Get a Soil Test!

Regular readers have probably already got this message, but right now we can’t repeat it enough. If there’s a lesson with our backyard lead scare , it’s to practice due diligence when beginning a garden –or better yet, when you buy property–and that means getting a soil test from a soil lab. They’re not that expensive, especially when you consider the high cost of remediation, and the well being of your self and your family.

Test soil for both nutrients and heavy metals when:

  • Buying a house or land
  • Starting to grow food in your yard  
  • Are growing food and have never tested
  • Starting a plot in a community garden or a school garden
  • Buying soil in bulk

Property does not have to be on the former site of gas station to be suspect. Lead contamination comes not only from lead paint on older houses, but was also deposited all over urban centers and near busy roads via a constant rain of fine particulates from auto emissions.

    It really is a shame that lead testing is not a standard part of the inspection phase of home-buying, especially as this is a pervasive problem in urban areas.

    Do companies that sell bulk soil test that soil for lead? A few phone calls Darren Butler made to local companies indicate that they don’t. So let the buyer beware here too. Wondering about bagged soils? Susan Carpenter, at the LA Times, tested a bunch and found no problems.  She did find a possible lead link to fish fertilizer, however.

    We’ve used all three of these services. UMass is the cheapest by far, but gives the least analysis. However, if you just want your lead level numbers, that’s not a problem.

    Wallace Laboratories
    UMass Soil Testing Service
    Timberleaf Soil Testing

    In our next lead post we’ll let you know what our plan is. And we know there’s interest in all this, so over the week we’ll talk about remediation, raised beds, what’s dangerous, what’s edible, and more. Fun for all, guaranteed!

    Leave a comment


    1. This is a great reminder. Soil testing has been on the back of my to-do list and after reading about your experience I think I’ll move it to the front.

    2. On ocassion I park under an interstate that runs through B’ham, AL, and have often wondered what I am breathing in, what I am walking through, and what the residents and workers breathe and take home to families via shoes and clothing. I am not just wandering under the elevated interstate, I am going to an event in the Civic Center.

      The old green paint in homes of the WWII era had the best coverage and was cheapest…what I read years ago. The book, 100,000 Formulas suggests coating walls with lead to fight moisture in the house. Horrors! The book is packed, so I think that is the name. Anyway, I am glad we know what lead can do to use. My 1902 house was mostly green inside and not peeling or visibly flaking. I wonder what is in the yard since the paint is flaking from the outside of the house. Soil sample time for the hens’ sake!

    3. I’ve read a little into the matter and it seems with lead that it is only well taken up from the soils with quite low pH (around 4) and if you can get the soil to a neutral level at 7 (e.g with lime) it will be taken up in much, much less amounts.

    4. Here is a link to a recently completed (?) master thesis done by Jennifer Gorospe, at san jose state. “Heavvy Metals and Gardens” is a study based in San Francisco. its a great site packed with info. interestingly, the CA office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment lists 80ppm of Lead as the threshold where soil ingestion becomes troublesome.

    5. Huh, not every day that a West Coast blogger plugs my local land-grant university! Glad to know that UMass does something well enough to be noteworthy all the way out there 🙂

    6. Pingback: Mulch, mulch, mulch! | Root Simple

    Comments are closed.