Good times with mistakes and misfortune

by Nathan Rutz

Soil test results

I got my soil test results back from UMass Amherst. Apparently there’s a fair amount of metal in my soil, including the ever-despised lead:

Soil analysis

UMass Amherst’s website says that my soil is on the low end of “high” leadlead scale

They have really sad recommendations for highly lead soil:

High – In addition to following good gardening practices:

  • Do not grow food crops in this soil and do not allow children access to it.
  • Keep soil covered and take steps described above to reduce lead availability.
  • Grow food crops in containers filled with growing media or clean topsoil; or create lined, raised beds filled with non-contaminated soil and organic amendments.

In a previous post I wondered if I should buy soil. I now have my answer – YES.

I sent this immediately to my brother Jacob, who is a senior in soil science at North Carolina State. He said

On a positive note, you SOM looks really good! 4.2% is average for the midwest, but for a city soil I’m impressed as a baseline. Also, you may have been an inadvertent genius by not digging deep trenches for the huguls….less soil put back on top = less lead in the bed. Always making the right choice by bein a dunce.

But I think the heavy metal problem is surmountable given your composting regiment, perennials, focus on fruits and fact about how lead actually gets into plants or not…more to come on that.

In the mean time, I challenge you to find a report or news article that shows an actual lead poisoning occurring, not just fears that it could due to soil tests.

Other folks suggested that I could plant fruits and nuts and eat those, but avoid eating vegetables like lettuce and kale out of the lead soil.

Earlier I opined that I made a mistake by not digging trenches for my hugul beds – thank goodness I didn’t! If I were to do this all again I would have gotten a soil test done last year and upon finding out about my high lead levels I would have deeply sheet mulched the whole yard.

Previously I calculated that I’d need about 11.33 cubic yards of soil to cover my 3 hugul beds. It turns out that most top-soil sellers don’t have trucks that can fit on a residential driveway that have capacity to deliver that much. I settled on getting 10 cubic yards from Three-Z supply in Valley View, whose prices are a bit lower than Kurtz Brothers and they have a bigger capacity truck (10 vs 8 cubic yards, with a ~$50 delivery charge I don’t want to pay for 2 trips).

I’m going to use one of the hugul beds for vegetable annuals and perhaps herbs in light of the lead. I’ll also get some fungal inoculant as I hear that it can help keep lead from being able to be taken up by plants.


Seed starting party time

I started a bunch of seeds a few weeks ago and had a good time doing it. I need to start more, actually. I got tomatoes, tomatillos, ground cherries, sweet peppers, thyme, rosemary, 3 types of kale, cat nip, and a few kohlrabis started. I used two types of starting media I bought from Grace Brothers on W 65th in Cleveland.

One is this interesting “just add water” peat stuff that expands like crazy. It was fun to add water and watch them miraculously expand:

peat-based paper wrapped expanding tomato planters

peat-based paper wrapped expanding tomato planters


The peat things are marketed for use in starting tomatoes. I put the tomatillos, ground cherries, tomatoes, and sweet peppers in these. I bought a tomato mixture from Bountiful Gardens. Their seeds have food coloring on them to distinguish types, rainbow seeds are fun.

tomato seeds

I have a bunch of plastic container starters from a few years ago and started kales and herbs in them.labelled kale


I stuck these on some ugly old plastic shelves in a south facing window:

starts in the window

It turns out even a south facing window really doesn’t provide enough light for plants to be really happy about growing, so they started growing and are all spindly and thin and sick looking:

spindly 2

So I called up my old friend Jon Wales who has a really fine garden in Cincinnati. He told me I need light. So I got some a rigged up my own low-dough gro-op:


grow op 3

bright gro-op

Hopefully now they’ll be more robust and happy.

Tonight I’m moving a huge pile of wet wood chips in preparation for a dump truck full of top soil tomorrow.

Hopefully Oedipuss won’t want to eat these baby plants…

Oedipuss and the grow op