Gardening After a Flood

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Gardening is one of the most widely pursued hobbies in America and is increasingly popular in NC. For all the right reasons, such as growing food locally, reducing the “travel miles” energy consumption, connecting to nature, engaging young people in agriculture, and controlling the amount and types of pesticides and fertilizers applied to your food, gardening is good for you.

It has been a couple of weeks since the last big storm, but we’ve experienced so much water and the aftereffects, there are a few things to keep in mind when we get back into the garden.

Floodwater that has washed in from rivers, creeks or streams can bring in chemical contaminants like petroleum-based products and also biological pathogens and parasites from flooded sewage treatment plants, and animal operations. In addition, wet produce may grow toxic mold.

Discard (do not compost)

  • The entire plant with produce that has come into direct contact with floodwater, even if it has not been completely submerged. Including:
    • Surface crops such as leafy greens, tomatoes, and corn;
    • Underground crops such as peanuts and sweet potatoes; and
    • Crops with a hard outer skin, such as watermelon and winter squash.
    • Leafy greens, berries and other soft fruits that are difficult to wash even if they have only had indirect contact with flood water.
  • Wait 72 hours, thoroughly clean and cook (do not eat raw) produce that has had indirect contact with floodwater, for example by splashing. Cooking will not eliminate the risk posed by industrial pollutants.
  • Sanitation Thoroughly wash hands after touching exposed produce, dry with a disposable paper towel. Prevent cross-contamination by cleaning and then using one part bleach to nine parts water, or rubbing alcohol (ethanol or isopropyl) to disinfect surfaces, tools, and harvesting containers.

Gardening is good for you, but where you plant does matter. Before planting, gardeners must evaluate how a prospective site was previously used, to identify potential safety hazards—including chemical contaminants—in the soil.

Minimize potential risks to yourself as a gardener, and to those who are enjoying the bounty of your garden. Accurate information from a reputable source will help you make the best decisions regarding site characterization, common contaminants, soil testing, interpretation of results, and strategies for reducing exposure risks. If there are no contaminant issues and soil sampling is for routine liming and soil fertility assessment only, our NC soil samples can be submitted to the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services’ Agronomic Division laboratory for analysis and recommendations. This routine analysis includes copper and zinc, as they are also plant nutrients.

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.