2000 underpants are buried on Swiss soil. As part of a scientific experiment, the garments showed where the soil is particularly fertile. A better build-up of humus would help agriculture, says the research leader. Compared to private gardens, cotton underpants rot 23 percent more slowly in agricultural land, says research leader Marcel van der Heijden of the Agroscope research institute.
The research shows how important the humus content is for the water management of the soil. “The more humus a soil contains, the more water it can store,” says project manager Franz Bender. The researchers attribute the fact that more nutrients were present in private gardens to the use of compost. This releases nutrients that also serve as food for soil organisms.
Humus allows the soil ecosystem to function optimally
The researchers have suggestions for agriculture: “If we want to arm agriculture against increasing drought, keep yields high and produce more sustainably, we can start with the humus content,” says Marcel van der Heijden. The humus allows the soil ecosystem to function optimally. Measures are already known for this. For example, permanent ground cover, less tillage and the use of compost or mulch. The humus balance calculator, a free online tool available to everyone, can also help farmers build humus.
The researchers discovered an enormous number of bacterial species and 6,500 different fungi, an enormous variety of soil organisms. This proves that millions of life forms inhabit every cubic centimeter of soil. They recycle organic matter, such as old leaves, grass, manure and even carcasses, and convert it into plant nutrients, the release said. They produced “free fertilizer” for gardens and agriculture.
Buried underpants of 1000 lay scouts
In April 2021, the researchers from Agroscope and the University of Zurich launched the Citizen Science project “Underpants as a piece of evidence”. 1000 lay researchers buried underpants and tea bags in their gardens, meadows and fields according to a standardized procedure. In addition, they collected soil samples and recorded management data. Digital scans made it possible to accurately measure the degree of decomposition of the underpants in the laboratory. The soil samples supplied were also analysed.