The Food Project: Youth. Food. Community.

Skip to main content

How to Keep Gardens Safe

Recently, new findings from research led by Dan Brabander of Wellesley College, conducted in partnership with The Food Project, have been reported by various media. They show that lead particles in urban soil can move over time, perhaps by wind or rain, and settle on the top layer of clean compost inside of raised beds. Because these findings are likely to cause concern, we want to make sure that people, especially urban gardeners, understand fully what they mean. The good news is that gardeners can take simple yet effective steps to keep their gardens safe.

Importantly, gardening in raised beds is still highly encouraged in places where contaminated soil is prevalent. It’s also important to know that the movement of particles happens over time – generally, at least a season must pass before changes in soil quality can be observed. So proper maintenance of raised beds should minimize or eliminate concerns.

Many factors determine the susceptibility of raised beds. Since the layout of each setting is different, the degree of movement of lead particles can vary from site to site. For instance, community gardens in Boston typically have covered pathways and added soil, minimizing their susceptibility to particle movement. Here are some other factors to think about:

  • Consider the location of raised beds. Generally, existing soil has higher lead levels closest to the house.
  • Pay close attention to the existing ground cover in the area surrounding the location of the raised beds. Cover bare soil with mulch, wood chips, or grass to prevent movement of soil.
  • If the neighboring yard is close to the garden and has bare soil, consider creating a barrier between the two spaces, like a solid fence with minimal spacing between the slats.
  • If there is contamination in the top layer of soil, remove the first couple of inches and dispose of properly. See below for suggestions about testing two samples of garden soil.

As a reminder, we recommend that you continue to follow these quick tips.

* Test your soil every one to two years. UMass-Amherst Soil Testing Lab offers a standard soil test for $10. Consider sending in two samples – one that tests the surface soil (top 1-2 inches), and another that tests greater depth, usually about 6-8 inches deep.

* Add compost to your raised beds each year. Compost amends and builds up the soil. Organic ligands in the compost can additionally bind lead, making it less bioavailable to plants.

* Follow these practices when gardening:

  1. Wear gloves.
  2. Always wash hands after working in the garden and before eating.
  3. Wash vegetables thoroughly before eating or prepping food.
  4. Leave shoes at the door to prevent tracking dirt inside.
  5. Work in the garden when soil is moist (after rainfall or watering) to avoid inhaling dust clouds, which tend to have higher concentrations of lead.

If you have further questions about this research or about best ways to keep raised beds safe, please contact us at The Food Project.

Share this post: click here to share this page

categories: ,