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Gardening is a fun and healthy way to grow plants, fruits and vegetables close to home. Unfortunately, some urban garden sites may have unwanted contaminants in the soil. The following safety tips provide information about selecting and preparing a garden site in your back yard or community lot.
Soil in New York City may contain chemical contaminants. Some chemicals may be in the soil naturally but most are present because of past human activities such as manufacturing, construction, pesticide application, and even residues from automobile exhaust. Common contaminants in New York City soils include lead, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), arsenic, and occasionally, chlorinated pesticides. These chemicals may be present at high levels and may pose a risk to human health.
Think about the location and site history-is the garden in or next to an area that has:
If yes, then consider testing the soil before planting or use raised garden beds filled with clean, imported soil. This is especially important if you want to grow edible plants.
A raised garden bed is a box that contains clean soil and is built over existing soil. Typically it is made from wood, stone or concrete. It keeps soil warmer, provides better drainage, and requires less maintenance than a traditional garden. If you think or know that your soil is contaminated, put a semi-permeable cloth barrier between the original soil and clean soil that can be purchased from a garden supply or hardware store. Avoid using painted parts, wood treated with preservatives or pesticides such as CCA (chromated copper arsenate) or creosote, and metal. These materials can leach contaminants into the soil.
Rats, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, birds and other urban wildlife also enjoy eating fresh produce. Although fences will keep larger animals out, rats can dig holes, eat plants, and tear up bulbs. To help block burrowing animals, dig a trench around the plants, line it with mesh wire, and refill the dirt.
If you have a pest, weed, or fungus problem and natural alternatives have been ineffective, select a pesticide by carefully reading the label. The pesticide should be approved for the plant on which you apply it and should be effective against the pest at a specific point in its life cycle. Apply the pesticide following all instructions on the label carefully. Dispose any excess product and empty containers following the instructions on the label.
Call 311 for additional information.