In the last 9 months, gardening has been flourishing as a result of the Covid-19 stay in place orders. There are a few reasons why this may have occurred. Maybe it is because of the fear that individuals have regarding food security or because more people have more time at home to pick up a new hobby; thus resulting in more and more people cultivating their yards into food hubs. In that sense, gardeners must evaluate their soil prior to growing. Especially living in an urban setting, we have to be aware of soil contaminants that may be present in the soil. Soil contaminants can include trash, pesticide residue, heavy metals, toxic substances, and industrial chemicals.
According to Soils in Urban Agriculture: Testing, Remediation and Best Management Practices for California Community Gardens, School Gardens, and Urban Farms states high levels of lead found commonly in urban soil can cause damage to the nervous system and affect brain development. Therefore, prior to cultivating the land, it is important to evaluate the site’s history and conduct a soil test. For instance, a building built prior to 1979 will likely contain lead based paint that can contaminate the surrounding soil. The US Environmental Protection Agency recommends a test should include ‘pH, percent of organic matter, nutrients, micronutrients, and metals.’ If your soils do have high amounts of metal don’t be alarmed, be aware and address the issue. Don’t worry the fruits and vegetables grown will not absorb high amounts of contaminants that can harm humans. However, there are some practices that can help minimize and dilute soil contaminants to a safe level in the soil. For example, soil can be turned over with compost and amendments to dilute the contaminants. In addition the organic matter will help maintain a neutral soil pH 6.5 to 7.0, where most plant nutrients are available and heavy metals are less available. (Surls, Borel, and Biscaro). To learn more about the best management practices regarding soil please read Soils in Urban Agriculture: Testing, Remediation and Best Management Practices for California Community Gardens, School Gardens, and Urban Farms.
To the home gardner and the starting urban farmer, I would advocate to get a soil test and evaluate the site. A soil test per sample can cost between $10-20 and results can take up to 1-2 weeks. I know you are eager to get planting however, knowing your soil will help elevate fruit production and safety. With proper planning and safe handling practices you can best protect yourself and others. Furthermore, I wanted to give a shout out to how amazing soil is. According to the Natural Resource Conservation Service, soil represents the greatest concentration of biomass in the planet. “There are more soil microorganisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on earth!” This includes bacteria, algae, microscopic insects, earthworms, beetles, ants, mites, and fungi (USDA). It is mind boggling to think about all the millions and billions of species and organisms living in the soil. Soil is amazing and includes many beneficial properties that habitat growth.