Safe Vegetable Growing

July 15, 2012

I love the trend to grow your own vegetables at home, it is better for the environment, gets you outdoors and active, and can be very rewarding. However, there are some risks to growing your own vegetables, mainly growing them in soil that has been contaminated with lead or other heavy metals.

Are your jalepenos packing more than a spicy kick?

Homes built during the era of lead-based paint are most at risk. Paint chips, dust and run-off from the house or other outside buildings can contaminate the soil and potentially your vegetables. Areas of existing or former industrial uses may also be a risky place to grow your veggies. I found this article from the University of California, which explains a lot about the risk of lead contamination in urban soils and vegetable gardens: http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8424.pdf

Testing your soil for lead is worth it to make sure you have the healthiest, home-grown produce.

Out in Halifax, they have put together a great guide on the subject: http://www.ecologyaction.ca/files/images/file/Food/urbansoilguide.pdf

A bit more locally, the Niagara Region has issued a fact sheet: http://www.wdghu.org/tytler/docs/Gardening%20in%20Pb%20Contaminated%20Soil.pdf

They suggest planting your vegetables gardens:

  • 5 metres from older buildings with lead paint (lead paint was banned in Canada in 1976)
  • 30 metres from major roadways or parking areas that are older than 30 years.
  • 2 kilometres from former or existing industries identified as a source of lead contamination (metal mining, smelting, refining operations, and other heavy industries)

(They recommend adding compost (high in phosphorous) to lower contamination risks – once again compost is proving itself as the best soil to use in your gardens!)

To get your soil tested, you can send a sample to one of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affair’s accredited laboratories (although most test for soil fertility for agricultural use, some will test soil for lead): http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/resource/soillabs.htm

The costs for soil testing are in the range of $40 – $100. If you think your soil may be at risk for lead contamination, it is worth the money.

Happy (and safe) gardening!

Aileen

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