Soil safe for vegetable garden?

imeldanie(8a)June 15, 2014

Hello everyone! I am a beginner gardener and am trying to keep it organic. I have some raised beds that I filled with 'clean' soil but I have the gardening bug and I want to plant more all over the yard.

In an attempt to improve some native soil, I have planted some legumes. I tilled the original soil with some organic compost and mulched over it.

I have some beans beginning to pop up and I was wondering if they are safe to eat.

What is everyone's opinion on this? I have lived in this home for a couple years and have never used poisons, but I know that toxins can exist in the soil for a long time.


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What reason do you have to suspect "toxins"?

And what "toxins" do you think might be lurking there?

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 10:38AM
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I do not have any reason really. I am a weird person who worries a lot? Like maybe the person who used to live here used poisons or pesticides that could be dangerous.

I really do not know much about gardening. So you think I have nothing to be concerned about then?


    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 10:44AM
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Unless you have plants that glow in the dark, or are living on a "superfund site" ... nothing to worry about.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 7:00PM
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hahaha okay thanks again

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 9:53PM
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Which "toxins" are you thinking of? Most all soils will have some lead in them, from paints made and applied before the mod 1970's and from vehicle exhaust. However, most exposure to that soil borne lead is from eating the soil and not from plants which do not uptake that very readily. Arsenic will be in most all plants in small quantities as a defense against insect pests, but not in enough quantity to harm you.
Soil borne toxins can be a problem and should never be brushed off with glibness.

Here is a link that might be useful: about soil toxins

    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 6:25AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I agree that it's reasonable to be concerned about what has been done to the soil before you lived on a property. For instance, I grow organically, but I've watched one of my neighbors use every pesticide, herbicide all over his lawn and garden for 25 years. If he were to sell to new buyers, they wouldn't know that. And not a garden that I'd be happy to be growing food in. But, I believe that after a certain amount of time, these residues will dissipate, isn't that true, Kimmsr?

At the very least, I would get a soil test and ask for them to test for lead. They're not that expensive. You could also ask what else they could test for.

Regardless of what has been done to your soil before you lived there, the answer is to learn what will make your soil healthy and do that. Sounds like you have already started to do that. You might learn how to make your own compost, and add a layer of that, especially where you will grow food. In the Fall if you can get ahold of a lot of leaves, I'd run them over with a lawn mower and then mulch your soil with that. Maybe turn them into the soil the next spring. The more you build up your soil, I would think the less you will have anything to worry about.

But if there is lead in it, I'm not familiar with what can be done about that. It would be especially important to know that if you have children who are more effected by it.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 6:41AM
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@prairiemoon2 and @kimmsr
thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful responses. I will definitely look into getting the soil tested and let you know how it goes!

    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 7:44AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

Lead was not used in residential paints after 1978, so if your house was built after that, there's really nothing to worry about. If the house is older, it *may* have elevated levels of lead but that's usually within 3 feet of the house itself, where paint dust, flakes and runoff land on the soil. If you're in a typical suburban tract and your garden is not right up next to the house, the risk is small.

If you're in a an old urban neighborhood, soil can have elevated lead anywhere, mostly due to exhaust from leaded gas in decades past.

Since you've been in the house a couple of years already, I would not be too concerned about what the previous owners used. Anything they used should have dissipated to insignificant levels by now.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 12:28PM
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Our house was built in the 1950's so lead paint is definitely a possibility. All good things to think about, thanks toxcrusadr!

I will probably keep my veggies farther from the border of the house and go from there and test when I can.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 12:13AM
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You should also know that soil testing for contaminants requires you to be somewhat specific about the contaminants suspected. And it's not exactly cheap compared to testing for nutrient analysis.

I guess it comes down to how serious a concern is this for you. The vast majority of pesticides available to homeowners - even those used regularly and liberally - will dissipate into harmless components over time and a relatively short time at that. I would not even be too concerned about levels of lead in the soil as most plants will not absorb in concentrations enough to be a concern. You are more likely to ingest via particles of soil or dust that may adhere to the plant than you are in the plant material itself. So washing your produce thoroughly before eating is always a sound recommendation. And you can always negate the uptake of lead by adding organic matter (compost), as that binds and prohibits lead uptake by the plants.

Personally, I wouldn't give it a second thought but it's your choice.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 4:02PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Thank you for pointing that out about the soil test, Gardengal. The soil test I was suggesting was a routine soil test for nutrients with the added lead test. I am sure you are right, that unless you suspect something specific, it would be an expensive proposition to test randomly for any toxins. Personally, I would want to know whether lead was there or not and that's not an expensive add on to the routine testing.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 4:11PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

Correct, lead testing (and most metals) is cheap compared to pesticides, but ag soil test labs may not be set up to do it, so it may require finding another lab.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2014 at 3:33PM
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The University of Massachusettes Ag lab tests for nutrients and heavy metals for 10 dollars. You can send to them from anywhere in the US (you don't say where you live.) They also give a sheet on precautions to take if your lead is high. And as Kimmsr pointed out, kids playing in the yard and then eating lunch with dirty hands (thus eating the dirt) generally causes more lead exposure than eating well washed produce from the garden.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 8:43AM
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thanks elisa_Z5 that is really helpful!

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 10:38AM
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