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Students bury underwear for science in Bible Hill

Students from both Redcliff Middle School and École acadienne de Truro took turns digging holes in the bed of soil outside of Jenkins Hall, burying multiple pairs of underwear set to be dug up at a later date.
Students from both Redcliff Middle School and École acadienne de Truro took turns digging holes in the bed of soil outside of Jenkins Hall, burying multiple pairs of underwear set to be dug up at a later date. - Cody McEachern

BIBLE HILL, N.S.

Children were sewing the seams of a few unlikely “crops” at a soil conservation event held recently at Dalhousie Agriculture Campus.

As part of National Soil Conservation Week, pairs of cotton underwear – Stanfield’s, of course – were buried in a bed of soil outside the campus’ Jenkins Hall to test the health and productive traits of its living organisms during the Soil Your Undies event.

“It may seem kind of silly to bury underwear, but it represents a really important aspect of what happens in soil,” said Carolyn Marshall, a Ph.D. soil research student at Dal AC.

“When you bury the underwear, the earthworms, bacteria and fungi will eat them and decompose it like they would with leaves and sticks. That is how nutrients get released, which is what helps plants grow.”

While burying underwear in soil may seem like a novel activity to bring awareness to soil health, it is also used as a tool by farmers and farming associations all over the country.

“If you’re a farmer with multiple plots of soil all being managed differently, this will tell you what is going on with each plot,” said Marshall.

“If one of your plots eats away more of the underwear than the other, you can look at what you are doing with one that you aren’t doing with the other to improve the soil’s health. It’s not very scientific, but it gets farmers thinking about the soil and its health,”

At the event, students from Redcliff Middle School and École acadienne de Truro dug holes in the soil, dropping a fresh, white pair of Stanfield’s cotton underwear in each one before refilling it and marking it with a flag.

“When we were approached and told they wanted to bury our underwear in the dirt, we were a bit skeptical,” said Cheryl Smith, director of merchandising for Stanfield’s.

“We don’t really use our underwear in ways other than being underwear, so it’s kind of fun for us to participate and do something different with them. We are really excited to be a part of this neat project, and to bring the message of soil health to everyone in this unique and fun way.”

During Dalhousie’s community day on July 19, the remains of the underwear will be dug up. If the soil is healthy, only the waistband will be left.

“In this area, because we have a lot of rain and snow melt, you can get a lot of erosion,” said Marshall. When the soil erodes, it’s that top layer that’s eroding which is where most of the nutrients are. If we lose that soil, we’re going to have problems growing crops, decreased production in the future and that soil could clog waterways as well.

“A lot of fields throughout Canada are going out of production because they are just unable to produce the yields that are needed anymore.”

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