Six weeks ago, I dug up my undies. Earlier this year, I decided to repeat an experiment that the new class of Napa County Master Gardeners had conducted last winter: I buried my underpants.
Why do such a thing? The results will tell you how active the residents of your soil are. Sadly, my soil needs work.
This same experiment has been conducted around the globe. I've watched YouTube videos about it from Canada, Australia, the U.S. and Great Britain, including an entertaining one narrated by a newsman with a Scottish accent. In New Zealand, some grammar-school students are testing this process.
The creatures who live in the soil love organic material so the buried underwear must be 100 percent cotton. The idea is to leave the panties underground for eight weeks and see what the soil microorganisms do.
Initially, people would leave some of the elastic waistband visible so they knew where they had buried the undies. But in Australia, pants kept disappearing. Turns out that kangaroos were digging them up.
Now, to foil the kangaroos, experimenters bury their undies completely and mark the spot in some manner. It's a mystery why kangaroos, which are herbivores, like to chew on cotton briefs.
When the Master Gardeners compared results after eight weeks, the differences were surprising. Some participants clearly did not have much microbiological activity in their soil. Others had soil rich in beneficial microorganisms such as worms, sow bugs, and other organisms too tiny for the eye to see. Soil experts say a teaspoon of good soil contains more microbes than there are stars in the sky.
At a cattle farm in England, experimenters buried several pair of cotton underwear in multiple locations. When the panties were dug up weeks later, those buried in the areas with standing water or in muck were the least damaged. Soil microorganisms were apparently less active in these areas, although some soil moisture is needed to get those creatures moving.
When people buried underwear made from a blend of polyester and cotton, the microorganisms consumed only the cotton. When they were dug up, the pants looked like a spider's web with all the polyester still intact. Polyester, a synthetic material, does not decompose.
Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastopol produced an excellent YouTube video in 2017 about this process. They demonstrated how to bury the undies and encouraged viewers to do so as well. Participants were asked to dig up their undies two months later and bring them to the Petaluma Fairgrounds, where Singing Frogs Farm would display them on a clothesline and discuss the results. Here's the link to the Soil My Undies Challenge: Measuring Soil Biology with a Pair of Briefs.
I plan to rebury my undies in another vegetable bed, but I will keep it more moist. Beneficial microorganisms thrive in soil that's about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. I'll be adding aged chicken manure to the bed where I originally planted my undies to try to improve the soil. I'll also let that bed rest after covering it with clean cardboard, compost, and dried leaves, a technique known as sheet composting.
So, dear reader, may I suggest you bury your briefs, too? You may be surprised by what you learn about the life in your soil.
Library Talk: Join the UC Master Gardeners of Napa County and the Napa County Library for “Salvias and California Native Plants for Pollinators,” on Thursday, June 2, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. via Zoom. Register to receive the Zoom link. http://ucanr.edu/2022JuneSalviaLibraryTalk
Workshop: Join the UC Master Gardeners of Napa County for a hands-on workshop on “Summer Rose Care” on Saturday, June 11, from 10 a.m. to noon, at Fuller Park, 560 Jefferson Street, Napa. We encourage attendees to bring gloves, wear garden attire and dress for outdoor conditions. Space is limited. Register at http://ucanr.edu/2022SummerRoseCare
Food Growing Forum: Join the UC Master Gardeners of Napa County for a Zoom forum on “Dealing with a Hotter Climate” on Sunday, June 12, from 3 to 4 p.m.
Register to receive the Zoom link at https://ucanr.edu/2022FoodForumJune
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