Group of people learning about soil.
Making a difference
Impacting soil health in our communities
Support the Master Gardener Program

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Please contact our Statewide Program Leader if you require this information in a different format.

Solving problems in our communities

Engaging university-trained volunteers to empower and sustain diverse communities with relevant, unbiased, research-based horticulture and environmental stewardship education. Read about WSU Master Gardeners in the news.

Soil health logo in red
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Soil contains living organisms that, when cared for, provide the basic necessities of life – food, shelter, wand water. Healthy soils provide ecosystem services critical for life. It acts as a water filter and a growing medium; provides habitat for billions of organisms, contributes to biodiversity; and supplies antibiotics. Humans use soil as a holding facility for solid waste, filter for wastewater, and foundation for cities and towns. Soil is the basis of agroecosystems which grow feed, fiber, food and fuel. Increasing deforestation, soil compaction, and erosion factor into soil health degradation. According to Washington State University, there are key soil health challenges in Washington including compaction, erosion, nutrient imbalances, acidification, pests and pathogens and salinity and sodicity.

Response:

In 2022, the Washington State University Master Gardener volunteers taught about building healthy soils to prevent depletion and to ensure long-term viability of local food security and natural resources.

  • 1166 adults learned about the importance of soil in natural ecosystems and the built environment
  • 1057 youth learned about the importance of soil in natural ecosystems and the built environment
  • 159 classes on building healthy soils to prevent depletion and ensure long-term viability of local food security and natural resources were taught
  • 92 workshops on building healthy soils to prevent depletion and ensure long-term viability of local food security and natural resources were hosted
  • 26 field days on building healthy soils to prevent depletion and ensure long-term viability of local food security and natural resources were hosted

Impacts of teaching about soil health

Soil your undies experiment display.

For instance, in Grant and Adams Counties, WSU Extension Master Gardeners launched a soil health evaluation campaign called Soil Your Undies. Individuals, the general public, school groups and classes, and 4-H and FFA groups were encouraged to take the challenge. The goal was for people to learn about healthy soil characteristics and to evaluate their soil using a simple method: burying cotton underwear in the soil. Research shows that the more the underwear breaks down the healthier the soil. A large and diverse population of microbes and organisms is an indication of good soil health and healthy soils gobble up cotton underwear.

More than 50 pairs of cotton underwear were distributed and about 10 pairs were returned after being buried in the soil for two months. The image tells the story. The soiled underwear were displayed at the Grant County Fair where thousands of people were able learn about the benefits of healthy soils and an easy way to evaluate the health of their own soils.
People learned that maintaining healthy soils using research based, sustainable practices with adequate residue and living plants minimizes erosion and keeps soils productive.

Diagram of soil structure.
Two kids showing results of Soil Your Undies experiment.

Doing our part

4-H youth buried a new pair of cotton underwear 3 inches below the surface and left the garment in the ground for a minimum of two months. At the 60-day mark, the underwear were dug up and the condition was evaluated and recorded. Most, if not all samples were deteriorated to such a degree that only the non-cotton waist bands and seams remained.  The work of the soil microbes indicated that most soils in this experiment were healthy.

2022 by the numbers

  • 2848 Certified volunteers
  • 599 new volunteers trained
  • 16728 hours learning to be a WSU Master Gardener
  • Volunteers gave 250400 hours of their time to WSU and the communities served
  • Volunteers earned 31948 hours of continuing education 
  • 3,335 plant clinics offered across the state answered 11600 questions
  • 3327 residents learned about soil health
  • 2636 residents learned about pollinators
  • 5403 residents learned about vegetable gardening
  • 3343 residents learned about water conservation and water quality
  • 3126 residents learned about ecosystem biodiversity
  • 748 residents learned about climate change
  • 4865 residents learned about the health benefits of being in and around plants and nature
  • 119 residents learned about wildfire preparedness