(Photo: Jed Owen/Unsplash)
If you happen to catch a farmer tucking a pair of briefs into the soil, relax: they aren’t trying to plant an underwear tree. They’re actually testing the soil for beneficial microbes, which are key to keeping a steady supply of healthy crops.

Farmers in Delaware have begun using cotton underwear to see just how healthy the soil is at Bethel’s and Georgetown’s agricultural fields. Their unconventional technique kicked off at the start of May, when the Sussex Conservation District planted several pairs of 100 percent cotton undergarments. By the end of June, what remained were just the garments’ elastic waistbands—the underwear itself was gone.

The disappearance of the underwear’s cotton material is owed to the prevalence of vital microbes, which tend to indicate a high concentration of organic matter in the soil. The microbes’ presence are thus a positive indication of soil health for these farmers, who can use less fertilizer and other supplements when organic matter concentrations are higher. Less soil supplements means the farms enjoy wider profit margins, and they typically need all the help they can get.

(Photo: Zoe Schaeffer/Unsplash)

Underwear consisting entirely of cotton might also support the earthworm population, which supports agriculture in its own way. Earthworm castings are rich in important nutrients like iron, calcium, nitrogen, and potassium. These elements act as a natural, relatively self-sustained fertilizer while also warding off pests and soil-borne plant diseases. Earthworms also burrow through the soil and create tiny tunnels through which water can pass, making it easier for farmers to efficiently hydrate their crops. As those who compost at home know, earthworms will munch on any organic material they find underground, resulting in a higher volume of castings. Cotton underwear—and other clothing—just so happens to be included.

The Sussex Conservation District first tested the undies method back in 2018. Since then, the population of beneficial microbes seems to have grown, resulting in better soil. The District plans on varying the placement and timing of each “planted” pair of underwear moving forward as it continues to test soils in various agricultural environments.

“We have seen, in general, that the soil health is definitely increasing, just through awareness and people trying different things,” the District’s Jonathan Walton told WNEM. “The biggest thing is that you don’t have to do it all at once. You start small and see what you’re comfortable with.”

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By sahil

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