Is My Urban Garden’s Dirt Clean?

I have been anxiously waiting this Memorial Day weekend to bring back to life an overgrown flower bed at our new house in Atlanta. I ended up with extra planting space so decided to let my container herb garden freely spread its roots in the backyard soil. Then it occurred to me this morning that […]

I have been anxiously waiting this Memorial Day weekend to bring back to life an overgrown flower bed at our new house in Atlanta. I ended up with extra planting space so decided to let my container herb garden freely spread its roots in the backyard soil. Then it occurred to me this morning that I actually want to eat these herbs but have no idea if my new urban garden soil is safe. Scary thoughts of what could have contaminated the soil started rushing through my mind: Was an old car parked back here for years leaking out who knows what; perhaps a previous owner dumped lead-based paint in the yard; or maybe in the history of this home’s renovations old piping, insulation or shingles were left to sit in the backyard?

This quickly got me searching the interwebs to find out how to get my yard’s soil tested. Unfortunately, those kits I’ve seen (but never really paid attention to) at Lowes are designed to test Ph levels to help you amend the soil. Finding a way test my soil for containments proved to be a much more involved morning research project.  Here are some useful findings that I came across and encourage everyone – even those with raised beds (to my surprise) – to think about if they are growing veggies, herbs or fruit in their backyard urban garden:

  1. Testing your soil is a MUST! Beyond lead, there are many other types of containments that could be in your soil. Contact your local cooperative extension to find out how and where to send a sampling of your soil for testing – i.e., a Google search that I used to find mine was “Cooperative Extension DeKalb County GA.”
  2. According to the University of Georgia Extension, vegetable gardens should be tested every one to two years.
  3. Always wear gloves when working in the garden to reduce exposure to anything lurking in your soil.
  4. Make sure raised beds are constructed out of safe materials and not treated lumber. Also be sure to install a bottom layer to further reduce exposure to ground soil (even if you think you’ve built the bed high enough).

With urban gardening more popular than ever (9 million people are now growing food in their backyard), we all need to be mindful that our good intentions should be coupled with safe practices.

Senior Manager, Public Relations for Coldwell Banker. Grew up in south Florida as an avid Seminole fan and attended college in the mountains of North Carolina. Athena wanted to wake up in that city that doesn’t sleep so headed to Madison Avenue to start her marketing career. Athena has been with this awesome brand for more than 15 years and can be found generating buzz about CB in every way possible. The one area of her job she loves the most is overseeing the Coldwell Banker Homes for Dogs Project in partnership with Adopt-a-Pet.com where hundreds of thousands of dogs have now found their fur-ever home. In her spare time, you can find her either digging up a new area in her yard for another flower bed or planning her next travel adventure. She resides with the Bukowski of our generation (AKA her husband) along with her cats Jolene, Ziggy and Lucy in Atlanta, Ga.

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