting underwear in their farms or gardens.
The Soil Your Undies campaign invites residents to bury a pair of 100% cotton underwear, which can help visualize soil quality over time.
Kelly O’Neill, Pennsylvania agriculture policy analyst for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which is helping organize the event, said residents can dig up the underwear after 60 days and report their findings. O’Neill said microbes in the soil will break down the cotton fibers over time – and the more thoroughly it has decomposed, the healthier the soil.
“We’ll be able to see the links between how soil is managed in lots of different locations – farm fields, suburban lawns, playgrounds gardens – see how the soils, that are managed in all those different ways, are contributing to different levels of underwear degradation,” she said.
O’Neill said the underwear should be planted about three to four inches deep. Participants should take a “before” photo prior to covering up their planting site. Other campaign collaborators include the Pennsylvania Soil Health Coalition, U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and many others. Residents can sign up for the challenge at pasoilhealth.org/soilyourundies.
O’Neill said the campaign can serve as an educational opportunity for people to understand the beneficial effects of high-quality soil. It can help prevent runoff and pollution into local waterways, along with serious flooding. She said there are small things almost anyone can do to improve soil health.
“For farmers, it would be cover crops, integrated pest management so fewer chemical pesticides are applied,” she said. “For lawns and gardens, limited chemical application to help maintain some of the natural biodiversity.”
O’Neill said using organic material, like compost or dry manure, can be a helpful nutrient source for garden soil health. Once the “after” photos are submitted, the challenge partners will share tips for participants on how to improve soil quality based on what they found.