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new garden, contaminated spot

 
Kris Driver
Posts: 3
Location: New York City
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Hello everyone,I am new to this stuff.When I was a kid we used to have a garden and I loved growing my own veggies.Now I live in New York City for the past 25 years.I have one small spot by the garage where I tried growing a garden few years back,without much success.In 5 years , when my kids finish high school and go off to college I am planning to move back to the country and buy a few acres of land.I am very interested in growing my own healthy food.I figure that if I am to have any success with any acres I have to be able to manage the little spot by the garage.The spot is 20x13 the garage is on the south side.My dogs have been using it as a bathroom for the last few years.My plan is to make raised beds with wooden walls made of 4x4 that I can get for free.The issue I have is with the trees growing around. Their roots come up and drain all the moisture because this is one area that is not cemented over.The roots have raised the dirt by about 4 inches in the last few years.Should I put some kind of a barrier on the ground or just cement over the area and make raised beds on cement I would like to keep it the way it is without cement.The soil is not the best quality as far as I can say.I think about composting leaves from the trees with kitchen scraps maybe some saw dust and pigeon poop I can get from my friend.Any advice,help,ideas would be a big help .Thanks Kris
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my garden spot
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1356
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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So you have a few problems that you are going to have to overcome.
Low Water
Low Sunlight
Lead/Arsenic Soil
Lead/Arsenic Leaves

For low water you want to focus on things that are from the Mediterranean like thyme/mint/sage/etc
For low sunlight you want to focus on leafy vegetables and herbs and not so much fruits/storage root.
For polluted soil you want to "truck-in" clean soil and grow in a raised bed, preferable with a barrier to the contaminated soil.
Alternatively if you have enough sun you can opt for fruits and no vegetable/herbs. fruits are high in vitamins and not minerals like iron or lead

For the contaminated mature leaves you should not use them for compost.
 
Josef Theisen
Posts: 236
Location: SE Wisconsin, USA zone 5b
7
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Kris Driver wrote:The issue I have is with the trees growing around. Their roots come up and drain all the moisture because this is one area that is not cemented over.The roots have raised the dirt by about 4 inches in the last few years.


Helo Kris, and welcome to permies.

I think that you are misreading the situation. Trees don't drain soil, they actually help hold moisture in the soil in many different ways. From the pic it looks like some pretty rough dirt. I suspect the water is barely penetrating the ground and instead is sheeting off onto the pavement and into the drain in front of the downspout. Adding organic material will certainly help this, composting is a great idea. Building a small swale could help, just be careful not to hold water up against the buildings.

With the garage on the South side, it looks as though a lack of sunlight will be your biggest challenge to growing there.

S. Bengi, what makes you say lead and arsenic for both soil and leaves? I don't doubt it, just curious what makes you think those specific toxins will be present vs. all the other nasties out there?
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1356
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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There is more than just those two heavy-metals. I just listed those two for simplicity/as example.
Whatever heavy metal is in the soil, the leaves of plants that grow in the soil will have them so the leaves and the soil are pretty much one and the same.
(Yes I do realise that some leaves/plant part are hyper-accumulators, which would make it even worse)
The fact that he is living in the city, the city of New York means that all the leaded-gas fume deposit are still in his soil, same for the leaded paint chips, etc.
And Arsenic is the main ingredient in treated lumber, it "kills" the fungus that tries to decompose/rot the lumber for the back/front porch and any other outside lumber.

As a general rule if you live in a city esp one on the eastern seacoast, that is older than say 300yrs, then it is not a matter of is it polluted with heavy metal it is only a matter of how polluted it is.
Here is an University report showing the amount in rural vs urban areas in the state of New York.
http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/web/aca_centers_esac/110901_Soil_HeavyMetalInterpretations_March10.pdf
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
69
bee books chicken forest garden fungi trees
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I can see that this space could hold a very beautiful garden! I am imagining it transformed. I imagine a U-shaped bed in the center with a seat or bench and a path around. It looks like you want some space for the trash containers to be easily rolled around.

Was it once a parking spot? Is it your own property? Do you have a hose handy? Have you had the soil tested ever?

I wouldn't bring any new cement there. You want life and drainage.

I would first dig a hole in the general area where I wanted the bed 1-2 feet deep and fill it with water. Then see how long it takes to empty. That will give you an idea of how well drained the soil is.

Then I would look at the space and imagine where the path should go and mark out the bed. Then I'd gather materials, compost, rotting wood, leaf mould, wood chips, straw, etc.

Have you read any of the threads on hugelkultur? You might want to.

Then I'd dig down below the bed, more if drainage is poor. If the soil is toxic I'd put it on the pathway, if it's ok I'd save it to put on top of the bed. Then pile the materials in, watering well and inoculating with any mushrooms I could find. Mulch thickly with straw or woodchips. Stick some local garlic cloves in there and dream of spring.

Keep posting photos and ask any questions you have! Greening the city is a noble endeavor.

 
Sean Banks
Posts: 153
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first I would get a soil test to see if your soil makeup is....this will tell you if you have a heavy metal issue..........if you do then try to build the beds deep. looks like you could do some rainwater catchment in that space.
 
Kris Driver
Posts: 3
Location: New York City
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Thanks everyone for responding.I have the same concerns as you mentioned about the soil contamination.The neighbor across the yard (on the other side of that ugly plywood wall)was fixing his cars there ,who knows what he poured into the ground. . I am sure environment was not his top concern.If anyone knows where I can get the soil tested at reasonable price please let me know ,thanks in advance.The property is mine,hose is 20 feet away. I live here since 1990 and used that spot for everything from swimming pool to boat storage and parking.As I write this there is a car parked there.My idea was to play it safe and get rid of ten maybe twenty yards of top soil and truck in clean garden soil.Make raised beds in shape of letter E,running along the cement walls and garage with one in the middle.Make it two story, one on top of the other to maximize the use of the space.The bottom one would be in ground half way.By the garage where the ladder is hanging would be a few barrels to catch rain.Even with the garage being on the south the spot gets good amount of sunlight for most of the day.In the summer it gets very hot due to being surrounded on three sides and no wind there ....But first things first.I guess we have to get the soil tested and take it from there.Let me know what you guys think about my ideas and feel free to express yours .Thank you Kris
 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Hi Kris,
Thought I better add:
In NZ you need to specifically ask for a heavy-metals test as part of the overall soil test.
 
Kris Driver
Posts: 3
Location: New York City
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Just a little update and need your advice with a bug problem .I did not have time to do the raised beds like I was planning on. Instead I tried container garden . It was already late in the season so I bought some tomatoes, sweet peas,peppers and cucumbers . I planted everything in empty 5 gallon buckets using garden soil I bought with the plants from Home Depot . I mixed in some compost from kitchen scraps and some saw dust. Everything was going great for 3 maybe 4 weeks,than the plants started going yellow and dying. I figured they were drying up from the heat. Today I was dumping the soil from the buckets and noticed what I believe to be the real reason for the plants dying . It happened to me a few years before when I was trying to make a garden . The soil was loaded with some kind of grubs . I believe the grubs are eating the ruts of the plants eventually killing them . There was maybe thirty grubs in a single 5 gallon bucket . Someone told me that the soil is to rich and I need to add lime to it . Is that correct ? My plan is to go as natural as possible . My neighbor has the same problem. How do I deal with it in the future ? Any advice greatly appreciated
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2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
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