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Gluten in the soil, my oh my  RSS feed

 
Chris Wells
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Does anyone know how long it takes for wheat gluten in soil to fully break down? I have some potential soil amendment materials that contain wheat gluten, and I have Celiac disorder. It would be nice to use them, but I will only do so if I can be certain I won't contaminate my soil or root crops. Trace amounts of gluten affect me rather violently, so it's not something that a trial and error approach would be effective on.
 
chip sanft
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I'm not an MD, but: celiac disorder is in the digestive tract. I can't imagine how another plant could take up a protein (which is what gluten is) through its roots, much less excrete that protein in its leaves or fruits or whatever. My non-medical Internet Opinion (t) is that you're very safe that way.

If you're still too worried, well, wheat flour products break down very quickly in compost -- a matter of 2-3 weeks, at the outside, based on my experience.
 
Shawn Harper
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If gluten transferred through the soil, there would be no gluten free products on this planet.
 
r ranson
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I think the question is about gluten transferring onto plants, not into the plants.  So, it's not so much about the carrot absorbing gluten from the soil, but rather the gluten traces getting onto the carrot. 

When one has extreme food sensitivities or allergies, traces can be a major issue.  For example, one person I know is Celiac and she responds very strongly to traces of flour.  Item one was used with cooking flour, item two touched it and was washed in the same dishwater as item three.  Item three touched item four and item four was used to cook her food.  A fast track visit to the ER.  Tell me this a few years ago, and I wouldn't have believed it possible to respond so strongly to such impossible traces.  But now I know more about food allergies (and the people involved in preparing the food), it seems less impossible.  Another person I know has a nut allergy.  His response to traces is instant anaphylaxis shock.  Without an epi pen, the ambulance could not arrive in time to save him.  He can't eat food that's been in the bulk section of the grocery store because the scoop might have been used to scoop nuts - people are pretty free going with bulk store scoops. 

I am so grateful my food issues can handle trace amounts of my allergens.  I can see how serious it is, but I don't fully understand what avoiding traces look like.

Extreme case, dipping a carrot in flour.  I can imagine that would leave traces no matter how well it was washed, and possibly even if it was peeled (traces get on the peeler, which transfer to the peeled carrot).

Carrot grown in soil that contains gluten.  It wouldn't' be as bad as dipping it in flour, but there is potential for traces to transfer to the skin of the carrot.  Sometimes soil splashes up onto other crops when it rains or is watered from above, so there is another concern there. 

Applying it to the soil and waiting for it to break down is one option.  I imagine several factors will affect how quickly it breaks down.  It may break down quickly in one section of the garden, but slower in another.  Sorry, but I don't know the answer here.  I would probably err on the side of caution and either only put it with seeds of tall plants which have their harvest well above the splash zone, or bury it deep in the soil, a bit like double digging. 
 
chip sanft
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R Ranson wrote:I think the question is about gluten transferring onto plants, not into the plants.  So, it's not so much about the carrot absorbing gluten from the soil, but rather the gluten traces getting onto the carrot. 
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Applying it to the soil and waiting for it to break down is one option.  I imagine several factors will affect how quickly it breaks down.  It may break down quickly in one section of the garden, but slower in another.  Sorry, but I don't know the answer here.  I would probably err on the side of caution and either only put it with seeds of tall plants which have their harvest well above the splash zone, or bury it deep in the soil, a bit like double digging. 


Yes, the question is a bit ambiguous in its wording. But as I mentioned in my response, I have composted wheat products and they last 2-3 weeks at most. That's assuming it doesn't get eaten by worms and other crawlies. So as long as there is a space of a few weeks between application and eating, you're safe as can be.
 
r ranson
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2 to 3 weeks sounds practical to me.  However, I just don't know enough about gluten and how it breaks down to say with enough confidence that it would be sufficient for a case of extreme reaction.  I've had bread last two months in the soil in the summer because there is insufficient water to break it down.  Local conditions are going to be a factor.  Whether or not the gluten breaks down with the bread, I have no idea.  It could persist longer or it could break down quicker.  Without getting the microscope out, I don't know how to tell if there are gluten traces remaining in the soil after the bread structure has broken down.

Diet issues are so debilitating when the trigger food is ingested.  Be it an allergy, sensitivity, or something like Celiac, a food reaction can mean a week or two of your life in the intensive care ward of the hospital, which would be even worse if one lived in a country where they had to pay for medical services.  Knowing first hand what it's like, I recommend erring on the side of caution and that the OP learn a bit more about gluten and how it decomposes in the soil, before applying the amendment.  It may break down in as little as two days, or it may take weeks.  Asking here is a good place to start.  What little I know about gluten from the kitchen, make me think it would persists a bit longer than we could see bits of bread.  Gluten isn't water soluble - we wash away the starch to keep the gluten - and it comes in different structures, so this product might have a slow degrading gluten or a fast degrading gluten.  I just don't know enough.

Or perhaps another option is available.  Since the OP already has the product, they could use that to grow a cover crop like buckwheat, which would then be dug under to improve the soil.  By then the traces of gluten should be gone.
 
Tyler Ludens
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How can you safely use the amendment if you're allergic to gluten?  Won't you be exposing yourself by applying this material?  I would avoid it entirely if I had such serious allergies. 

 
Chris Wells
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Wow, thanks for the great responses!

R Ronson is correct, the issue is cross contamination wherein products grown in the soil could contain some soil in crevaces on their skins, or their could be soil contained in the base of lettuce plants and such. There's also the issue of washing, which removes most soil, but leaves traces. Wheat gluten affects me at ratios as low as five parts per million. The reaction won't land me in the ER, but it affects my nervous system; one poisoning leaves me in rough shape for about a month. Repeated poisoning over years leads to nerve degeneration and mobility impairment.

It would seem I should avoid it entirely as Tyler suggests, and I do. The issue here is that I am trying my hand at organic gardening and suppliers of amendment materials have never disclosed whether amendment products contain wheat or wheat gluten. As an example, I cannot safely eat mushrooms because they are often cultured on a wheat substrate. Following inoculation, spores and substrate material are transferred to a growing medium. Mushrooms grown from that point until contain gluten and will poison me. Substrate purchased and used to inoculate growing medium may poison me even if it isn't wheat based, because it may have contacted wheat or been used in containers that previously contained wheat gluten bearing product.

What I'm working on now is growing my own crops so that there is no concern of contamination. But even there, it is difficult to amend soil without risk. I could go with chemical fertilizers, but that isn't in harmony with the earth or my character. Permaculture is the only way for me.

There are kits to test gluten content in food, but they are costly and they don't test as low as 5 parts per million. The industry standards are 20 ppm and 10 ppm. The tests also results in a simple yes/no; they don't indicate gluten concentration.

It sounds like I'll have to do some testing of my own. I can amend an area of soil away from my home and intentionally poison it with gluten. I can then test at intervals to see how long it takes for the gluten to break down to the limits of the test. That time period, doubled, should be sufficient for safety. My expectation is that remnant glutinous proteins will endure for longer than a year; I hope to be wrong. In either case, I'll post my results.
 
r ranson
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Oh man, what a tough row to hoe.  You make me even more glad that traces (of my allergens) just make me a little bit sick for three days. 

I have lots to say, but I'm in the middle of firing up the smoker so I can make bacon that does not contain any of my allergens.  So I'll just say this.

Grab your library card and go fetch Carol Deppe's book The Resilient Gardener.  Given your sensitivities and your goal of growing food organically, you probably already own it, so really it's advice for the other readers.  If you haven't, this book will probably change your life (in awesome ways).  She's sensitive to gluten traces too.  This book is about sourcing and growing staple crops, but it's also about so much more. 

Back to the kitchen for me. 
 
Chris Wells
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I'm not all that bothered by it. I actually gained a lot of knowledge, and I now eat much better than before. The few challenges that remain are slowly being tilled under.

Thanks for the book recommendation! I have not read that one, but I will.
 
Bill Crim
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Gluten is present in varying degrees in most true-grass seeds, so I wouldn't worry about transient contamination. The most common way life uses external proteins is to break them down to their component amino acids, since RNA(The messenger to ribosomes that performs protein synthesis) works by chaining amino acids. Proteins, being complex molecules with lots of energy, are often broken down quite fast by bacteria.  See the biology of nutrient cycling. (This same site has discussion of general organic matter breakdown.) Some plants can use protein as a nitrogen source without assistance from other organisms.

I think that normal vegetable washing should be enough to keep you safe, assuming you are adding it as a soil amendment and not dry-mulching with wheat husks.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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You can do your own testing for proteins with out spending a hunk of money.
The following test is very easy to do and the reagent does not cost much, other than the reagent you just need something to hold samples you want to test (test tube, even a small mason jar will do nicely.)
The Biuret test:
Biuret solution is a blue liquid that changes to purple when proteins are present and to pink in the presence of short chains of polypeptides. The copper atom of the biuret solution reacts with the peptide bonds to cause the color change.

Here is where you can get it for under 10 dollars per 500 ml. Biuret solution
 
Chris Wells
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Woot! I have found an outside limit with respect to gluten containing amendment!

The company GF Harvest obtains their gluten free grain and plant products from fields that have been free of glutinous grains for a period of two years prior to planting. It appears the gluten content is a non-issue after this point.

I can work comfortably with a two-year buffer.
 
frank li
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I cant resist! The essential oil and vegitarian ones are great too.
Just satire, im not anti-anti-gluten or pro celiac in any way!

https://youtu.be/Oht9AEq1798
 
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