Is there lead in your garden?

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Lead is not really something that you want to have in the soil of your garden, and definitely not if you are wanting to grow food there.

But, how do you know the site you have chosen for my garden is 'safe'?

When you move into a new house you more than likely will have no idea what the previous owner had there and if it is a new development you definitely, more often than not, do not know what was there previously.

The soil, therefore, could contain contaminants of various kinds and I remember trying to do a garden for some people, some years back, who had only recently moved into a house on a new development.

Well, let's say that grass and flowers were, sort of, fine for that garden but you could not have done food growing there and that for more than one reason. The first was that you could not even get a spade depth into the ground. The builders had simply buried all the rubble in the backyard just under about half a food of soil and the stuff that had been buried could have leached into crops and caused health risks.

In addition to that the development in question also was on an old industrial site that had, however, been declared safe. But what does that really mean?

The problem is that there could be, especially where there have been industry, lead in the soil and lead contamination in backyards is a teal problem when it comes to the growing of food since lead can remain in soils for hundreds of years.

The potential for soil contamination from heavy metals and oil is higher in urban areas, older homes where lead paint was used and may have flaked off or leached into the soil, and near highways left over from the days when leaded gasoline was the norm.

According to a recent article in the Boston Globe, there’s also potential for contamination is suburban developments built on the site of former orchards. This is because lead arsenate was once a commonly applied pesticide.

The US Environmental Protection Agency considers garden soil contaminated if it has 400 parts lead per million parts of soil and if you find that your soil is contaminated, there is a solution: Raised beds filled with clean soil like the ones pictured above.

The area within 6 feet of the house is often the most contaminated if the source of the lead is paint. Choose an area well way from the house and the likelihood of contamination is less, but still possible. If you have any doubts, have your soil tested at a professional lab or at your local cooperative extension office.

Personally I use planters rather than raised beds and while the likes of the woven polypropylene builder's bags that I use rather a lot are not the best things to look at, maybe, the do a great job, keep the soil from mixing with any possible contamination and also keeps the moles from plowing through any veg you have grown.

I have had crops in the few raised beds that I still have devastated by a mole who thought he was helping in plowing the entire bed up and down.

Honestly, I would not have objected to him doing it had it been before the planting season. It would have saved me work. But when plants are in and growing I do not appreciate such acts.

© 2011