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OLWC’s Quest for Healthy Soil in Lake Oswego

Soil is the foundation of life on earth and for the past two years, Oswego Lake Watershed Council has been working with residents of Lake Oswego on developing a long term study of microorganism health in the urban soil of Lake Oswego backyards, parks, schoolyards, churches, and more. Important soil nutrients that living organisms rely on are often depleted by the use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers and not having plant roots in the ground to feed the microbes and hold soil structure together. Every April, OLWC provides education and activities for the LO Community to learn more about the 5 Principles of Healthy Soil and develop practices to heal and nurture their urban forest’s soil. 

OLWC’s 3rd Annual Soil Your Undies Challenge!

Nearly 120 pairs of undies were buried in Lake Oswego this spring and our 3 month period is nearly up…. RSVP for our Grand Reveal Open House at West Waluga Park the evening of Wednesday, July 12th! 

Participants across Clackamas County choosing locations in their backyards to bury their undies! 

Soil Your Undies for Science!

Thanks to nearly a hundred “Soil Your Undies” participants from the last two years, OLWC’s Soil Health Exploration team has been digging up new information about Lake Oswego’s soil and encouraging people to think about their soil in a different way. Life underground is just as biodiverse and complex as the plant communities that live above, and OLWC wants to help residents measure and nurture that life! And guess what—  it’s as easy as burying a pair of cotton undies for 60 days and observing what happens when they’re dug back up! The more your undies break down while buried in the soil, the more active the biological community in your soil is!

Celebrate Earth Month with us by participating in our 3rd Annual Soil Your Undies challenge! Sign up to receive your challenge kit which will include a brand new pair of cotton undies you can bury in April and unearth with us in July. Participants can follow along with biweekly soil health tips and experiments to try out while the soil microbes are feasting on all of the buried undies. Register for to pick up your materials using the link below!


Restoring Healthy Soil with Cuauhtemoc Villa 

How can we build healthy soil ecosystems through the use of bioremediation? We were fortunate to have Cuauhtemoc Villa, soil educator and acclaimed soil expert, join us on Wednesday, April 12th to discuss probiotic techniques you can apply to your own gardening and home landscaping to build healthy microorganism communities and support the bioremediation of other natural systems. Check out the recording on Lake Oswego Sustainability Network’s Youtube Channel

Cuauhtemoc Villa is a Taino, Aztec and Mayan living soil educator, regenerative farmer and father. He is a friend of the microbes, a student of their ancient wisdom and a teacher of their ways.

Soil Your Undies with OLWC  - Spring 2022

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For over 20 years, Cuauhtemoc has partnered with the microbes using bokashi, biochar and compost teas to grow resilient plants and bioremediate land and water. Cuauhtemoc is passionate about remembering and restoring indigenous agricultural ways and tribal ecological knowledge to honor land, ancestors and future generations. Cuauhtemoc shares these practices with people of all ages and backgrounds, through school garden programs, online and hands-on workshops, conferences and consultations with farmers and growers across the world. 

Cuauhtemoc’s commitment to healing with the land has also led him to work extensively in conservation, serving for years as an educator for Sonoma Ecology Center and Sonoma Biochar Initiative. Most recently, he has partnered with Sound Native Plants to lead teams in building microbial and biochar enhanced native plant bioswales for stormwater management and waterway remediation in Portland, Oregon. 

Cuauhtemoc currently works on Topaz Farm on Wapato Island (Sauvie Island), where he is helping oversee a large-scale transition from conventional to regenerative farming practices, implementing microbial and biochar techniques and centering community participation and education. His mission is to continue to build co-creative partnerships between humans and the soil to heal and restore our loving Earth.

Read below for more information on the background of the Soil Your Undies challenge and the results from previous years.  

Goals of OLWC’s “Soil Your Undies” Campaign

  • Develop community understanding of the importance of microorganisms to healthy soils:
    – Find out what role healthy soil plays in creating a healthy forest.
    – Learn about the microscopic organisms that break down organic material for food, returning vital nutrients back to the ecosystem.
  • Develop community understanding of the importance of soil in carbon sequestration.
  • Encourage the community to embrace development and maintenance of healthy, living soils as a community climate action.
  • Create a long term soil data collection to observe Lake Oswego’s soil quality over time.

The more your undies break down while buried in the soil, the more active the biological community in your soil is!

Soil Health demo using undies

During OLWC’s Soil Your Undies campaign, we encourage participants to engage with their community online via Facebook and Instagram  to learn more about soil health. 

After July 7th’s Reveal Your Undies event, we will share a report on our website that contains soil testing results, before and after photos of your undies and reflective writings about the project.

We have created easy-to-use instructions, online and printable data sheets to log conditions where the undies were buried.

We encourage our community to share their before and after photos of the underwear using #SoilYourUndies #LOBuriedTreasure #LOBriefs #OLWC, or by sending an email to

Soil Your Undies Campaign

It’s Time to Bury Those Undies!

We know you have questions! Click on a topic below to get started.

How Do I Properly Bury My Undies?

It’s easy! First, make sure that the undies you are burying are undyed and made of 100% cotton. It is important to have something that is not 100% cotton attached (the elastic waist band in undies will work just fine) in case you have really active soil- you want something attached that will not be easily eaten by microbes in the soil. Once you have the appropriate materials, it is time to say goodbye to those undies for two months.

We also want to gather some information about where you bury your undies and how you take care of your garden. Collecting this data will help us track changes as we all work to develop healthy soils. We will be creating a community-wide Soil Your Undies map and will be keeping track of the data , so please share information about your undies by visiting THIS ONLINE FORM, or downloading THIS PRINTABLE FORM. If you elect to use the printable data sheet, please email the results to

Here are some tips to make your experiment a success:

  • Bury your undies in approximately 6-8 inches of soil. This is the root zone, where most of the biological activities occur.
  • Lay the undies flat in the hole you buried – avoid any crumpling or wrinkling.
  • Take a photo in the hole before you cover them with dirt. Don’t forget to share photos with us on social media using #LOUndies #ClackBriefs #OLWCUndies #LOBriefs and #SoilYourUndies. You can also email your photo to 
  • Mark the site so you can find it again. THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT!
  • Check on your site at least once a week, without unburying the undies. If the soil looks dry, you may need to water the area. Water the area as needed to keep the soil moist, Make sure to document when you water the soil where you buried your undies.

Now that you have buried your undies, it is time to mark the date you will unbury the undies on your calendar! Wait at least 2 months (approximately 60 days) before digging up the soiled underwear. OLWC will be sending out a reminder email 2 months from now to all participants.  We are planning a Reveal Your Undies event for July 7, 2021.  We’ll be sharing details in June.

Can't make the Reveal Your Undies event?

We still want to see your results! Email to arrange a different way of picking up your undies and soil sample or to simply send us a photo of your undies and a short description of your experience.

What’s Happening in My Soil?

In healthy soil, there are millions of microscopic organisms that break down and eat organic material (such as leaves, decaying plants or animals, or 100% cotton underwear) over time. Think of how leaves that fall onto the ground during the Fall season seem to disappear before Spring arrives- that is because many of the leaves have been digested by tiny insects and other microorganisms. Cotton is an organic material (it comes from a plant!), so this process is what will “soil” your cotton undies while they are buried. The more your undies disappear underground before you dig them up in 2 months, the more active your soil’s microbes are

Why Should I Care About my Soiled Undies?

If you pull up ragged undies full of holes after 2 months of being buried, you have healthy soil. There are many benefits to keeping healthy soil, here are just a few:

  • Active microbes in healthy soil provide nutrients needed by plants. This means that having a healthy soil will make it easier for plants to thrive in your garden without adding additional fertilizer.
  • Soil with high amounts of organic matter can hold more water, which prevents excess runoff and increases the soil’s resilience to drought. According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS), organic matter can hold 18-20 times its weight in water!
  • Soil with high amounts of organic matter can help mitigate climate change by removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in a carbon “pool” (carbon sequestration).

Results from OLWC’s Soil Your Undies Challenge of 2022!