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Have you ‘soiled your undies’ yet?

Chewed-up, ripped, torn, threadbare, riddled with holes, completely, utterly soiled–the undies in farm country are falling to pieces. And that’s just the way farmers like it.

Whether you’re on crop, range or forestland, the quick and dirty way to test your soil health is by “planting” a pair of new, cotton underwear in the site you’re curious about.

Healthy Soil

Healthy soil is vital to farmers everywhere. That’s why they are constantly utilizing new techniques and technologies to improve their fields.

Soil tests are sometimes conducted to determine soil health. They can determine nutrient content, composition and other soil characteristics like pH level. Some nutrients soil tests specifically look for include nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, iron, zinc, copper, boron, aluminum and lead. They also identify the amount of organic matter in the soil — materials containing carbon.

Soil tests can alert farms to a number of deficiencies and they give farmers the knowledge they need to adjust management practices accordingly. But they can be a little complicated.

To make soil testing simpler, looking for a simple confirmation of healthy or unhealthy, farmers have turned to burying their underwear. Healthy soil contains organic matter, and as a result, it also houses organisms that eat organic matter — bacteria, earthworms, fungi, etc. Turns out these guys also like cotton underwear. In just two months, cotton underwear buried in healthy soil will be completely eaten through, leaving behind little but an elastic waistband.

How to ‘Soil Your Undies’

  1. Buy a pair of 100 percent cotton underwear. White briefs have been the most popular garment, but the shape is not as important as the fabric.
  2. Plant the underwear somewhere on your farm at least 3″ deep. A field, pasture or garden would be ideal.
  3. Either leave the waistband exposed or mark the location of the underwear so you can find them later.
  4. Wait 60 days.
  5. Dig up the underwear. The more the undies have deteriorated, the healthier your soil. If they are still mostly intact, you have issue with your soils microbial action that needs to be fixed.

Microbial Action

Your undies won’t break down in just any soil. Healthy soil contains billions of microbes that consume the cotton. In fact, one teaspoon of healthy soil contains more microbes than there are people on the planet. In addition to chowing down on organic matter like cotton, they also help soil resist erosion, cycle nutrients, and store water.

If you’re a farmeror home gardener, soil microbes are your best friends.

The hungry microbes in your soil need food, shelter, and variety in order to thrive. You can take improve your microbial content in your soil by following these four steps:

  1. Avoid soil disturbance wherever and whenever possible.
  2. Maximize soil cover with living plants and residue.
  3. Maximize biodiversity by growing a variety of plants and managed integration of livestock.
  4. Maximize living roots in the soil throughout the year.

Don’t forget you can ‘run’ the test in multiple locations to see if one part of your farm or homestead has healthier soil than another. So buy a multipack of 100% pure cotton “tighty-whities’s” and get testing!

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