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soil remediation possible/practical?

 
Posts: 21
Location: Rocky Ripple, IN
3
forest garden foraging medical herbs
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We have a small shed on our homestead which is partially collapsed and yesterday we started the work of cleaning it out in order to rebuild a new shed on the concrete slab under it. We were already aware that some of the surrounding soil had chunks of shingles, glass and other debris from it. But what we didn't realize was that there is about 1-2 cubic yards worth of what appears to be beautiful soil sitting on top of the slab. Problem is, it is mixed with shingle chunks and grit, rotting painted wood, charcoal briquets and various other debris. The soil is teeming with worms, pill bugs and the like. Plants nearby are sending roots up into this area. It seems it might be the site of the former owner's humanure operation, though he's been gone for over 2 years now.

It pains me to think of sending all this soil to the dump, but I am also unsure if it can ever really be safe and want to handle it in the most responsible way. I definitely wouldn't feel okay about using it for growing food, but am wondering if there is some way it can be saved? We are willing to pick out the larger debris, but obviously some of it can't be separated out. I have read a few other threads about folks concerned with asphalt in soil and it sounds as if it isn't a huge danger. But those were not quite the same situation and I'm still wary. My first thoughts are that maybe if we contained it somewhere and got some mushrooms working on it it might be alright? Or is it safe enough to use in places where we don't intend to grow food? For example, there's a dirt driveway next to the shed which we have been using for construction, but which will be infrequently used for driving on in the future. There are some serious tire ruts in it which need filled. Would it be safe to use the sifted soil for that and top it with wood chips? Maybe inoculate with fungi? My biggest concern with that plan is that it's fairly close to an area where I intend to plant pawpaws and hazels in the fall. We are hoping to get the shed cleared and rebuilt soon, so a solution needs to be found. Hopefully one that doesn't involve a crazy amount of time or energy, since we are overwhelmed by all the work of fixing our house and restoring the land here, which is dominated by highly successful invasive plants, so our brains and bodies are kind of melted.
Maybe this is all just an awful idea and it should just go to the dump? Any thoughts or guidance would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
 
pollinator
Posts: 973
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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The only thing I would be concered about on your list is the paint. If it was leaded paint, I would cry and remove the soil. Fungi aren't going to remediate that. If you test the paint and it is latex, well, we have all that crap all over the place and it will degrade over time. I do remove glass when I see it.
 
master pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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When in doubt, send a sample to a soil lab and have it tested.  This will show if there are heavy metals (lead from the old paint, maybe).  Other chemicals which might not show up in the average test can be broken down by fungi and bacteria over time.
 
Heather Olivia
Posts: 21
Location: Rocky Ripple, IN
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forest garden foraging medical herbs
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The paint definitely does concern me too. It is an older building, so lead is possible. I know the paint in the house tested free of lead, but testing the stuff on the shed is a great idea.  Thank you!
That reminds me of another concern. There seems to be some kind of colorant on the shingles that gives them a red speckling. Tons of it has come loose from the shingles and is scattered in the soil.
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
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Olivia, I have a water tank catching runoff from a roof. Aggregate from the shingles drains in there too. It generally just different colored aggregate. I would expect red would have plenty of iron. I use the water on my garden and don't think twice about it, or use it in my compost tea brewer.
 
gardener
Posts: 6264
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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As Tj said, the shingle colors are just colored rock bits, no worries really there. Tyler brought up using a lab to find out about the paint, excellent idea.
For the rest of it I'd build a screen to make separating the junk from the soil a lot easier and then I'd use that soil in a compost heap or heaps to get the microbiome thriving before utilizing it for plants.
It sounds a lot like you have the same set of circumstances we had when we first moved onto our land. (we are still picking up bits of the burned down house from the surrounding soil, and will be for a while still)

Don't get discouraged, even though it will happen, you can get past it as long as you keep the end goal in front of you.
Make some areas that will give you rapid success so the long term spots aren't the only thing you see or deal with, it really helps keep your eyes on the prize.
And don't worry if things aren't coming along at the pace you want them to, the earth mother takes her time and even though we want instant gratification, some of our best results have just started to show up now 4 years into our adventure.

We are all here to support each other and we share the big shoulders it takes when remediating long neglected parcels of land.

Redhawk
 
Posts: 570
Location: South Tenerife, Canary Islands (Spain)
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as long as you are not growing root or edible stem vegetables then why worry? I have not heard of anything undesirable such as lead being able to work its way up thru a plants roots and stem into the edible parts. The worms are alive right? Stick some trees in it and let nature carry on cycling whatever is in it. I'm talking from lay knowledge so don't blame me if you die of something nasty.
 
Heather Olivia
Posts: 21
Location: Rocky Ripple, IN
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Thank you all so much for your helpful suggestions and support! TJ, thanks for setting my mind at ease about the shingle bits. Tyler, that's a terrific idea to test the soil! My frazzled brain didn't even think of that. We will send some soil samples off to check for heavy metals and the like. Assuming that comes back okay, we'll make some screens to sift it, make some compost piles and add mushroom slurries to them just for good measure. Good point, Steve, mother nature has clearly already been doing powerful work returning that stuff to the earth.  

It sounds a lot like you have the same set of circumstances we had when we first moved onto our land. (we are still picking up bits of the burned down house from the surrounding soil, and will be for a while still)

Don't get discouraged, even though it will happen, you can get past it as long as you keep the end goal in front of you.
Make some areas that will give you rapid success so the long term spots aren't the only thing you see or deal with, it really helps keep your eyes on the prize.
And don't worry if things aren't coming along at the pace you want them to, the earth mother takes her time and even though we want instant gratification, some of our best results have just started to show up now 4 years into our adventure.

We are all here to support each other and we share the big shoulders it takes when remediating long neglected parcels of land.



Yes, from what I have read about y'all's homestead, it sounds very similar. Reading about yourself and others transforming neglected land into vibrant, healthy ecosystems inspires us greatly. Thank you for your kind words and wisdom, Dr. Redhawk! This made us both cry to read. We needed to hear that. We've been astonished to see how quickly things are changing in the areas we have removed some of the plants who are very bad at sharing. Already, we have a small food and medicine garden growing in a spot where previously there was nothing but tree-sized honeysuckle and a forest of Japanese knotweed. There's still knotweed, of course and some of the plants aren't as happy as we'd like. But its teaching us about what's going on with the soil. You're right it does help to have areas like that as it's so easy to get lost and overwhelmed in trying to figure out the long term design.

Thank you again to all!
 
pollinator
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I heard an interesting talk with a researcher at UC Berkley who is doing a project on the viability of urban greens (weeds) as a food source. One of the most interesting things about the whole talk to me was that they found 0 examples of leaf samples taken from all over the oakland/berkley area (including alongside busy roads) where any dangerous contaminants were present in the leaves after a simple sink washing. Most plants won't move heavy metals up into their leaves. One plant that will is tobacco, and if you're concerned about things like lead you can use tobacco (which you then remove and either compost and spread around timber trees) to pull some of those metals out of the dirt. You could also probably just screen the dirt to get the biggest junk out and then spread it around some ornamentals or in a forested area
 
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