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What does your underwear say about your soils?

The underwear test can be a visual indicator of the activity 
that is taking place in your soil

Blake Vince, fifth-generation Ontario farmer, offers up a homegrown suggestion on how to test the microbial activity in your soil.

A lot, providing you bury it in a field, according to Ontario farmer Blake Vince, a cover crop and soil health advocate and Nuffield Scholar. Doing so will help you understand what’s happening beneath your feet, he says.

“We understand things we can see,” Vince said at the recent Canadian Forage and Grasslands conference in Winnipeg. “There is way more going on in that soil that you can only see with a microscope. We can’t see the fungi, the bacteria, the nematodes that are all in there working harmoniously.”

In order to get a better idea of what is truly going on in his soil, Vince turned to a pair of white cotton undies.

“This is a little friendly test you can do at home with very little capital invested. All you need to do is take a pair of men’s cotton underwear. Wash them first, put them in the soil and leave a little bit of the waistband exposed. It is basically a litmus test for soil biology.”

 After being buried in Blake Vince’s cover crop field for two months, this pair of cotton underwear has been badly eroded.
 After being buried in Blake Vince’s cover crop field for two months, this pair of cotton underwear has been badly eroded. photo: Supplied

Vince says he has conducted the ‘underwear test’ on his operation. He tested a pair of underwear in both his neighbour’s conventionally tilled field and in his cover crop field for comparison.

“The underwear out of my cover crop field was badly eroded, where the pair from the conventionally tilled land was still very much intact. This is a visual indicator that there is something alive in that soil. You can see that the biological activity has basically consumed all of that cotton,” Vince said.

The idea is, the more microbes in the soil, the more they will munch on the undies. Vince suggests leaving the underwear in soil for about two months.

For more on how to conduct the underwear test and see Vince’s results in this YouTube video.

About the author


Jennifer Paige

Jennifer Paige is a reporter centred in southwestern Manitoba. She previously wrote for the agriculture-based magazine publisher, Issues Ink and was the sole-reporter at the Minnedosa Tribune for two years prior to joining the Manitoba Co-operator.



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