Archived Monthly Posts

Lead in the Urban Garden - As Seen in the News

I was interviewed last fall for a story on soil lead concentrations in urban gardens, and it was released yesterday, March 23, on the AP news wire.  You can read the full story and see all of the pictures from these sites (the article and the pictures are the same): Lead, Other Chemicals Taint Some Urban Gardens – ABC News  OR  Experts urge soil testing – The Washington Post OR Newsvine – Lead, other chemicals taint some urban gardens

Last spring I had my soil tested by Professor Gabriel Filippelli who has been researching lead concentration in urban soils, after watching a presentation by Gabe on our local cable access channel.  He was offering free soil lead testing for those in the Indianapolis area.  Not ever having a soil test of my garden before, I jumped at the chance.  I was very interested to find out what the lead levels were in several areas of my yard and garden.  The results revealed high levels in the front yard right along the street (evidence of the legacy of leaded-gasoline combustion and deposition) and in the back yard along the drip line next to an old garage (probably a result of deteriorated lead-based paints and the contribution from the fallout of leaded gasoline sources).  The good news is that the vegetable garden soil was found to contain some lead, but at levels significantly lower than the average of all samples tested in this project, but somewhat above the background values of ~10-20 ppm for a completely pristine area.

If you have not had your soil tested, it would not be a bad idea, especially if you live and garden in a pre-1970 area.  Lead paints were commonly used up until that period.  Also, if you garden in an old urban environment close to a street, you should also expect to find elevated lead levels in the soil.

The risk from lead in your garden soil is primarily from contaminated soil being brought into the home on clothing, shoes and tools where it can mix with household dust and inhaled or ingested.  This can result in dangerous increases in blood lead levels, particularly in infants and toddlers.  Lead can also be ingested from contaminated soil clinging to root crops.  Lead uptake by plant roots in edible plant parts, however,  is very low, even when soils have a very high lead content.  Generally, it has been considered safe to use garden produce grown in soils with total lead levels less than 300 ppm. The risk of lead poisoning through the food chain increases as the soil lead level rises above this concentration. Even at soil levels above 300 ppm, most of the risk is from lead contaminated soil or dust deposits on the plants rather than from uptake of lead by the plant.

It is important to note that just because you find high lead levels in your garden soil, does not mean you should not garden there.  Possible options would be to build a raised bed in that location or maybe chose to not grow any root crops in the high lead soils, and/or to wash all produce grown from this area extra carefully.  Luckily, the soil in my my vegetable beds are low in lead concentrations.  I at least now know the areas of my yard that are high in soil lead levels, which I will be keeping the chickens out of.  Remember, arm yourself with the right information and make an informed decision based on the facts.

Oh, by the way, my chickens are now demanding extra treats.  All this publicity has gone to their heads.  I will probably relent and give them some extra treats.  They deserve it.

Here are some good sources for lead in soil information:

http://www.hgic.umd.edu/_media/documents/hg18.pdf

http://www.youtube.com/user/IUCommunications#p/a/u/1/PUVfWn7YPDA

http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/11/high-lead-levels-in-urban-gardens/

http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/DG2543.html

http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/lead/pb_standards2.html

Happy Spring Gardening!!

Frost Free Dates, Cold Frame Filling Up

One of the questions new gardeners always seem to have is when are their last frost free dates in the spring.  It is important to know this as it determines when you should plant or start seeds of your favorite vegetables.  Most seed packets will list the best time to either start seeds indoors or when to plant them out into the garden based on the last frost free date.  Getting accurate frost free dates from the Internet is somewhat problematic.  I did a quick search and found nearly as much inaccurate as accurate information.  Here are two excellent sources of good frost free dates for the U.S.  The simplest one to use is from the Victory Seed Company, found here: Frost Date Selector Page – Victory Seed Company  You first select your state, then your nearest city.  This should work for fine for most gardeners.  There is also another good source from the National Climate Data Center (NOAA) for those who want a little more in-depth information.  The PDF can be viewed and downloaded from this address: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/freezefrost/freezefrost.pdf  Using this source one can find the date and probability levels of the last 36, 32, and 28 degrees for a particular city based on climatological data from 1951-1980.  To be very conservative, I would recommend that the 36 degree threshold be used (frost can still form at the surface even with temperatures above 32 degrees) along with the 50 % probability level.  As an added margin of safety I would add 7 days to this date.  As an example the “Indianapolis NWS”  location list the date of the last 36 degree day with a 50 % probability as May 3rd.  Adding 7 days to this gives you May 10th.  This date seems right because, in Central Indiana, seasoned gardeners know that you should not put out frost sensitive plants until Mother’s Day, which is usually around May 10th.  To be extra safe, one can also use the 10% probability date, but that seems just a bit too late, in my opinion.

My cold frame is starting to fill up.  Most of the broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts seeds have germinated and have joined the lettuce seedlings inside the cold frame.  The rain has finally stopped and the soil is getting a chance to dry out a little, which I am very thankful for.  I will be emptying both of the compost bins either today or tomorrow.  I should be receiving my onions plants in another 2 weeks.  Happy Early Spring Gardening.

Baby Chicks Arrive, More Seeds Started, Too Much Rain

Our baby chicks arrived on March 2nd from Meyer Hatchery  They have been a super good hatchery to do business with.  I believe they were hatched on February 28th.  I was a little worried about the chicks making it through the mail and having to spend 2 days in a delivery box, but they did just fine.  Pixie and Dixie are the names of the black ones, the Barred Rocks (not sure who is who yet, TBA) and Molly and Dolly are the names of the orange/reddish ones, the Rhode Island Reds (also not sure who is who yet, TBA).  When they look up you can almost hear them asking, ‘Are You My Mommy?’  They are now 9 days old and doing well.  And oh, by the way, they are going to be spoiled.  A large plastic rubbermaid container was converted into a brooder.  See all the pics below.

The broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, and fennel seeds were started yesterday and placed over the seed germination heat mat.  Most of the lettuce seeds that were started about one week ago have germinated and are now outside in the cold frame.

The weather here in Central Indiana has been very wet, with lots of rain.  Too much rain, actually.  I guess our drought, which had carried over from last year, is finally over.  It would be nice to see at least a few days in a row without rain.  I need the ground to dry out a bit so I can empty my compost bins onto the garden beds.  My onion plants should be arriving in another 3 weeks.  Spring is here!!

Baby Chicks, 3-2-11

Sleeping Beauties, 3-2-11

Are You My Mommy?

Chick Brooder Complete with Heat Lamp, Food, and Water

Cold Frame Up, Lettuce Seeds Started, Lettuce Under Hoop Growing

My cold frame has been up for about one week, but I do not have any plants in it as of yet.  I like to get the cold frame put up before any plants are moved into it to allow time for the containers of water to warm up a little.  This also allows me time to do any adjustments to the solar vent.  See the two pics of my Juwel cold frame below.  I place the cold frame over an area of the garden and line the bottom with black trash bags.  I then line the back side of the frame with 1/2 gallon plastic milk jugs filled with water.  This helps to moderate the inside temperature of the frame, especially at night.

I started most of my spring lettuce seeds yesterday.  I then placed them under florescence lights and over a heat mat inside until they germinate, then they will get moved to the cold frame.  See my relatively low tech set-up for germinating seeds below.  I converted part of a bookshelf for this purpose.

I looked under my sorry looking hoop the other day, the one that has spent the entire winter under snow and hard packed ice.  Wow, was I surprised at how green the lettuce is, despite spending all winter under that sad looking piece of plastic (see pic below).  Just goes to show you that things do not always have to look good to be functional.  The weather forecast here is for relatively warm weather and sunny skies for the next 3 days. 

Low Tech Seed Propagation Set-Up

Late February Cold Frame Awaiting Plants

A Look Inside the Cold Frame

Sad Looking But Functional Hoop House

A Peek Under the Hoop and Lettuce Looks Green!!

Seeds Ordered – More Chicken Stories

My Spring 2011 seed orders were placed on February 2nd. The weather here has been absolutely dreadful. I have never seen an ice build up like this before. There is at least 4 inches of hard packed ice covering everything. It has also turned extremely cold. It got down to zero degrees this morning. The good news is that it will be warming up into the 40’s by this weekend. I guess it will be time to break out the shorts :-) . I am hopeful that all of the ice will melt in the next week to 10 days so I can at least get my cold frame put up. My chickens are also tired of all of the snow and ice. They have a hard time walking on ice, but come to think it, so do I.

Speaking of chickens, I thought I would relate some more humorous chicken stories. Anybody that thinks chickens are dumb have not truly raised chickens. I occasionally let them “free range” around the backyard, but only when I am out there with them for safety reasons. I have certain areas that I have to keep them out of, like my vegetables beds. My 3-foot high galvanized fencing seems to work very well for this purpose. They have yet to jump over that, although I think a few times they have thought about it. I have also trained my chickens to stay out of other areas of the yard that are not fenced off. I use a squirt bottle filled with water for some negative reinforcement in case they forget. After a few times of being sprayed, they know where they are not supposed to be. Most of the time I can shoo them out with a snap of the fingers. They especially like to follow me around when I am working in the garden because they know I will always feed them treats, mostly earth worms or insects. If they see you digging, they will go absolutely wild because they know they are probably going to get fed. The times when I am working in the yard and they are not out, they stand against the fence in their run and either stare or pace back and forth. My brother termed this as “Being on Chicken TV” (see the first picture below).

My favorite chicken is Mary Ann. For being the smallest chicken, she lays the biggest egg. A few of her earlier eggs approached ostrich size (no kidding). Anyway, she is at the absolute bottom of the pecking order, but I think she does not really care about that. When she is out she is always at your feet and very personable. She also enjoys being picked up. I have several nicknames for her, but my favorite is “Booger”. I always make sure see gets extra treats when she is out with me in the garden (see second picture below. Thank you Susan and Bob for taking that picture).

Spring will be here before you know it!!

Hey, I’m on Chicken TV

Yours Truly with Mary Ann

Chicken Bathing

Since my garden is currently in Ole Man Winter’s frozen grip, there is not much to report except that now is a good time to get your seeds and supplies ordered for the upcoming gardening season.  If you procrastinate, you might not get the seeds you want.

Some of you have asked to see more posting about my chickens, so this is the first of several post that you will see relating to my very spoiled hens.  When you first get chickens you will be constantly amused by all of their unique behaviors.  One of the more curious chicken activities is dirt bathing.  It is a very instinctive behavior and one that is fun to watch. 

My Hens Taking a Dirt Bath

You will not see a chicken any happier than when it is taking a dirt bath.  It is pure “Chicken Nirvana”  I have posted a new YouTube video below of my chickens taking a bath.

You may also view the above video directly from YouTube by clicking on the following link:  Chickens Taking a Dirt Bath

Happy New Year - Very Cold December

Happy New Year!!  Sorry for the long time between post.  The weather this past December was very cold and snowy in Central Indiana.  I was able to get one last small harvest of brussels sprouts before the really cold weather set in.  The plants are still in the ground, but have since turned brown and died.  The lettuce under the plastic hoop has also stopped growing since it was so cold.  The snow finally melted off of the ground about one week ago.  I did notice green shoots coming from the November planted top setting onions.  Before it got cold, I covered them with a thin layer of shredded tree leaves.  I did eat the last of the fall planted cabbage yesterday.  It kept very well in the refrigerator for about one month.

I have sad news to report.  One of my hens, Ginger, died on December 29th.  Ginger developed a breathing problem a week before Christmas and was brought inside to heal.  She initially got better, but then started to get worse.  She was really laboring to breathe the last few days she was alive.  We did all that we could for her.  It is was really tough holding her in my arms, knowing that she was probably not going to recover.  She was only 1 and 1/2 years old, which is pretty young for a chicken.  The other 3 hens are getting along pretty good, but the coop still feels a little empty :-( ……I think four new chicks are coming this spring!!!

Now is the time to organize your leftover seeds and start planning your 2011 garden.  I will be ordering needed seeds and supplies before the end of January.

Late Fall Garden Harvest….Drought Broken

Sorry for the long time between posts.  A lot has changed in the garden since the end of October.  As of this writing, there is a light dusting of snow on the ground and it is 28 degrees outside (burrrr!!).  Needless to say, the fall harvest is nearly complete.  About one week ago I finished harvesting the last remaining broccoli heads, some were a little smaller than I like.  The first brussels sprouts were also harvested and just in time for Thanksgiving!!  I harvested a few more brussels sprouts a couple of days ago, which should wrap up that harvest for another year.  The lettuce continues to grow fairly well under the plastic covered hoop, and I was able to harvest quite a bit 2 days ago.  I also harvested a few carrots.  Although there are not many of them, the few I pulled up were of pretty good size.  The last few heads of cabbage have also been harvested.  The fall cabbage did very well this year.  It has finally rained, so hopefully this year’s drought is a thing of the past.  Overall I would rate the fall garden harvest as good, with the broccoli harvest a little below normal.  I still have fresh garden cabbage, broccoli, brussels spouts, and lettuce in my refrigerator.  Not bad for the first week of December.

Late October Garden Growing Well

The late October garden continues to produce.  A nice bit of lettuce, that is growing under the plastic covered hoop, was harvested on October 25th (see pic below).  The first 2 heads of fall cauliflower and fall cabbage were harvested on October 28th.  A freeze had been predicted for 2 separate mornings recently, but so far it has stayed away from the garden.  I did receive some much needed rain last week, but much of Indiana remains in a moderate to severe drought.  The weather forecast is for cooler weather next week and maybe the garden will receive some frost/freeze then.  I am still harvesting broccoli, although somewhat sporadically, as some of the plants still refuse to push on decent sized heads.  I will keep these plants covered with row covers to allow them to mature.  The brussels sprouts continue to get a little bigger now that the weather has cooled off a bit.  I might start harvesting some within the next few weeks.  I finished up harvesting the last of the celery a few days ago and I will be planting the top setting onions bulbs within the next few weeks, after I remove the very large pepper plants.  The peppers have nearly stopped growing, so it is time for them to come out.  The growing season is fast approaching the end :-(     

Happy Halloween!!

Fall Lettuce Growing Well Under the Hoop House

Fall Lettuce Growing Well Under the Hoop House

First Fall Broccoli Harvested

I harvested the first of the fall broccoli on October 13th(see pic below).  I harvested 2 heads from the raised bed, with one more on the way.  Both of the heads measured about 8 inches across!!  This raised bed has done very well this fall (see second pic below).  The 8 cabbage plants also growing in this bed are nearing maturity as well.  The cauliflower is just starting to form heads, so I am hopeful that I will have a decent harvest from them.  The broccoli growing in the other bed is a little farther behind, but most of these plants have started to form small heads.  I think the hot and dry conditions have caused some of these plants to delay forming heads until about one week ago.  I am still hopeful that I will see a nice harvest from these before the real cold weather sets in.  The brussels sprouts have also struggled due to the weather, but they are now starting to form sprouts.  The late planted lettuce is growing well, and I harvested quite a bit of lettuce a few days ago.  Harvest also continues on the late planted green beans, and also from the mammoth sized pepper plants (which just keep growing!!)  I have also started harvesting green onions from the top sets that were planted around the first week of September.  The garden has experienced only one very lite/scattered frost so far, but I am sure more will be coming soon.  Happy Fall Gardening.

One of the Two Broccoli Heads Harvested on 10-13-10

One of the Two Broccoli Heads Harvested on 10-13-10

Cabbage and Broccoli in Raised Bed, 10-13-10

Cabbage and Broccoli in Raised Bed, 10-13-10