NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

January 30, 2013

Tim's Tips: Test will check for lead in soil

Last week, I had talked about how the soil in your yard can affect growing plants. Shortly after that column was printed, I received a note from a reader who has another potential problem with the soil in her yard.

Jean recently bought a home that was built in the 1800s. One of her neighbors told her that, due to the fact that lead paint was used on the house for years, the soil might be contaminated with lead. She is wondering if it is safe to plant vegetables in the soil.

This question has come up many times over the years. If the house had been scraped down prior to re-painting over the years, there may be lead in the soil. The highest concentrations of lead would probably be near the house. In areas farther away from the home, there may be no lead in the soil.

The best way to find out is to send several soil samples away for testing. There is a soil-testing lab at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. You can go online, download the testing instructions and then send the soil samples to them.

This service can also test for the pH of the soil and the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in the soil. The testing can tell you the structure of the soil. There is a charge for this service, but it will provide you with a wealth of information about the soil in your yard.

Even if you receive a positive test for lead, you will learn as to what degree the soil is contaminated. If you have lead, it is possible to use raised beds to grow your vegetable plants. A positive test does not mean that you cannot have a vegetable garden. Get the soil testing done in the spring and then you will have a better idea of what you will need to do to have a vegetable garden.

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