Soil Testing: The First Step in Preparing your Spring Garden

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Right about now, visions of gorgeous flowers and a bountiful crop of vegetables are dancing in gardeners’ heads.

It’s almost time to start turning over the garden soil. But have you ever thought about soil testing to be sure your soil is free of lead? Lead in soil is a very common problem, especially if you live in a pre-1978 built home or in a neighborhood of older homes.

So how does lead get in your soil? When your older home’s exterior is painted, the first step is sanding, which spews lead dust through the air, landing on your property. Flaking paint chips can also be ground into the soil, or in some cases, paint can peel right off the home. Also, if the home’s interior is painted and sanded, often windows are left open to disburse the dust. And guess where that lead dust falls? In your yard.

More than 250,000 children are poisoned each year by lead.

There are steps you can take to lessen the dangers of lead poisoning. Most importantly, hire a certified lead inspector to test your garden to see if your soil contains lead. Your garden may be lead free. But then again, it might not be. Is it worth poisoning your children?

Some other steps you can take:

  • Position the garden as far away as possible from any pre-1978 built homes.
  • Consider bed gardening, which raises the garden above soil level. And then fill with clean garden soil.
  • Erect a fence or a hedge to act as a buffer against any blowing lead dust.
  • Keep children away from any lead-tainted soil. Never let children eat the soil.
  • Wear protective clothing when gardening. Remove your clothes before entering your home, and place them in a plastic bag. The next stop is your washing machine. Tracking lead dust into a home is a common way for lead to enter a home.
  • Soils high in organic matter and compost with pH levels between 6.5 and 7.0 do a better job of binding lead in the soil, preventing it from being absorbed by plants.

If the test reveals the levels of lead in your soil are just too high, you may want to consider remediation of the contaminated soil. There are several options, including soil removal, raising pH levels and adding organic matter, or mixing in new soil. A certified lead inspector can tell you which may be the best option for your situation.

Studies have shown that lead does not accumulate in the fruiting part of the vegetable or fruit such as corn, squash, beans, tomatoes, berries, peaches and apples. It’s the leafy vegetables and the surface of root crops such as carrots, beets and potatoes where the higher concentrations of lead are found. A good practice with all produce — whether you grew it yourself or bought it at the market — is to prepare and wash it well. Some tips:

  • Remove outer leaves from leafy crops.
  • Peel all root crops.
  • Wash all produce in mixture of 1 tablespoon of vinegar mixed into 1½ quarts water, which washes away most of the lead, in addition to other impurities.

Click here to schedule a lead test of your soil.

 

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