Gardening Tips: May 16, 2012

Is it Safe to Garden this Year?
Vegetable gardening is one the most healthy pastimes that I know of. The combination of fresh air, outdoor exercise and the resulting healthy food produced is ideal for people looking to improve their overall health. Studies have shown that gardening also reduces stress and generates positive emotions. This year however, for some of us whose vegetable gardens were under floodwaters last fall from Hurricane Irene, there are some concerns that the garden soil may still be contaminated. The following information is from Rick Burstell, our local horticulture educator from Cornell Cooperative Extension. Rick’s office phone number is (518) 622 9820.

“I think we can never say never when it comes to possible contamination even without a flood event. Stuff happens. The good news was that most of the area was already saturated before the flood event happened so the flood waters, with lots of added debris, flowed out of the garden quickly, instead of slowly sinking in. I would still exercise much caution with food crops, especially leafy vegetables (lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, other salad greens) and the like, and make sure to wash everything before eating. Of course, that’s true any year and especially if you use manure for fertilizer.  Leafy vegetables as well as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, beets and turnips should probably not be planted in areas of contamination. Of course, always wash (water and vegetable brush) everything from the garden very thoroughly before consuming. For people who have health issues or compromised immune systems, some added concern may be appropriate.

There are labs for testing soil for contamination both locally and at Cornell” but testing for all unknown chemicals or pathogens is like looking for a needle in a haystack and the cost for such broad scale testing may be thousands of dollars.

Rick and the Greene and Columbia County Master Gardeners are doing education and container planting workshops in Prattsville (June 2), Lexington (June 3) and Windham (June 9) for the folks in the Mountain towns of Greene County. Soil contamination best practices will be the main theme along with the usual gardening information and tick disease updates. They will also be giving out free plants, and other materials like compost and whatever else they can get through donations. You can get more information by contacting CCE at (518) 622 9820. Request the free flyers for the upcoming classes or better yet, sign up for their email notifications by going to

I also spoke with Mick Bessire at CCE who works with the commercial farmers, including vegetable growers and they have far more serious concerns that the average backyard gardener. Traditionally, the best soils for growing vegetables in our region are the floodplains and bottomlands along our creeks. Hopefully, by the time the growing season really gets underway, any and all harmful substances will have been leeched away. Nature has remarkable recuperative powers and I am sure these areas will be safe for food production. The state health department and other agencies will be monitoring these areas quite closely this season. For those of you whose gardens were flooded last fall, you may want to consider making raised beds with new soil. I will tell you how to do this next week.