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

My sister recently told me that her lettuce wasn’t doing very well because she hadn’t had time to water it. I told her that shouldn’t matter, and she argued with me, telling me that lettuce needs lots of water. I like to test these “rules” in my own garden, which often makes for some interesting arrangements and results.

On May 5th I bought a mix of lettuce and planted it. I watered it on the day of planting and once after. As you probably recall, we had very little rain in Southern Ontario in the month of May, so my watering was the most the lettuce got.

I was pleasantly surprised how much my lettuce grew in that time.  I had my first salad from my garden this past Monday, and it’s still growing strong, ready for another harvest today. (I know we had a fair amount of rain this past weekend, but I my lettuce was growing very well before that).

My low water lettuce, with one harvest already done.

 

A little about the conditions of my garden; I have a raised garden/retaining wall, which is south facing and has a sandy loam soil mix (thanks to the previous owner). The retaining wall is crumbling, adding to the “well-drained” conditions of the raised garden. I have wood mulch throughout, and lots of it (the other day I was planting some Kale and realized there was over 6 inches of mulch in once area of the garden).

I grow a mix of perennials, annuals and vegetables in my garden, most planted somewhat haphazardly as I use my garden to test and experiment, rather than as a visual masterpiece. Sometimes this works in my favor and a neat little colour combination of plants will reveal itself…

Using lettuce to create foliage interest in your garden.

For the first time ever, my other half actually commented on how great the garden looked, and how beautiful the colours looked (he prefers grass to EVERYTHING).

Dianthus with some chartreuse lettuce for an unexpected colour combo. Both get very little water…

Am I telling you to push your plants into a perpetual state of thirst? Not at all. But stop over-pampering your plants, they are living things and they will adapt to the conditions to survive. They have root systems which will quickly grow or move to find moisture, and at the same time, they will shrink and limit growth if there is too much water. Play with the “rules” of gardening a bit and see what great results you may end up with. Less water will typically amount in better results than too much.

Happy Gardening!

Aileen