Time to (Safely) Plant the Vegetables

Time to (Safely) Plant the Vegetables

March 1, 2013

By Alexandra Zissu, Editorial Director

Slowly but surely, winter’s grip is loosening. It won’t be long now before families can turn their thoughts to soil, seeds, and the delight of fresh homegrown vegetables—and possibly even fruit.

Technically, growing a healthy and sustainable garden is something anyone can do. Getting kids involved has many benefits, including that picky eaters are said to be more willing to try something they grew themselves. All would be horticulturalists need is good dirt, fresh water, and plenty of sun, plus some occasional organic pest and weed control. Whatever your healthy gardener helpers choose to plant (tomatoes? carrots? beans?), here are a few points to keep in mind for a healthy harvest:

• Plant in safe soil that hasn’t been treated with pesticides for at least three years. Check your soil’s pH and nutrient levels with a store-bought test kit or through your local agricultural extension service. Test for contamination if you suspect any, especially if you know your house contains lead paint.

• Be cautious about fertilizers. Some sold as “natural” or “organic” are made from so-called biosolids, otherwise known as sewage sludge. A lack of labeling laws means there’s often no way to tell what’s what. Studies show that plants can absorb many of the toxins biosolid fertilizers contain, so look for brands that list all their ingredients. The Organic Materials Review Institute maintains a list of approved fertilizers.

• Consider planting in a raised bed, which helps control weeds and pests, builds better soils, and extends yields and growing seasons. Don’t use treated lumber or recycled railroad ties, which may leach chemicals. If you want to use plastic, try recycled plastic lumber; there’s no evidence it leaches. Or opt for woods like sustainably harvested redwood, cedar, or hemlock, which are naturally rot-resistant.

• A container garden is a great option for urbanites and others with minimal space. Non-galvanized metal, untreated wood, or unglazed ceramic containers are safest, but some kinds of plastic are okay, too. HPDE (#2), LDPE (#4), and PP (#5) plastic are generally considered safe.

• When shopping for seeds, look for organic. Explore the world of heirloom seeds, too. Unlike hybrid or genetically modified seeds, these have been handed down from earlier generations because they offer unique characteristics including better flavor or greater nutrition.

Have fun!