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'Soil Your underwear' challenge reaches Oregon

There's not much left of Clair Klock's underwear. He buried it this summer in raised garden beds. Deteriorated underwear is a good thing, because it's an indication of healthy soil. (KATU Photo)

A trend is taking hold on farms and ranches across the country and right here in Oregon. It's called the "Soil Your Undies' challenge. That's undies as in underwear.

But it's not what you think.

Growers are encouraged to bury cotton underwear in their gardens or farms to measure the health of their soil.

A teaspoon of healthy soil contains more microbes -- bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa -- than there are people on the planet. The quick and dirty way to test the microbial activity in your soil is by burying organic matter (cotton undies, for example) and digging it back up after at least 60 days. The more the underwear is deteriorated, the healthier your soil.

Clair Klock of Klock Farms in Corbett buried two pairs of underwear this past summer, one in raised garden beds and another in the blueberry farms.

All that was left of the pair in the garden bed was the elastic band, a good indicator there is a good balance of organic matter, minerals, air and water.

The pair buried in the blueberry field more closely resembled underwear.

Klock believes the soil was not getting enough water, but says the soil is still rich in nutrients and healthy for growing.

"If you don’t water enough, the microbes don’t grow as well," Klock said. "They just don’t do as well, they don’t do their job."

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, there are four main principles to healthy and productive soil:

  • Minimize disturbance
  • Maximize soil cover
  • Maximize biodiversity
  • Maximize continuous living roots

Healthier soil means higher production yield and cleaner water and air. Historically speaking, healthier soil leads to more profitable and sustainable civilizations.

"More and more of the world, we're seeing soil become depleted and no longer producing like it used to," NRCS spokesperson Robert Hathorne told KATU. "By 2050, we’ve got to feed 3 billion more people. If we are going to do that, we have got to take care of the soil. It’s not a question of whether these principles of soil health are going to work where you are, they are going to work. It’s about finding the right mix."

The four principles, Hathrone says, can be applied to any garden or farm, big or small.

"Soil is the foundation of everything we do," Hathorne said. "It's something that truly binds every single one of us."

Learn more about the "Soil Your Undies" challenge at NRCS. It's recommended cotton underpants are buried and left in the soil for at least 60-days.

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