How is everyone's garden looking? Hopefully something like this!
Photo Credit: Deb Legge
If you're stuck and need some help, check out our Resource Page for Gardeners at http://ctnofa.org/Resources_for_gardeners.html and be sure to keep reading this page!
The following information was provided by the CT Community Gardening Association, whose mission is to support community gardening in Connecticut by disseminating information, building communities and claiming land for environmentally friendly use.
GARDEN SAFETY: Lead Concerns and Good Gardening Practices
By Thomas Bott, CCGA and Dawn Pettinelli, UConn
There are many ways to protect yourself and your family when gardening, harvesting produce, storing, and preparing food from a backyard vegetable garden or community garden plot.
Planning your garden
Locate your garden site away from septic systems, manure piles, trash receptacles or other areas that might potentially be a source of contamination. Consider fencing the site to keep out cats, dogs, and wildlife that might contaminate the soil with their droppings.
Ideally, a site history would indicate if there should be contamination concerns. Have the soil tested for lead if the garden is to be located next to older painted buildings, near heavily traveled roads, on old building lots, sites of former orchards, or areas with past industrial use. All soil samples sent to the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab for a standard nutrient analysis are screened for lead. Standard nutrient analysis results will also include phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium, trace elements and soil pH.
Lead poisoning is a serious, but preventable health problem, especially for children. Lead in the soil can be taken up by plants and is typically concentrated in plant roots and in green, leafy tissue. Gardens testing higher than 400 parts per million total lead should not be used for growing vegetables or herbs, and children should not play in these soils. For more information contact UConn Soil Lab at (860) 486-4274 or visit their web site at www.soiltest.uconn.edu.
Several actions may reduce the lead taken up by plants and could be used if the total soil lead levels are found to be slightly to moderately elevated. These include keeping the soil pH at 6.5 to 7.0 and maintaining adequate levels of phosphorus and organic matter in the soil. Avoid excess phosphorus applications as this can lead to surface and ground water pollution.
Certain plants, such as members of the mustard family, can take up lead in large quantities in its roots and leaves. This is known as bioremediation. Plants can then be harvested and would need to be disposed of. Plants grown for bioremediation in soils with less than 400 ppm total lead could be disposed of with regular household trash. Do not add these plants to your compost pile or consume them. This technique might work if the lead levels are just slightly elevated but it would take years in soils that are heavily contaminated. This tactic could be tried and the soil monitored at regular intervals to see if the total lead levels are decreasing especially in areas where the planting of edible crops is some years off in the future.
Removing lead contaminated soil and replacing it with non-contaminated soils is the ideal solution, but can be expensive. Some community gardens have used raised beds, placing landscape fabric on the ground before filling to 12 inches or more with non-contaminated soil and compost. Other exposed areas of lead contaminated soil can be covered with thick layers of mulch or put into mulched ornamental beds.
Garden Hygiene for those with lead levels of 100 – 399 parts per million.
Grow plants like tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas, corn, squash, and eggplant as lead does not typically accumulate in fruiting parts of plants. Do not grow leafy vegetables or root crops like potatoes, beets, or carrots. If root crops are grown, peeling the skin will remove much of the lead but it may be better not to take a chance. Keep children away from bare soil and have them wash their hands before they eat. Wash any toys that come in contact with the soil. Wash your hands and any tools. Wipe your shoes on a mat or remove them before entering a home. Do not bring food or drink into the garden.
Always wear gloves when using pesticides (insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc.). Follow the label directions when applying pesticides to food crops. Keep pesticides and other chemicals in their original containers with any safety or application directions. Store where children and pets will not have access to them. Keep glass away from the garden.
Check the quality of your water supply especially if using well water. Wells, especially shallow ones, should be tested annually for pathogens (fecal coliform or e.coli) as well as initially for nitrates, heavy metals, and other elements of concern. Keep dogs, cats, and other pets out of the garden. Minimize vegetation at the edges of your garden to curtail nesting and hiding places for rats, mice and voles.
Wash your hands before picking produce. Or, use clean gloves (disposable) especially if you have a cut or scratch. Open wounds may harbor organisms that could contaminate your produce. Do not use gloves that have been used for weeding or stirring compost. If you are sick or have diarrhea, have someone else pick your produce. Use clean containers to collect your produce. Brush, shake or rub off any excess soil before bringing the produce into your kitchen.
After Working in the Garden
Change your dirty clothes and shoes before going into the kitchen. Wash your hands with soap and water. Use a nail brush to remove soil from under your fingernails. This is especially important before you prepare fruits and vegetables for a meal.
Storing Food From the Garden
Washing food before storing may cause mold and rot. If you wash your produce the water should not be more than 10 degrees F cooler than the produce as germs on the produce can be pulled into fruits or vegetables through the stem or blossom end. Be sure to dry them thoroughly with a clean paper towel. Store fresh produce in the refrigerator above any raw meat, poultry or fish, preferably in a separate bin.
Not washing food before storing may bring pathogenic microorganisms into your kitchen. If you do not wash your produce, shake, rub, or brush off any garden soil with a paper towel or soft brush while still outside, and store them in plastic bags or containers in the refrigerator so they do not contaminate other foods in the refrigerator. Keep fruit and vegetable bins clean. Do not wash berries until you are ready to eat them.
Tomatoes, potatoes, and onions can be stored at room temperature in a cool, dry, pest-free, well ventilated area, separate from household chemicals. Check produce regularly for signs of spoilage (mold, slime). If spoiled, toss it into the compost pile.
Preparing Fresh Garden Produce
First, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Rinse fruits and vegetables under cool running water even if you do not plan to eat the skin or rind. Do not use soap, detergent or bleach to wash your produce as it may not be safe to eat or may affect the flavor. Use a clean work or cutting surface and clean utensils when preparing fruits and vegetables to avoid contamination from meats, poultry, or fish that were on the work surface previously.
For more information on good agricultural practices (GAP) or food safety issues, contact the UConn Cooperative Extension Food Safety Program at the New Haven County Extension Center, (203) 407 3163
Garden to Table, Five Steps to Food Safe Fruit and Vegetable Home Gardening ( Project of the Universities of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, funded by CSREES/USDA)
Lead in Garden Soils by Dawn Pettinelli, University of Connecticut, Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory. 2007.