“Soil Your Undies” and other ways to get your hands dirty
Old underpants are being used by students in Otago to measure soil health.
Students dig up undies that were buried in soil to check soil degradation
School students participating in the Soil Your Undies citizen science project are learning all about soil, like how it’s formed and how to assess the different components of it.
Surprisingly, old underpants are one of the tools the tauira students are using to measure soil health. In September, they buried the (clean!) undies in their school grounds and at home over a few weeks.
When dug up, the undies will be able to tell them a bit about the soil. By measuring how much the undies have degraded, tauira will be able to tell how healthy the soil is - the worse the state of the undies, the healthier the soil.
NOSLaM Engagement Officer Bridget McNally said it was great to get students interested in soil health from a young age.
Checking soil samples
"Soil Your Undies is a fun, engaging and hands-on way for students, teachers and the community to learn about the importance of healthy soils," she says. "We’re here to spread knowledge of good land management practices—and those seeds need to be planted at a young age."
In November, students dug up the undies and examined them. They recorded their findings and then discussed the results. The undies showed the tauira that soil is actually made up of different layers including organic matter, bacteria and fungi.
The project allowed the students to explore the world under the feet, while honing their observation skills.
Michelle Cox, an organic gardening and permaculture instructor and Soil Your Undies Otago Coordinator, says “the results help the children clearly see that dry soils, compaction and low soil organic matter cannot support soil life and therefore soil health is very poor.” The students are linking their observations with information from the classroom about fungi, bacteria and worms and their ecological requirements for life - air, water, organic matter, living plant roots. “They are beginning to understand the link between healthy soil and the effect it has on our water quality, food production, animal health, human health and climate change.”
Soil samples in jars
Earthworms are another soil health indicator that the students are looking at.
The teachers involved in the project recently had a full day of professional development on soil health. This involved getting their hands into the soil and trying out the activities they can do with students to get them excited about soil. The teachers discovered that identifying worms was a tricky task—even with help from the experts on hand.
The tauira are also getting first-hand experience working with dung beetles through this project. Dung beetles are described as “eco-system engineers”, as they deal with dung, improving soil health and water quality in the process.
The next steps of the project will be to introduce Dung Beetles as ecosystem engineers. Michelle says that the students will be able to observe the dung beetles working and creating dung balls in terrariums. In the meantime, tauira will also learn all about what they do to help the taiao environment.
The next steps of the project will help students take a deeper look into soil health issues, such as compaction, while considering possible causes and developing solutions which will help enhance soil health. Motivated by their findings with the undies and worm counts, the students have naturally begun to form ideas around finding solutions to these problems - which is great.
The aim of the project is to get people excited about soil, map local soil health and explore strategies for improving soil health.
A hapori community event is being planned for November, where the students will be able to share the findings of their research with the wider community.
Story source: Otago Regional Council.
Photos provided by Bridget McNally at NOSLam and Robyn Zink at Enviroschools.
About the project
Soil Your Undies Otago is a collaboration between NOSLaM (North Otago Sustainable Land Management), Enviroschools, Beef and Lamb, AgResearch, the University of Otago and six schools in the North Otago area, with support from the East Otago Catchment Group, Fonterra Farm Source, the Foundation of Arable Resource, Otago Regonal Council and the Participatory Science Platform.
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